Whatever level of awfulness you apply to 2016, you can always point to the world of music as one of the few positive takeaways. Artists across all genres delivered a plethora of powerful, insightful, confrontational tunes throughout all twelve squares in the calendar, and there was no shortage of important entries in the EP department. Here are the best short player’s we picked from the highly competitive lot:
10. Moses Sumney – Lamentations
From the cavernous opening moments of the soul-folk artist’s latest extended player, it is once again apparent that there is no stronger instrument in Moses Sumney’s canon than his vocal chords. The combination of light guitar strums and fleeting vocals on “Ascension” immediately take you back to the most memorable sounds of Yellow House-era Grizzly Bear, but with a sound that becomes distinctly Sumney’s own shortly afterwards. With a commanding, haunting voice such as his (demonstrated best here on “Worth It” and “Lonely World”), we should be seeing Sumney around for a long time coming.
9. Colleen Green - Colleen Green
After exploring a wider range of production and collaborators last year for her fantastic third full-length, I Want To Grow Up, Colleen Green stepped back into the DIY, living room studio for this self-titled EP. For longtime fans of her work, the 19 minutes of simplistic power chords and drum machine that paint the backdrop here will slap a shit-eating grin on your face, calling to mind favorite stretches on Green One and/or Cujo. It’s all over far too quickly, but we take comfort in the fact that Green’s only just getting warmed up.
8. Majical Cloudz – Wait & See
Since the beginning of this decade, the duo of Canadian artist’s Devon Welsh and Matthew Otto, have released a number of increasingly more focused and spacious pop records under the name Majical Cloudz. This run came to a frequently show-stopping stretch last year with the release of the excellent LP, Are You Alone?. It seemed as though they were heading toward a real breakthrough to a wider audience. Then, unexpectedly, early this year they announced the release of their final release; an extended player compiled of tracks that didn’t make it to the final product of Are You Alone?. Instantly, the way we listen to Wait & See is not in the way of wetting our appetite with b-sides while we wait on future work, but as a eulogy to a unique, ever-so overlooked pop duo that remained consistent throughout their entire existence.
7. Dawn Richard – Infrared
It would be hard to argue against the output of Dawn Richard over the past few years as being some of the most prolific in R&B/Dance, and what’s most impressive is how she has managed to give each release a standalone vision. Her first release in 2016, Infrared, is a quick yet confessional detour between the second and third installments of a trilogy of LPs. The four songs here feature penetrating synths and lacerating drum beats that are married with a set of stories that peek inside the conscience of a recovering lover in limbo. It’s one of the shortest EPs on this list, but its impact is big.
6. ABRA – Princess
Awful Records is developing quite an impressive roster of artists to represent the Atlanta pop scene, and ABRA is a fresh standout in a current lineup that is most male-heavy. Her music weaves captivating elements of both ’90s R&B and progressively futuristic skeletal outlines. Learning a variety of different instruments and vocal styles happened very early on in her life, and by the time she was a teenager she had already spent considerable time in both Queens and London before landing in Atlanta. By the time she was discovered by Awful, she was wise beyond her years. This EP is another link in the chain of inevitable success for Abra. We’ll be here listening.
5. Nite-Funk – Nite-Funk
Ramona Gonzalez (Nite Jewel) and Damon Garrett Riddick (Dâm-Funk), each seasoned artists in the universe of funk & dance, make right on their longtime promise of a collaborative project. The four songs on their self-titled EP, Nite-Funk, project a pulsating palette not unlike the fuchsia-laden city skyline of the album art. Gonzalez’s echoing vocals are as sensual as ever, and Riddick’s production complements his half of the duo in perfect union. Things culminate to thundering closer, “U Can Make Me”, which turns out to be one of the brightest and most pleasing love songs of 2016. We can only hope they continue to make time for each other in the studio and on the road in the years to come.
4. Vince Staples – Prima Donna
At the tail end of another sweltering summer, Vince Staples released an EP called Prima Donna that forced confrontation that only made the season sweatier. Production by James Blake on booming tracks like “War Ready” and “Big Time” only escalates the advancement of Staples’ presence in the hip-hop scene, giving a certain edge to his presentation that differentiates his sound from the majority of the crop. He’s also considerably upping the ante with the vocal flow with each passing release, made apparent specifically on tracks like “Smile” and “Loco”. It’s a dark yet encouraging set of provocative music.
3. Kelsey Lu – Church
I had never heard the music of Kelsey Lu before plugging in my headphones and hitting play on the cellist’s debut EP, Church, at about the midpoint of 2016. I note the bit about the addition of headphones because, quite simply, it should almost be mandatory to experience the songs on this release without the interference of any other vibrations or distractions. Recorded live in a church in Brooklyn, the world created within these walls feels simultaneously like a vast symphony and a deeply solo affair. This speaks as a testament to the towering talent of Lu both as a cellist and vocalist. It’s an expansive affair that really could’ve passed as a full-length album. This might be the most cherished newfound artist of the year.
2. Charlotte Day Wilson – CDW
Find a hybrid medium between Jessie Ware and Laura Marling, and there you have Charlotte Day Wilson? I don’t know, but for some reason that thought continuously comes to mind when I listen to the infectious grooves on CDW. Six tracks of supremely smooth R&B are spread just over twenty minutes, taking the listener to chilled and satisfying levels that very few short player’s were able to achieve in 2016. I challenge you to show me a dozen tracks smoother than “Work” released throughout the year. Don’t even waste the effort.
1. Sheer Mag – III
Countless groups over the last several years and even a couple decades have attempted to channel the true sound of ’60s and ’70s garage/punk rock, but Philadelphia’s Sheer Mag are among a select few who have actual come out of it all on the respectable side. There’s no gimmick to their sound, just flat out energy and dedication, like they have been transported straight from the era of Television and The Clash. Now just over two years in and three EPs under their belt, one gets the feeling that we’re about to know Sheer Mag as a household name. What will 2017 hold for this righteous, riotous rock outift? I cannot wait to find out.