EPs: Mid Year Review 2021

The extended play is an underrated format. It can provide the ideal opportunity for a new act to showcase their songwriting abilities, or offer a place where more established artists can ‘go off’ into a more experimental sphere – while not encroaching into album length territory. This year, more so than most, we have been blessed by countless great EPs.

So off the back of our Albums: Mid Year Review, here are our favourite EPs of 2021 so far:

Blackaby – Everything’s Delicious (Hand in Hive)

The lucky dip of potential comparisons continue on Everything’s Delicious – with bits of Peter, Bjorn and John, Arthur Russell, Syd Barrett and The Magnetic Fields all bubbling to the surface at various points. But this is the clever bit: Blackaby brings all this to the table, but creates his own world. Delicious indeed – delightful, warm and sweet too – this is a special EP. And it creates real anticipation for a full length set of musings from William Blackaby.

Bleach Lab – A Calm Sense of Surrounding (self-released)

Creating music while wrestling with each stage of grief is often an exercise in catharsis. Not only can you use your words to try and rationalise your feelings, but the melodies and soundtracks you make can add the depth that your experiences deserve. This process is something that informed the composition of Bleach Lab’s debut EP, A Calm Sense of Surrounding. And somehow hanging to balance this with broader statements about loss, it impossible not to connect with Jenna Kyle’s emotive words.

career – Letting Out The Slack (Bingo Records)

Guitars interlock, and ideas swing around wildly on the joyfully frenetic, over-caffeinated latest EP, Letting Out The Slack – a short, sharp, slap of a post-punk record that isn’t afraid to explore the unexpected, and have fun while it does so.

Clara Mann – Consolations (Sad Club)

As far as debut EPs go, the gentle folk of Consolations feels very close to being complete. But on Thoughtless, Mann sings of ‘songs I left unsung’ – and one feels that as special as this collection is, it is still only Clara Mann’s opening act.

Durante and HANA – Celestia EP (Anjunadeep)

selected by Maja Lena

My favourite release of this year so far has to be Celestia EP – a collaboration by Durante and HANA. I absolutely love the evocative soundscape and sonic textures they’ve created with ethereal vocals – a perfect blend of synth sounds, movement and layers, and driving trance beats. I find it really uplifting and energising, and makes me want to dance dance dance!

Francis of Delirium – Wading (Dalliance)

A hop-skip of subtle changes from their debut EP sees Francis Of Delirium continuing to hone a sound on Wading that’s becoming more and more their own – as the spikes of catchy pop punk are this time replaced by a perception that songwriter, Jana Bahrich, is ready to open up completely – and embark on a journey of openness and self-discovery.

Lizzie Reid – Cubicle (7476 Records)

Cubicle is an encapsulation of a microcosm. A cathartic journey through a foundational period in Reid’s life that formed who she is – for better or worse –  thereafter. The maturity of narrative forming, as well as the skill of pairing words and melodies for maximum effect, is something truly special. It really is a debut release that will stay with you for a long time after the final note seeps away into the distance.

Maria BC – Devil’s Rain (Fear of Missing Out)

With haunting serenity, there is a flitting consciousness to the these brief, nightmarish lullabies that leaves you transfixed within a realm of broken intimacy. At the beginning of the journey, Devil’s Rain is the first press of the key into the lock – the turn will come in good time.

Mr Ben & The Bens – Melody Shed (Bella Union)

Melody Shed, Ben Hall’s latest collection of mid century folk narratives, is alive with mystery, joy and a thrilling sense of timelessness. No longer a mere witty jester – now more a wise bard – Hall has shown a capability in these six tracks to captivate without the need for a song and dance. And if one thing is for sure with this EP, it’s that you never know what to expect with Mr Ben and the Bens – and Hall’s thrilling work lies far from the shallow warmth of predictability.

Skullcrusher – Storm in Summer (Secretly Canadian)

On her second EP, Storm in Summer, Helen Ballentine grows as a performer – stretching her experimental envelope while continuing to hone her voice as an artist. Windshield sees the banjo further forward in the mix. The arrangement is wider – more sprawling – blurring the foggy lines between traditional songwriting and art. And although still right at the start of her career, the repetitive vocal and looser structure already feels like an entry point to the next stage of her career. But Ballentine hasn’t turned her back on traditional songwriting. The verse parts of Song for Nick Drake feature her best melody to date. There is still a level of constraint: rather than blowing up into the cross-over territory now inhabited by Phoebe Bridgers, which Ballentine seems more than capable of, it remains in the lo-fi world.

White Flowers – Within a Dream (Tough Love)

In delivering their atmospheric calling card with new conviction, Within a Dream is the perfect companion to White Flowers’ debut album, Day by Day – it is intoxicating in its dynamism and instrumentation, and showcases a duo that can blend big, consuming soundscapes with pop songcraft.

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