The 10 Best EPs of 2018

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The 10 Best EPs of 2018

Quality over quantity, as they say. Just because EPs are shorter than LPs in length doesn’t mean they can’t pack just as much punch, and there’s something to be said for a really good one, a condensed work of art that leaves you wanting more. But the guidelines for an EP are becoming a little fuzzy. If it’s longer than 30 minutes, can it still be an EP? What about an LP that’s only 15-minutes-long…can that be an EP? And what if my favorite album of the year is actually an EP…that cool? The answer to all those questions is yes—we think. There’s no such thing as the album police, thank goodness, but all the works on this list are widely considered to be EPs, so we believe they warrant a ranking of their own separate from the best albums list. EPs are often a spilling-over of b-sides and demos from an artist’s most recent LP, but sometimes they just don’t contain enough material to constitute an album, or maybe they’re unfinished business. Lucky for us, several of the EPs on this list—including those by Stella Donnelly and Hatchie—are excellent debut releases, leaving us impatient for full-lengths. Oftentimes, the best EPs index rising new artists, and if this list is any indication, 2019 is going to be a great year for debut albums.

Here are the 10 best EPs of 2018:

stelladonnelly_BIG.jpg 10. Stella Donnelly: Thrush Metal
Someone give Stella Donnelly one of those vintage ribbon microphones and an early slot at the comedy club. Actually, a guitar and a venue stage should suffice for now, but let it be known that this Australian singer/songwriter rivals Mrs. Maisel in her abilities to pair humor with heartbreak and absolutely command a room. Never was there an awkward tuning moment during Donnelly’s opening set for a Natalie Prass show this fall, in which she fired off joke after joke, receiving hearty laughter from the audience, followed by commentary on the ongoing #MeToo movements here in the U.S. and back home in Oceania, which drew ample applause. She’s an ace with a crowd, but her real talent for wordplay shows up in the masterful lyrics on her debut EP, Thrush Metal, a name that only serves to sound “cool,” as she told us that night at a tiny Atlanta venue. That title might only be a slick word-pairing, but the music itself is chock full of meaning—wise words on awful men, victim blaming and dwindling relationships, as well as blossoming ones. It’s hard to decide which is more the standout track, the searing “Mechanical Bull” or “Boys Will Be Boys,” a #MeToo anthem for the ages. Thankfully, we don’t have to choose, but the latter is the song many needed to hear in 2018, especially after Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court: “Boys will be boys” is not a viable excuse for, as Donnelly puts it, “invading her magnificence.” Nor is beer. In fact, there’s never an excuse. And maybe all of the tracks on Thrush Metal are standouts. This EP is a truly magnificent bud to Donnelly’s blooming discography, which I predict will someday rival that of this decade’s greatest lyricists. Hope to see you in 2019, Stella. —Ellen Johnson


roanokewhereiroam_BIG.jpg 9. Roanoke: Where I Roam
An exceptionally talented young quintet, Roanoke belie any geographic references implied by their name because they make their home in Nashville. That misnomer aside, the music they offer on their stunning sophomore effort, Where I Roam, reflects a clarity and cohesion that suggest that even early on in their collective career, the band possesses a knowing sense of skill and savvy. Seamless harmonies and the back porch setting suggested by mandolin, banjo and violin assure a seductive sound, a delivery that lures its listeners even on first encounter. Within the span of its five tracks, Roanoke weaves a series of tender tales and nuanced narratives, all spawned from a decidedly heart-worn perspective. “Jordan,” “The Light” and “Without You” provide an uptick in energy, while the beautiful ballads “Losing You” and “Heavy Goodbyes” effectively ensure the emotional embrace. The couple at the helm, Joey Beesley and Taylor Dupuis, effectively mine this appealing presentation to full advantage, allowing Where I Roam to transport its listeners to destinations where the auditory appeal is undeniable. —Lee Zimmerman


protomartyrconsolation_BIG.jpg 8. Protomartyr: Consolation E.P.
Detroit  quartet Protomartyr’s Consolation E.P., recorded with The Breeders’ Kelley Deal and her R.Ring bandmate Mike Montgomery (Protomartyr recorded a split single “A Half of Seven” with R. Ring in 2015), manages to reflect the band’s multi-faceted noisy punk sound in just four tracks. The lead track “Wait” is marked by spring-loaded drums, cacophonous guitars and vocals on the precipice of upheaval at every turn. “Same Face in a Different Mirror” one-ups the lurking quality of the previous track by opting for more jarring, sinister guitars and slightly more understated lead vocals. These tracks are undeniably political in nature. On “Same Face in a Different Mirror,” frontman Joe Casey delivers a rallying cry masquerading as a question, “With this, who can be against us?,” while on “Wheel of Fortune,” he sticks up for the little guy when matter-of-factly stating, “Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is impossible.” Deal also lends vocals on the last two tracks, “Wheel of Fortune” and “You Always Win,” bolstering their dynamic EP, particularly on the affecting final track that adds a welcome surprise of cello, clarinet and viola. —Lizzie Manno


Empath_BIG.jpg 7. Empath: Liberating Guilt and Fear
Philly rockers Empath put out one of the most compelling noise releases of the year with their four-song EP and cassette, Liberating Guilt and Fear. The most curious thing about the band is how they masterfully balance the qualities of pop sweetness and noise-punk guitar tornadoes. Though the entirety of the EP is worth your time, the standout track here is “The Eye,” a blinding slice of noise-pop that allows ear-splitting hubbub, tuneful pop melodies and twinkling synths to live under the same roof in blissful harmony. “No Attachment” features multiple sonic dichotomies—steaming punk yelps and bubblegum “ooh” vocals, plus a violent guitar and drum fracas in the midst of mellow synths. The closing track “III” might be a bit overwhelming on first listen, chirping birds, rumbling background noise and all, but later reveals itself to be a trippy, unwinding symphony of sounds. —Lizzie Manno


mosessumneyblackindeepred_BIG.jpg 6. Moses Sumney: Black in Deep Red, 2014
Moses Sumney’s second EP of 2018, named for a Mark Rothko painting and inspired by a protest Sumney attended after Michael Brown’s killer wasn’t charged, makes an indelible impression in just nine minutes, making for some of this year’s most powerful protest music. Sumney lets the people speak on opening track “Power?,” his voice, digitally disguised, taking a backseat to those of his fellow protesters, the intro’s instrumental tension steadily rising until a warped Sumney wonders, “Do we have power?” Sumney’s signature falsetto is the star of “Call-to-Arms,” a swelling assemblage of abstract vocalizations, sleek guitars and intricate percussion that eventually explodes into a spacey, neo-jazz freakout. The best comes last, as Sumney speaks his mind on “Rank and File” (a mainstay of his live show), coding his condemnations of the police state as the marching orders of its agents (“Now I don’t care what I’ve been told / To kill so quick is animal,” he cries). The song’s hypnotic lockstep pushes ever forward, like a legion of nameless, faceless shooters, masquerading as servants. —Scott Russell


firstaidkittenderofferings_BIG.jpg 5. First Aid Kit: Tender Offerings
Sister folk duo First Aid Kit released their fourth LP, Ruins, a record that surfaced from a series of personal and professional crises, in January. A smart and sincere retaliation, that would have been more than enough to satiate their fans, but Klara and Johanna Söderberg had more to say, more beautiful harmonies to share. Tender Offerings arrived in September, and though it’s only four songs to Ruins’ 10, this confessional EP accomplishes more catharsis and empathy than the album musters. Through a distinctly feminine perspective, the Söderberg sisters explore how we manage pain, how we deal with self-doubt and how we maintain hope. The first track, “I’ve Wanted You” is desperately searching, not just for a person, but for a feeling: “I’ve been feelin’ so in-between things / Sad and stuck and alone.” And try as one might to fill that emptiness with another human being, our wizened narrator says it can’t be done: “Keep thinkin’ I can escape it / But there are no red shoes to tap.” “Ugly” is just as blunt, and its first lines will sound familiar to anyone who has struggled with body image, or maybe an eating disorder: “I thought that being skinny was the answer to all my problems / Thought if you found me pretty then I’ll be fine.” But First Aid Kit want to remind you of this truth: You’re “so much more than that…so much more than you’ll ever know.” On this EP it’s clear Klara and Johanna know a little something about damaged goods, how to handle them and live with them. And Tender Offerings is just that, a truly compassionate musical rendering. —Ellen Johnson


waxahatcheegreatthunder_BIG.jpg 4. Waxahatchee: Great Thunder
Katie Crutchfield knows her way around a rock album. In 2009, three years before the first Waxahatchee record, Crutchfield and her twin sister Allison released their first works as P.S. Eliot, a punk outfit they formed in Birmingham, Ala., their hometown. In 2016, they released a collection of other lost P.S. Eliot tunes, a wild, searing conglomeration of 50 rock songs and coinciding demos that sing of fleeing the South and pay homage to Sleater-Kinney. Katie would take a softer approach on her first Waxahatchee releases before returning again to rock and punk on her 2017 master work, Out in the Storm. But rather than release Storm b-sides or tarry further down a road to rock ‘n’ roll, Crutchfield slips back into her folk roots on Great Thunder, an EP so calculated in its quietness you wouldn’t dare utter a word during its slow-burning 17 minutes. Great Thunder is actually a reimagining of songs Crutchfield wrote while recording with an experimental-rock project of the same name, and while working on those early Waxahatchee releases, Cerulean Salt and Ivy Tripp, which certainly have more in common with this EP than Out in the Storm. On Great Thunder, Crutchfield swaps electric guitar and thundering drums for a single piano and the occasional acoustic guitar, turning all attention to her voice and lyrics. You sense that following the loud success of Storm, this is really the EP Crutchfield wanted to make. It’s intimate and untarnished by production of any kind. It’s uplifting, spiritual and anti-chaotic, just what the doctor ordered in a year defined by mayhem. Crutchfield probably isn’t shelving her electric guitar forever, but, for now, her piano, voice and soul-bearing words are more than enough to keep us content. —Ellen Johnson


publicpractice_BIG.jpg 3. Public Practice: Distance Is a Mirror
Catching Brooklyn-based punk band Public Practice live for the first time was an earth-shattering experience. Lead singer Sam York channeled Karen O throughout the performance, holding the crowd in the palm of her sweaty, beer-soaked hands as the rest of the band—a Bushwick DIY supergroup of sorts made up of members of the newly defunct WALL and Beverly—seamlessly transitioned between synthy post-punk and 70’s-esque, groove-inspired art-punk. All of that frenetic energy is clearly still on display on Distance is a Mirror, the group’s first ever release, hinting that much more is on the way in 2019. With a funky breakdown here and blistering distorted guitars there, the EP has a distinct musical sound that’s entirely theirs, eclipsing their past work in other bands in just four tracks spanning twelve minutes. “Bad Girl(s)” sees York fight back at the industry and society that demands she look, act, and sound a specific way, screaming that “I won’t play your game.” That line dominates the ethos of Public Practice, a band that refuses to play by the rules, which in turn led to one of the best debut EPs of 2018, more than whetting our appetite for a full-length in 2019. —Steven Edelstone


hatchiesugarandspicealbumcover_BIG.jpg 2. Hatchie: Sugar & Spice
Australian singer/songwriter Hatchie released her debut EP, Sugar & Spice, in May, and she’s been kicking up quite the shimmery storm ever since. In September, she played two festivals back-to-back, and she also recently played a sold-out string of tour dates with Alvvays and Snail Mail (an indie fan’s dream lineup). Hatchie’s irresistible dream-pop is sugar to the ear, but it’s not always lyrically sweet. On her EP’s title track, Hatchie is regretful, singing, “Sugar and spice / I should’ve taken your advice.” She’s not only thoughtful, but also clever in her compositions: Hatchie strikes the perfect combination between acoustic and synth, her pop occasionally moonlighting as something folksier. “Sure,” the first song on Sugar & Spice, uses looping drum machines and consistent synth, but it’s softened by soft acoustic guitar as Hatchie fires off question after question. “Why did you do it? / You couldn’t just laugh and walk away?” —Ellen Johnson

Watch Hatchie’s 2018 session in the Paste Studio


Thumbnail image for boygenius packshot.jpg 1. boygenius: boygenius
The debut from rock supergroup boygenius has only one real flaw: it’s much too short. Its length (still on the longer side for an EP, at six songs) is forgivable, though: The women behind boygenius—Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus—are busy. They’ve each released a critically-adored solo LP in the last year or so and have thusly been swamped with promotional duties and live performances. On boygenius, the three become one, miraculously and pristinely so. Bridgers, Baker and Dacus pack a novel’s worth of narrative and as many masterful melodies (not to mention harmonies) into just 21 minutes that will leave you feeling as if you’ve had the wind knocked right out of you. The album ends on an especially magical note. On “Ketchum, ID,” Bridgers, Dacus and Baker assume soprano, alto and tenor and churn up a harmony so handsomely melancholic you’ll find yourself snatching tissues without even knowing why. It’s a fitting epilogue, too, that chronicles the band’s shared experience as touring musicians, and the emotional heaviness following those long nights in unfamiliar places. “I am never anywhere / Anywhere I go,” they sing in unison. “When I’m home I’m never there / Long enough to know.” Those are devastating words, but, at the same time, you get the feeling Bridgers, Baker and Dacus have found some sense of home in one another. Their mutual experiences are what unite them, and that bond bleeds through this music in every buzzing, beautiful bar. —Ellen Johnson

Read Paste’s review of boygenius

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