In Review: Top 10 EPs of 2021
A list of my favourite non-albums of the year.
We all know that December is the time for those highly-coveted ‘Album of the Year’ lists and self-aggrandizing Spotify Wrapped posts. But what about those less lengthy and more creatively concentrated projects? The hallowed EP and the svelte 7-inch?
While it’s all-too-easy to overlook these smaller releases, there’s still a wealth of stellar musical contributions to be found in the non-album realm. So, with that in mind, I’ve combed through my year-long curation of errant playlists and genre detours to find my Top 10 EPs of 2021.
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Top 10 EPs of 2021
Big Cheese – Anymore For Anymore?
After 2020’s standout Punishment Park LP, it’s really not a surprise that Big Cheese (who share members with the like-minded Chubby and the Gang and Higher Power) would offer up a brash release like Anymore For Anymore? The UK hardcore scene is experiencing a vibrant resurgence right now, and this curb-stomping three-track puts the Leeds bruisers in prime position on the country’s piss ‘n’ vinegar vanguard.
“The People’s War” delivers on a spiteful call for solidarity, while the lurching “Two Zero Two Zero” puts last year’s dismal twelve months in the rearview with little affection. Done and dusted in seven minutes, Anymore For Anymore? has zero time for fools and doesn’t fuck about.
Koyo – Drives Out East
I’ve made no secret of my love for melodic hardcore legends Crime In Stereo and it pleases me to know that the Long Island spirit lives on with Koyo. The band’s four-track EP Drives Out East is stacked with upbeat, fist-pumping moments and gentle nods to the catchy harmonies of early Taking Back Sunday.
“Moriches” and “Since You Asked” are crammed full of earworm hooks and crunchy guitar chords. “Diamond One” pairs a penetrating lead riff with crew vocals and a guest feature from labelmates Life’s Question, while closer “The World We Claim” goes full acoustic tearjerker with strings and plaintive vocal lines. I’m going to need a full-length album, ASAP.
Spirit Adrift – Forge Your Future
One of the most prolific metal acts of the last decade, Spirit Adrift followed up 2020’s Enlightened In Eternity with the three-track EP, Forge Your Future. Roping in Preston Bryant on synthesizers, the quartet continued to strike out into prog-rock territory without losing their knack for blending melodic metal, doom, and hard rock.
Monster single “Wake Up” sports a Maiden-esque lead riff and quicksilver solo sections, and “Invisible Enemy” proves that they can still pull together a labyrinthian seven-minute-plus doom-scape with the best of them. And, if I was a betting man, judging by the alphabetised title scheme going on here, their next release will likely be G_______ [Something] G_______.
Spiritual Cramp – Here Comes More Bad News
Punks with a sense of humour are few and between, which—at least for me anyway—is why San Francisco outfit Spiritual Cramp are so appealing. Well that, and their penchant for kicking against the pricks with upbeat and hilariously self-deprecating bangers.
Whether it’s through the jangly strut of opener “Dog In A Cage,” the propulsive, Ramones-aping “Earth To Mike,” or the fiery, pint-spilling jubilance of closer “Rattlesnakes In the City,” the band’s four-track EP Here Comes More Bad News successfully takes the piss with a cheeky British geezer twist—a sign of good things to come, no doubt.
Nightlife – New Low
I remember being incredibly disappointed by the promise of Fall Out Boy frontman Patrick Stump’s 2011 solo record, Soul Punk. It was too broad, had too much gloss, and not enough, umm, spirit, I guess? (Shit, does anyone remember “This City”? Is that not the most 2011 thing you’ve ever seen/heard?)
Thankfully, Nightlife know what’s up and their debut EP New Low puts the soul right back in soul punk. It takes real talent to mash together influences this diverse—Stevie Wonder, letlive., Donna Summer, Issues, and more—but the Baltimore trio pull it off here with smooth croons, funky vibes, and infectious grooves. There’s an effortless and cohesive sound on these tracks that could easily fit on a Dance Gavin Dance or Silk Sonic bill, and that’s all part of the magic. Plus, that Rob Thomas cover on the back end absolutely whips.
Sparing – Old Dreams
With the release of their breakout single “Lush,” North Carolina five-piece Sparing delivered one of my most listened to EPs of the year. There’s just something about their debut four-track Old Dreams that really hits for me.
The opening title track sits in that 2010s post-grunge/hardcore crossover space that put groups like Balance and Composure, Daytrader, and Superheaven on the map. Meanwhile, songs like “A-typical” and “Colorblind” bristle with the urgency of late ‘90s alt-rock, resting on gruff hooks and melodic licks. There’s also a weird, non-intentional Aussie association going here that makes me think of local acts like Bodyjar, Luca Brasi and The Gifthorse—and that’s probably just me but, hey, I’m not mad about it either.
Narrowcast – Phenomena
I’m very, very stoked that Transit vocalist Joe Boynton is back making music. The band’s earlier records (including their spectacular 2009 Stay Home EP) mean a lot to me, so to hear Boynton back on the mic and trying new things is one of 2021’s real joys.
Phenomena is the debut release from Boynton’s new project Narrowcast. Along with Mat Morin of Aviator, the duo’s three-track EP hits all the right buttons for spacey, shoegaze-adjacent alt-rock—think stuff like Turnover and newer Pianos Become The Teeth. There’s a dreamy, synth-laden atmosphere on “42.4915, -70.9835” that contrasts perfectly with Boynton’s lofty vocal lines. Other tracks like “Relic” and the standout title track flirt with arpeggiated riffs and more mid-tempo compositions to great effect, and I cant wait to see where the pair take things from here.
Stand Still – A Practice in Patience
Much like their New Yorker brethren in Koyo above, Long Island’s Stand Still are flying the flag for heart-on-sleeve, fists-in-the-air melodic hardcore. On their A Practice of Patience EP, the band recalls the glory days of The Movielife and Silent Majority, pairing emo lyricism with churning punk-rock riffage and a punchy rhythmic backbone.
“Id” is a full-throated ode to separation anxiety and “Satellites” feels like the Lifetime and Saves The Day mash-up of my dreams. Up-tempo closer “Lockbox” ends things on a strong note but its centrepiece “There’s No Autumn Here” that truly steals the show for me, weaving together triumphant power chords with a soaring chorus hook and thrumming bass line.
Toy – QP9
Back in August, I wrote a feature for Bandcamp on the “New Breed of Australian Hardcore.” It was a fun yet somewhat impossible task to include all the great bands and labels putting out stellar releases in 2021. Case in point: the good folks at Last Ride Records and Q9 from Brisbane/Sunshine Coast outfit Toy.
Opener “Torched” is about as incendiary as hardcore punk can get, with scattershot snare fills, barking mad vocals, and serrated riffage. The stomping “Botched” sounds like a call to arms to destroy some dickhead’s ill-fated house show, and there’s a part in white-knuckle closer “Nothing Left To Lose” that makes me feel like I could run through a wall. The entire thing absolutely rips and takes no prisoners. Ignore QP9 at your own peril.
Knocked Loose – A Tear in the Fabric Life
With a not-so surprise drop, Oldham County’s finest came through with their most crushing and death metal-adjacent project to date. Each one of the six tracks on offer here is diabolically heavy and unrelenting.
Cuts like opener “Where Light Divides the Holler” crash into the listener through airbag-induced whiplash, while existential wrist-slitters like “God Knows” and “Contorted in the Faille” could level entire buildings with their seismic staccato breakdowns. This whole EP takes sonic savagery to another level and—alongside the 21-minute grim-dark animated short film—it shows that Knocked Loose are operating at the height of their creative powers.