Top 15 EPs of 2021

My 15 favourite extended plays of the year

Continuing on with list week, we finally arrive at the first list of 2021 that matches up with those of last year; that being another top 15 list of truly amazing EPs.

I would say that, given the circumstances of 2020, releasing EPs seemed to be a more commonplace idea than in any other year, for obvious reasons. Nevertheless, music lovers have still been blessed with enough short projects in 2021, for me to easily make a top 15 like the one you are about to see.

I hope that with this list, like all of my other music-related articles, that at least some readers will be able to discover something new; and better still, something they love.

And there’s certainly much love to go around, in regards to what I have to say about these top 15 EPs I have listed here. So without further delay, let’s dive in!

15: Gorillaz — Meanwhile

The name of this EP really speaks for itself; Meanwhile essentially serves as a little helping of Gorillaz music for fans to enjoy, giving the virtual band a bigger chunk of time to work on whatever big project they have in the pipeline.

Nevertheless, Meanwhile is far from just some half-assed interlude, despite what the track list of just three singles may suggest. And while this EP does slightly dip in enjoyment the further you listen into it, it’s honestly the opening title track that cements this EP as one of the more memorable pieces in 2021.

Given its overall atmosphere, which is still more true to the Gorillaz feel than a lot of the other stuff they released in the 2010s, I still se Meanwhile as a qualifier for my top 15.

14: Ed Balloon — I Hate It Here

Of the twelve months that have whizzed by in 2021, it was actually the very first of them that seemed to be one of the most fruitful in regards to EPs. An example of this, would be (what I thought originally was) the very first EP I reviewed; that coming from the artist known as Ed Balloon.

I had originally discovered and enjoyed Ed Balloon back in 2019, with the release of his sophomore album The Dubs. Now, I did very much enjoy said album, but was hungry for a bit more energy and punch moving forward.

With his newest EP, that seemed to be exactly what was achieved. In fact, the opening track “Bad Gyal” is incredibly bassy and in your face; exactly what I was so curious to hear from the like of Ed Balloon.

However, that isn’t to say that this EP is all just loudness. Ed Balloon manages to integrate a lot of the atmosphere that made The Dubs enjoyable, into the newly conceived dynamic energy; a combination that qualifies this EP into my top 15.

13: KAYTRANADA — Intimidated

The first musical project to release since 2019’s BUBBA (an album that served as the final big listen of the 2010’s for many), Intimidated is a freshly-released EP from canadian record producer and musician KAYTRANADA.

While this EP, like Meanwhile, only carries 3 tracks, Intimidated definitely seems like a quality over quantity situation, as opposed to a just being stingy situation. I could clearly tell that KAYTRANADA had put a lot of effort into how each of the singles felt, the atmosphere they brought out, and how well each instrumental matched the styles of each featured artist.

A great example of this, would be the second single “Be Careful”, which features the likes of Thundercat. This track feels stylistically stuck between the features artist’s 2017 album Drunk, and his 2020 album It Is What It Is, which of course I really liked.

And while I am less familiar with the other artists which feature on this EP, I can still tell, by how different each track feels, that the same amount of creative passion went into every corner of this project.

12: Benny The Butcher — Pyrex Picasso

Benny The Butcher was a rap artist that, up until listening to this EP, I had only listened to via his features with other artists such as Freddie Gibbs and Conway the Machine. Nevertheless, I was still aware of his high status.

This definitely shone through on Pyrex Picasso; an EP that presented that all-important luxurious feel that many of Hip-hop’s biggest greats have championed in modern works.

It was amazing to see, especially of the back of his 2020 album Burden of Proof, that Benny was able to dish out such a generous EP as well. With a total of 7 tracks, Pyrex Picasso was a very good balance of style and substance.

And speaking of substance, it was great for somebody like me to witness Benny look back on his rough beginnings, and how far he has come since then. It is clear that this EP is there to serve as a short burst of inspiration for those who need it.

11: Pendulum — Elemental

Considering that this is first original musical project that Australian drum n bass band Pendulum had released since 2010’s Immersion, this year’s Elemental might’ve qualified for this list from that fact alone.

However, that wasn’t to say that there was likely a lot of anxiety built-up by fans of the group, as nearly 11 years could’ve completely jacked up how they sounded. However, all those worries were put to rest with the sound this EP’s four tracks provided; and it let all of us know that Pendulum haven’t changed a bit.

All four of these tracks carried that aforementioned sound that could’ve only been created by the likes of pendulum. This is part of the reason why Elemental in its entirety was an enjoyable short experience.

In fact, the only factor that’s stopping this EP from ranking a lot higher, was simply the fact that there could’ve been more tracks on the project, especially considering it is Pendulum’s first in over a decade. Nevertheless, the band have definitely favoured high-quality over high-quantity in this situation.

10: Mike Shinoda — ZIGGURATS

Mike Shinoda has definitely shown signs of being head of the curve before. This is especially the case when it comes to why I’ve ranked his newest EP as number 10.

ZIGGURATS is on here for its very own unique reason; that being that this EP is unlike any other that I’ve heard in 2021. While Mike Shinoda could’ve, like most other people, have made an EP, and just leave it there, ZIGGURATS stands as much more of an experience overall.

In essence ZIGGURATS is a “generative” series of NFTs and audio files; all of which were brought with Tezos (a form of cryptocurrency), and completely unique to whoever owns them.

While the standard, non-unique EP is available on spotify for anyone to hear, all of the brought versions of ZIGGURATS would sound slightly different, which puts this EP in a sophisticated league of its own.

9: Black History Always — Music For The Movement Vol.2

Continuing on from one unique EP, we have another at number 9. Music For The Movement Vol.2 isn’t an EP by any one artist, but a handful of artists coming together, in honour of this year’s Black History Month in America.

Some of the artists I had already know of prior to the EP included Freddie Gibbs and Brent Faiyaz. And for the most part, each of the artists on Music For The Movement Vol.2 create amazing modern renditions of existing songs, such as Gibb’s incredible cover of Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson’s “Winter In America” and Tinashe and TOKiMONSTA’s very underrated cover of “I’m Every Woman”; an iconic closer to such an empowering EP. Before said closer, we also get the heart-gripping spoken word piece in the form of “Undefeated”.

From start to finish, there was something that just felt so unifying about this EP; so much so, that it almost felt as if I was witnessing some kind of miniature live event. It was truly amazing to see all of the artists under this EP come together; and what better time to do so, than to celebrate Black History Month?

8: Obongjayar & Sarz — Sweetness

Following my EPs list in 2020 being topped off with Obongjayar’s amazing project Which Way is Forward?, it is great to see that he has made it onto this list two years in a row now. The biggest difference this time around, is that he’s got company.

Collaborating with Obongjayar, is Nigerian record producer Sarz. And the resulting piece really does feel like something that brings out all the positive qualities of both artists.

With Sarz’s nocturnal electronic sound painting an atmospheric picture, Obongjayar’s vocals carry even more soulfulness than usual. Each of the four tracks on Sweetness carry their own unique personality, with the final track “Nobody” even going one step further to bring back that sense of Obongjayar familiarity reminiscent of Which Way is Forward?.

Needless to say, I truly feel that Obongjayar and Sarz make a real dream-team, and I would jump at the chance to listen to anything else these two might make together in the future.

7: Jazmine Sullivan — Heaux Tales

I understood that I made the mistake originally, of calling Jazmine Sullivan’s Heaux Tales an album. However, I won’t be making the same mistake twice.

Besides which, the fact that I mistook Heaux Tales for an album in the first place could be seen as a reason to praise it so much as an EP. I can definitely agree that this project has to have one of the tightest, most consistent, and most realised narrative flows of any EP in 2021, which is definitely a shining merit all by itself.

But then you add in the element of just how stunning Sullivan’s vocals truly are. Particularly with tracks like “Pick Up Your Feelings” and “Lost One”, listeners really got to see how phenomenal her vocal range is.

Add in a few features (like Anderson .Paak for example), and a sweet, indulgent, and sexy atmosphere, and you have an EP that should be higher than number 7, under normal circumstances. However, this musical year has honestly been so incredible, that there are a whole 6 EPs that I enjoyed even more.

6: Half Moon Run — Inwards & Onwards

If Heaux Tales being at number 7 wasn’t enough to convince you that 2021 has been a year of incredible EPs, the fact that my favourite EP of the entire Spring season ranks at number 6 definitely should.

Inwards & Onwards was utterly deserving of being my “EP of the season” for reminding me just how brilliantly Half Moon Run can channel an atmospheric and soothing indie folk sound. And with a slightly more acoustic-heavy approach than the handful of material I had heard from Half Moon Run before this EP, Inwards & Onwards was an especially immersive experience.

Given the nature of the time in which Inwards & Onwards was released, the soothing atmosphere that emanates from was most certainly welcome, and helped me to develop a much greater sense of sentiment with the already memorable project.

To be able to reconnect with a band like Half Moon Run through this EP, was just one of the many pleasant gifts that 2021 had brought to the table. And it’s safe to say, I will be eagerly awaiting whatever the group have up their sleeves for the future.

5: Lynks — Smash Hits, Vol.2

Perhaps not the first EP I’ve reviewed this year, but certainly my favourite EP of 2021’s first month, Smash Hits, Vol.2 spelt one thing and one thing only; 2021 was going to be the year of Lynks.

Following the release of Lynk’s debut EP, 2020’s Smash Hits, Vol.1 (another EP that made it onto my 2020 list of top 15 EPs) this EP served as a reminder of just how quickly Lynks has developed and carved out their own unique style and aesthetic (like honestly, I really don’t know any other artist quite like Lynks with the same cult following).

While Vol.1 was also incredible in its own right, the singles that Vol.2 carried carried a greater sense of completeness, in my opinion. It spelt out to me that Lynks has truly found their footing in the musical world, and it definitely reflected that way, given how great of a year they have had.

All of the festival performances, and of course the multiple collaborations with artists like Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes and many more, Lynks has really made a name from themselves in 2021; all ignited by the glittering spark that was Smash Hits Vol.2.

4: Delaire The Liar — EAT YOUR OWN

That’s right, the very last project of the year that I wrote a full review for. Delaire The Liar’s EAT YOUR OWN had made such a great deal of impact in such a short time; enough so for it to skyrocket it’s way into fourth place on my top EP’s list in a matter of weeks.

I’ve said it recently, but I’ll say it once more; EAT YOUR OWN is an incredibly impactful project which lingers on in the memories of listeners, trough both sound and narrative.

I’ll address how the EP actually sounds first; I refrain from saying that Delaire The Liar are the modern day My Chemical Romance, because they are still their own band with their own sound. However, It’s at least clear to see that the aforementioned MCR had a lot of influence on their sound, as much of the guitar-work especially has an emotively gothic feel; and this really drew me in on an immersive level. It should go without saying as well, that the vocals that EAT YOUR OWN carries throughout are utterly awesome to listen to, and only add an additional layer of emotiveness to the whole thing.

These qualities all serve the narrative of the EP, and they serve it well. Delaire The Liar tackle the tricky subject of suicide through EAT YOUR OWN. But somehow, they make it seem effortless.

3: Yves Tumor — The Asymptotical World

After an album as iconic as 2020’s Heaven To A Tortured Mind, it would’ve been easy for an artist like Yves Tumor to take a well-deserved break for 2021. But instead, we got yet another amazing project from their creative mind; this time in the form of an EP.

The Asymptotical World carries that mixture of artful surrealism and rock accessibility that fans have come to know and love. And in comparison to Yves Tumor’s full length projects, absolutely nothing was compromised here, with the exception of runtime of course. That being said however, The Asymptotical World is still very generous by EP standards, with many of the tracks tying in with one-another really well.

What’s more, is that Yves Tumor uses this EP as a chance to lean slightly further into accessible territory, without detracting from any of that signature Yves feel. This results in a project that likely brought many new fans on-board, while still pleasing long-time fans alike.

In my mind, Yves Tumor truly is a musical artist that’s ahead of the curve. And I feel that many of their recent projects stand as glistening proof of this; this masterful EP included.

2: Tkay Maidza — Last Year Was Weird, Vol.3

And now we move on to EPs that would give a lot of great albums in 2021 a run for their money, as we start with the runner up being our third instance of a returning artist from last year’s Top 15 EP list.

Last year, Australian R&B/ Hip-Hop artist Tkay Maidza struck hard with her EP, titled Last Year Was Weird, Vol.2. Considering how Vol.1 of said series was released back in 2018, it was a pleasant surprise to see the third volume arrive so soon.

It was certainly safe to say that the bar was set incredibly high by how great Last Year Was Weird, Vol.2 was. However, with tracks like “Syrup” and “Cashmere” being released earlier in 2021, horizons were certainly looking promising.

In terms of substance, Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 3 easily managed to equal its predecessor. However, I feel that Maidza goes eve harder stylistically on this new EP, giving the whole project a more gritty feel that drew from the praise given to Vol.2 tracks like “Shook” and “Awake”.

However, there was still plenty of summery atmosphere to be found on this EP as well. So much so, that I definitely look back on Last Year Was Weird, Vol.3 as one of the highlights of my musical summer.

This could’ve easily been my number 1 pick for EP in any other year. However, there was just one more project which beat it…

1: Bob Vylan — We Live Here

Asking for an EP with a superb sense of rawness, impact, energy, awesomeness, and substance may seem like a big ask in any other circumstance. However, Bob Vylan’s sophomore EP carries all of these qualities in spade-loads.

I have no idea how, but I remember discovering Bob Vylan last year, with the release of their single which was also dubbed as “We Live Here”. I would find out in 2021, that this would later become the title track of their sophomore EP, which stands as one of the most genuine and energised anti-racism musical masterpieces I have heard the entire year.

I was instantaneously ably to sense the passion and realness behind the words that came flooding in. It painted a narrative that was so engaging, that it had me holding on to every word from beginning to end. Bob Vylan also add some artistic elements into the mix, such as the “Moment of Silence” that it has, and of course the intro, which ingeniously sets everything in motion.

And off the back of what I was saying, regarding the top two EPs on this list giving albums a run for their money, We Live Here is definitely a special case. This EP carries a staggering 10 tracks, which Bob Vylan still seem to vacuum-pack into under 24 minutes. This spells out one thing to me; no ambient mess, just raw, impactful bangers that get the message of Bob Vylan across.

Honestly, I would recommend We Live Here in the highest regard. Even if you’re not a fan of their punk-rock-esque sound, you should still be able to appreciate the level of effort and care that was injected into this 24 minute explosion of an EP.

And that concludes my top 15 EPs of 2021. But trust me; list week is far from over. Be sure to keep an eye out from my top 50 albums, and top 100 tracks, which should be arriving very soon.

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My articles mainly revolve around music reviews and analysis. A bit like Anthony Fantano, but just a decade behind.

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Joe Boothby

Joe Boothby

My articles mainly revolve around music reviews and analysis. A bit like Anthony Fantano, but just a decade behind.

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