The 25 Best EPs of 2020 (So Far)

Featuring Animal Collective, Backxwash, Christine and the Queens and more

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The 25 Best EPs of 2020 (So Far)

EPs have long been avenues for experimentation and stylistic transition. Even though they don’t get as much attention, they build crucial bridges between full-length albums. Whether they give us a taste of where artists are heading or just function as fascinating, temporary detours, EPs are more than worthy of our ear space. In the first half of 2020, we’ve been blessed with EPs from some of today’s most formidable artists—Christine and the Queens, Animal Collective and Little Simz—plus newer faces with unending potential—Why Bonnie, Molina, Thyla and others. Scroll down to sample 25 of our favorite EPs from 2020 so far.

Listen to the full playlist on Spotify right here.

Animal Collective: Bridge to Quiet

Animal Collective thrive on eccentricities. Over the years, their music has employed varying amounts of psychedelia, field recordings, electronic music, improvisation and nondescript clamor—they’re constantly challenging their creative limits. These indie/psych-pop stalwarts are fond of the EP format, and in typical Animal Collective fashion, their latest is beautiful in the most jarring way possible. Bridge to Quiet is a series of improvisations from the past two years, and according to the band, they were remixed, collaged and built into songs. “Rain in Cups” opens with grim gurgles from the underworld, but then it blooms into a spacious electro-pop tune, though its ominous percussive twitches remain. The EP is centered around its collisions between sharp textures and expressive atmospheres, but the band’s melodic pop craft prevents these elements from dissolving or impaling one another. —Lizzie Manno

Backxwash: STIGMATA

Canadian-based artist and producer Backxwash has been shaking up the rap game since 2018’s BLACK SAILOR MOON. Inspired by everything from classic rock and horror films to experimental hip-hop and her African spirituality, Backxwash’s music is built to rattle your cage, hype you up and take names. Following her exceptional 2020 LP God Has Nothing to Do With This Leave Him Out of It, Backwash just dropped a new EP, peppered with Christian metal samples and her characteristically grand rage. Between the full-throttle metal riffs, her disfigured beats and lyrics of mythical agony, STIGMATA is essential horrorcore creed. —Lizzie Manno

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Bartees Strange: Say Goodbye To Pretty Boy

The debut EP from Oklahoma indie rocker Bartees Strange is far more ambitious than most artists’ first release. Say Goodbye To Pretty Boy reimagines the songs of The National to illustrate Strange’s experience as a person of color in a predominantly white music scene. This five-track EP is a radical exercise in perspective shifting, and Strange captures the warmth of their music via alternate, but equally satisfying means. On “Lemonworld,” he crafts something more dynamic than the original with wipsy electronic beats, enlivening guitar bursts and his distinctly rich, low voice, and his smoky reinterpretation of “A Reasonable Man (I Don’t Mind)” is particularly striking when read in the context of differing responses to oppression: “But if it happens to you / The same kind of deal / I recommend fire / Instead of the fool.” —Lizzie Manno

Bullion: We Had a Good Time

Lisbon producer Bullion, aka Nathan Jenkins, has explored his interest in shapeshifting club music and 1980s pop for over a decade now. His latest work and first solo material since 2017, We Had a Good Time, features like-minded alt-pop rising star Westerman and approaches electro-pop with a sense of gentleness. Though his penchant for left-field glitches can still be heard here, this EP is more sonically reigned in than his previous works and focused on emotional intimacy. As minimal and abstract as his lyrics may be, Bullion crafts wonderfully ephemeral, nostalgic pop. —Lizzie Manno

Cayley Thomas: How Else Can I Tell You?

Edmonton singer/songwriter Cayley Thomas shared her debut EP, How Else Can I Tell You?, earlier this year. With lush production and touches of retro pop, soul and indie rock, this five-track release is incredibly enchanting, particularly due to its timeless songwriting and Thomas’ beautiful vocals. —Lizzie Manno

CB Radio Gorgeous: EP

Chicago punk supergroup CB Radio Gorgeous, which features members of CCTV, Forced into Femininity and Negative Scanner, released a tape a few years ago via Not Normal Records, and recently, they followed it up with their vinyl debut. This four-track, seven-inch release, simply titled EP, is seven-and-a-half minutes of thrashing, take-no-shit punk. With tinges of classic American hardcore and ’70s punk, this EP is a volcano of snotty attitude, but strong pop fundamentals and sharp production underpin it all. In case you didn’t know hardcore punk could sound stylish and spunky, here’s CB Radio Gorgeous. —Lizzie Manno

Christine and the Queens: La vita nuova

Héloïse Letissier (Christine and the Queens, or just Chris) launched her career with an instantly-ironclad concept and a bilingual highway to communicate her chosen themes. Already distinct from her pop contemporaries, Chris is less concerned with recoding what can qualify as pop music. She’s more aligned with figuring out how the genre works for her, and how she can explore her anxieties, preoccupations and literary concerns through the language of Michael Jackson, Prince and Janet Jackson. Her latest EP is touch-starved, desperate for recognition and studded with Chris’ warm pining. La vita nuova sounds like a collection of essentials for a soon-to-be prolific artist. —Austin Jones

Harmless: Condiciones

Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter Nacho Cano, who records under the name Harmless, shared his new EP, Condiciones, which premiered exclusively at Paste. The EP has a pretty dramatic backstory: In 2017, Cano was nearly killed by a drunk driver while riding his bike. As a result, Cano was put on bed rest and had to relearn how to walk. During his long recovery process, a friend lent him a keyboard to write music. The result was his new EP Condiciones, which features samples of loved ones’ voicemails, audio from the hospital and video of Cano learning how to walk. The four-track EP melds rich saxophone and sleek vocals with twinkling, lo-fi psych-pop. —Lizzie Manno

Honey Lung: Post Modern Motorcade Music

London quartet Honey Lung shared their second EP Post Modern Motorcade Music via Big Scary Monsters (American Football, Beach Slang)—the follow-up to their 2019 demos and singles collection Memory, which Paste named one of the best EPs of last year. “Big” is a case study in the power of subtle, blooming melodies, “Juggle” is the band’s most lo-fi cut to date and perhaps their most lyrically pensive and “Be My Friend” is the kind of bittersweet lo-fi rock to be cherished—it’s equal parts soul-stirring and charming. —Lizzie Manno

Hotel Lux: Barstool Preaching

Portsmouth-via-London band Hotel Lux shared their debut EP Barstool Preaching via Nice Swan Records (Sports Team, Pip Blom, Fur). The five-track release spans slow-crawling, introspective rock (“Charades”), self-aware post-punk (“Loneliness of the Stage Performer”) and even jubilant organ-led guitar-pop (“Ballad of You & I”). There’s self-deprecating humor (“I scroll through pages upon pages on eBay to find the biggest ego and I beat the highest bidder”), stark frankness (“It’s just another day / Wasting our lives away”) and moments of clarity (“Sometimes I forget the people I meet are not the people for me / You see”). It’s also just a jolly good time with rollicking guitar lines and frontman Lewis Duffin’s cloak-and-dagger vocals. —Lizzie Manno

Jockstrap: Wicked City

London duo Jockstrap (aka Georgia Ellery and Taylor Skye) shared Wicked City, their second EP and debut for Warp Records. It follows 2018’s Love is the Key to the City. Jockstrap are quite enigmatic in sound—take “The City,” for example, which fuses glitchy industrial with showtune-y piano pop and glazed post-punk, and though that sounds insane on paper, it’s not only mind-numbingly fascinating, but also surprisingly coherent. “The heavy autobiographical narrative of Wicked City is married to an expressive and limitless sound world; influenced by everything we have ever musically absorbed and moulded with a ‘fuck it’ attitude,” Ellery says. You can certainly hear that “fuck it” ethos on this EP. Their strange, harsh-meets-soft pop is paired with poetic tales, and it’s the sound of deconstruction and reinvention—both sonic and emotional. —Lizzie Manno

Jordana: Something To Say

Jordana shared a new EP titled Something To Say via Grand Jury Music. It’s the first of a two-part EP series, with her follow-up To You arriving in the fall. Her debut album Classical Notions of Happiness has plenty of folk and lo-fi pop moments as well as stripped-back indie-pop ones, and Jordana’s music has only become more dense since then. Something To Say is full of richly-produced, hooky indie-pop—each song brimming with intriguing textures. Fried synths and warm guitar tones hover over bulky, glitchy beats, and there’s never a flat moment. The six-track EP’s sonic magnetism is due in part to producer MELVV, who also worked on “Crunch,” a standout track from her re-released debut album. Jordana’s stylish, airy vocals have never sounded better as they float effortlessly like plush clouds. —Lizzie Manno

Le Ren: Morning & Melancholia

Le Ren, the alias of 26-year-old Montreal musician Lauren Spear, quietly released one of the best indie folk EPs this year in her debut release Morning & Melancholia. It’s an airy and, at times, whimsical 12-minute affair, but the story behind these songs will bring you back down to the ground: Morning & Melancholia follows the death of Spear’s ex-boyfriend, who passed away in a car accident a few years ago, and grapples with grief and the fleeting nature of memories she no longer shares with anyone. But she bravely approaches these feelings, leaving us with a somber coming-apart song (“Love Can’t Be The Only Reason To Stay”), a politely plucked goodbye (“How To Say Goodbye”) and a charming folk tune reminiscent of the song “Fare Thee Well” (“If I Had Wings”). Spear is one of the brightest new Secretly Canadian signees, and this EP is a promising sign of what’s to come. —Ellen Johnson

Little Simz: Drop 6

North London rapper Little Simz shared her first new music since her Mercury Prize-nominated 2019 album GREY Area, which Paste named as one of the 10 best hip-hop albums of that year. This year, Little Simz shared an EP of new material written and recorded while in quarantine. The five-track EP opens with a bang. “You ain’t seen no one like me since Lauryn Hill back in the ‘90s, bitch,” Simz raps over a sly bass line on “might bang, might not,” and the venom doesn’t stop there: “I’m fuckboy resistant / Looking like a bulletproof vest.” Then comes “one life, might live” with its echoing, old school hip-hop percussion. The EP concludes with the sax-laden closer “where’s my lighter,” which features breathy vocals from Alewya and shows off Simz’ tender side: “Never sorry that I won but I’m sorry that you lost.” —Lizzie Manno

Lonnie Holley: National Freedom

Lonnie Holley was born into poverty in Jim Crow Alabama 70 years ago and released his first album the same year as Death Grips. There is no other recording artist about whom that sentence could be written, just as there is no other recording artist who could have created “I Woke Up in a Fucked-Up America”, Holley’s surrealist fever-dream of a signature song and the centerpiece of his remarkable 2018 album, MITH. MITH brought Holley the most significant mainstream attention of his music career, and now he follows it with a five-song EP that, at 36 minutes, could be another full-length. Yet those who came aboard with Holley’s protest songs two years ago may be disappointed to find that National Freedom does not reflect his meditations on the country’s present unrest. Instead, these songs were recorded seven years ago, during a pair of freewheeling sessions in 2013 and early 2014 (well before Swift’s 2018 death), and they illuminate a significant episode in Holley’s uncommon rise from home-cassette amatauer to Jagjaguwar-signed recording artist. —Zach Schonfeld

L’Eclair: Noshtta

Swiss six-piece L’Eclair shared a new EP Noshtta (via Allah Lahs-run label Calico Discos) following 2019’s Sauropoda and their collaborative seven-inch single with The Mauskovic Dance Band. The EP is full of groovy instrumental jams that fuse mind-numbing psych-funk with echoing, synth-laden dub. Here, impressionistic soundscapes run wild—the inescapable grooves contain infinite grains of wisdom and boundless possibility. —Lizzie Manno

Molina: Vanilla Shell

Chilean synth-pop artist Molina released her debut six-track EP Vanilla Shell back in January. You may have heard the Copenhagen-based singer/songwriter before on Jorge Elbrecht’s 2019 album, Gloss Coma – 002. She lent vocals to “The Entrance of Cold,” which also features SRSQ and Samantha Urbani. Vanilla Shell is an absorbing canvas of art-pop, synthwave, psych-pop and darkwave. Though Molina embraces left-field soundscapes, her angelic vocals would draw anyone in. Alongside icy keyboards, gorgeous flute and fretless bass, her luxuriant vocals are painted like graceful vapor trails. The title track’s cascading synths and slightly sinister strings dance around her breathy singing, and it’s spine-tingling in the best sense of the word. Another highlight, “Parásito” features some of the strangest and most enveloping guitar plucks you’ll likely hear all year, and her layered vocals are intensely gratifying. —Lizzie Manno

Neon Waltz: Huna

Scottish quartet Neon Waltz shared their second EP since their 2017 debut album Strange Hymns. In March, they released a four-track EP called Huna, which follows their 2018 EP Bring Me to Light. For years, Neon Waltz have released majestic, organ-led indie-folk from a small, picturesque coastal town called John O’Groats—the literal northernmost tip of the U.K. Their new Huna EP features three recent singles: “Strung Up,” “Thanks for Everything” and a live version of “All in Good Time,” plus a piano rendition of the latter track. Cuts like “All in Good Time” and “Thanks for Everything” feature those twinkling keys, reassuring vocals and moments of evocative, built-up elation we’ve come to expect from the band. But the highlight here is undoubtedly “Strung Up,” a longtime live favorite with such a spirited melancholia that those beautiful, treacherous Scottish cliffs and accompanying humbling winds become palpable. —Lizzie Manno

NNAMDÏ: Black Plight

Chicago multi-instrumentalist NNAMDÏ has had a busy 2020. He’s dropped two albums, most recently with KRAZY KARL last month, and he has a third on the way. Back in June, his EP Black Plight became the best-selling release on Bandcamp across all formats, and it fuses tempo-shifting rock with commentary on police violence and the current civil rights crisis. Crashing riffs and lines of generational oppression culminate in three feisty tracks. On “Rage,” NNAMDÏ sings with sharp clarity, “Had to burn it all down just to be heard / But we still ain’t heard / Had to burn it all down that’s what we’ve learned / But they still ain’t learned.” The EP rejects complacency—first and foremost, challenging people to ask themselves: do you value Black lives enough to help bring about change? —Lizzie Manno

Peel Dream Magazine: Moral Panics

Peel Dream Magazine, the shoegaze and indie-pop project of NYC musician Joe Stevens, released their sophomore album Agitprop Alterna earlier this year, and it showcased a floaty, pensive style of pop. Their new EP Moral Panics isn’t so much a departure from that sound as it is a reaffirmation that they’re one of the best at what they do. Between transportive serenity (“Live at the Movies,” “The Furthest Nearby Place”) and fuzzy potency (“New Culture”), Peel Dream Magazine are masters of stylish, profound songcraft. —Lizzie Manno

P22: Human Snake

After forming in 2015, Los Angeles four-piece P22 released their debut 12-inch EP, Human Snake, earlier this year. The quartet, which features Wand’s Sofia Arreguin (drums), Nicole-Antonia Spagnola (lead vocals), Justin Tenney (guitar) and Taylor Thompson (bass), turn protest music on its head. Alongside unorthodox drumming and stark vocals are their intensely fascinating lyrics, marked by poetic, animalistic imagery and a desire to decode what makes us all tick. P22 are not your typical punk band—they’re 10 times more evocative and challenging. “The Manger” is a good example of their sonic and lyrical ambition: Dramatic tempo changes underpin their thought-provoking lyrics: “He said ‘Because humane people don’t start revolutions / They start libraries and cemeteries / She said ‘I could never love anyone’” —Lizzie Manno

Ric Wilson & Terrace Martin: They Call Me Disco

Following 2017’s Negrow Disco and 2018’s BANBA, Chicago funk/disco rapper Ric Wilson shared a collaborative EP with jazz musician and hip-hop producer Terrace Martin (Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg). The pair began work on the EP last year, which continued into 2020. The EP also features appearances from Corbin Dallas, BJ The Chicago Kid, Malaya and Kiela Adira. They Call Me Disco is smooth, fun-loving and charismatic, blending retro funk-pop, playful hip-hop, exuberant disco and even psych-tinged R&B. “The disco-inspired funk never stops,” says Wilson. “Me and Terrace wanted to make something people can move to and free themselves.” Martin adds, “This record is a beautiful reminder the disco never stops. Keep smiling, keep dancing, and keep loving.” —Lizzie Manno

Skullcrusher: Skullcrusher

Skullcrusher is not a ruthless metal ensemble, as one might guess from the name. However, what it actually is—the enchanting indie project of Helen Ballentine—is equally as thrilling. She doesn’t crush skulls, but she crushes our hearts. Her self-titled debut EP arrived on Secretly Canadian last month. Within four songs that total around 11 minutes, Ballentine gives the world a piece of herself. The result is as gentle as it is raw, and as sweet as it is sad. This EP might be overlooked—perhaps due to its brevity, or the fact that it’s Skullcrusher’s debut, or because it was released amid Taylor Swift’s folklore craze or Phoebe Bridgers’ Punisher hype. But this EP—like those albums—stands bravely on its own, inhabiting a newfound world, and it’s both idyllic and tragic. —Danielle Chelosky

Thyla: Everything At Once

Brighton dream-pop outfit Thyla released their second EP, Everything At Once. Everything At Once follows their 2019 debut EP What’s On Your Mind, which landed on our list of best EPs of last year. Everything At Once includes three previously released singles, “Two Sense,” “Lenox Hill” and “December,” plus a brand new track, “Everything.” The four-track EP is full of invigorating, crisp rock songs, all cloaked in glorious guitar mist. Lead singer Millie Duthie’s voice is positively sublime—she’s just as proficient in exalted rock anthems as graceful pop introspections. Their newest song, “Everything,” has the kind of rich climax that requires closed eyes and an unlimited imagination—once that cutting guitar kicks in and Duthie’s stirring, layered vocals begin to surface, you’re fully dialed in. —Lizzie Manno

Why Bonnie: Voice Box

Occasionally when a hip new band starts to get considerable buzz there’s usually one single in particular tied to the hype. For Austin-based indie rock group Why Bonnie, that song just might be the blistering “Athlete,” a recently released single from their Voice Box EP. It’s truly an attention-grabber, full of fortified feedback fuzz, screeching guitars and the unmistakable power of frontwoman Blair Howerton’s soft yet deep voice. It begins with scratchy violin strings straight out of a horror flick before the band pokes at the idea of athletic prowess “‘Athlete’ is the most ‘rock and roll’ track on the EP so we wanted to make a video that embodied that, but also felt like casual, day-in-the-life footage,” the band said in a statement. “Kind of like watching a home movie that you found in a box in your parents’ attic, but instead of you as a three-year old on the soccer field, you’re a grown adult with about the same skill level.” “Athlete” isn’t the only star single, though: The Voice Box title track is just as attractive, but a bit closer to the dream-pop side of things. Any band who can squeeze this much beautiful noise into such a small amount of output is one to keep your eyes on. —Ellen Johnson

Listen to the full playlist on Spotify right here.

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