If the album of the year article, coming in the next few days, is a reflection of where music was in 2017, perhaps the EP of the year list is our best glimpse of where it’s going to be in the years to come. Whether it’s established acts like Teleman or Steady Holiday showcasing a new direction, or fresh on the scene newcomers like Drahla or Pip Hall, the EP is always a fascinating snap shot, a tantalising glimpse of music’s exciting next step.
These twenty EP’s are a collection of some of our favourites, but we of course can only hope to hear a fraction of the best new bands out there. Hopefully you’ll find something new to love, especially as many of these acts are unsigned, underground and need all the support they can get to keep on keeping on.
As for the winner, we can’t think of a record more worthy, its stunning way with melody, space and musical texture, made it a record that, despite its short running time, managed to sustain repeated listens always producing something new and exciting to discover. If you can’t get excited by a record like that, you’re probably wouldn’t be looking at this website.
20. Lovely Bad Things – Homebodied (Burger Records)
19. Sam Skinner – Danny Through Junior (Soft Speak Records)
18. No Vacation – Intermission (Topshelf Records)
17. Mt. Doubt – Moon Landings (Scottish Fiction Records)
16. Ella – S/T (Self-Released)
15. Steady Holiday – Terror (Infinite Best)
14. Cutworms – Alien Sunset (Jagjaguwar)
13. Ghost Guilt – EP 1 (Frux Tapes)
12. Fightmilk – Pity Party (Fierce Panda)
11. Teleman – Funf (Moshi Moshi)
10. False Advertising – I Would Be So Much Happier If I Just Stopped Caring (Who Needs Records)
In a year when the influence of 1990’s alt-rock was all the rage, few injected the sometimes stale genre with as much fresh energy and excitement as the Manchester/Oxford-trio False Advertising. The band’s excellent EP, I Would Be So Much Happier If I Just Stopped Caring, was partly recorded at Abbey Road, before the band were forced to leave because they were, “too loud”. The EP collects a number of stand-alone singles that False Advertising put out over the last year, but is none the less a remarkably coherent affair.
The five tracks that make up the EP, are a winning blend of angst, anger and grunge. For the most part, singer Jen Hingley’s guttural vocal howl is accompanied by fuzzy walls of guitars, clattering cymbal heavy drum beats and propulsive, strutting bass-lines. Lyrically these tracks are a dissection of growing up in a world where monotony and stupidity still seem to run the planet; Hey You is a rallying call for gender equality, Not My Fault asked whether it is okay to attempt to detach yourself from the political landscape, while the excellent Honest, dealt with the toxic nature of media bias. 2017 is a year where politics and music became reacquainted, and few people have soundtracked it better than False Advertising.
9. Caroline Lazar – Nevermine (My Little Empire Records)
Not everyone was going political this year though, there was still plenty of room for old fashioned heartache, and one artist still making it sound arresting and intriguing was Atlanta-born songwriter, Caroline Lazar. Although barely out of her teens, Caroline has plenty of musical experience after learning to play the piano aged four. It was in her high school days that, following a particularly painful break-up, she found much of the inspiration behind her Nevermine EP.
The resulting EP is musically fascinating; from the sensational dark-pop of single Trigger to the almost cabaret-like waltz of Lullaby, it is the sort of record you only get growing up on an eclectic mix of sounds and ideas. Best of all is the title track, a sublime dissection of young love unravelling in front our protagonist’s eyes, as Caroline’s voice builds to a jaw-dropping crescendo before fading back to almost nothing. A stunning introduction to the world of this huge talent, Nevermine is spectacular.
8. Pip Hall – James (My Little Empire Records)
Pip Hall might share youth, a label and a flare for the emotional with Caroline Lazar, but they managed to produce two very different records. While Caroline’s EP is intricately crafted, the result of a youth spent entrenched in musical theory, Pip’s offering, James, is a raw slice of emotional outpouring. This is never more obvious than on the stunning title track, Pip’s tribute to her late father, who died when she was young; part beautiful homage to his memory, part honest recollection of her struggles to grow up without him around.
Musically, across the EP, Pip shows a wonderful dexterity, from the fluttering electronics and Fleetwood Mac-like melodies of Devil You Don’t, to the driving twangy guitars of Turn Over. Throughout they are all pinned together by Pip’s frankly stunning vocal, an instrument capable of effortlessly shifting from an impassioned howl to an intricate whisper. At barely sixteen, Pip Hall is a mercurial talent, a songwriter with unlimited potential, and already quite probably Preston’s most famous musical daughter. If James is an intriguing introduction, where she goes next might just be incredible.
7. Poppies – Good (Topshelf Records)
Back in June, Poppies, the effortlessly cool New York-quartet fronted by former couple May & Ian, released their debut EP, the moderately confidently titled, Good. The four track release fuses the worlds of anti-folk and slacker rock into a perfectly lurching, languid whole: like Pavement jamming with The Moldy Peaches. It is a record that never sounds in a rush to go anywhere, or really do anything.
Lyrically, Good is a record that explores growing pains, working out your place in the world, and questioning whether it would be much easier if we just stayed young forever. Take the superb Sunburn, where May sets out to put her life into some sort of order, but ends up concluding, “I’m tired and I’m done wondering if I’m not living good. Let’s do stupid things and get our teeth fucked up”. Elsewhere the album’s lead single, Dumb Advice, is a sort of clap-along playground version of Frankie Cosmos’ heartache fuelled exploration, while opening track Devin asks whether childhood demons are the result of youthful hi-jinks or Rosemary’s baby reincarnated. Overall Good is a record that despite all its laid back attitude, is beautifully crafted and deeply intelligent. An album that sounds like smart kids escaping the tough reality of modern living with big dumb guitar riffs and easy drum clattering: Good is an understatement.
6. Charmpit – Jelly (Keroleen Records)
The freakishly observant among you might note that this is a second consecutive year for Charmpit in our favourite EP’s of the year. Back in 2016 they shared their raw and thrilling debut EP Snorkel, just three tracks and eight minutes long; 2017 is the year Charmpit really grew up with an EP that is, well, four tracks and eight minutes long, and even features a re-recorded version of one track from Snorkel. Thankfully, what the excellent Jelly EP lacks in length it makes up for in absolute bangers.
Buckfast My Heart sees Rhianydd’s vocals to the fore, with a joyous slice of indie-pop about crushing on a new romantic interest and drinking lots of Buckfast. Lead-off track, Free The Burbs, is Charmpit at their most Best Coast-like; all jangling guitars, hazy California sunshine and yelped vocal brilliance. Best of all is Margot, a song about embracing the anarchic attitude of children and bringing that energy into your adult life, with the memorable conclusion, “no such thing as a neo-liberal baby, every baby is a natural born punk”. Jelly is the sound of Charmpit growing up a little, and vitally losing none of the energetic DIY-charm of those early recordings; watching a band mature this easily is an absolute pleasure.
5. The Whooperups – Sensible Daydreams (Everything Sucks)
Indie-pop super-groups were so prevalent in 2017, it was often quite hard to know where side projects ended and main bands began. Quite possibly our favourite of the bunch are, The Whooperups; the trio consisting of members of The Spook School, Wolf Girl and Charla Fantasma. The Whooperups released their excellent EP back in February, and looking at the various members upcoming schedules, it might be a long time before we get another one.
It would be a shame if The Whooperups disappeared entirely, because on the four tracks here, they showcased something raw and absolutely intriguing. Anna and Becky’s voices swell into natural, easy-harmonies atop walls of Spector-like drum beats, fuzzy guitars and propulsive, driving bass-lines. Lyrically, it is a record of doubts, of dreaming big but being prepared to scale back those ambitions to make them into something achievable. Knocking out a record this special in your downtime from other projects: some people are just too bloomin’ talented.
4. Drahla – Third Article (Self-Released)
Drahla’s new EP, Third Article, is probably the newest record on the list, only coming out at the back end of November, but thankfully it still had plenty of time to make an impression. Recorded with Hookworm’s MJ, Third Article showcased why the Leeds-based trio are so hotly tipped, and why excellent Canadian racket makers Metz took them along on a European tour.
The lushly-produced EP showcased the band’s gentle evolution into a unique and formidable act, mixing the no-wave energy of post-punk with the creativity and angularity of art-rock. Opening track, Form Of Luxury, is one of the year’s great statement of intents; squalling, swirling guitar lines joined by crisp drum battering and languid bass, before Lucile Brown’s anxious, spirited vocal enters, and blows the whole thing apart. Elsewhere, Silk Spirit fused gritty swagger with wonderfully jagged guitar noise, while New Living Creation adds some bonkers saxophone to the mix and comes out reminding us just how exciting Your Code Name Is: Milo sounded when they first burst onto the scene. Bristling with energy and ideas, Third Article shows Drahla to be one of the most ambitious and intriguing newcomers of 2017: utterly thrilling.
3. Life Model – Lucky (Frux Tapes)
Frux Tapes has been a consistently great label to look at for EP’s, and this year was no different. Our favourite of the lot is Lucky, the four track offering from dreamy Glaswegians Life Model. Produced by Susan Bear from Tuff Love alongside the band’s own Christopher T Smith, it is a significant sonic leap forward for the band, fusing their natural flair for a gorgeous melody with layer upon layer of aggressively beautiful noise.
At the centre of Lucky’s appeal is the stunning vocal performance of Sophie Evans; crystal clear melodies, a wonderfully playful inflexion and an effortless flair for carrying nonchalance and emotion in one single swooping refrain. All of which would count for little without the tracks to accompany the voice, and thankfully Life Model had them in spades; Skin & Bone with its propulsive bass and clattering distant drum beats, the almost nostalgic shoegaze of 4Eva, and perhaps best of all the paired back, and utterly beautiful, Together. In a year where many clamoured for the return of some shoe-gazing legends, Life Model’s updated version of the genre arguably sounds better than any of them.
2. Peaness – Are You Sure? (Alcopop Records)
There’s a rumour doing the rounds that indie-pop is dead, amalgamated into the increasingly prevalent world of DIY-punk. If that’s true can somebody let Peaness know? In a year where anger and angst ruled the blogosphere, Peaness were one of the few acts who took theirs and channelled it into perfect pop melodies. Take Oh George, the opening track to their Are You Sure? EP, it is an anti-austerity anthem aimed at our former chancellor, “oh George, I should have known, you only think of your own”, and it is also a dance-floor filling, bounce along ready, pop banger.
Are Your Sure? is quite possibly the most mature offering in this list, perfectly polished hooks, simplistic musical ideas given room to breathe grow and develop into perfectly formed indie anthems. From the fuzzy strutting of Seafoam Islands to the gorgeous bass-heavy lilt of Ugly Veg, it never sounded less than exquisite. Like the best pop music though, there is also a depth to their brand of “pea-pop”, scratch the surface and there is environmental activism, self-doubt and over all that, the nagging question plaguing so many of our minds, couldn’t this be better? Peaness, with their titter inducing name and sugary harmonies showed us all there’s more to being angry than shouting at the top of your voice.
1. Strawberry Runners – In The Garden, In The Night (Salinas Records)
Emi Knight, the woman behind Strawberry Runners’ magical In The Garden, In The Night EP, has come along way since, as a seven-year-old in Indiana, she picked up the guitar and learnt to strum along to church hymns and Bob Dylan. After a number of years drifting in and out of various musical projects, Emi seems to have stumbled upon something special in Strawberry Runners. Now based out of, you guessed it, Brooklyn, Emi formed Strawberry Runners back in 2013, and has been crafting the tracks that would go on to make this most magical of records ever since.
The resulting record is an exploration of adolescence, presented from the point of view of an older songwriter reflecting on the experiences that shaped her. Emi paints beautiful lyrical pictures, rich musical canvases where joy and sadness co-exist; entwining, shifting and growing together. Take the stunning Dog Days, a track that contrasts the sheer joy of slipping off your shoes and dipping them into a winding river, with the shocking death of a friend’s child, ultimately concluding, “search your whole life long, there ain’t nothing strong as a Kentucky woman”. It reads like a teenager’s diary entry, fluttering from the usual everyday self-doubt, to moments of beautiful tranquillity and devastating loss. The brilliant Brother is an apology and a promise to a sibling, “born five years after me”. It reflects on how Emi never picked up on his loneliness, never realised how her teenage exploits and nights outs left him with nobody, and concludes with the most beautiful of sisterly sentiments, “when you’re a little older I’ll explain it all to you, why the good will never stay and all the dark and scary things will never go away but we’ll be bigger than them someday”.
Musically it is a record that drifts easily between styles, one second recalling the indie-pop of Allo Darlin’, the next drifting off into rich orchestral pop and then off to sweet honest alt-country that Lucinda Williams would be proud of. The record’s finest moment comes at it’s finale, Your Bed Was Tall is a tribute to Emi’s mother, who “stand’s tall in spite of the mighty tempest”. The tracks builds to a crescendo of entwined guitar lines and steady, booming drum beats, as Emi sings into the musical storm, “when the world ain’t crumbling, do you think we’ll stop fighting? When the world ain’t crumbling, will I let you in, will I let you in”. In a world where life can be a struggle, In The Garden, In The Night, was a reminder that we must always battle to shape the world we want to see, that compassion, effort and, yes, music, can help us all make a little more sense of it all.
Click HERE for our pick of our favourite LP’s of 2017.