EPs might not be as glamorous as hit singles or full-length albums, but often the most exciting new music of the year comes from this under-appreciated format. After listing 10 of our favorite EPs in 2018, we decided to double this year’s list for your listening and reading pleasure. Many of the EPs listed below are the first major release from up-and-coming artists, like Slow Pulp, Ducks Unlimited, Honey Lung and Girl Friday, and others come from longtime favorites Broken Social Scene, Sunflower Bean and Charly Bliss. Whether they helped tide us over in between studio albums or introduced us to music for the first time, these were our 20 favorite EPs of 2019, as voted on by the Paste music staff.
Listen to our Best EPs of 2019 playlist on Spotify right here.
Sunflower Bean’s 2018 album Twentytwo in Blue joined their 2016 debut Human Ceremony in ruling modern indie rock’s melodic territory. Those albums have their share of rowdy moments, but they’re distinctly tuneful. The band’s EP from early 2019 King of the Dudes, however, takes off like a rocket ship, leaving the pretty singing on songs like “Twentytwo” behind on the dusty ground. On the EP’s title and opening track, Julia Cumming playfully teases the listener with a takedown of the male rockstar stereotype. “Did I just walk in on some circle jerk shit?” she shouts. But, funnily enough, the song is classic rock ‘n’ roll, the ideal introduction to a rousing record full of moments that could’ve easily appeared on a Rolling Stones album. “Come For Me” borrows a few beats from disco, but it’s still searing, heated rock. “Fear City” is like condensed Van Halen, while “The Big One” has a more punk delivery. King of the Dudes is only four songs long, but it proves Sunflower Bean—already one of the most consistently great bands working in indie rock—are capable of so much more than we thought possible. —Ellen Johnson
On the heels of her excellent gloomy and introspective 2018 EP, Interpersonal, I caught Taylor Janzen at SXSW and wrote that “she’s about to become an absolute star,” the combination of the best aspects of Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus. For as great as last year’s EP was, I was even further blown away by the newer material she was playing, a handful of more uptempo, more rock-adjacent tracks that saw her voice soar to impressive heights. Those songs were corralled together on May’s Shouting Matches, a five-track EP showcasing a much different side of Janzen’s songwriting, a much more powerful one where she maintains that same level of personal reflection, now pairing it with catchy melodies and more in-your-face backing instrumentals. And I wasn’t the only one who thought that she’s about to become a star: Janzen recently signed with Glassnote Records and released a new single, “What I Do…,” a slightly poppier track that sees her add even more pep than everything she’s released prior. The sky is truly the limit for Janzen, a songwriter who could easily be indie’s biggest breakout in 2020. —Steven Edelstone
It’s a shame Toronto-based quartet waited until the very end of November to release Get Bleak, an EP so perfectly suited for summer that it’s almost making me angry thinking about all of the rooftop parties and barbecues it could have soundtracked. A perfect combination of contemporary modern indie rock à la Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever and classic jangle pop bands like Belle & Sebastian or The Sundays, the four songs on Get Bleak are pure indie-pop bliss, filled to the brim with warm, swirling guitars. Lead singer Tom Mcgreevy leads the way with his calming but sure-handed vocals, singing songs about hopelessness that sound anything but. Sure, the band called this release Get Bleak, but there’s no chance you’ll feel any of the emotions they sing about throughout these four tracks—in fact, you’ll feel the exact opposite. —Steven Edelstone
Connecticut-via-Los Angeles band Milly is the lo-fi slowcore project of Brendan Dyer, and they recently dropped their debut EP on cassette, Our First Four Songs, via Dangerbird Records. The EP is a collection of three singles plus a previously unreleased eponymous track, and it’s a slow-drip of steamy guitars, casual yet heartfelt vocals and ephemeral, abstract love songs. “Milly” and “Talking Secret” lean into warped guitar ferocity while “People Are Forever” and “Crazy Horse” (whose video was premiered by Paste) embrace crawling tempos and dazed, cinematic lo-fi. Milly stopped by Atlanta’s Paste Studio to perform songs from the EP, and their warm-hearted, syrupy rock songs make them a band to watch in 2020. —Lizzie Manno
BODEGA have always gone against the grain: Their insane attention to detail and deliberate aesthetic represents the antithesis of slacker rock and bedroom pop trends. From their harsh Parquet Courts-meets-Gang of Four-meets-Television take on post-punk and art-rock to co-lead singers Ben Hozie and Nikki Belfiglio’s combative stage personas, every move, every lyric and every sound you hear is extremely calculated. They rage against the machine quite literally—so much of their material references the negative aspects of modern technology and late-stage capitalism—and with only a few exceptions, their instrumentals follow suit, mimicking the dystopian lyrics and Hozie’s monotone shouts to paint a pretty bleak look at the world. That’s why it’s pretty jarring to hear BODEGA loosen up a bit on Shiny New Model, a standalone EP released a little over a year following their debut record, Endless Scroll. Though only a few of the seven punchy tracks on Shiny New Model are as punishing as anything on Endless Scroll, it seems like the Bushwick, Brooklyn and Ridgewood, Queens band is having more fun than ever. —Steven Edelstone
On her song, “Forgive Yourself,” Nicole Rodriguez, who records under her moniker Pearla, details events in her past, from the routine (“Can you forgive yourself for missing the last get together? / It’s alright to stay inside if you think that will make you feel better”) to the traumatic (“Can you forgive yourself for turning your back in fear / When that man died on the welcome mat at the coffee shop that you worked at last year?”). Quilting & Other Activities, Pearla’s consistently beautiful debut EP—and first release on EggHunt Records, Lucy Dacus’ former label—is full of flashes like this. Rodriguez cleverly tosses a lot of curveballs: a bizarre drum fill here (“Daydream”), building guitar feedback there (“Somewhere”). This is the sort of dependably gorgeous singer/songwriter release that almost sounds like a lullaby at times, but Rodriguez refuses to allow you the nap, using creative methods to throw the listener for a loop. She demands your attention, and it’s nearly impossible to turn away, frequently recalling the best of Phoebe Bridgers or Julien Baker. —Steven Edelstone
Guerilla Toss are a reminder that art-rock doesn’t need to be pompous to push boundaries. The group’s EP, What Would The Odd Do?, shows a danceable inventiveness that’s as fun as it is pensive—even when confronting serious topics like addiction and recovery. “Future Doesn’t Know” is a pristine glimpse into existential thought that’s propped up by its energetic instrumentation. It’s also incredibly fun. For Carlson, Guerilla Toss’ music serves both as a creative outlet and a preventative tool keeping her from returning to a severe opioid addiction. A portion of the proceeds from the album will go to the Harlem Harm Reduction Clinic to help in their battle against the opiate crisis, and you can purchase it on Bandcamp here. —Hayden Goodridge
With the release of their exceptional debut EP, What’s On Your Mind and a second one on the way, things are only looking up for Brighton four-piece Thyla. What’s On Your Mind highlights like “Only Ever” and “Blue” cultivate a misty dream-pop wonderland with frontwoman Millie Duthie’s enigmatic lead vocals as their euphoric centerpiece. Then add a framework of palatial, lush guitars and a dash of moody post-punk for good measure, and you have all the bearings of a band worth obsessing over. —Lizzie Manno
Chicago-via-Wisconsin four-piece Slow Pulp recorded most of their Big Day EP—not to be confused with The Big Day, Chance the Rapper’s inoffensive and not-very-good “debut album” also released this year—in a cabin in Michigan. Music critics love to obsess over environment—where an album was recorded, how it was recorded and how the process was potentially affected by a space—and occasionally their assumptions about the music’s relationship to the landscape actually reflect reality. This, however, is one of those instances when a record sounds absolutely nothing like its origin grounds. This four-song suckerpunch contains moments of ambience and noise, but never does Big Day resemble something Bon Iver made in the woods. It’s impressive because Slow Pulp—made up of Teddy Mathews, Alex Leeds, Henry Stoehr and Emily Massey, who joined later but who the band would absolutely be incomplete without—don’t even have a full-length album out yet. They barely have enough songs out in the world to equal an album tracklist, but they’re nonetheless one of the most exciting acts to emerge this year. “New Media,” a steady, shiny standout on the EP, is a classic taste of millennial jadedness. “I can’t seem to break the fence,” Massey sings. “Overacted in all my plans.” But when has exhaustion ever sounded this composed? —Ellen Johnson
British outfit Squid caught our attention at this year’s SXSW with their nervy, dynamic art punk, and their debut EP Town Centre, which was released a few months later, cemented the hype. “Savage” sets the scene with swirling ambiance, the faint ringing of church bells, and sultry saxophone—it sounds like a slow pan of a desolate Medieval town at the peak of the Black Death. The anxious post-punk of “Match Bet” sees lead vocalist Ollie Judge write from the perspective of a manic gambler, while “The Cleaner” is a bombastic ‘80s synth-punk (think Talking Heads meets Brainiac) ode to a janitor who dances “with DVDs and books” to “rocket pop.” Throughout this seven-minute, wonky scene, “The Cleaner” celebrates people who work thankless, faceless low-wage jobs, and somehow its protagonist takes pleasure in the small details that make their job bearable, like their “favorite shoes” and the music that blares as they sweep and mop. It’s a seering rebuke of modern labor (“I’m the cleaner who gets home whose body drops down / On the floor as you find it there with a brush and mop”) and a depiction of how transcendence has become an essential late-capitalist coping mechanism. The EP closes with the minimal drum machines of “Rodeo,” a critique of the competitive sport which abuses large animals for often violent and often six-second-long chaos—all for mere human entertainment. The characters and narratives in Town Centre are all ones that aliens would find mind-boggling, but Squid capture this surreal world with charming humor and stark, poetic flare. —Lizzie Manno
The next chapter of Aussie rock has brought us Sweater Curse, the rock-minded Brisbane trio who landed on our list of 20 rising Australian bands to know in 2019. Sweater Curse have been buzzy for a few years now, Pacific-side—back in 2017, with only two singles to their name, they toured with guitar vets Jen Cloher and Julia Jacklin, plus Camp Cope and Rolling Blackouts C.F. But if their impressive debut EP, See You is any indication, they’re bound to break out even more. Beginning with the wizened standout “Can’t See You Anymore,” Sweater Curse create an emotional arc—the rise and fall of a failing relationship—on See You in less than 25 minutes. On that first track, a truly great rock song, bassist Monica Sottile sings, “What I’ll see and how I’ll feel is beyond me,” in a state of confusion amid a swarm of steady, punk-leaning guitar riffs. Later, the unease fuels agency: “I can’t see you anymore / ‘Cause I don’t know who to adore.’” On “Take Some Time,” the relationship in question is crumbling, but Sottile’s character is exhausted trying to save it: “Please just try for the sake of it / try not to lie / I’m so tired and I don’t have the strength to try.” —Ellen Johnson
Seriously, when was the last time a British rock band came around that was this fun? Making Hay, a greatest hits release of sorts with the best of their 15 or so songs they’ve put out to date, doesn’t just make the case that Sports Team are the most exciting British band of the moment, but also that they’re one of the most exciting British bands in ages. With frenetic guitars à la Palma Violets and an energy that harkens back to the best of the British indie invasion of the ’00s, Sports Team are truly ready to take over the world. Few lead singers this decade have had anywhere close to as much charisma as frontman Alex Rice has, a face that you’ll surely see on an NME cover in 2020. Each song on Making Hay is anthemic as all hell, the kind of songs that have been tearing down stages across Europe and North America all year (and when I caught them at Brooklyn’s Baby’s All Right in October, members of Hinds were leading the mosh pit). Next year—or whenever their debut LP is released—will be a banner year for the London-based band, so get on board now before they’re playing your town’s biggest venue. —Steven Edelstone
EPs that follow a larger album event—especially an album that’s already practically perfect on its own—can so often feel pointless, like excess Thanksgiving leftovers you freeze for later and ultimately decide to chuck. But Supermoon, the punchy five-song package Charly Bliss delivered in October, several months after their rock-solid sophomore effort Young Enough, feels vital and sequential, like the Brooklyn-based band were on a roll and they just couldn’t stop. These songs reasonably fit in Young Enough’s cracks. Eva Hendricks balances existentialism with nihilism on the power-pop ripper “Feed,” bemoans bygone celestial events on the title track and drops the vivid phrase “Blinding sun, demented shade / It’s easy to love you from far away” on the rocking “Slingshot.” The EP also houses the band’s “first love song” “Heaven,” a single released in 2018 between the band’s beloved 2017 debut Guppy and Young Enough, making for an apt bridge between the two. —Ellen Johnson
Oxford, Miss. indie singer-songwriter Kate Teague caught our ear straight from her debut single, “Low Life,” which introduced her captivating sound to the world with confidence. Her next single, “Good To You,” which we also highlighted as our Daily Dose upon its release, matches breezy instrumentation with self-conscious, striving lyrics. Then, came the deeply personal “Gilly,” which found Teague reaching out to console a loved one, doing her best to be there for her from afar. Next was “In Our Element,” which finds Teague inhabiting her twang-tinged indie-rock sweet spot. All these tracks and more can be found on Teague’s impressive self-titled debut EP, out now via Muscle Beach Records. —Scott Russell
After a solid performance at this year’s South By Southwest and tours opening for Parquet Courts, Viagra Boys, Oh Sees and Fontaines D.C., Montreal five-piece Pottery released their debut EP No. 1, recorded in just over two nights and cut live to tape. Crediting Orange Juice, Josef K and DEVO as influences, Pottery blend the whimsical, danceable and the arty leanings of some of pop and punk’s greatest groups. The instrumental “Smooth Operator” is a slinky opener, evolving from a cool and collected bluesy strut to an anxious punk freakout. Another somewhat rootsy tune “Hank Williams” is unexpected, but it’s one of the peppiest country-punk tracks since Iceage stomper “The Lord’s Favorite.” “The Craft” finds their eccentric post-punk at its sharpest and most cartoonish. Their wonky percussion, frisky vocal snarls and lyrics of life’s rat race result in freakish art-pop profundity. —Lizzie Manno
The debut EP from Vancouver art collective N0V3L sounds both tighter and looser than the other records on this list. Its guitar riffs are more tightly-coiled and the lyrics are delivered with an unmistakable anti-capitalist ideology, but it’s also packed with funky, disco-punk grooves that will help you unwind. On “Sign on the Line,” you won’t know whether to organize a collective bargaining strike or put on cyclops sunglasses and head for the dancefloor. “To Whom It May Concern” is a firestorm of chiming guitar stabs, and though these ricochets are methodical and mathematical, there’s a spunky attitude underpinning it all. “Natural,” on the other hand, is the brass-tinted dance-punk tune to end them all, and “Will to Power” is the disco-funk cut with bratty punk vocals you didn’t know you needed.—Lizzie Manno
The debut EP from Los Angeles-based rockers Girl Friday finds the perfect balance between a blissful retreat and a fury-filled indictment of society’s ills. While “Lullaby No. 13” and “Headstones” opt for the former, “Generation Sick” and “Decoration/Currency” carry the pitchfork and torch for the latter. “Generation Sick” is a seething punk-pop tirade about men who abuse their power (“I had a dream where I screamed / I don’t wanna see another man in my life / What do you think that means”), and “Decoration/Currency” denounces the superficiality of the entertainment industry. On the softer side, “Headstones” opens with candy-coated indie-pop, but that sugar is quickly melted by their dogged, collective punk chant. Its crisp melodies and agile motor offer just as much therapeutic refuge as their beatific lyrics of escapism. —Lizzie Manno
London quartet Honey Lung are one of the most promising bands of the past few years, and their recent vinyl-only EP, Memory, released on Brooklyn’s Kanine Records, is further evidence of their striking melodic intuition and incredibly moving woe. The eight-track EP, which was recorded with help from Yuck’s Max Bloom, consists of four singles and four demos that range from dejected lo-fi sketches to some of the most satisfying hook-driven rock tracks of 2019. Young adult depression, self-deprecation and the undying need for companionship fill the lines of Memory, and though post-night-out exhilaration and downcast, sleepless nights are what largely characterize this EP, Jamie Batten’s compassionate vocals and invigorating melodies are restorative. Honey Lung made their U.S. live debut at this year’s SXSW, where they also recorded an exclusive session for Paste, performing two songs from Memory and an unreleased track. Following their EP, they released a new single and their best track to date, “Nothing,” which marries the off-kilter flourishes of their demos with the fierce catchiness of their singles. Things are looking very bright for Honey Lung in 2020. —Lizzie Manno
Broken Social Scene’s rotating cast of 17 or so musicians always keeps us guessing. On part one of their recent EP Let’s Try The After, Kevin Drew and co. take us through an odyssey of quicksilver post-rock and starry, ascendent pop/rock. Following the seagull-infused clamor of intro “The Sweet Sea,” Broken Social Scene emerge elegant, spacey and experimental on the largely instrumental “Remember Me Young,” a challenging tune that also warms the soul. “Boyfriends” sees them channel The National and Phoenix for dusty-meets-electro indie rock while the horn-laden “1972” marries garbled synths, Ariel Engle’s dreamy pop coo and robotic backing vocals. Final track “All I Want” keeps their unpredictable and unconventional pop flowing with its worldly rhythms, electronic percussion, misshapen vocals and distorted keys. Let’s Try The After (Vol. 1) is a celebration of their “anything goes” mentality, but it’s also a strangely cohesive scene with wide-open, mountainous beauty and a space age skyline. —Lizzie Manno
1. Lucy Dacus: 2019
Time may be a construct, but it’s a pretty damn tireless one. It doesn’t stop when a family member dies, when you move to a new city or when a depression spell hits. The unending flow of time is overwhelming, a riptide that sweeps us under and threatens to drown us as we realize that, fuck, 2019 is almost over and we are on the precipice of a new decade. It’s like what Steve Miller so astutely once taught us: “Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future.” To counter this, man created holidays to demarcate time and give us a reason to look around and remind ourselves where we are in this continuous cycle of seconds and days and years. Lucy Dacus, always a melancholic and incisive observer of the human condition, puts her own spin on these special days with 2019, her eclectic collection of holiday songs. With three original tracks and four covers, Dacus simultaneously examines and celebrates New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, Taurus Season (with a nod at Mother’s Day), Fourth of July, Bruce Springsteen’s birthday, Halloween and Christmas. —Clare Martin
Listen to our Best EPs of 2019 playlist on Spotify right here.