The 25 Best EPs of 2020

Featuring Christine and the Queens, Dirty Projectors, Jordana and more

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The 25 Best EPs of 2020

EPs are a strange animal. As noted by one writer, they’ve increasingly become as long as seven or eight songs, often to stretch out the hype cycle ahead of an artist’s first official album release or just to sneak into the albums section on Spotify. But no matter if they’re three songs or eight, EPs are a great way to package an artist’s early output or share new songs in between full-length LPs. Debut EPs, in particular, are exciting introductions to new bands, and often become highly coveted records for avid fans and vinyl heads alike. From this year’s slate, we were blown away by debuts from Molina, Horsegirl, Store Front and more, and we couldn’t help but bask in the glory of releases from veterans like Christine and the Queens, Dirty Projectors and Bullion. Scroll down to dive into 25 EPs from 2020 that tickled our fancy, as voted on by the Paste music staff.

Listen to Paste’s Best EPs of 2020 playlist on Spotify here.

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, Backxwash 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

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 reined-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

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

Dirty Projectors: 5EPs

Think of Dave Longstreth’s 2020 as Dirty Projectors but decentralized. Even amidst this year’s ceaseless media roar of concerning election and pandemic news, Dirty Projectors gradually released four EPs—one with each band member on lead vocals and Longstreth co-writing each song—and then released a fifth with a “dynamic, full-band sound.” Collected as an anthology of these releases, 5EPs is the first time this seemingly interminable project has felt completely approachable, rather than yet another informational overload in this swirling year. When exploring sounds more common with solo acts, Longstreth conversely sounds better surrounded by collaborators who can hold their own as easily as they can blend in. 5EPs makes the case that Dirty Projectors functions best not as a party for one, but as a conversation. —Max Freedman

Dummy: EP2

Earlier this year, Los Angeles noise-pop band Dummy shared their debut release, Dummy EP, via Pop Wig Records. In November, the group put out their second release, EP2, available now on cassette via Born Yesterday Records. They shared “Pool Dizzy”—the first taste of EP2—exclusively via Paste. Their debut was rooted in krautrock and synth-laden noise pop, and they even threw in a foggy folk tune and an eight-minute new age-esque closer. EP2, on the other hand, leans more on hypnotic synths than driving guitars—apart from “Pool Dizzy.” The track’s throbbing beat, murky guitars and retro keyboards are rejuvenating, and their heavenly, overlapping vocals are the cherry on top. It’s the sound of droning pop euphoria. —Lizzie Manno

Emma-Jean Thackray: Rain Dance

London-based artist and bandleader Emma-Jean Thackray creates boisterous, elegant jazz with the pulse of a DJ set. She’s become a fixture in the world-class London jazz scene, having performed with Ezra Collective and Nubya Garcia, and her recent EP Rain Dance places her among the very best. Rooted in rich trumpet zigzags, earthy vocals and offbeat tempos, this EP is an immersive, yet approachable escapade. —Lizzie Manno

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 back in January. 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 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

Horsegirl: Ballroom Dance Scene et cetera (best of Horsegirl)

Horsegirl’s members are still in high school, but this Chicago trio sounds like they’ve been plotting their rise forever. The band released a collection of their first three singles on Bandcamp, in which they dive headfirst into heartfelt indie and eccentric noise rock. Their songs may evade big hooks, but they’re so magnetizing that you’ll hardly notice. With immense depth and a palpable sense of cool, Horsegirl share raw scribblings over clamorous guitars, and the result is exhilarating friction. —Lizzie Manno

India Jordan: For You

On India Jordan’s second EP, the U.K. producer reflects on their personal and social journey toward finding themself and breaking out in London’s dance scene. “Dear Nan King” is a swirl of rapid-fire cymbals and early-dawn synths about Jordan’s adolescent coming out, and the title track is a rush of self-affirming rave ecstasy directed at themself. The filtered drum and bass of “Westbourne Ave” is their rebuke to the drum and bass producers who boxed them out of London’s scene early on, but with For You, Jordan has made a name for themself far beyond the U.K. —Max Freedman

Jordana: Something To Say

Jordana shared an EP titled Something To Say via Grand Jury Music in July. It was the first of a two-part EP series, with her follow-up To You arriving shortly after. 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

Maxband: Top of the Stairs

New York City outfit Maxband released their debut EP Top Of The Stairs via Holm Front, a label run by U.K. indie band Sports Team. Maxband features lead vocalist Max Savage (Parquet Courts), bassist/vocalist Patrick Smith (A Beacon School), drummer Eric Read and lead guitarist Tim Nelson. The five-track EP was produced by Doug Schadt (Maggie Rogers, Ashe), and recorded in Brooklyn in late 2019 and early 2020. It follows their 2018 debut album Perfect Strangers. Top Of The Stairs is imbued with an effortless confidence. Both their vocals and guitars oscillate between gentle and vehement, creating this satisfying contradiction of steady and unsteady. With shades of misty indie rock and driving post-punk, Maxband create something special out of familiar elements. —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 hear all year, and her layered vocals are intensely gratifying. —Lizzie Manno

NNAMDÏ: Black Plight

Chicago multi-instrumentalist NNAMDÏ has had a busy 2020. He’s dropped two albums, most recently with July’s KRAZY KARL, and his Black Plight EP arrived in June. The EP 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

Park Hye Jin: How can I

How can I is far more diverse than Korean producer Park Hye Jin’s sugary yet monochrome, gleefully danceable but rap-dashed 2018 debut EP IF U WANT IT. Opener “Like this” is the only track here that sounds anything like the Hye Jin we once knew—from there, we get lethargic cough-syrup trap ballads (“How can I”), grating, angry techno visions (“NO”) and rapid cuts of footwork-inspired pandemonium (“How come”). Elsewhere, Hye Jin explores filter house and juke, but she never abandons the hip-hop influences that made IF U WANT IT so special. As she tries on new hats, her sharpest idiosyncrasies remain intact. —Max Freedman

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

PUP: This Place Sucks Ass

For PUP, a band whose breakout album begins with the all-time great kickoff line “If this tour doesn’t kill you then I will,” the only thing worse than being trapped on tour for a year is being trapped without the possibility of touring for a year. Innumerable great young bands have seen their touring careers stalled by the pandemic, and PUP is one of them: Instead of seizing the momentum of 2019’s phenomenal Morbid Stuff with another round of shows, the Toronto punk band is trapped at home and getting their aggression out with a characteristically misanthropic EP, This Place Sucks Ass. Titled after a routine tour refrain-turned-pandemic commentary (“at this moment in time, it feels so fucking real—wherever you are, it sucks ass right now,” frontman Stefan Babcock explains), the 17-minute release compresses the band’s infectious feel-bad punk energy into five new ragers and one cover. —Zach Schonfeld

PVA: Toner

London disco-punk trio PVA share more with buzzy English acts like black midi and Black Country, New Road than just a point of origin. Much like their similarly oft-tipped peers, Ella Harris, Josh Baxter and Louis Satchell have generated hype by making mercurial music that confounds simple categorization, blending elements of post-punk, electro-pop and balearic house to invigorating effect. As recent signees to Ninja Tune’s Big Dada imprint, PVA released their debut EP Toner in November; the release features production from Dan Carey of cult U.K. label Speedy Wunderground, and remixes by Mura Masa, Lynks and Girl Band / Daniel Fox. PVA formed at a house party, and though the sample size remains tantalizingly tiny in terms of their output, the band’s sound stays true to the intoxicating energy of their genesis. —Scott Russell

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

Soul Glo: Songs to Yeet at the Sun

Soul Glo’s first LP opened with a sample of children singing an uplifting chant about joining in the struggle against racism, but don’t be fooled. As soon as Pierce Jordan’s hardcore screams ring out, Soul Glo are clear that bootlickers and oppressors are enemies in this fight, and the band is endorsing a radical approach over the “Can’t we all just get along?” propaganda disseminated by the mainstream. A band bold enough to declare “I want to be a terrorist” on the opening line of their debut album and ignore civility discussions is one that’s uniquely qualified to capture the reality of Americans’ perpetual suffering. With their latest EP Songs to Yeet at the Sun, the Philadelphia band rattles off fiery, relatable stories about what it means to be Black, anti-capitalist, financially insecure and on antidepressants in 2020. Jordan screaming about being distracted by various vices, products and ideas even as he’s “awash in the promise that I’ll be destroyed” is one of the most thoughtful and painfully true portraits of the present moment you’ll likely come across. —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 thrilling. She doesn’t crush skulls, but she crushes our hearts. Her self-titled debut EP arrived on Secretly Canadian over the summer. 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

Store Front: Task

New York quintet Store Front—Amy Rose Spiegel (vocals/lyrics), Peggy Wang (bass, formerly of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart), Bob Marshall (guitar), Brandon Louro (guitar) and Chalky Edwards (drums)—released their debut EP Task in February. The five-track release’s lovely opening cut “Rip the Price Off” sets the tone for an EP that tries to find the joy in struggle, as Spiegel explained in a statement: “Task is about making private jokes in your head about all the big concerns you’re trying to keep track of, especially in the cases when those things are supposed to feel gravely serious,” she says. Anchored by Wang’s bass, and Marshall and Louro’s dreamy dual-guitar work, “Rip the Price Off” finds Spiegel exploring the dehumanizing effects of capitalism, which ties our self-worth to the work we do and what we’re paid for it. “When it comes to my job, look, I slack off / I don’t try too hard / Even writing this song, I wanted to do / the bare minimum,” she sings, finding the sardonic humor in being behind the eight ball, “broke and lazy.” It’s a funny and relatable sentiment, couched in the kind of gorgeous instrumentation you can’t put a price tag on, and on Task, it’s only the beginning. —Scott Russell

Sweater Curse: Push / Pull

Monica Sottile, co-lead singer and songwriter in Brisbane trio Sweater Curse, describes Australian indie rock as “an extension of domestic life.” There’s certainly truth to that assessment, as the country has a great tradition of guitar-pop songs about charming, comforting scenes. The Go-Betweens sang about “fireplaces and rocking chairs” and “showering for an hour,” while contemporary acts like Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever and Courtney Barnett write about things like “satin sheets” and “Vegemite crumbs.” Sweater Curse don’t write songs with that kind of precision, but they do write about the haunting thoughts that exist in those spaces—when you’re tossing and turning at night, making French press coffee in the morning or leaving a house party more lonely than when you arrived. For their second EP Push/Pull, Sweater Curse really come out of their shell, amplifying their faint post-punk tinges and sky-high pop hooks. —Lizzie Manno

Tems: For Broken Ears

It’s no exaggeration to say rising Nigerian singer-songwriter and producer Tems (born Temilade Openiyi) pours her entire life into her debut EP. Each of its six songs is a passage from her story to this point, from the inner struggle of “Free Mind” to the tumultuous romance of “Damages,” while the central “Témiladè Interlude” harkens back to before her birth, with her pregnant mother Abi intuiting, “This is a girl and her name is Témìládè.” Though the EP is an undeniable introduction to her artistic ambitions, Openiyi embeds her true intent in the release’s title: For Broken Ears is an offering to anyone in need of healing, a collection of intimate, yet expansive neo-soul, R&B and Afropop that looks back on emotional turmoil and forward to a beautiful future. “I see the dream coming before me / I’ve been the one, don’t have to say it,” she sings on “The Key,” the self-assured conclusion to an EP that speaks for itself. —Scott Russell

Tkay Maidza: Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 2

The title of Tkay Maidza’s EP series may be slightly ill-fitting given the chaos of 2020, but rest assured: Everything about the recent past has been weird. The Australian rapper and recent 4AD signee shared the second volume of that series this year, and it’s clear she’s in her element and wants you to know it, too. With smooth R&B vocals and stylish raps, Maidza playfully boasts, valuing her independence and self-determination above all else. Whether it’s a ferocious rap beat drop (“Grasshopper”) or bright pop moment with honeyed production (“You Sad”), she dazzles as she remains focused on the path that best suits her. —Lizzie Manno

TSHA: Flowers

London-based producer TSHA’s breakthrough third EP, released in November via Ninja Tune, is a four-track electronic collection that includes collaborations with Ell Murphy, Gabrielle Aplin and Malian griot supergroup Trio Da Kali. Despite its brevity, Flowers showcases the impressive scope of TSHA’s vision, blending disco and deep house (“Sister,” “Change”) with rock (“Renegade”) and Afrobeat (“Demba”) sounds. An entirely self-taught musician who’s cemented herself as an act to watch, TSHA has already remixed the likes of Foals, Declan McKenna and Lianne La Havas, demonstrating an intuitive ear for rhythm and melody that effortlessly spans disparate styles. It’s exhilarating to hear Flowers bloom before your ears and look ahead to 2021, imagining what TSHA will do with such vibrant colors on a larger canvas. —Scott Russell

Listen to Paste’s Best EPs of 2020 playlist on Spotify here.

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