Just like there are many different reasons to put out an EP—teasing an upcoming full-length, finding a way to release a collection of covers, b-sides or other odds and ends, etc.—2014 taught us that the EP itself can be a variety of things. An 11-track collection of sub-two-minute songs? Sure. A “tribute” with a healthy amount of original tunes tossed into the mix? Why not? One of the reasons why this mini medium remains so fascinating is that without the demands and pressures of a full-length album, the possibilities are endless. This year was no exception. We polled our writers and editors and tallied the votes, and without further ado, we present to you the Best EPs of 2014.
If not as resonant as the original Outlaw or as combustive as the man nicknamed “No Show Jones,” Jennings understands when to attenuate a vowel, how to slide to a note and the way hitting slightly behind the beat can add emotional punch. If these songs move from heavy throb metal to atmospheric Moroder-esque variations on the traditional country, his voice solidly places his wanderlust in the heart of George Jones’ essence. Sparked by a shady producer implying he was working on a Jones project who solicited songs—quite possibly to use to lure Jones into working with him—from the young man who’d grown up around the legends, Jennings’ originals capture the man being honored. His material fits seamlessly beside the three Jones classics that round out Don’t Wait Up.—Holly Gleason
Movement songs interact with the body more than the mind, though in the right settings—driving in the desert at sunset, say, or getting high at night on the beach—they’re ripe for meditation. Otherwise the goal here seems fairly obvious: To generate a soundtrack for the bedroom, the moments leading up to the bedroom, and the moments just beyond. Or perhaps it’s just the idea of sensuality that Movement’s after. Regardless the trio hits all its marks, and listeners would border on robotic not to feel at least a slight bit of provocation in these songs. The 4-track EP’s bookends are its strongest points, but the whole affair is elegant. “Like Lust” rolls in slowly before blooming into a melange of deep bass, calm keys, and the roomy air of live drums. The singer Lewis Wade croons in a fashion worthy of D’Angelo or James Blake, and he’s content with conveying just one line: “Got you coming over / When this feels like lust.” Elsewhere the band, who was aided in production by Illangelo (The Weeknd), lifts Wade’s voice into the ether, tweaking it until it feels like a soft pillow.—Ryan Burleson
Last year, virtuoso guitarist and songwriter Anna Calvi released a great collection of original material titled One Breath that didn’t get the attention that her self-titled debut received. There is no real explaining why, except maybe that it just didn’t catch the right channels of influence, as the press hasn’t been shy about proclaiming adoration of her previously, and she came into the music scene bearing a cosign from Brian Eno. It was an unfortunate lapse in the media, and on her new covers EP, Calvi responds with five non-originals that are going to be hard to not pay attention to. Strange Weather is a brief look at an artist’s range and acts like a splash of cold water to pay attention to Calvi’s every note, as she continues to be one of the most slept-on musical marvels around. The strange fact that it might be a covers EP to do this undersells just how original these covers are.—Philip Cosores
1984 is not typical Ryan Adams fare. The first in his PAX AM Single Series, this EP is heavily influenced by punk and hardcore acts the singer/songwriter grew up listening to. It boasts a whopping 11 tracks—generally more than enough to be considered a full-length album—but the catch is the whole thing clocks in at about 14 minutes, with not a single track cracking the two-minute mark. It’s refreshing to hear this side of Adams; fingers crossed that 1985 is already in the works.
For the first time, Odessa is making music for no one but herself. Gone is “Jorgensen” as a stage name, as is “Rose,” which she says probably sounded “a little too country.” She now swims in the waters between pop and singer-songwriter folk music, a conflux of genres where one-word names have a long and storied history. The results are revelatory, and would never be mistaken for tracks from any of her previous bands. Her voice is clear and rings like a bell, delicate and beguiling on tracks such as the dreamy “I Will Be There,” which sounds tailor-made for a national ad campaign. Suburu already thought as much: The lead single popped up in a few TV spots earlier this year, despite the fact that the singer didn’t have a single physical recording to sell. Nor is she simply a vocalist on her debut, or a violinist. In fact, the singer says she only picks up the violin occasionally these days—on the EP, she instead can be heard playing everything from guitar and bass to keys and hand percussion. For the first time in her life, it’s truly her own project, from the ground up, and her influence permeates every aspect of production.—Jim Vorel
The symbiotic convergence of music and art. Not just music as art, but when art is at the crux of every step of the musical process, to the point where sonic elements ooze with a visual journey of the mind; a multisensory experience. San Francisco electro dream-pop duo Cathedrals, whose debut Cathedrals EP came out in September on Neon Gold Records, is a product of this very concept. Their output is often ethereal and stems from a combination of talent and approach. Brodie Jenkins’ presence is radiant, and on tracks such as “Want My Love,” she comes across as a budding Jessie Ware with a similarly elegant delivery. Johnny Hwin, on the other hand, is the master facilitator. The multi-instrumentalist’s artistic philosophy is nothing short of inspiring.—Adrian Spinelli
In the end, despite its brevity—seven songs, 24 minutes—Hell Can Wait is a dense and rewarding EP from a rapper who is refreshingly serious about his craft. While it does not carve a new space for rap—this is gangster rap through and through—the EP does make the important insistence that gangster rap is a shallow and uninteresting subgenre only when it is populated by lazy, complacent rappers. Vince Staples is neither lazy nor complacent. This EP probably won’t move the YG and DJ Mustard crowd or offer the moral high ground of the Kendrick Lamar crowd, but if Vince Staples could survive the horrors of Long Beach, he definitely can survive cliquish and conservative rap fans.—Stephen F. Kearse (Read Stephen F. Kearse’s full review here)
This affable, inventive and altogether modest young man came to fame from an online-born community of music-makers known as Vaporwave, a genre and essentially a movement that’s cloaked in ambivalence and biting with a subtle irreverence, idealistically hoping to challenge preconceived notions of what constitutes traditional/popular “songwriting.” This scene, along with DeRobertis’ work, has also challenged our ideas of what traditionally constitutes a “remix.” But DeRobertis’ work goes beyond the gimmick of mash-ups and is much more legitimate than laptop tapping or lazy knob-twisting.—Jeff Milo
Aliens in the Outfield includes a reworked version of the palm-muted “Spooners,” which originally appeared as a stand-alone track on Adult Swim’s Singles Series earlier this year, as well as “Heat Wave,” a live show favorite that received a studio treatment worthy of excessive speeding on the highway. But “Platinum Girls” exposes elements of self-deprecations even as the four guitar lines nimbly alternate taking the lead and build each other up above the others. And closer “Peg Daddy” dials back the metronome and the distortion a few notches to address a softer, lonelier escapism. If Aliens in the Outfield serves as any indication, Diarrhea Planet should continue to melt faces while still infusing subtle lyricism into their shredding three-minute jams.—Hilary Saunders
Friends throughout the truly tough part of life—high school—Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker are like the baddest girls in school, screaming their girly rage through the hallways. But the duo isn’t cutting class just to frolic in the fun and play guitar. No, they have a message and they’ll sing it loud and banging. On their self-titled debut EP, Girlpool tackles themes from slut shaming and self expression to Saturday night and drunk boys. It’s girl power at its unwavering height—difficult and fun.—Alexa Carrasco