2018 was another fine year for the EP. With so many of our favourite smaller bands graduating to the full album format in 2018, the EP allowed us to explore many new and intriguing acts. The shorter format offers a snapshot of where a band’s music is now and a tantalising glimpse of where it might go next.
This a list full of versatility and creativity, music that craves emotional connection over a polished studio sound. For the most part these are bands making music not for a living but out of a sheer creative passion; whether they’re making bedroom-pop, anarchic-punk or a new noise entirely of their own making, these bands pushed musical boundaries and thrilled us in the process.
Without further ado, these are our twenty favourite EP’s of 2018, bite size musical chunks ready for you aural ingestion.
20. Crake – The Politics Of The Lonely [Self-Released]
19. Lisa/Liza – Barn Coat [Self-Released]
18. Owls Of Now – Episode Four [For The Sake Of Tapes]
17. Milk Crimes – EP II [Everything Sucks Music]
16. Mt. Doubt – This Must Mean Something Awful [Scottish Fiction]
15. Kill Joy – Sex Comedy [Self-Released]
14. Shapes In Calgary – Here [Self-Released]
13. Deerful – Tell Me I Can Fix This On My Own [Self-Released]
12. Rachel Angel – Not Enough [Human Noise Records]
11. Pip Blom – Paycheck [Nice Swan Records]
10. Pillow Queens – State Of The State [Specialist Subject Records]
A triumphant year for Irish-quartet Pillow Queens ended recently with a sold-out homecoming show at Dublin musical-institution, Whelan’s. It was just rewards for what has been an incredible year for the band. It was a year that began rather wonderfully back in March, with the release of their second EP, State Of The State, a record that is at once universally relatable and unmistakably Irish.
From their thick accents and Dublin-slang, through to their musings on life in post-recession Ireland, Pillow Queens, wore their Irishness on their sleeves and stood out from the crowd as a result. State Of The State is a record of wonderful contrasts, the perfect harmonies and glistening production juxtaposing with the darkness of their lyrical content, as they tackle themes of mental health, sexuality and the ups and downs that life throws at us all. The state of the state was something crossing many people’s minds on both sides of the Irish sea this year, and few people documented their anger better than Pillow Queens.
9. Mighty Kids – Won’t You Reconsider [Reckless Yes]
Showing themselves to be masters at playing their own sound-down, Mighty Kids describe their music as “melancholic uke-pop”, thankfully they’re much more interesting than that sounds. After a brief hiatus to work on other projects, including Grawl!x and the excellent, and un-googleable in a work scenario, Sex Jokes, the Derbyshire based trio re-convened, and finally got around to putting some music into the world, in the shape of their four-track EP, Wont You Reconsider?
Released on the excellent Reckless Yes label, Wont You Reconsider? covers an impressive amount of ground in its short run, as moments of melancholic bedroom pop collide with dance floor worthy bangers. De-facto title track, Window is a wonderfully jaunty track about sleeping around until you realise the one you always wanted was already there; Fire And Moon is a joyous blast of chip-tune playfulness, while Hey Baby manages to be simultaneously strong and sad, as singer Shelley Jane Newman declares, “I remember the fights and how I could never be right, I looked for the answer in myself but it was not there to find, because it was just the me and you that wasn’t right”. They’ll break your heart, they’ll make you dance, those Mighty Kids made a mighty good record.
8. Margaret Glaspy – Born Yesterday [ATO Records]
Following the break-out success of 2016’s Emotions and Math, Margaret Glaspy’s next step was always going to be an intriguing one. While other artists might have chosen to follow the album-touring-album blue-print, Margaret wasn’t in the mood for taking her time, and almost off-handishly released a three-track EP, that just happened to be one of the year’s very best.
Written, “on the road, in my hotel, on the plane, and at soundcheck”, the three tracks may be the product of not having much time to herself, yet they manage to expertly explore three different facets of love: “love gone wrong, love gone right, and love at a distance”. The record rasps into life with Before We Were Together, with that instantly recognisable vocal declaring, “shut my mouth I don’t want to say words that’ll make you go away, but I also want to make you to go away for good”. It’s a brutal and brilliant dissection of a relationship gone wrong, surmised simply as, “life was better before we were together”. Elsewhere, One Heart And Two Arms shows off the visceral quality of Margaret’s guitar playing at odds with its lyrical sweetness and closing track, I Love You Goodnight has a winning simplicity as the touring life puts a strain on even the strongest of relationships. Described by Margaret as, “the end of this chapter”, Born Yesterday may be a stop-gap, but in Margaret’s hands even a stop-gap sounds utterly wonderful.
7. Suzie True – Nothing To You [Buzz Records]
Having appeared not once, but twice in this list back in 2016 with her other band Bearcats, Lexi McCoy is something of a dab-hand at writing wonderful EPs. Her latest project, Suzie True, are an LA-based, “sad girl pop”, band that initially started life in Lexi’s bedroom before expanding to their current three-piece, power-pop line-up.
Their latest EP, Nothing To You, was presented to the world by the brilliant single, Don’t Grow Up, a musing on watching everyone else grow up around you, while you just want to write songs, skateboard and find someone to share that lifestyle with you. Elsewhere on the record, Suzie True show their ability to play fuzzy Colleen Green-like garage on Rat Kid, as well as New Wave-wonders on Sad Boy, with its brilliant opening line “I think my boyfriend likes Morrissey more than he likes me”. They even find time for a gorgeous acoustic-ditty in Mixtape, showing they can do heart-breaking just as well as angry, as Lexi wistfully emotes, “I never know what to say, until you’re gone and on your way, cats got my tongue every day, so I’ll make you a mixtape”. Suzie True, don’t want to grow up, and when they’re doing such a stunning job of chronicling youth and young womanhood, why would anyone want them to?
6. Blushing – Weak [Austin Town Hall Records]
Blushing formed back in 2015 when Michelle Soto shared her music with friend Christina Carmona, the pair then both recruited their husbands forming a slightly unusual pair of husband-and-wife duos. Blushing took their time honing their song-writing, before emerging in 2017 with their debut Tether, which got a little lost in the massed ranks of new-shoegaze acts at the time, thankfully Blushing returned rapidly with the excellent follow-up, Weak.
Wearing its influences, Lush, The Cocteau Twins, The Sundays, openly, Weak is a record that takes classic influences and bends rather than breaking them. The woozy Bliss slows things down, letting the tight harmonies shine, Bound adds a grungy quality with its walls of fuzzy guitar, while best of all, Love You Twice pulses on a Pixies-like bass line, then soars on a perfect, distant vocal line. Coming good on all that promise, Weak was the sound of Blushing finding their feet and owning their moment in the limelight.
5. MOLAR – Straniero [Everything Sucks Music]
Ok, so it’s not technically out yet, and it makes us seem like right show-offs including it, but we’ve heard Straniero, the new MOLAR record, ahead of its December 14th release, and it is a record far too good to ignore on an, “it’s not actually out yet”, technicality. The first new material from the multi-national quartet since 2016, Straniero, meaning foreigner in Italian, is a record that hits 2018’s biggest political story, Brexit, between the eyes, and demands we take a long hard look at what we’re doing.
The personal is unquestionably political to MOLAR; their lives in this country have been thrown into doubt by a decision they have no say in, and listening to Straniero, they’re quite rightly very angry about that. We’ve raved about the brilliant Auslännerwahlrecht recently and shared Weights And Values earlier this week, needless to say the rest are just as powerfully wonderful. MOLAR’s return is as timely as it is brilliant, taking a stand, making a racket and refusing to be ignored, Straniero is a triumph.
4. Cheerbleederz – Faceplant [Alcopop! Records]
Cheerbleederz are something of a pop-punk supergroup, featuring members of Fresh, Happy Accidents and Finish Flag. All three members are the only woman in their respective bands, and forged out of friendship and a lack of expectations, their debut EP, Faceplant, is a triumphant exploration of, “being women together”.
Across Faceplant, the band explore an impressive diversity of themes; there’s the triumphant, Don’t Hesitate, a song about not always questioning your art and just putting it out there, Cabin Fever is a reflection on failing to express your feelings, while Staying Up Late questions whether this love stuff is even worth it anyway, or whether we should just wallow in the nostalgia of a familiar sitcom. While sticking loosely to an indie-punk theme, the record equally has plenty of variety, from the fuzzy-majesty of Don’t Hesitate, to the melodic honesty of Thinking Of You, where Katherine Woods chimes “I’ll pretend that I’m fine, put my heart on the line“, soaring to the high note with effortless grace. A tribute to the power of friendship, finding you voice and not being afraid to use it, we only hope this isn’t the last we hear from Cheerbleederz.
3. Hairband – S/T [Monorail Music]
Hairband’s debut EP starts with band coming together in a collective animal impression, an excellent reflection of the joyous record that is to follow. It was only last week we wrote about the Glasgow-based quintet, thankfully their record is not one we tire of raving about.
The record’s five tracks fly by in an energetic and intriguing fifteen minutes, full of complex musical ideas and harmonies as old as time itself. It’s a record you can let wash over you as hazy whole, and equally one where individual ideas shine through, whether that’s the beautiful jazzy drums on Bubble Sword, the stunning harmonies on Flying, or the call-and-response guitars that introduce White Teeth. Despite all those plus points mentioned, you’ve probably spent most of these paragraphs wondering what animal they’re impersonating, to find out, well you’ll just have to listen below.
2. Why Bonnie – In Water [Sports Day]
“The rest is practice, it’s not the real thing” sing Why Bonnie on Practice, the centrepiece of their magnificent, At Water EP. Like so much the Austin based quintet do, it is a line loaded with emotion, anguish and a just a glimmer of hope. At Water was one of two EPs the band released this year, alongside the equally vaunted Nightgown, yet it was At Water that caught our attention, drew us into Why Bonnie’s world and refused to let us leave.
Throughout At Water, Why Bonnie seem to wring the emotion out of every note, something in the metronomic drums, in the pulse of keys, in the prominent driving bass, it seems to sit in your chest, demanding you listen with your heart as much as your ears. At the front of it all is the presence of vocalist Blair Howerton, at times a soaring howl, at others a perfect, subtle lilt; throughout the vocals seem a little lost, unsure where to turn, unsure what is real, as if battling through a maze of emotions and guitar lines. Despite the brilliance on show elsewhere it’s Practice we keep going back to, the steady pounding of drums, the dense layers of guitars, the pained cry of the vocal, so lost, so confused, yet still quietly dedicated to an idea of a reality: “I choose to say here with you”.
1. flirting. – This Would Be Funny If It Were Happening To Anyone But Me [Noise Therapy/Hidden Bay Records]
“I’m trying to work out exactly what it means to be alive, but it seems so hard” sing flirting. on, Yum, the near seven minute opus that starts their EP, This Would Be Funny If It Were Happening To Anyone But Me. It’s a line that neatly surmises much of what the record is about, an EP that seems to be in a constant battle, unsure of itself, unsure of the world that it is framed within; a constant spiral of anxiety, self-doubt and few set boundaries. It’s a theme mirrored as much in the music as the lyricism; a record constantly shifting through genres and tempos, crescendos of raw noise and lulls of quiet contemplation, “these words they are noise, they tear at my flesh, and I bite my tongue, yes I bite my tongue”.
flirting. are an almost unclassifiable band. One second fusing spoken-word and post-punk, the next stumbling into a blast of pure melodic pop, then collapsing to a visceral roar of distortion and noise. Throughout, vocalist Poppy Waring oozes a potent mix of charisma and raw emotion, a natural born front-woman growing into her role, the perfect counter to her bandmates triumphant racket.
The record’s finest moment comes in Lilac, where, from a meandering keyboard line, the track swells and grows to an angular whole, all razor-edged guitars and rattling cymbal hits. In the centre of it all, Poppy presents a perfect representation of a moment of chaotic loneliness, “the stars are in the sky and I’m sat outside my front door, scrolling through my phone trying to figure out who’d be a friendly voice on the other side of the light”, it’s a perfect juxtaposition of modern living and an ancient desire for someone, anyone, to tell us, “it’s all going to be fine”. At a time when music can so often feel familiar, old-hat, retrograde even, flirting. have created something entirely unique, and in doing so they make you fall in love with music all over again.
Our end of year round-up continues next week with a look at our favourite albums of 2018.