From the Intercom: The 15 Best EPs of 2020
One of my favorite lists that I look forward to making for From the Intercom every year has to be the EP list, hands down.
I always think of EP releases as an experimental playground for a musician to test the waters and run with new ideas. Not to mention, EPs are also a great way to introduce us to some promising, great new artists. Well, on our 2020 edition of this list, there’s no lack of just that. With the amount of fresh faces represented here, you might want to consider this list a spiritual “Artists to Watch” article as well!
Here are the 15 Best EPs of 2020.
Special thanks to Karolyn Jaranilla for contributing EP blurbs, Derrek Chow for creating the graphics, and to Jacob Ugalde and K T for nominating their favorites.
Raveena – Moonstone EP
Listening to Raveena (Raveena Aurora) is like stepping into another world–one where gems shine brighter, hearts beat slower, and soft pinks linger. For about four years now, Raveena has constantly whisked us away to that realm through her music, and the songs on Moonstone EP are no exception. But this time around, Raveena adds a few new pearls to her golden bag of tricks (particularly on lead single “Headaches”). Bleeding hints of psychedelia and a coarser mix throughout the project allow for a deeper foray into her slowly evolving sound. We all need a little more Raveena in our lives, and Moonstone EP is a glowing reminder of that. —Li-Wei Chu
Osean – Sundial EP
On Sundial, Taiwanese alt-R&B artist Osean (吳獻)’s debut EP, there are good low-key vibes all around. A precious laid-back aura envelops the songs on the producer/singer/instrumentalist’s debut, bringing to mind burnt orange sunsets by the ocean and the cozy auburn afterglow that it leaves behind. There’s also a comfortable atmosphere here that allows the EP to glow with reverence–slight murmurs and idle chatter on songs like “Mind Palace” and “Outro” are spread throughout to give the project as a whole warmth and camaraderie. And when Osean sings on tracks like “我們只在地球住幾晚 For a While” and “溺溺 Drowning,” you won’t ever want to leave the quiet intimacy of those moments. —Li-Wei Chu
cutsleeve – the parts we could not abandon EP
The songs on cutsleeve’s debut EP the parts we could not abandon are laden with knotted feelings. Throughout its six songs, the Toronto-based five-piece queer punk band roar through the gamut of layered emotions. Anger (“don’t (like me)”), frustration (“durian eyes,” “yellow fever”), and intricate self-reflection (“flesh”) are just some of the multitude of issues that they tackle. Even as cutsleeve untangle their personal feelings surrounding identity through defiant songs, the weight of such heavy topics only adds fuel to an already burning fire. the parts we could not abandon straight up rocks, fearlessly shaking up the punk scene. —Li-Wei Chu
Nathaniel Oku – Driver EP
The summer of 2020 feels like it never even happened. Looking back, there’s a weirdly fuzzy spot in my memory about how I spent that time. Instead of the blazing summer sky, the cruel blank spots of my bedroom ceiling became the lasting image that defined my summer. But if there’s one project that gave me some semblance of normalcy during those locked up months, it had to be Nathaniel Oku (Nathaniel Lin Abel)’s Driver EP–even given the fact that it was released towards the end of September.
Inspired by the tiny town of Mercersburg, PA (of all places!), Oku and his frequent collaborator Kaz capture that fleeting buzzy energy of summer and puts it to good use. Unexpected orchestral arrangements (“Animated Movies”), big hooks (“For Summer”), and major pop energy (“Driver”) allow Driver EP to spring to life, working as the perfect backdrop for Oku to lay meaningful bars on each track. Even “Simple Times,” a track that echoes Oku’s resolve to continue trucking on despite the pandemic, is a steady banger. It’s a project that’s meant to be played with the car top down, blasting as you’re cruising down the highway with all your close friends. Though my shitty earbuds (I’ve since upgraded!) might not have been the medium of choice to listen to Driver EP, for 14 minutes at a time it felt like everything was going to be just fine. —Li-Wei Chu
tomemitsu – I’ll Be Alright EP
I’ll Be Alright EP consists of tender dream pop reworks from tomemitsu’s previous projects, made all the more supple with meditative pop artist Sonoda’s atmospheric ambient snippets to bookend the EP. The title track is a lively full-band rework of acoustic Modes closer “Be Alright” and sees the song lightly switch gears from a laid back crooner to a brisk head-bopper. “Strange Vibes,” a revisited unreleased track from the chillwave/shoegaze split album Had A Dream, has all the vibes of an easygoing AOR tune with Mara Connor on backing vocals. And the opening harmonies to “Secrets” illuminate the once echoey ‘Cave’ track into some sparkling surf rock goodness. If there could be a breath of fresh air for the ears, it would be this. —Karolyn Jaranilla
박혜진 Park Hye Jin – How Can I EP
Two years after the release of Park Hye Jin’s surprise hit IF YOU WANT IT EP, Park has once again found herself at the front of the Western independent music scene with How Can I EP. Featuring spacey house music built off of Park’s tumbling loops and sardonic commands, How Can I is another welcome addition to the musician’s atmospheric discography. Cloudy beats and haze lift the project off of the ground, making How Can I feel transcendent. —Li-Wei Chu
TOMMY PIXELS – TOMMY+ EP
TOMMY+, the twitchy debut from pop anarchist TOMMY PIXELS, is chaotic–there’s probably no better word to describe it. The EP, which was heavily influenced by the sounds of LA and Brooklyn clubs, fills each of its moments with a tightly packed barrage of clamoring noise. Flaunting six minutes of pure distorted experimental bliss, TOMMY+ is a demented party favor that stretches the confines of dance music. —Li-Wei Chu
Chong the Nomad – A Long Walk EP
Throughout A Long Walk EP, producer Chong the Nomad (Alda Agustiano) plays with so many risky musical ideas that it will make your head spin. The songs on here are ostentatious, showing off Agustiano’s top-notch production skills that make rare, wonky electronica like this a refreshing venture. Even when you hear some misfit soundbites like watery splashes on “On Fire,” sliced whirrs on “Make Me,” or seemingly conflicting melodies on “Provider,” Agustiano somehow makes it work, despite all odds. To truly appreciate the minute details of the project, listen to the EP on a good pair of headphones, sit back, and let the songs wash over you. You’ll thank me later. —Li-Wei Chu
Kaede, Lamp – Stardust in Blue EP
The follow up to Imano Watashiwa Kawaritsuzukete Anokorono Watashide Irareteru, Negicco member Kaede’s sophomore solo effort sees her joining forces with almighty Shibuya-kei group Lamp to make one of the most succinct and tightly produced city pop records of the decade (yeah, I said it). The 21-minute project warrants multiple listens to soak up every skillfully utilized bassline, bongo fill, and cascading chime–not to mention Kaede’s clear-cut and confident vocals. —Karolyn Jaranilla
Vex Ruffin – Emilio EP
Emilio EP is an optimistic dose of dopamine reminding us that the greatest things in life are also the simplest. Repeated mantras (“You gotta grow from what you know / And keep that other stuff away / We’re living it up right now, now, now”), sage-like advice (You gotta do it right / You gotta do what you want to do / You gotta do the best / You gotta do the best that you can do / You gotta do what’s best / You gotta do what’s best for your family), and lo-fi loops encourage us to step back, refocus and recalibrate. —Karolyn Jaranilla
HYUKOH – through love EP
through love finds one of Korea’s most exciting indie acts at a surprisingly slower pace. HYUKOH’s exploration of bossa nova and classic rock sounds enable them to create engaging songs from simplicity. It’s a great work to soundtrack the mundane, adding charm to blurring days.
A highlight and contender for the song that best described 2020 would be “Hey Sun.” Though it wasn’t created during quarantine, it truly captures what many of us have been feeling these past nine months (“Waiting is always here it never ends / But what are we waiting for? The end is here / Another beginning of the end, ooh”). That sense of waiting is always here and never-ending (even as we see the rollout of a two-part vaccine), exacerbated by the repetition of a singular melody that stays with you. —Karolyn Jaranilla
adam brian paul – wait, the path never ends? EP
In the middle of the scaled-back “You and Me Both,” one of the standout tracks on adam brian paul (Brian Yim)’s laid-back wait, the path never ends? EP, Yim calls out for help amidst a sea of unrequited feelings. “Can anybody hear me? / The voice that’s trapped inside me,” he wonders, casually working that question into part of the song’s great hook. Then, unexpectedly, Yim breaks into a kick-ass electric guitar solo. With that kind of a response, how can we not?
That’s the kind of thing that you’ll find on Yim’s debut EP: a kind of laid-back, vibe checking bedroom pop that you can easily lose yourself in. Even more surprising is how the production of each track is tailor-made to fit Yim’s whispery singing style. Here, even gravelly murmurs can form the basis for some catchy tunes. Endlessly chill and filled with secret rock-out moments, wait, the path never ends? is more than enough to convince us that he’s on the right path–even if he himself can’t see the finish line. —Li-Wei Chu
Floating Room – Tired and True EP
In the latest project from the Portland-based Uchinanchu American artist Floating Room (Maya Stoner), there’s this palatability that serves as a type of Trojan horse for Stoner to process raw and honest emotions. For example, hit single “Freak Show” hooks listeners (like me) in with an earworm of a chorus line, but under that bubbly tune lies a more subversive meaning: calling out performative wokeness and unearthing how much power there is in realizing your worth. It’s moments like this where one could be bobbing their head before a knee-jerk double take. “Wait, their eyelids feel like WHAT??” —Karolyn Jaranilla
Mother Tongues – Everything You Wanted EP
Toronto-based quintet Mother Tongues make self-proclaimed “Wizard Rock;” a magical blend of psych rock, kraut rock, shoegaze, and dream pop (among other genres). In the 28 minutes of their debut EP, they’re able to transport you across all of space and “Eternity,” giving you “Everything You Wanted” from a debut EP.
All puns aside, this band rules. There’s a timelessness to their sound. At first listen you might compare them to a reincarnated form of Stereolab/Broadcast, but there’s also a modernity that puts them up there with Lonerism-era Tame Impala (the best era IMO). Either way, Mother Tongues incorporate both past and present to make a sound all their own, and they’re using that to spearhead a burgeoning Toronto psych scene to the limelight. —Karolyn Jaranilla
Mini Trees – Slip Away EP
After releasing the stunning Steady Me EP in 2019, Mini Trees (Lexi Vega) packs even more heart, character, and reflection into five new tracks for her sophomore effort Slip Away EP. This EP has everything: there’s a cheerful pop song navigating self-hatred, biblical references akin to Sufjan Stevens classics, a fat sax solo (mixed in with a cacophony of other instruments), and “Honestly” one of the best songs 2020 had to offer (i.e. closing track “Honestly”). It’s amazing to see a work as realized and complete as a full-length album condensed into just seventeen short minutes. —Karolyn Jaranilla
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