Born Amir Mohamed el Khalifa he’s better known as Oddisee which he goes by on stage. Oddisee grew up in Maryland close to Washington D.C. but lately works out of Brooklyn. As a Sudanese American Muslim who is also the son of an immigrant he has a unique perspective and voice that he expresses in his music, most recently with his new album The Iceberg.
Listen to Oddisee and you’ll be reminded of groups like A Tribe Called Quest with lyrics that examine identity, race, and politics. Oddisee has talked about growing up in one of the most affluent black neighborhoods which borders parts of town that aren’t so great. He loved hip-hop and rap but couldn’t relate to any of the gangster rap. Instead, he examines human nature and commentates on his experiences and social and political issues.
The Iceberg is a thought provoking masterpiece but one of the tracks that stands out with its powerful lyrics is “You Grew Up”. He raps about his best friend who was white “While I was trying to keep my Nikes clean/He was trying to scuff his Chucks up,” a small observation but it speaks to a bigger cultural divide. Think about these two music movements; Hip-Hop born out of the inner city in Brooklyn during the drug war and grunge born out of Seattle and teens from the suburbs. It’s a luxury to be able have new things and if you’re middle/upper middle class you come to take that as granted.
The song then goes on; “He blamed my father for the loss of his job/He said immigrants robbed citizens jobs”. This story and song begins to take on a different meaning especially with the rhetoric which our head of state has been spewing about immigrants. It goes on to describe how this friend became a police officer and the next time he saw him it was on the news for shooting a black man in his car by the park where they used to shoot hoops. The hook of this song is simple: “You grew up/No you didn’t change/You were made the same/As those before you came/You grew up/All our growing pains/Were given like our names/You just bought the blame/You grew up”. It touches on how much of who we are and how we act are based in social norms and how we are raised.
The next part of the song manages to capture yet another huge issue in America, terrorism. Oddisee explains that this part of the song was inspired by a story of a Sudanese man in Britain who became linked to ISIS. Rather than describing the terror this man he humanizes the ‘terrorist’. He paints the picture of a normal boy with two parents who were professors but was ostracized in school for the way he looked and the way he acted, for being who he is. Oddisee raps, “People of the present had faces of the past, make it easier to blast them if he feel they did him wrong”. It’s not excusing the behavior but instead trying to get people to understand where this hatred comes from.
“You Grew Up” is a meditation on what it means to be a person of color in America today. There’s police brutality, immigration, racism, and even more prevalent the subtle everyday reminders that you are different. Another standout track is “Like Really” which focuses on racial injustice, Oddisee asks “How you gonna make us great, when we were never really that amazing” and “How you saying all lives matter when the stats say we are not adjacent”. It’s a questioning of America asking how it can be so cold and cruel to people who call themselves Americans but aren’t white when they are just as American as the next person.
Lastly, the song “NNGE” or “Never Not Getting Enough”. If you’re looking for a new song to get you inspired for the latest protest you’re attending this is the song to listen to. Oddisee witnessed countless protests and movements exercise their right to assemble growing up right by the nation’s capitol which contributed to this song. “NNGE” is a call to be positive in these times, the line: “If you’re new to disrespect by your elected puppeteers/Well let me show you how to persevere,” sums it up pretty well. Other tracks to note: “Things”, “Rain Dance”, and “Rights and Wrongs”.
This album captures today’s issues; the unrest and anxiousness about the future. It touches on almost every issue you can think of that people are out marching and protesting for everyday which is what makes this album so great. Not only that but it’s nuanced; he struggles with how we can be of the same kind but have all this conflict because of meaningless differences. It’s a call to action even if it’s not directly so and a reminder that we all come from the same place. It’s an album defining a movement. The people’s movement.
This past Friday saw a hefty number of releases. Rather than attempt to write five or six album reviews this week and promptly self-combust, here are some mini-reviews of my favorite releases from last week.
Stormzy, Gang Signs and Prayer
I came late to the grime scene, but so far it has been merely decent. For those who don’t know, grime is a combination of electronic and hip-hop characterized by hard-hitting English MCs. Skepta’s Konnichiwa was the first full-length grime album I listened, leaving me slightly disappointed but curious about the genre. Stormzy’s new album, Gang Signs and Prayer, has proved that grime is a legitimate genre in the music industry and that it should not be meddled with. Stormzy delivers ruthless lyrics over raw, machine-like instrumentals, never wasting a breath. This album, unlike other grime projects, carefully balances the line dividing typical aggressive grime tracks and soft, stripped-back vocal tracks. Stormzy lends his singing voice on multiple tracks and impresses. Overall, a strong debut for Stormzy that puts an unconventional yet refreshing twist on traditional grime. Listen to Gang Signs and Prayerhere.
Steve Lacy, Steve Lacy’s Demo
Two and a half months into 2017 and The Internet has already become very busy. They kicked off a tour last week and have already released three solo projects this year. Steve Lacy is the latest of the band to drop a project, following Syd and Matt Martians. Recorded entirely on his iPhone, Steve Lacy’s Demo sits at six tracks long (or short), and Lacy clarified on Twitter that the project is neither an EP or album, but a song series. Nonetheless, it’s lackadaisical style and lo-fi vibes provide a relaxing listen. Lacy’s guitar leads most of the songs, usually settling for a pairing with the drums or bass and not much else. The lack of variety seems daunting at first, but Lacy makes due with the tools at hand. Steve Lacy’s Demo is a short, sweet intro to The Internet’s youngest member, highlighted by his melodic vocals and lo-fi atmosphere. Listen to Steve Lacy’s Demohere.
Oddisee, The Iceberg
Oddisee continues to strengten his discography with his latest release, The Iceberg. His eleventh studio album tackles poverty, racism, and more ethical issues. He spits lyrics with sincerity and depth, quite possibly taking multiple listens to decipher. The instrumentals include bright horn sections; each song sounds like a crisp live rendition. The climax of the album occurs on “Like Really”, a low-key banger where Oddisee addresses everyday problems minorities face. The Iceberg proves to be another strong release in Oddisee’s ever-expanding discography. Listen to The Iceberg here.
Thundercat finally returns with what will most likely be an album of the year contender, Drunk. At 23 tracks long (only 53 minutes total), Thundercat croons about losing friends, anime, masturbating, cats, and everything in between. He takes what made Apocalypse great (increased use of singing) and what made The Golden Age of Apocalypse great(bass solos and instrumentation) and combines them on Drunk, effectively creating an explosion of clever production and sweet, delicious vocals. Most tracks, unfortunately, are short, but each is still strong enough to stand up on its own. There are a lot of features, too, each which contribute to the song exactly as expected (even Wiz Khalifa, which isn’t really a good thing). Thundercat’s eccentric, unique style plays to his favor again on Drunk, coming through with the best release of the year thus far. Listen to Drunk here.
Each year, in addition to keeping up with the best full-length studio albums, I find it important to keep track of releases that fall on the shorter side of things. Sometimes they’re merely compilations of material deemed not worthy of a just-released album, and other times they’re well-thought-out, intricate pieces of art that are shorter than the average release in that style.
Regardless, EPs are totally worth keeping track of, especially because they offer new, rare material from artists operating in between full-lengths. Below are 23 of my favorite EPs this strange, messed up year had to offer us. The definition of EP is certainly loose and up for interpretation, so if you don’t consider some of the below releases to be EPs, that’s totally fine. We can agree to disagree in that regard, and set aside our differences for the purpose of this extremely subjective list.
Hardcore punk, gangsta rap, black metal, avant-indie pop; this list runs the gamut of worthy short-form musical releases. Enjoy and stay tuned for my Top 69 Albums of the Year!
23. Bones – Useless
California-based rapper Bones is known both for his unique aesthetic — equally inspired by Internet-borne cloud-rap and ‘90s southern rap — and his prolificacy. He’s got over 40 releases to his name, and this Useless EP wasn’t even the only great project he dropped this year (Bones’ highly anticipated full-length PaidProgramming2 is certainly worth a listen). It does, however, serve as an amazingly appropriate introduction to Bones’ musical style, his influences, and the way he warps them into his own thing.
Across the eight songs (and one bonus track) on Useless, you will hear a multitude of vocal deliveries: the plaintive alt-rock moans on the first track, the effortless Bone Thugs-esque flow on personal highlight “GladWeHaveAnUnderstanding,” and the post-hardcore screams he unleashes when his songs get particularly angry.
This tape is slightly gimmicky and a bit of a mess, and most of the songs run a bit too short, but Bones is certainly onto something here. He managed to get my attention with this project, despite its flaws, and his ear for production and melody is undeniable. If Bones can hone his hip-hop style into something a bit more cohesive and fulfilling, he will continue to establish himself and his Team Sesh brand as a force to be reckoned with.
While best known as the side-project of Shabazz Palaces sonic wizard Tendai Maraire, Girlz With Gunz sees Chimurenga Renaissance really come into its own as a noisy amalgamation of hip-hop, Afrobeat, R&B, and experimental production styles. Beats go as quickly as they come, as the EP’s 11 short songs seamlessly transition from one to the next.
Overall, this record can be hard to make sense of. The lyrics are bizarre, delivery fast-paced, and production completely enveloping. Putting Girlz With Gunz on is like getting sucked into a vortex that puts you through the entire history of hip-hop in under 30 minutes.
Girlz With Gunz is rough, unpredictable, and extremely underrated, and if Chimurenga Renaissance can continue delivering funky, sample-based hip-hop with spirited originality, it’ll definitely be a project worth keeping an eye on. This record isn’t just an EP, it’s a goddamn journey.
Key tracks: “She Is the Fairest Of Them All,” “I See You For Who You Are,” “Peace Always Has A Price”
21. Deathspell Omega – The Synarchy of Molten Bones
French black metal stalwart Deathspell Omega has returned for their first release in some four years, The Synarchy of Molten Bones, an intense, experimental 30 minutes of sonic noise terror. While this isn’t as expansive as some of the group’s more well-crafted studio albums, it still serves as a pleasant reminder that there isn’t any group out there like Deathspell Omega, who’ve never performed live and whose members remain anonymous to this day.
From the mind-warping, psychedelic blastbeats on the eponymous first song to the creative, intricate riffs on the stunning closer, The Synarchy of Molten Bones is a record that’ll keep you on the edge of your seat. Not to mention that its title is extremely fucking cool.
Key tracks: “The Synarchy of Molten Bones,” “Famished for Breath,” “Internecine Iatrogenesis”
20. Mr. Yote – The Terrible Tales of Scurvy Jones
Another extremely bizarre bit of rap weirdness, courtesy of Bay Area rapper/producer/mysterion Mr. Yote, who I first came across when he collaborated with Brainfeeder-signee and up-and-coming producer Iglooghost on last year’s Chinese Nü Yr EP.
The Terrible Tales of Scurvy Jones makes good on the promises that were made when I first came across Mr. Yote, as this project is goofy, catchy, and unlike anything else I’ve heard this year. With a slightly pitched-down voice, Mr. Yote delivers a concept EP about… a pirate. And not a PG Disney film pirate either.
I like the way he presents the historically accurate pirate lifestyle as analogous to the sort of bragging a lot of rappers tend to engage in, and he manages to do so without forcing himself into some weird “pirate rap” Internet trend niche. It’s wholly original and difficult to categorize, and it has me anticipating Yote’s future output.
Key tracks: “Bait,” “SS Mud,” “Boiling Bayou”
19. Adult Jazz – Earrings Off!
The general consensus on English musical group Adult Jazz seems to be either “This band is fucking incredible and completely underrated” or “This band is annoying garbage.” I personally lean toward the former, or else they wouldn’t be on this list, especially with this brilliant new EP of theirs.
See for yourself! Earrings Off! sounds like a collaborative album between Matt & Kim and Strawberry Jam-era Animal Collective. It’s noisy, gaudy, and garish, and the EP is all the better for it. It’s passionate, strange, catchy, and a truly undefinable musical experience.
While we await the full-length studio follow-up to the group’s 2014 debut album, Gist Is, this EP here serves as a nice helping of great material that should hold us all over until then.
Key tracks: “Earrings Off!,” “Eggshell,” “Pumped From Above”
18. Oddisee – Alwasta
I first caught wind of D.C. rapper Oddisee last year when I reviewed his latest studio album, The Good Fight, a record I enjoyed far more than I expected to. Thoughtful, catchy, relaxed hip-hop with a poignant political message and effortlessly great production. Ever since, I’ve closely followed Oddisee’s latest exploits, and I’ve been mostly rewarded for paying attention.
Alwasta is a fantastic EP from Oddisee, one that ties together a lot of the more serious themes from The Good Fight with even more openness and clarity. All this is met with the same, time-signature-defying jazz rap instrumentals that graced The Good Fight. This record is full of witty, memorable tracks that set Oddisee far apart from his “Conscious Rap” contemporaries, because he’s a brilliant songwriter, producer, and spokesman for the politically disenfranchised.
2016 saw a sea change in the continuing saga of eternally controversial Atlanta rapper/singer Young Thug. Before telling everyone to call him Jeffery, Thugger was following up late 2015’s first two Slime Season installments with mixtapes that were half as long.
Thug’s first foray into short-form releases was I’m Up, an admittedly underwhelming EP that was almost the highly anticipated third installment in the Slime Season trilogy. Thankfully, it didn’t take him too long to come to his senses.
While it is short like I’m Up is, Slime Season 3 proves itself as one of the finest releases Young Thug has ever put out. Its brevity saves it from the casual disinterest I’ve held for a lot of Thugger’s longer mixtapes, while also featuring some of his most ferocious vocal performances yet. This record definitely features precursors to JEFFERY, the album that took everything we thought we knew about Young Thug and ran it through a fucking shredder, and it’s a totally worthy inclusion in Young Thug’s ever-expanding discography.
Key tracks: “With Them,” “Drippin,” “Digits”
16. G.L.O.S.S. – Trans Day of Revenge
Before amicably splitting up earlier this year, Olympia-based punk group G.L.O.S.S. dropped another fierce EP of protest music. While it doesn’t progress much past the group’s 2015 Demo EP, Trans Day of Revenge sees the songwriting and lyrical content become more prescient and aware, with vocalist Sadie Switchblade tearing down the cisheteropatriarchy one hardcore scream at a time.
This EP is extremely short, but the Girls Living Outside Society’s Shit are no strangers to making poignant political statements in brief moments. It’s a brutal thrillride that just might dismantle everything you think you know about gender, femininity, and hardcore punk.
Considering this album’s pure volatility and anarcho-punk physique, it’s no wonder Epitaph Records offered them $50,000 for a record deal. It’s also no wonder the group crumbled under the newfound attention and called it quits. Regardless, this won’t be the last time punk music is altered by the artists formerly known as G.L.O.S.S.
Key tracks: “Give Violence a Chance,” “Trans Day of Revenge,” “We Live”
15. KEN mode – Nerve
Canadian post-hardcore group KEN mode has been blowing me away for several years now, especially on their 2015 Steve Albini produced LP, Success, which presented quite a change of pace for the band from metallic, progressive hardcore to off-kilter, bristling noise rock. That’s what happens when you bring Albini into the fold, I guess.
Thankfully, the nine brilliant tracks on Success aren’t the only productive outcomes of the recording sessions, with four leftovers and three circa-2012 demos making up the entirety of the EP. You can think of Nerve as an exploration of the two sides of KEN mode: the visceral screams of the demo tracks (all three songs made it onto the band’s 2013 LP, Entrench) and the cerebral nasality of the first four songs.
While not completely mind-blowing or consistent, I quite enjoy Nerve, especially the first half, and I am in high anticipation of whatever the band offers us next. Hopefully more recording sessions with Steve Albini are in the pipeline, because even this EP’s Albini B-sides are noisy, memorable, and triumphantly weird.
Key tracks: “The German Businessman,” “Let’s Get Divorced,” “Absolutely Not”
14. Tony Molina – Confront the Truth
California hardcore vet Tony Molina is back with yet another all-too-short solo release, following 2014’s highly acclaimed “studio album,” (the thing was only 11 minutes long) Dissed and Dismissed.
Now, Tony is back with Confront the Truth, a radical change of pace for the musician. Exchanging ‘90s grunge and pop-punk for the unbridled pop appeal of ‘60s psychedelia, Tony Molina proves himself once again as a songwriter who can pretty much do it all, and in a far shorter duration than most bands in his league.
From the beautiful plaintiveness of “Old Enough to Know,” which comes as close to an Elliott Smith song as any I’ve heard in recent years, to the garage-rock bliss of closing track “Banshee,” Tony Molina comes through with another mic-drop of an indie rock record, and if this EP of his runs as long as the last full-length album he put out, I can only hope that means his next full-length will be much longer. Because if the world needs anything right now, it’s as much Tony Molina music as fucking possible.
Key tracks: “Old Enough to Know,” “No One Told He,” “Banshee”
13. Burial – Young Death/Nightmarket
Perhaps in a demonstration of great self-awareness, English producer Will Bevan has not followed up his 2007 album Untrue (one of the most highly acclaimed and influential electronic music releases of the millennium) with a proper full-length. Instead, under his mysterious Burial moniker, he chooses to drop short, atmospheric EPs in the dead of winter that seem to get more and more ambitious and experimental each time. 2011’s Street Halo, 2012’s Truant and Kindred, and then of course 2013’s Rival Dealer all present Burial’s increasing interest in longer songs and looser song structures.
This comes to a head on Young Death/Nightmarket which is a bit looser and less developed than the previously named EPs but still delivers 13 solid minutes of unmistakable UK garage. The first of the two songs, “Young Death,” bubbles and simmers as a manipulated sample of someone singing “I will be there for you” repeats. Perhaps this is a message to a close friend who’s undergoing the mourning process of some sort of “young death” (miscarriage? death of a child?). Maybe it’s a show of political solidarity not unlike the trans rights affirmation on Rival Dealer. Regardless, Burial is as inward and introspective as ever on this track.
In contrast, “Nightmarket” has a bit of a techno feel to it, with a repeating synth line that builds into something more moody and menacing. Like Burial’s entire discography, these two songs continue to deconstruct dance music, drawing an even bolder line in the sand separating the melodic bass music that Burial was perfecting a decade ago to something more abstract and just as rewarding.
Key tracks: “Young Death,” “Nightmarket” (there’s only two!)
12. Nails & Full of Hell – Split
Split EPs aren’t uncommon in the multitude of heavy music scenes out there. Two or more bands come together for a split release all the time, and noisy east coasters Full of Hell are certainly no stranger to them. In addition to the two powerviolence cacophonies Full of Hell contribute to this EP is a barnburner from controversial California trio Nails, whose new album You Will Never Be One Of Us is one of the catchiest, craziest metal albums of the year.
All totaled, this EP clocks in at like four minutes, making it the shortest one on this list. It’s certainly not the least effective though, as there’s enough bad ass riffing and throat-shredding vocals on this album to last your dad’s favorite metal band through December 2017. Instead, this is business as usual for the two bands, who prefer to operate in smaller scales even when they release full-length albums, which is probably a good thing.
I love the different approaches each band takes to “FAST + LOUD,” as Nails’ more straightforward approach is akin to thrash/death metal headbanging, whereas Full of Hell’s approach is more similar to the breakneck metalcore of acts like Converge and Botch. Destructive, tasteful, and one of the few instances of a split EP cohering in a meaningful way.
Legendary English trip-hop duo Massive Attack has been on-again-off-again for pretty much its entire existence. We haven’t heard a full length album from these guys in almost seven years, but the spooky, seductive Ritual Spirit makes the wait a bit less difficult. The four songs on this record are moody, dark, and firmly in line with Massive Attack’s oeuvre.
With special guests like Roots Manuva, Young Fathers, and Tricky, the group makes excellent use of the 17 minutes of music on this EP. Rap verses are coolly exchanged, synthetic drums bounce, and a rumbling bass booms throughout. Classic Massive Attack making the style of music they essentially willed into existence nearly three decades ago and still killing it.
While not the most groundbreaking release from the group, it indicates a level of progression and modernity that a lot of old school musical acts tend to ignore. Nothing like that to worry about here.
Key tracks: “Dead Editors,” “Voodoo in my Blood,” “Take it There”
10. Drug Apts – Drug Apts
It seems like the core musical duo in Death Grips (drummer Zach Hill and producer Andy Morin) were all over some of the year’s best music (more on that in my upcoming AOTY list), including the production on this thrilling, provocative debut EP from Sacramento-based band Drug Apts, who toy with garage rock, post-punk, and hardcore punk.
Strangely, the record kicks off with what sounds like someone parodying hip-hop ad libs, making “machine gun” sounds with their mouth with such ferocity that it sounds more like a convulsing bird. It’s intense, it’s in-your-face, it’s extremely effective.
While I wasn’t so sure about this EP at first, I’ve grown to really enjoy it. I hope Drug Apts tour and continue to put out music, preferably with the further involvement of Death Grips members, because the group’s aesthetic and sense of humor definitely seems to mirror their Sacto forebearers.
English up-and-comer Clarence Clarity took the Internet by some sort of postmodern lightning storm early last year when he dropped his bloated, candy-coated sugar-pop extravaganza No Now, one of that year’s best. 2016 has been comparatively light in terms of Clarence Clarity releases, but thankfully he’s left us with a nice helping of songs to keep us going until LP2 drops, probably next year.
Now, Vapid Feels Are Vapid/SAME isn’t really an EP, so much as it is the compilation of two great singles he dropped earlier in autumn. The first track, “Vapid Feels Are Vapid,” is an infectious, glitchy track with an explosive series of hooks. It’s like ‘80s synthpop gone awry, with lyrics about going back in time and other sci-fi weirdness.
“SAME,” on the other hand, is a bit more grotesque, especially considering that it was initially dropped as a 5-song EP on SoundCloud that was literally the same song five times in a row (or was it?). Let’s just say Clarence Clarity is no stranger to cryptic, puzzling music. If you’re not yet a card-carrying member of the Clarence Clarity fanclub, these two songs should definitely give you a picture of what this dude’s all about, and as we anxiously anticipate the follow-up to “No Now,” these two amazing avant-pop songs will definitely satiate.
Key tracks: “Vapid Feels Are Vapid,” “SAME” (there’s only two!)
8. Deakin – Sleep Cycle
I know there’s a debate to be had about whether this debut solo release from Animal Collective participant Deakin is a full album or just an EP. I’m judging it as an EP here, obviously, but I think a strong argument could be made in favor of calling this thing an album, especially since a vast majority of the music press seems to classify it as such. The jury’s out on what Deakin thinks of the thing, to my knowledge.
Regardless, I think Sleep Cycle meets the criteria for being an EP, and it’s an amazing one at that. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Sleep Cycle is my favorite solo release from an AnCo member yet, with its gorgeous field recordings and freak-folk fury. It’s certainly akin to the sort of music Deakin made with AnCo before they went fully electronic on Strawberry Jam. Solemn, sunny vocals, soft-plucked guitar strings, and HELLA-esque free-jazz drum freakouts pervade this record, and I think it’s one of the most accomplished psychedelic folk albums in many years.
At only a half hour long, it’s a little disappointing that seven years of recording and delays resulted in such a short record, but it’s an extremely substantive record that more than makes up for the disappointment. A bulk of the material here is musically tight and aesthetically loose, and it’s exactly what I’d hope for from a solo Deakin project. Leave it to the Forgotten Animal to drop a record that surpasses his main band’s most recent two.
Key tracks: “Golden Chords,” “Just Am,” “Footy”
7. Vince Staples – Prima Donna
My history with Vince Staples’ music has been an interesting journey, and probably not dissimilar from many people’s experiences with him. I vaguely remember him as a fairly common feature on any given Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All project (I was pretty into those dudes in early high school). I also caught him live in mid-2013 as the first opener on Mac Miller’s tour in support of Watching Movies With the Sound Off, which also featured Chance the Rapper (who I was most excited to see live) and The Internet.
I made the mistake of forgetting about Vince, who blew up in 2014 with his incredible Hell Can Wait EP, and then of course in 2015 there was Summertime ‘06. Finally settling into a style and a groove all his own, Vince Staples is one of the best rappers doing it right now, and Prima Donna is simultaneously a conceptually brilliant project and a dope victory lap hip-hop record.
Working with producers like James Blake (who needs to make beats for rappers WAY more often) and DJ Dahi, Vince comes through with a concept EP told in reverse. “A rapper becomes famous and can’t handle the pressure” is the general premise, and Vince tells it almost as if it’s his life (hmmm…). The production is phenomenal, Vince’s flow is more diverse and impeccable than ever, and Prima Donna is further proof that Vince isn’t just a rapper, he’s a storyteller. Despite a few underdeveloped features, this EP is slick, satisfying, and consistent.
Of all the bands who called it quits in 2016, I think the one that makes me the saddest is Philadelphia emo/pop-punk band JANK, who followed up last year’s brilliant Awkward Pop Songs album with perhaps an even better EP, Versace Summer. While this is the band’s final release (for now), it is no small achievement, even if it’s only 20 minutes long.
In a year that’s been somewhat short on great emo music, JANK is the band we need. The soaring hooks and strange vocals on this EP are amazing, and they almost make you forget how talented and intricate the musicianship here is.
With progressive guitar work and math-rock-inspired drums, JANK takes their brand of carefree summer rock to new heights with excellent songs about alligators, Chinese food, a bicycle named Ralph, not to mention a sax-heavy instrumental song that shows off the band’s glitchier, more electronic talents.
I know it’s wintertime and perhaps not the most suitable conditions for jammy, upbeat pop-punk music, but this EP is so good I don’t think many will notice or care. JANK, it sucks that you’re no longer a band, and I certainly understand why that’s the case (Google “JANK band breakup” if you’re curious), but goddamn if you have more music in you that’s like Versace Summer, I need to hear it.
I’ve loved English pop songstress Charli XCX on-and-off since she debuted in 2013 with the still-amazing True Romance. Where that album was a nearly flawless ‘80s synthpop/’90s R&B-pop throwback, her recent material has diverged from that formula significantly. 2014’s Sucker was a fairly flaccid radio-pop effort, and I think Charli XCX feels that way about it in hindsight, hence the left turn down PC Music Lane.
For those not in the know, PC Music is a label/collective of artists out of England currently pioneering a glossy, experimental, somewhat satirical but passionately earnest form of dance-pop music. This label features artists like A.G. Cook (the label’s founder and ⅓ of QT), Hannah Diamond, GFOTY, Danny L Harle (who put out a great song with Carly Rae Jepsen this year), and Kane West (⅓ of Kero Kero Bonito).
Vroom Vroom was produced entirely by SOPHIE, who is not signed to PC Music but has worked closely with A.G. Cook on QT, one of the label’s main claims to Internet fame. Hannah Diamond does feature on the beautiful “Paradise,” though, bringing her unique brand of vocals to Charli XCX’s raunchy, aggressive performance.
For the EP’s full 16 minutes, it is nonstop fun. My one complaint is that there’s not enough music on this record, but regardless it’s nearly fuckin’ flawless. SOPHIE’s production is nasty, catchy, and jagged, which is exactly the direction I feel like he and Charli XCX were going for on this one. This is an extremely well executed bit of futuristic pop music that is simultaneously robotically cold and ferociously human.
Key tracks: “Vroom Vroom,” “Trophy,” “Paradise”
4. Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered.
Kendrick Lamar is one of those dudes who makes it seem really easy to release a masterpiece. His two studio albums are certified rap classics already, and even his 2011 breakthrough Section.80 holds up after all these years. While not a proper follow-up to last year’s epic To Pimp a Butterfly, this EP is a finely sequenced collection of loose, jazzy rap songs that don’t quite fit the general vibe of TPAB.
Thematically, you’ll find a lot of rhymes that are to be expected from Kendrick at this point. He raps a lot about how instant fame can have an effect on the formerly poor and disenfranchised, hip-hop greed, and how oral sex could be the key to world peace. It’s sexy, sultry, and dense, and it proves that even Kendrick’s throwaway songs are better than your other favorite rapper’s full-length albums.
I love the production, the performances, and the lyrics on this record, and my only complaint is that “untitled 7 | 2014 – 2016″ goes on too long. Otherwise, another excellent release from someone who is inarguably the best rapper right now. I don’t care how many verses he sells to Maroon 5, Cornrow Kenny is the G.O.A.T.
I don’t need to tell you that Daveed Diggs has been slaying the mainstream lately; the Tonys and Grammys for “Hamilton” speak for themselves, as does the story arc on television show “Black-ish.” But, I may need to remind you that Diggs uses both his musical and theatrical gifts in his main musical venture, noise rap provocateurs clipping., who I’ve loved since debuting with Midcity in 2013.
Immediately following Diggs’ awards and the end of his run on “Hamilton,” he got back together with William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes to put the finishing touches on what would be the group’s sophomore album for Sub Pop Records, Splendor & Misery, and a short EP of great songs that didn’t fit their 2014 debut, CLPPNG. Said EP is called Wriggle, and it’s a celebration of everything that makes clipping.’s first two projects so incredible, with their harsh noise samples, pop rap reimaginings, and debaucherous depictions.
The highlight of the EP is, of course, the title track, which transforms a song by foundational noise/industrial group Whitehouse into a footwork anthem that would please the late DJ Rashad (RIP). “Wriggle like a fish, girl/Wriggle like a snake, girl/Wriggle like a worm, girl/Wriggle like an eel” Diggs raps, turning Whitehouse’s “wriggle like a fucking eel!” command into a legitimate dance-rap hook. It’s fucking genius.
If you’re unfamiliar with clipping., this project would be a much better starting place than the group’s (also amazing) new studio album, purely because it’s shorter and catchier. It’s also a strong rap project on its own merits, and it well earns its high place on this list. It’s clipping., bitch.
Key tracks: “Shooter,” “Wriggle,” “Back Up”
2. Carly Rae Jepsen – E•MO•TION SIDE B
You know how the story goes at this point. In mid-2015, Canadian pop vocalist Carly Rae Jepsen pretty much sent explosive missiles of saccharine ‘80s brilliance into the music journalism world. The album, E•MO•TION, didn’t sell well, which might make you think it’s a flop. But, slowly, the high praise started to roll in, and more people decided to see what the big deal was with Carly Rae Jepsen suddenly.
Some still dissent, but a lot of people (myself included) found a lot of greatness in this album. It’s fun, very well produced, and there’s also not a single bad song on here. Seriously, every song on this album isn’t just passable, but great. That’s extremely rare for a “mainstream” pop album. It’s artistic, goofy, and completely redeeming in terms of CRJ’s indie cred. She went from YouTube laughing stock to playing to thousands of people at fucking Pitchfork Festival.
Anyway, over 200 songs were written for this album, so naturally there was some runoff. Of the 185 songs that missed the final cut that aren’t already bonus songs, 8 were put together for this appropriately titled EP (which has an amazing cover, by the way).
And… ALL. EIGHT. SONGS. ARE. INCREDIBLE. There’s not a dull moment on this EP, whether Carly is going vulnerable (“Cry,” “Fever”) or just having a ton of fun (“Store,” “Higher”). Either you are going to really get this or you aren’t, because there’s nothing to get, really. SIDE B is a series of throwaway songs that don’t feel at all like throwaway songs, which is the mark of a True Fucking Artist.
I wouldn’t have said this in 2012, but I’ll say this now: Carly Rae Jepsen is a musician to be on the lookout for, especially now. The real question is, going into the future, will CRJ be able to top herself? I really hope so.
Key tracks: “Store,” “Cry,” “Fever”
1. Gorguts – Pleiades’ Dust
Canadian technical death metal legends Gorguts made a glorious return in 2013 with the excellent Colored Sands record, the first to feature Dysrhythmia axemen Kevin Hufnagel and Colin Marston on guitar and bass, respectively. While we await that album’s proper follow-up, the reformed Gorguts has proven itself to be an even more ambitious group of musicians than the band’s ‘90s lineup.
In turn, Pleiades’ Dust isn’t so much an EP of multiple songs as much as it is one 33-minute song. For a first foray into the art of the short-form release, this is certainly a difficult undertaking. The result is a pummeling half hour of strange, unpredictable death- and sludge-metal music, with elements of drone and progressive metal.
The song itself is a somewhat historical retelling of the House of Wisdom, an ancient library in Baghdad that was destroyed in the 13th century. Vocalist and principle songwriter Luc Lemay uses the library, which was said to house all of the world’s knowledge until the Mongols destroyed it, as a metaphor for the sort of scientific and mathematical achievement which we take for granted every day. Knowledge is personified, with characteristics and the ability to move and evolve.
Pleiades’ Dust is loaded with complex musical structures, ferocious performances, and a truly impressive bass solo from Colin Marston. It’s a massive EP that transitions from one movement to the next with the aplomb of a canonically admired composer of classical music. Fans of more experimental metal music may not find much to enjoy here, but Pleiades’ Dust stands out to me as the best EP of the year. It’s intricate, intelligent, cohesive, and somehow manages to be a hell of a lot of fun to listen to.
Key tracks: (you get the idea at this point)
Thank you for reading! Make sure you stay tuned over the next few weeks to catch my Top 69 Albums of 2016, 10 WORST Albums of 2016, and 10 Best Live Acts of 2016! List week never has to end!