The extended play is proof that “size doesn’t matter”. It’s been a revolving platform for demos, B-sides, and various odds and ends, and thanks to 2016, it’s also proven to be a reliable source for new(er) artists and quick, inimitable hits of creative freedom. Finding them can be a chore if you’re not well versed in BitTorrent and SoundCloud, so to help, here’s a list of the 10 Best EPs of 2016.
Like 2014’s Sucker, Vroom Vroom is an insanely underrated project. The four-track EP with PC Music’s SOPHIE is far from a phenomenon but it finds Charli XCX doing what she does best — making pop music sound more punk than pop. In this case, that’s material that plays with Pulp Fiction samples, Trackboyz-sized drums, and grimy ’80s synthpop.
Six songs deep, Charlotte Day’s debut EP is an exercise in “unfuckwitable R&B” — a barrage of neo-soul, futuristic blues, and woozy jukebox ballads that elicit Sade and Sampha. It’s surprisingly low-key but Wilson’s vocals are a tour de force as they slide onto self-produced numbers (“Work”, “Where Do You Go”) and stagger you with isolated moments of heartbreak: “Where did you go today?/ It could have been anywhere.” She’s no Whitney, but she’s damn close.
Channeling his inner Segall & Zappa, Cali’s Hanni El Khatib released a total of five EPs this year. Five. Not two or four, but five, and they all come with badass artwork. It’s expected as they fall under the title Savage Times, but the collection of songs leaves no stone unturned when it comes to Hanni’s ability to rip through electric ditties (“Paralyzed”), guitar fits (“Baby’s Ok”), and darker shades of Hotel California (“Black Constellation”) that leave you yearning for more.
Amber Bain’s third extended play as The Japanese House expands on last year’s Pools To Bathe In and Clean, and it takes their wistful, atmospheric oddities to new heights. Her sound is still a work-in-progress but it’s always mutating — borrowing intricacies from the likes of The xx, The 1975, and Bon Iver to create mesmerizing thrills (“Leon”, “Face Like Thunder”) that will numb your soul.
Ritual Spirit is far removed from both Heligoland and 100th Window, but for Massive Attack, it’s certainly a return to form. The duo’s fifth EP showed up on their “sensory music player app” Fantom in January and since then, it’s been an ear-splitting recap of their ability to be producers and curators. All four tracks feature strong cameos — from the likes of Young Fathers, Azekel, Roots Manuva, and their long-lost brethren Tricky — and all four succeed at leaving claw marks on your central nervous system.
Montreal has scored a few W’s as of late (see TOPS, Kaytranada), but Geneviève Ryan Martel — aka RYAN Playground — might be its best-kept secret. The 23-year-old Secret Songs protege is a triple threat at heart (producer, singer, songwriter) and it shows as her elle EP dissects her flair for making fully-formed compositions that don’t stick to your usual “verse-chorus-verse” routines. Lyrically, they’re introspective anthems about her girlfriend, but up close they’re hazy vignettes that just want to vibe out with trip hop, avant-garde R&B, and savage pop sensibilities.
If Sporting Life’s Slam Dunk EPs were a former NBA legend, they would be Isaiah Rider (circ. the 1994 Slam Dunk Contest) — laid-back, but ferocious. The New York producer’s three-part series is a must-cop for 55 5’s stans as it warms up with raw instrumentals, shoots jumpers with Evy Jane, and attacks the rim with remixes from Actress and Galcher Lustwerk. And oh, there’s also a tune called “Nothing To Hide” that features Wiki and Dev Hynes. It’s everything.
Turnstile’s Move Thru Me is a 7-inch for the good side of hardcore punk. The side where friendships and creating a safe space matters, and where you’re allowed to go absolutely berserk once “Come Back For More” hits the 25-second mark and proceeds to kickflip McTwist your face off. It’s good, clean fun that can last for eight minutes or eight straight hours.
Vic Mensa has been on a drastically different path since “U Mad” and “Wolves”, and it’s because of his new desire to be a voice for those that still need one. There’s Alot Going On finds him settling into that responsibility with honest admissions of depression and physical abuse, and it takes a swing at the present as “16 Shots” is a tribute to Laquan McDonald, the 17-year-old Chicagoan who was shot to death by a city police officer in 2014. It’s vivid, dark, and all sorts of real, but it’s also a new testament to Vic’s ambition, which is why it’s one of the greatest things he’s released so far.
Vince Staples’ Prima Donna EP is a cathartic piece of music. It’s a bit of a weird thing to say since it addresses “Kurt Cobain dreams” and the idea of loading a .44 to paint like Van Gogh, but it fits as his post-Summertime ’06 anxieties are funneled into obscure bleeps and tempo changes that would break other emcees and turn them into Ken dolls. Luckily for Staples, Prima is just practice — a temporary spot where he can work things out, flash some versatility, and carve out zones that can’t be imitated.