Even with life half back to normal at various points across the year, the days and weeks and months still have a way of being stupidly busy. And, when you’re pressed for time, you don’t always have hours to spare to listen to those albums that demand a lot of your time. (I’m sorry I haven’t listened to the new version of Red the suggested 800 times; I only have so many hours in the day, Taylor!)
That’s where EPs shine. Always the perfect in between of that tantalizing lead single and a full album experience, EPs are the Goldilocks’ porridge of the music world: just right. And not just length-wise either: there has been some absolutely stellar music released as EPs this year, and we here at Beats Per Minute want to give special praise and light to these releases.
So, while some of these EPs and mini albums would definitely find their way into our top albums of 2021 list, we decided to make a dedicated list of some of our favourite EPs that we have both been raving about and that may have slipped under your radar. It’s understandable if some of them did pass you by though: there’s only so much time in the day. We hope with our list those precious minutes will now be filled with great musical moments. – Ray Finlayson
On Fear of Yours & Mine, Abby Sage’s voice brims with angst, instrumentation ranging from the austere to the electronically lush. On “Smoke Break”, trembly guitars, synth-y accents, and a snare-heavy beat hint at an alt-folk/trip-hop mix. “He’ll take the high road / and I’ll take a smoke break,” she moans, vacillating between palpable despair and slacker numbness. On “Fever Dream,” she further explores relational dysfunction as synths swirl in the background. “Wasting Away” is quintessential thanatoid pop, Sage juxtaposing an unshakeable hook and a despair-laden vocal. With closer “Space for Me,” she revels in bleak imagery while concluding, “I’m hopelessly yours.”
Over the course of Fears‘ moody six tracks, Sage asserts and hones her brand of dark romanticism, languishing from and reveling in heartbreak. – John Amen
Aespa – Savage
The debut mini-album by high-concept, futuristic group Aespa, appropriately titled Savage, is laser-focused pop precision. With an unpredictable, shifting song structure that has become SM Entertainment’s trademark, lead single “Savage” combined elements of euphoric synth-pop, downtempo hip-hop and insane vocal moments to create something badass and catchy; while the sunny and chaotic “YEPPI YEPPI” is a high-octane explosion of happiness. Also proving that the group can provide a chill groove is the spacey R&B closer “Lucid Dream” where they showcase their harmonies and the ability to create a mood.
Sonically consistent, unique and an altogether addictive project delivering on all fronts, Savage is already demonstrating that Aespa are on the path to glory – and it’s really only just the beginning. – JT Early
Famous – The Valley
The second mini-album from underappreciated London act Famous is called The Valley as it refers to that trough in life, post-university, pre-being an adult, when you just don’t have a clue what you’re doing. And, even for those past that age, it’ll drag you right back into it.
In Jack Merrett, they have one of the most compelling vocalists and lyricists in the Brixton Windmill scene, and he doesn’t hold back on wringing out the torture of those years. “Try and live a life that’s not hollow / Don’t let anyone down,” he admonishes himself on the blasting opener “Stars”. Later, on the title track, he laments “Twenty three years is over / I know that it’s over / Can I do them again?”, and on “Animals” he sighs “The April of my years came and went.” Fortunately, The Valley ends up with a haymaking triumph in “The Beatles” where Merrett finds finds his passions – both good and bad – reborn amidst his love of music.
The Valley is not just a lyrical triumph, but a sonic one too – the band really know how to use the studio as an instrument. Synths and guitars are chopped and turned into engine-like chugs, the acoustic title tack is augmented with a subtly crackling atmosphere, and they even do a drum-and-voice track on the oddly addictive “Animals”.
It’s all teeing up for an extremely promising debut album, whenever that might come. – Rob Hakimian
(G)I-DLE – I Burn
For those seeking a more mature brand of K-pop, look no further than I Burn. A decidedly adult-oriented effort, (G)I-DLE here display a knack for moody melodies, with music that explores emotions at their dizzying lows. Framed around the fallout of a break up (when does splitting up not make for great music?), the group consider the mini-album to be a ‘novel’, which says plenty about the seriousness of their intent.
It’s an initially ravaged affair, but ultimately one of release and emotional repair. As ever, Soyeon is their not-so-secret weapon, writing the bulk of their lyrics and music, though Minnie also shows her hand here by primarily writing the music for highlight “Moon” and redemptive closer “Dahlia”. Even as it all burns down around them, (G)I-DLE find themselves somewhere worth being, having found things worth salvaging. They certainly recorded something worth hearing. – Chase McMullen
Joaquín Cornejo – Las Frutas
Ecuadorian electronic artist Joaquín Cornejo is just about one of the most underrated artists working in his realm. Combining dub influences with his own vibey sounds, Las Frutas digs into footwork and ambient layers alike, all while retaining a very clear, ecstatic Latin sound (to not even mention its African influences).
It’s a beyond divine mixture, which sees Cornejo reaching out to other artists, ranging from the silky vocals of Spanish singer Alex Serra, Ecuadorian percussion duo Consulado del Ritmo, to English singer-songwriter Wabi Sabi. It covers a remarkable amount of ground in little time, taking you right along for a tantalizing global journey. As mind-bending as it is ease-inducing, Las Frutas is truly a special one. Savor away. – Chase McMullen
Joy – Hello
If you’ve never heard of Joy, I’m genuinely sorry for you. Stop depriving yourself.
While there’s plenty of weight at the darts aimed at K-pop for its manufactured, image-obsessed nature, Joy never comes off as anything but 100% genuine: a beam of pure sunshine amidst our shoddy existence. Her smile has the ability to brighten a room, a video of her parading joyfully through a music festival as a listener, rather than a performer, is practically euphoric.
Thankfully, her debut solo effort just about matches that energy. Rather than record originals, she opted to reach back to her favorite classic Korean songs from the 1990s and 2000s, giving them a delightful, updated twist. In some ways reminiscent of IU’s excellent twin Flower Bookmark EPs, this effort finds Joy also reimagining yesteryear’s hits in a way that renders them feeling entirely fresh. The music matches her, ranging from gentle flutes to acoustic ballads, all the way to retro synth-pop. Above it all, and always at center stage, is her feather-light voice, ranging from purely, well, joyful to wounded and emotive (she really flexes on “Day by Day”), as charming and alluring as she is herself.
The perfect companion for laying back on a porch, this is gentle pop best left to simply wash over you. What’s more, it offers a brief escape from our presently restricted reality. Go ahead, get familiar. – Chase McMullen
JPEGMAFIA – EP2!
Peggy has never concerned himself with the intricacies of genre obedience – his work as JPEGMAFIA has always been constructed of more experimental and freeform materials. EP2!, released in February of this year, was self-described “triumphant introvert music” and felt as wiry and necessary and genre-proof as anything he’s shared. While continuing to explore what JPEGMAFIA is capable of, he leans into more overtly emotional territory across these songs. We’re not privy to the more aggressive side of his music that can be so thrilling but are asked to consider what these songs mean to him and how the past few years have taken a considerable toll on our collective mental health.
EP2! is more mood piece than confrontation. But he does tackle some devastating themes here, from sexual assault to body shaming and even statements on the treatment of veterans (as he is one himself). These thoughts are wrapped up in oddly angled ambient spaces, filled with mutated horns, warped vocals, and synthesizers which are seemingly pulled apart mid-song. It’s another welcome and fascinating look into the imagination of one of hip-hop’s most unconventional artists. – Joshua Pickard
Lingua Ignota – Agnus Dei
There are times when music can feel so enormous, so all-encompassing, that it’s hard to fully resolve all the details and ideas presented within the various verses and choruses. Lingua Ignota make music that feels too big to understand – at least on first listen. Always the multi-hyphenate artist, the outfit’s architect Kristin Hayter mixes torrential noise, gothic musical architecture, metal’s predilection toward extreme emotion, and the beauty that can come from hard-fought catharses into a subsuming collection of spiritual artifacts and private revelations.
The Agnus Dei EP was released in February and is a monument to the unknowable excesses of emotion. Opening with a shorter piece for pipe organ and apparently possessed by dozens of voices, the track is a fitting slow-burn to begin our descent. She then leaps into an apocalyptic cover of Iron Lung’s “SEXLESS // NO SEX”, a song so withered and murky that it’s impossible to escape its dark gravity. She then turns to Bach and Handel for inspiration on the closing two tracks, as the world around collapses. We are witness to its destruction. – Joshua Pickard
Mandy, Indiana – …
It’s rare for a band to emerge with such clarity of purpose and sound as Mandy, Indiana did with “Nike of Samothrace” last December. It’s even rarer for a band to go on to top themselves on each of their two subsequent follow-up singles, but that’s exactly what the Manchester-based band has done over the past 12 months.
Even with only three released songs to their name, it’s undeniable that this band has established an unmistakable imprint. It takes no time for your mind to get caught between the transfixing industrial pop sound and Valentine Caulfield’s hypnotic French-sung/chanted/uttered words, and from there Mandy, Indiana grind it down to a pulp to be repurposed for their own dastardly devices.
… packages together the three singles with a couple of devilish remixes – including a peak hour dancefloor packer from Daniel Avery. Overall it lays down a hefty marker for what Mandy, Indiana have achieved in their first year – and a stepping stone for what they might do next. – Rob Hakimian
Mannequin Pussy – Perfect
After the close-knit trio (down from a quartet) had been separated throughout the pandemic, they reconvened in the studio in late 2020. Deciding to write entirely from scratch, it’s fair to say the band exploded with pent up frustration and creativity to create the five-song blast that is Perfect.
Their powerhouse punk anthems are still in full display on tracks like “Control” and “Perfect”, which are both already getting crowds pogoing away at live shows. There’s also glimpses of future possibilities shown in the rabid protest song “Pigs is Pigs” – where Colins “Bear” Regisford delivers snarling lead voals – and the closing “Darling”, where icy chimes and atmospheric guitar support Mannequin Pussy’s most tender song to date. While perhaps not a massive step from their evolutionary 2019 album Patience, Perfect is at least a half-step towards whatever’s next – and that’s extremely exciting. – Rob Hakimian
Mavi – End of the Earth
Hailing from the Earl Sweatshirt school of rap, Mavi may be from Charlotte, North Carolina, but he delves into gentle jazzy beats, far from a typical Southern sound. He comes from a generation tired of regionalism, and his music is as refreshing as it is bracing.
End of the Earth is the sound of an artist growing into his own, a supremely comfortable work, even as it delves into anxiety and existential woe. It’s a brief taste of what’s sure to come with his approaching LP, Shango, but stands entirely on its own. Its closing track, “Town Crier”, feels like a beginning, an arrival: he reaches new heights, fully tapping into the direct truth that he’s long been seeking. It’s poignant, wounded, and full of self-reflection, in a word, it’s essential. – Chase McMullen
Octo Octa – She’s Calling
[T4T LUV NRG]
The dancefloor is a body for Maya Bouldry-Morrison aka Octo Octa, a tangle of interconnected systems and involuntary physical impulses that can give rise to catharses and other volatile emotional eruptions. In her hands, the open-hearted atmospheres of raves are intertwined with a more introspective take on club music without feeling disjointed. The music is a conduit for things that can’t be said, things that must be experienced firsthand. And on She’s Calling, a triptych of transcendental electronic movements that rely on instant response from its audience rather than stoic appreciation, she concocts a spellbinding club psychedelia that travels in warped melodies through complex homages to her diverse influences.
These tracks casually act against the conventions of dance music, offering glimpses into the dense creativity of someone able to use music as an expression of self. Draping the walls in buzzing synths and clattering percussive experiments, she delves into the history of half a dozen sub-genres, treating them with respect while adapting them to her own needs. There’s a disorienting sense of displacement as each track roars and tumbles and lounges about without regard for their surroundings – that’s the gift Bouldry-Morrison gives, a sensory buildup and release that coheres without regard for lineages or trendy musical affectations. – Joshua Pickard
Pink Siifu & Fly Anakin – $mokebreak
Following 2020’s excellent FlySiifu’s, the duo of Pink Siifu and Fly Anakin released this EP early in 2021 – and it’s even better than their album. Ostensibly a collection of tracks left on the cutting room floor last year, $mokebreak contains eight songs and finds success in its succinctness.
The production is next-level chill, and the many features give off the vibe of a bunch of talented friends just hanging out and shooting the shit. Undoubtedly the peak here is “Tha Divide”, a posse cut that finds ZelooperZ in his bag and features a scene-stealing verse from the young MAVI (not to mention a psychedelic, wintry visual). – Ethan Reis
Skullcrusher – Storm in Summer
If a tree falls in the forest, does it sound like My Bloody Valentine? After listening to Los Angeles-based musician Helen Ballentine’s latest EP, Storm in Summer, I’m beginning to suspect that she could potentially answer that question. As Skullcrusher, she constructs a rustic alt-folk aesthetic that slyly dips its roots into the brash rivulets of shoegaze without breaking the integrity of either genre. She manages a perfect balance between the acoustic scenery and the occasional dissonant adornment; to go further, the shoegaze elements here are less wave-of-distortion and more atmospheric decoration which complements the skeletal grace of each track.
The fuzz and hiss that appears at the edges of these tracks aren’t artificial endowments, but natural progressions of a sound unbound by genre tradition. These songs weave a compelling lattice of personal uncertainties confronted through the wonder and creative experience of recording this EP. Ballentine has revealed that she felt a great sense of anxiety and emotional distance in the wake of the release of her 2020 self-titled debut EP, and Storm in Summer feels like an acknowledgement of those difficulties while also leading her toward a clarity of purpose and musical direction. The pastoral shadows she documents across these tracks lays bare her approach to personal struggle and reveals that it is possible to rise above the darkness no matter its gravity. – Joshua Pickard
Sofia Kourtesis – Fresia Magdalena
Imbued with equal parts love and sadness, Sofia Kourtesis‘ Fresia Magdalena EP is an enchanting execution of house music through a personal lens. The Peruvian artist works with sentimental drives (opening track “La perla” is dedicated to her late father) and finds a way to find movements and bliss from thereon in.
“By Your Side” is light and summery, but when the layers of horns start looping the groove is delectable. “Juntos” skitters and pulses like one of Four Tet’s jams, but there’s a melancholic tinge to it in the minor key piano chords, while aforementioned “La Perla” captures that seawater-esque feel of waves rippling along a beach as Kourtesis’ voice glides above the jittery keys.
There’s details aplenty to be found in the five tracks here, but it’s the feeling that Fresia Magdalena leaves you with that keeps you returning: the scorching summer sun amidst a festival crowd or perhaps the mutual love of dancing with strangers in a dark club. The EP has a magical way of capturing memories from the past but also hopeful future experiences too. – Ray Finlayson
Speedboat – Split the Bill
As Speedboat, Brighton-based brothers Johnny and Will Griffiths have an undeniable kinetic energy on their debut Split the Bill EP. It’s there in the kitschy but undeniable fun of “Dog Toy”, which sounds both as bendable and colourful as the title suggests; or find it in the contrasting washed out verses and zippy riffs on “bigboy123”. Even when they dial back and that get a little more widescreen like on “I Only Saw Her From Behind”, the duo have a feverish alignment of ideas and execution. Managing to be both nostalgic and fresh at the same time, Split the Bill sounds like the start of a beautiful musical relationship to add to an already strong brotherly bond the two Griffiths evidently have. – Ray Finlayson
TRI.BE – Veni Vidi Vici
It’s not every K-pop act that nails it out of the gate. Yet, that’s just what TRI.BE did in their debut year with Veni Vidi Vici. Coming out the gate swinging with “우주로 (Would You Run)”, the group’s work is somewhat reminiscent of BLACKPINK: punchy raps divided by catchy, syrupy hooks.
That being said, TRI.BE insert more of a Latin influence into their music, with sprinklings of Reggaeton and more. As ever, K-pop is at its best when it gleefully pulls in influences from all over the world without restraint, and TRI.BE certainly do that here. A playful little delight. – Chase McMullen
TWICE – Taste of Love
When TWICE dropped Taste of Love in June, there was no way of knowing how big a year 2021 would be for them, with two more full-length studio albums waiting in the wings. Even coming back to Taste of Love with this in mind, you’d still never guess it – this isn’t the sound of a band embarking on an ambitious release schedule, this is the sound of a band completely at ease, sharing their unrestrained fun making this music with you. These 17 minutes radiate summery beachside fun, a style TWICE excel in. Not only K-pop perfection, but pop perfection period. – Josh Sand
Yard Act – Dark Days
It’s not a necessity to be intimately familiar with the works of Talking Heads, Magazine, and The Fall to appreciate the way that Leeds band Yard Act has so aptly dismantled and reconfigured these influences, but it certainly helps in parsing out the musical minutiae holding their songs together. Lithe and lean, their songs are free of extraneous weight, pumping lactic acid into stretched muscles and finding purpose in the margins of their collective inspirations. The band employs caustic narratives and rhythms that lacerate as they pull apart social and emotional conventions for which they have little or no use.
Collecting a handful of singles, their Dark Days EP is a tight four tracks of rowdy, raucous stories of personal conviction that feel so venomous at times you might need to carry an antidote on you while listening. Love is seen through bitter lenses, and the consequences of questionable actions are explored with an unnerving thoroughness. Dark Days is a mesmerizing primer for a band so self-assured in their aspirations that that you could ruminate on these songs for months without gleaning every detail hidden in their craggy recesses. – Joshua Pickard
Yves Tumor – The Asymptotical World
The movements of Yves Tumor are impulsive and prone to shifts in musical ideology. The songs are dressed in familiar clothing, with pockets of indie rock, cosmic soul and gospel funk, and the odd detour into mutated pop landscapes, but the approach to mold these sounds into a singular vision reveals that they care little for broad characterizations and focuses instead on the underlying emotional connections inherent to all music. This subversive perspective on genre has informed the songs on every release by Tumor. No record sounds the same as its predecessor, and they use this rhythmic uncertainty to play havoc with our expectations.
The Asymptotical World is a trek through the entanglements of relationships, and each song finds Tumor taking on different identities within the individual narratives. This changing of viewpoint and emotional reaction aligns itself with the way the music cuts from one rhythmic sphere to the next without overtly prefacing its direction. There’s a desperate intimacy explored here, and within each track, we’re given brief glimpses into the ways that Tumor constructs these portraits of ache and humanity. The music can be harsh and beautiful and difficult to explain at times, but Tumor reckons that the world is thus so finding purpose in our struggles is all part of the process. – Joshua Pickard