The 25 Best EPs of 2021

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The 25 Best EPs of 2021

Records are like diamonds: Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better. Say hello to our little friend the extended play, not quite a single and not quite an album, but just as potentially deserving of your eardrums as either of its siblings. LPs are viewed as the main event when it comes to music releases, whereas EPs are more liable to fall through the cracks, despite being more versatile—some are prologues, others experiments, and many are as cohesive and deliberately structured as any album, only with brevity as a prominent part of their arsenals. There’s no room for filler when your record is maxing out at, say, eight tracks, and the best EPs stick around just long enough to plant their flags inside your mind, only to end and leave you wanting more music. The records below were the 2021 EPs that did the most with less in the Paste Music team’s estimations, the small gemstones that shined the brightest. Take a look and take a listen—it won’t take you long.

Listen to Paste’s Best EPs of 2021 playlist on Spotify here.

Benny the Butcher & Harry Fraud: The Plugs I Met 2

In a rare instance of the mixtape sequel holding up to the original, the dynamic duo of Griselda’s Benny the Butcher and legendary producer Harry Fraud released The Plugs I Met 2, a feature-laden display of New York rap at its most rugged. Fraud’s red carpet production serves as a backdrop for a lush, visceral portrait of trapping at its finest. Fat Joe, French Montana, Jim Jones and even the deceased Chinx are shining stars, helping solidify Benny’s ascension to one of rap’s most brilliant figures as he revitalizes the image of New York, immortalized in the works of the city’s legends. —Jade Gomez

Body Meat: Year of the Orc

Body Meat, the stage name of Philadelphia-based musician Christopher Taylor, is overwhelming in the best way. Year of the Orc is a thesis statement for his purpose as he bends the limits of listenable and unlistenable, jolting the listener through glitchy interpretations of pop music. There is something for everyone, notably the recognizable trap sirens and hi-hats that make this EP sound like a grotesque I Spy puzzle that slowly sheds its layers with each listen. —Jade Gomez

Doss: 4 New Hit Songs

Doss’ first solo record in about seven years is dubbed 4 New Hit Songs, and that title is the straight-up truth. The electro-pop producer doesn’t miss for a second on the EP, delivering bubbly banger after banger with her high-pitched vocals and bright dance beats. Each track is steeped in feel-good energy, culminating with the euphoric ode to Eurodance that is “On Your Mind.” Doss said on Twitter that “Putting this EP out is like meeting with an old friend you haven’t seen in a while,” and this reunion is a more-than-welcome moment of pure happiness. —Carli Scolforo

Drug Church: Tawny

Not to be overlooked among 2021’s wave of bands mixing heaviness and hooks to stellar effect (TURNSTILE, The Armed, et al.) are Drug Church, whose four-track Tawny EP connects their 2018 album Cheer to their LP4-in-progress. The Albany, New York quintet’s June release combines their 2020 single “Bliss Out” with two new rippers, “Tawny” and “Head-Off,” and closes with a bright, yet biting cover of Arcwelder’s “Remember to Forget.” It’s the cover, ironically, that best captures the paradox at Drug Church’s core: Vocalist Patrick Kindlon delivers the track’s oxymoronic lyrics (“I’m doing the impossible / Remember to forget”) over Nick Cogan and Cory Galusha’s souped-up guitars, and Pat Wynne and Chris Vileneuve’s confident rhythm section, and mockingly rejects acclaim via the very melody with which he earns it: “Just sing a little pop song / Then everybody loves you.” It’s hard not to love Drug Church’s hot knife through butter of a sound, which makes Tawny an easy target for repeat listens. —Scott Russell

Enumclaw: Jimbo Demo

“I’m just not for everybody / It’s hard to accept,” Enumclaw vocalist and guitarist Aramis Johnson sings on “Fast N All,” the first single from the Tacoma, Washington, quartet’s debut release. It’s a fair assessment: One of the first things you notice about Jimbo Demo is Johnson’s voice, nasal and raw, which may turn off listeners who mistake a feature for a bug. That unvarnished authenticity is what Enumclaw are all about, and it only amplifies their honest, emotional songwriting (“I’m not the person that I wanna be,” Johnson insists on “Cinderella”). Instrumentally, the band—which also features Nathan Cornell, Ladaniel Gipson and post-Jimbo Demo addition Eli Edwards, Johnson’s brother—craft a sound that’s equal parts grunge and shoegaze, fusing the former’s casually distorted disaffection with the latter’s dreamy, effects-augmented melodies. There’s nothing more exciting than a band than can bottle lightning while retaining so much room to grow. —Scott Russell

Floating Room: Shima

Floating Room, the noisy project of Maya Stoner, are able to pack so many emotions into four tracks on their Shima EP. Stoner pushes boundaries with her sparkling indie vocals, switching into ear-shattering shrieks. Embracing the grit and imperfection of ’90s grunge, Floating Room channel those carefree guitar licks, mixed with a scathing edge that dissolves into feedback. Whether bidding farewell to a lost lover on “… See You Around” or sticking up a finger to colonizers on “Shimanchu,” Floating Room’s new record is a concise diary that contains multitudes. —Jade Gomez

Francis of Delirium: Wading

Francis of Delirium’s EP Wading consists of three previously released singles and one new track in “I Think I’m Losing.” Taken as a whole, the collection of releases by Vancouver teen Jana Bahrich and Seattle drummer/producer Chris Hewett brings as much heart as it does edge. Bahrich’s range of vocal stylings are on full display, from more mild-mannered indie melodies to half-spoken poetic verses and powerful, emo-infused belts. Paired with grungy, fuzzy guitar, drums and choral harmonies, the duo pack a serious punch. The EP’s new song “I Think I’m Losing” is a stunning, dynamic ballad that pulls all these elements together and finishes Wading with a bang. —Carli Scolforo

heka: (a)

Francesca Brierley’s new EP as heka, the plainly titled (a), may be unassuming, but it snakes its way inside your psyche pretty quickly. These four lo-fi tracks contain a mesmerizing calm and an emotional frankness that stares you in the face and wrestles with the aftermath of pain. Though the EP’s ambient textures delight and heal, the central frameworks of heka’s songs are always constructed to thrive on their own. The opening track “(a) mask” rests on somber, folky melodies that would be just as arresting via soft, a cappella hum, even when her voice swerves towards misty auto-tune intonations.Through light hisses, pronounced echos, what sound like castanets and other instrumental flutters, her compassionate vocal performance absolutely steals the show on “(a) dab,” a grisly tale about an unhealthy romance spiraling out of control. Though not without unexpected sonic treasures, the magic of (a) rests on Brierley’s full-hearted belief in the powerful simplicity of her songs. —Lizzie Manno

Hey, ily!: Internet Breath

Recalling his motivation for forming Hey, ily!, Billings, Montana, musician Caleb Haynes has said that he set out “to make something that’s familiar yet super crazy and all over the place at the same time.” That describes his project’s breakout EP Internet Breath perfectly: The record is nostalgic and innovative in equal measure, drawing inspiration from videogames via chiptune and “Nintendocore” sounds, which it then sets alongside emo, synth-pop, shoegaze and hardcore punk. It sounds impossible on paper, but Hey, ily! pulls it off, cranking up the hooks and irresistible energy on tracks like “Don’t Talk About It (Your Weird Complex)” and “Projection Joins the Battle!” in particular. At six tracks and just 17 minutes, Internet Breath is an invigorating listen that will lock up even the shortest attention span. —Scott Russell

India Jordan: Watch Out!

On their energetic and raucous Watch Out! EP, London producer India Jordan further hones their talent for writing beats that feel like they contain a limitless amount of energy. Engineered to give each track space to breathe and to anticipate Jordan’s often surprising and thrilling sonic choices, the producer delivers five tracks that are sure to electrify the newly opened dance floors they were undoubtedly designed to inhabit. Jordan’s arrangements cause the songs to resist passivity, with grooves that feel practically like forces of nature. Described by Jordan as being “about movement,” Watch Out! feels confident and secure in itself —eaturing samples from the world around the producer, reconfigured into complex and thunderous rhythms that you can’t help but dance to. —Jason Friedman

Kero Kero Bonito: Civilisation II

Few things bring me as much joy as seeing Kero Kero Bonito slowly evolve from a happy-go-lucky electro-pop band to a slightly scarier, still happy-go-lucky electro-pop band that sings about impending doom and environmental degradation at the hands of human greed. Pieced together with vintage equipment, their April EP Civilisation II feels like a comforting experiment in the wake of an apocalypse, scavenging through the junk for something to create with as a means of communication. The three tracks encompass art-pop at its finest, traversing deeper philosophies and myths without sounding forced. —Jade Gomez

kezia: claire

Since Megan Thee Stallion didn’t release an album this summer, I nominate kezia as 2021’s Hot Girl Summer representative. The 21-year-old Tanzanian-American musician’s debut EP claire is a skillful love letter to early-’00s R&B and indie rock alike. Kezia frequently flips the switch, alternating between their sultry croon and magnetic raps over minimalist guitar-studded beats and punchy 808s. Claire is a powerful reclamation of sexuality, Black womanhood and love in a compact, effective package. —Jade Gomez

Knocked Loose: A Tear in the Fabric of Life

Kentucky hardcore kings Knocked Loose are one of the scene’s most contentious acts, teetering on the mainstream as a result of their obvious stardom. The surprise release of A Tear In The Fabric of Life proves the band still has one foot in their devastatingly brutal roots. The EP is a taste of the band’s more prominent death metal influences, accented with distortion and radio interludes. It’s the band’s attempt at a concept album, an idea set in motion by the themes of grief and isolation on A Different Shade, and is produced by Fit for an Autopsy’s Will Putnam. As frontman Bryan Garris scrapes off every last bit of guilt and anger, the EP uses punk and death metal as a vehicle to create a tangible version of grief. —Jade Gomez

LSDXOXO: Dedicated 2 Disrespect

LSDXOXO’s Dedicated 2 Disrespect brings the club to a digital space that can be carried in your pocket or blasted on Bluetooth speakers as the world approaches less-restrictive social gatherings. LSD’s debut on XL Recordings is a succinct one, collapsing classic techno, house and Ghettotech into a four-track history lesson. It is a love letter to Black queer dance music, and LSD is the perfect person to write it. —Jade Gomez

Mandy, Indiana:

In the climactic moments of “Bottle Episode”—the opening track on Manchester, U.K. group Mandy, Indiana’s debut EP—dancing and death collide. Over a deep house beat and industrial screech from producer/guitarist Scott Fair, and “Black Skinhead”-esque floor toms from touring percussionist Liam Stewart, vocalist/lyricist Valentine Caulfield sings in French about soldiers charging into battle: “And as the bullets hit them / The men dance almost / The men dance, the men dance, the men dance as they fall.” That image’s blend of beauty and horror, serenity and intensity, is key to the EP as a whole, which places “Bottle Episode” alongside previous singles “Nike of Samothrace” and “Alien 3,” and remixes of those singles by Club Eat and Daniel Avery, respectively. Mandy, Indiana combine industrial dance and noise-rock elements to darkly compelling effect throughout, with a cinematic sense of narrative: On “Nike of Samothrace,” Caulfield sings as a woman walking home alone at night when she’s accosted by a man whose advances become threats; in “Alien 3,” she evokes an abusive relationship and references the titular film, singing, “I won’t live on my knees anymore.” It’s early days yet, but Mandy, Indiana are standing up tall. —Scott Russell

Mannequin Pussy: Perfect

Following 2019’s sentimental powerhouse Patience, Mannequin Pussy returned with their new EP Perfect in May. Toeing a similar line between punk and anthemic rock, Perfect edges the band closer to stadium-rock territory while sacrificing none of the lyrical and emotional potency they’ve delivered in the past. If anything, Perfect finds the band doubling down on the intensity, the passion and the ambition they’ve demonstrated previously, further cementing them as a titanic voice in modern rock. —Jason Friedman

Militarie Gun: All Roads Lead To The Gun II

Militarie Gun is the new project by Ian Shelton of Regional Justice Center. Both exist within the realm of hardcore, but take on vastly different influences, with the former being heavily influenced by the abrasion of ’80s and ’90s hardcore bands, and the latter taking pages from grunge and alternative rock of the same eras (plus a sprinkle of Fugazi). On their EP All Roads Lead To The Gun II, Militarie Gun expand upon their reinvention of the expectations of hardcore to create something euphoric and brilliantly innovative. Threads of simple, melancholic guitar riffs unravel into a gorgeous blend of bass plucks and Shelton’s vocals that ooze of desperation and anger. Militarie Gun relish the uncomfortable in a time that makes it difficult to ignore, zeroing in on the strangeness of human nature with their truthful, refreshing aggression. —Jade Gomez

NNAMDÏ: Are You Happy

NNAMDÏ is one of Chicago’s finest musical innovators, blending together almost any sounds you can think of on the blank slate of hip-hop, which is something he never loses. His newest EP Are You Happy is a collaborative effort with fellow Chicagoan Lynyn. With NNAMDÏ leaving all production to Lynyn, his songwriting shines. With silky vocals that keep one foot in R&B and the other in indie pop, NNAMDÏ gets pushed to his artistic limits over Lynyn’s jittery breakbeats and footwork firmly rooted in their city. It’s a perfect compromise between the two artists, creating an exciting musical exchange that still feels natural to them both. —Jade Gomez

Paris Texas: Red Hand Akimbo

Los Angeles art-rap duo Paris Texas haven’t been on radar long, but they’ve already made it plain they’re not interesting in moving predictably. Case in point: their October EP Red Hand Akimbo, which they only just hinted at this week of its release. The five-track record features their September single “girls like drugs,” and follows their debut project BOY ANONYMOUS, which dropped in May. Paris Texas—that is, Louie Pastel and Felix—wrote, performed and produced Red Hand Akimbo, with additional production from Dave Cerminara on de facto title track “RHM,” and co-production from the sought-after Kenny Beats on “BULLSEYE.” The duo’s shapeshifting combination of hip-hop and rock (“N***as can’t tell if it’s rock, can’t tell if it’s rap, I walk in between”) is in full swing on its four proper songs, while their tongue-in-cheek world-building shines throughout, particularly on a spoken-word, Cardi B-referencing “Epilogue.” —Scott Russell

SeeYouSpaceCowboy / If I Die First: A Sure Disaster

Sasscore is an underrepresented pocket of screamo, combating the machismo of abrasive vocals in favor of flamboyant, expressive singing that is juxtaposed against harsh textures. SeeYouSpaceCowboy have further built on that with their own multi-layered mathcore and metalcore twist, creating something dynamic, exciting, and nostalgic for simpler times with knee-high Converse and fingerless gloves. In collaboration with fellow newcomers If I Die First, comprising post-hardcore veteran Travis Richter (From First to Last) and emo rappers Lil Lotus and Lil Zubin, amongst a slew of other members across the music spectrum, the two bands perfect the art of the split release. A Sure Disaster pays homage to 2000s metalcore without succumbing to its many flaws, proving the genre has some life left in it. SeeYouSpaceCowboy’s humor and self-awareness shines on their side, and vocalist Connie Sgarbossa’s effortless screams meshing into her clean vocals are simply exhilarating over jittery breakdowns that sound as menacing as they are joyful. Meanwhile, If I Die First’s side shows the band are very much students of Myspace-era metal and all of its in-betweens, with choruses that feel good to belt out in a pit or in the shower, two vocalists, and an ear for the more melodic side of the genre. Together, the two groups come together for “bloodstainedeyes,” a rare instance of collaboration in the genre that is the most impressive track on the EP. It both builds up and breaks down the sounds and genres the two evoke throughout A Sure Disaster, using their own creative liberties to create sheer panic over shrieking guitars and clean/harsh vocals. A Sure Disaster is rewriting history, paying loving homage to a misunderstood genre and reinvigorating the spark for fans old and new. —Jade Gomez

Skullcrusher: Storm In Summer

Tim Kreider once wrote, “If we want the rewards of being loved, we must submit to the mortifying ordeal of being known.” Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter Helen Ballentine only just released her self-titled debut as Skullcrusher last year—one of 2020’s best EPs, if you ask us—but she’s already grappled with that give and take, struggling with Skullcrusher’s success. Now as then, Ballentine’s music lives up to her moniker by virtue of its devastating emotional honesty, which left her feeling exposed after realizing her debut’s intimate songwriting was being parsed by total strangers. “How did I end up here with my old lines on your page? / Sometimes I wish I’d kept them safe / Far away from your gaze,” she sings on her Storm In Summer EP’s title track, later wondering, “If I step into this storm / Is it warm? / Will I find my place?” Ballentine’s songwriting remains deeply personal, but her journey is universal, couched in beautiful music that will kill you softly. —Scott Russell

Soul Glo: Dis N*gga, Vol. 2

Philadelphia’s own Soul Glo are excellent manufacturers of complete chaos born out of rightful fury. Following their excellent Songs to Yeet at the Sun EP, which arrived shortly after the outcome of the 2020 election, the group followed up with DisN*gga, Vol. 1, a raucous exploration of industrial rap and hardcore punk. The second installment, DisN*gga Vol. 2 arrives a few months later, shortly after Juneteenth, abandoning all melody in favor of pure, unadulterated viciousness. Vocalist Pierce Jordan’s shrieks cut through the madness like a knife, wearing their ’90s screamo influences on their sleeve with a more powerful, complex approach born out of frustration with tokenization and racism within hardcore punk scenes to make Soul Glo one of the most vital bands around. —Jade Gomez

Sour Widows: Crossing Over

Bay Area bedroom-rock trio Sour Widows (Maia Sinaiko, Susanna Thomson and Max Edelman) released their debut self-titled EP in 2020, earning acclaim for their dynamic blend of sharp rock riffs and hushed vocal melodies (think Adrianne Lenker fronting Duster), which they control with the ease and ambition of a much more established band. They planned to keep touring, then start work on recording their first full-length album live in a studio … until COVID rendered all of that impossible. “2020 was going to be a big year for us and we had a lot of new material we were lining up to record in the studio,” Sinaiko told Paste in March. “There was a period of devastation we went through that a lot of bands have felt and continue to feel. But we decided to pare down our initial vision and focus on material we felt we could confidently record ourselves from our various homes, which was exactly the right choice.” The result was the band’s second EP, Crossing Over, out now on Exploding in Sound Records. Sour Widows rose to the occasion and then some—each of the EP’s four tracks is an emotional and instrumental journey, sweeping, yet carefully crafted for maximum resonance. It might as well be called Arriving. —Scott Russell

TURNSTILE: TURNSTILE LOVE CONNECTION

Over the summer, genre-bending hardcore band TURNSTILE surprise-released their TURNSTILE LOVE CONNECTION EP, featuring four tracks and stretching only eight minutes. Featuring May’s “MYSTERY,” the new EP finds the Baltimore rockers further experimenting with dazzling electronic textures, ambient space and brutally catchy hooks. The addition of this beauty is not at the expense of their biting, punk energy, with the band sounding more explosive than ever on the EP’s title track, shortened down to just “T.L.C.” Striking this balance between the severe and the serene makes the TURNSTILE LOVE CONNECTION EP feel alive and invigorating. —Jason Friedman

Yves Tumor: The Asymptotical World

The only and only Yves Tumor surprise-released a new EP, The Asymptotical World, July 15 via Warp Records. The six-track offering follows (and features) “Jackie,” one of Paste’s top June tracks, and is the artist’s first record since their 2020 standout album Heaven to a Tortured Mind. The Asymptotical World was co-produced and engineered by longstanding Tumor collaborator Yves Rothman, and arrives ahead of Tumor’s 2021 and 2022 tour of the U.S., U.K. and Europe. Like “Jackie” before it, the EP finds Tumor blending psych-rock, neo-soul, post-punk and synth-pop sounds into a musical kaleidoscope with the force of a vortex. London/Berlin industrial dance duo NAKED are featured on “Tuck,” but it’s “Secrecy Is Incredibly Important To The Both of Them” that stands out most—its drums race like a heart near bursting, punctuated by dark-wave guitars as Tumor questions, “How can I miss you if you won’t go away?” —Scott Russell


Listen to Paste’s Best EPs of 2021 playlist on Spotify here.

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