Some of my favorite music this year came in the form of EPs, which for the sake of time, I guess you could consider very efficient. Nevertheless, this year’s best short albums gave us some outstanding debuts from new faces, notable sidesteps from well-established veterans and so much more.
Here are 10 of my favorite EPs from 2018.
Big K.R.I.T. – THRICE X/DOUBLE DOWN/TRIFECTA
There may only be a few rappers who have been as consistently solid this decade as Big K.R.I.T. After last year’s Southern gospel, trap-rap opus 4eva Is A Mighty Long Time, the country rapper returns with a trio of trill EPs. These mini-releases are more restrained and casual than any of his past few projects, but they are still potent in their message and vibe. “Learned From Texas” is one of the year’s best Southern rap bangers, while “Look What I Got” blends cloud rap with the Atlanta school. Conceptually, these are little more than tasters from K.R.I.T., but they are plenty satisfying for fans of his style.
Black Thought – Streams of Thought Vol. 1 & 2
As one would expect, the longtime frontman of The (legendary) Roots comes through with bars galore on his two new EPs. Both albums are free-flowing streams of consciousness, tackling everything from racism and social injustice, to personal diatribes from Thought’s troubled youth and staking his claim as an all-time MC. In the vein of true ‘90s hip-hop, each EP’s production is handled by one producer apiece. 9th Wonder turns in a foray of fisty boom-bap cuts on Vol. 1 (“Twofifteen” and “Dostoyevsky”) and Salaam Remi brings a variety of soul and funk inspired backdrops for Vol. 2 (“Soundtrack to Confusion” and “How To Hold A Choppa”). Black Thought’s performances are so ingenious and densely layered, returning to each verse is like studying artifacts inside a rich historical landmark.
boygenius – boygenius
The most celebrated collaboration in the indie world this year comes by way of boygenius, the instantly lovable indie trio comprised of Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus. On these six tracks, they turn in nothing but solid instrumental performances and excellently penned folk-rock tunes complete with each member’s best artistic qualities: Baker’s emotional intensity, Bridgers’ breathy voice and artful knack for sad imagery, and Dacus’ diligent penmanship and subtle rock ‘n’ roll flair. It’s safe to say many people are dying for a full length release. Each track is as essential as the next, but “Me & My Dog” and “Ketchum, ID” are personal favorites.
Clairo – diary 001
Tyler, the Creator is on a hot streak when it comes to backing up and coming indie artists. Clairo, one of Tyler’s latest anti-pop endorsements, makes the jump from Soundcloud sensation to aspiring bedroom pop hitmaker on her debut EP, a short and sweet, semi-introspective set of songs about young love and independence. “Flaming Hot Cheetos” makes for a fun, hazy track and “4EVER” is an addictive dance-pop jam and easily Clairo’s largest produced song yet. I would enthusiastically welcome more material in the style of the latter.
First Aid Kit – Tender Offerings
Coming off the release of their stellar LP Ruins, the Söderberg sisters didn’t wait very long to drop their latest batch of fire folk songs. By this point, the ladies of First Aid Kit are true masters at their brand of spacious Americana. Their songwriting is mature and poised, existentially poetic and graceful at the turn of each gentle verse. The harmonies are as rich and languid as ever too, and remain the duo’s most identifiable musical trait. Highlights include the dramatic “I’ve Wanted You” and the cosmic title track, but most notable is perhaps “Ugly,” an ode to the power of self-esteem.
Haiva Ru – Wildflowers
The debut EP from Santa Barbara indie rock outfit Haiva Ru is mesh of colorful acoustic songs that pack a fiery emotive punch. The rich texture of the music reflects lead singer Allie Merrill’s background in worship music, many of the tracks reaching a choir like climax at various points. Songs like “Jessie’s Song” and “You Don’t Have To” are drenched in intimate tenderness, recounting personal experiences with grace and soulfulness. At its core, the music’s spirit is undeniably indie, an atmosphere best captured on the mesmerizing intro track “Apple Trees.”
Iglooghost – Clear Tamei/Steel Mogu
Easily my favorite electronic release(s) of 2018, Iglooghost furthers his otherwordly illusions on an enthralling pair of EPs. These projects aren’t a huge divergence from what the UK producer did on his debut album last year, but the boldness and unpredictability of his beats is still just as exciting. The shifts in production are rigid, occur at hyperspeed and at times, they are downright freaky. For as wild and schizophrenic as Iglooghost’s music can get, his songs and have a very natural progression to them, which makes their synthetic build ups all the more climactic. “New Vectors” is Clear Tamei‘s standout, while “Black Light Ultra” – a dark and ethereal headbanger – steals the show on Steel Mogu.
Jackie Cohen – Tacoma Night Terror Pt. 1 & 2
Cohen writes with the finesse of a natural born poet and her band plays like they’re headlining a Friday night at the liveliest honky tonk in the old Wild West. They’re as capable of nailing alt-country ballads (“Bold”) as they are erupting into Led Zeppelin-like pop-rock anthems (“Make U Sick”). At the center of it all, are Cohen’s figurative life perceptions. In a year where few albums stopped me in my tracks, her debut EPs were an absolute homerun, the complete package of captivating song, presentation and deliverance. Wherever she goes from here, the sky is the limit.
Open Mike Eagle – What Happens When I Try to Relax
Open Mike Eagle is widely regarded as one of underground hip-hop’s most refined and prolific wordsmiths. His new project is an intriguing sidestep from his typical verbose mission and continues on the personal path he set off for with last year’s Brick Body Kids Still Daydream. This time around, Mike dives even deeper into his own psyche, examining the complexity of his own mindstate in relation to those around him. The beats are unsurprisingly abstract, yet noticeably more synthetic and spacey than the usually skeletal production Mike raps over. Overall, it’s an engaging and thought provoking listen, even with the short tracklist. Chalk another one up for Open Mike.
Ravyn Lenae – Crush
Ravyn Lenae is one of the latest artists to push the envelope in the genre-fluid world of modern neo-soul and R&B. With production spearheaded by The Internet’s Steve Lacy (also a specialist in this style), Lenae’s gypsy-like soul singing effortlessly glides in and out of the psychedelic and groovy production. Tracks like “Closer (Ode 2 U)” and especially “Sticky” enact as a kaleidoscope of rhythm and sexual tension. Consider this a formal request for more Lacy production on Lenae’s next project. There’s infinite potential to be tapped into, in both her ability and her sound.