2017 In Review

25 Great EPs From 2017

Over the last couple years, we’ve seen the rise of the “mini-album,” an inexplicable term that is, I guess, supposed to signify some kind of intentionality and artistic vision that an EP simply cannot capture. It’s a designation that’s been rightfully met with ribbing derision, but it’s an interesting development that speaks to some larger trends in the music industry. It seems mostly like a label-side concoction, based on the perception that artists are now expected to have a constant stream of releases in order to remain in the conversation and the public eye — a never-ending hype cycle, so to speak, that fuels touring schedules and streaming service placement.

“Mini-album” certainly sounds heftier than a plain old EP, but I’ve mostly found these so-called “mini-albums” to be lacking, as something that could have been longer or shorter but not in-between. I decided to evaluate these releases on the same playing field as EPs for the 2017 edition of this list, but it turns out that in a year filled with them, not many self-described “mini-albums” made the final list.

Instead, as with our 2015 and 2016 lists, this year’s best EPs don’t fit into any easily-prescribed narrative. They run the spectrum from established artists to newcomers; some are stopgaps on the way to more fully-realized albums, and others are meant to exist in their own self-contained world. But all of them are impressive in their brevity, and a few of them probably could have crept onto our Best Albums Of 2017 list if we wanted them to.

We collectively voted on these as a staff, though I personally wrote about all of them and made the hard choices about what to include and exclude, which means that the results trend towards my tastes and should by no means be considered exhaustive or definitive. With that in mind, please leave your picks in the comments.

Read on for Stereogum’s list of 25 great EPs from 2017, presented alphabetically. You can also listen to a playlist of the selections on Spotify.

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Alice Glass – Alice Glass (Loma Vista)

When Alice Glass released her debut solo EP earlier this year, she hadn’t yet gone public with abuse allegations against her former Crystal Castles bandmate, but one listen to Alice Glass makes it nauseatingly clear that these songs are an attempt to process an abusive relationship. Glass wasn’t silent about the circumstances that resulted in these songs, and even though at the time she didn’t name names, her lyrics make it cuttingly specific. “Get them while they’re young, forgive and forget/ Pull out all their limbs so they won’t grow back,” she sings on “Blood Oath” over a feverish beat. “Get the fuck off of me/ Scream in silence,” she shouts on “Natural Selection.” Produced and recorded with Jupiter Keyes, Alice Glass is an abrasive but empowering listen that lets Glass brandish the captivating creative voice that drew us to her in the first place.
STREAM IT: Spotify | Apple Music

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Amber Mark – 3:33AM (Interscope)

As the title of her debut EP attests, Amber Mark makes most of her music at night. Her songs are built for those late hours, when you get trapped in a repetitive thought cycle you can’t escape. The New York-based musician’s creative voice started to coalesce during nocturnal writing sessions following her mother’s death and the inevitable upheaval that ensued. But while 3:33am is often searching and sad, it doesn’t scan as depressing. Mark harnesses the power of other late-night activities that don’t involve deep reflection — like, say, heading out for the club or diving into a new relationship — and uses that energy as a way to capture her in-the-moment processing and healing.
STREAM IT: Spotify | Apple Music

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ANOHNI – Paradise (Rough Trade/Secretly Canadian)

On last year’s Hopelessness, ANOHNI projected politics on a cosmic scale, interrogating how consumerism and conservatism will lead society to ruin. She explores those same themes on its companion piece, Paradise, continuing her work with producers Oneohtrix Point Never and Hudson Mohawke and crafting massive, heady dance songs that are chilling in their glitchy grandiosity. ANOHNI sings as if from a dystopian near-future, where our choices have left the earth barren and lifeless. She’s full of fury and leaves little hope for a path forward, except perhaps for the power of femininity, which she returns to time and time again over the course of Paradise, a potential bellwether in the persistent storm.
STREAM IT: Spotify | Apple Music | Bandcamp

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BC Unidos – Bicycle (Sony)

BC Unidos is the project of Swedish pop heavyweights Patrik Berger and Markus Krunegård — who were involved in “Dancing On My Own” and parts of Charli XCX’s punk-indebted Sucker, among many other songs — and Bicycle, their first release together, lets them apply the exactitude of their pop craft to other frameworks. They team up with some impressive collaborators to help them achieve their vision. The best material comes from Carly Rae Jepsen, who turns in an rousing post-punk shimmy on “Trouble In The Streets,” and Charli XCX, whose lush vocal layering on “I’m A Dream” would make Grimes proud. (In fact, it could just be a Grimes sample… unclear.) But the whole EP is filled with personality and precision from of the other two guests stars (Santigold and Zimbabwean musician Shungudzo), and if this is more than just a one-off, then Berger and Krunegård might just have built themselves a worthwhile outlet for their off-kilter pop tunes.
STREAM IT: Spotify | Apple Music

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Bernice – Puff (Arts & Crafts)

Toronto-based musician Robin Dunn started Bernice back in 2010, and the project has blossomed outside of the spotlight since then, picking up collaborators and producers along the way. Puff is their first proper release in a few years, and its members feel more sluggishly determined than ever. Dunn operates in minimal, warmly sedate shuffles centered around lax elastic beats and her malleable voice, which stretches and croaks on closing track “Gemini” and clips and snaps on standout “David.” Dunn confronts issues of identity and rudderless existence in her songwriting, and these songs provide enough breathing room and empty space to approach some sort of clarity.
STREAM IT: Spotify | Apple Music | Bandcamp

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Burial – Pre Dawn / Indoors (Nonplus)

Any new music from Burial is cause for celebration, and 2017 was a particularly fruitful year for the reclusive UK producer born William Bevan. There was Subtemple and “Rodent” and a handful of remixes, but perhaps his best work from this year was also his most recent. The “Pre Dawn” / “Indoors” 12″ that came out in November combines the ambient textuality of his “Subtemple” / “Beachfires” singles and adds in heart-racing rhythms that make it feel like you’re trying to outrun a demon down a rain-slicked alleyway. “Indoors” in particular a wonder to behold, a mess of chirps and wet slaps that ends with an outro that pairs sweet-sounding choral coos with devilish cackling and a looping robotic growl.
STREAM IT: Spotify | Apple Music | Bandcamp

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CCFX – CCFX (DFA)

CCFX was born out of a collaboration between the talented Olympia-based bands CC Dust and Trans FX, and on their self-titled EP they blend in such a way that highlights each project’s individual strengths. CCFX is split right down the middle: On the latter half you have two songs (“Ode” and “2Tru”) that each group started working on individually before joining forces, and it opens with “The One To Wait” and “Venetian Screens,” which were constructed together — constructed being the operative term for these tracks, which build and solidify around intertwining melodies and elegiac comedowns. Mary Jane Dunphe’s somber voice is placed against a backdrop that’s meditative and glimmering, floating like smoke clouds suspended mid-air.
STREAM IT: Spotify | Apple Music | Bandcamp

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Club Night – Hell Ya (Tiny Engines)

Club Night’s debut is a great melding of minds, a smack of wet paint against a canvas to see what sticks and what drips down. Hell Ya feels like it’s being created from moment to moment as the five Oakland musicians who came together to record it suss each other out and test their skills as a dynamic newly-formed whole. It’s chaotic and clamoring and absolutely cathartic, and Josh Bertram’s vocals are unlike anything out there: a carnal cry that sounds animalistic until suddenly it’s not, hitting you in the gut with its humanity. Hell Ya is a testament to improvisation and collaboration, and it’s an exciting jumping-off point for what could be a truly great project.
STREAM IT: Spotify | Apple Music | Bandcamp

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Half Waif – form/a (Cascine)

Nandi Rose Plunkett has been creating lush interior worlds as Half Waif for five years now, and on her latest release, her songwriting is at its most potent as she hones in on a specific emptiness and attempts to give it shape. Throughout the songs on form/a, Plunkett provides definition to inexplicable feelings like love and pain and loss with a chilly determinedness and vulnerability. Recorded in isolation at a house in the Berkshires, form/a is as much a marker of place as it is of transition, and the environment it was created in leaks into the recordings, from the haunting clanking of a heater at night to the stillness that comes with waking up as the sun rises. As Plunkett lays out a concrete language to capture her emotions, she’s also wondering about the very nature of that language itself: If you put a name to it, does it all fall away?
STREAM IT: Spotify | Apple Music | Bandcamp

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Hundred Waters – Currency (OWSLA)

Hundred Waters had a busy year, putting out both a new full-length, Communicating, and an EP, Currency. The latter was intended as a stopgap between the releases that largely got overshadowed by the LP, but Currency stands strong on its own, more concentrated and direct than the lush buildups and expansive breakdowns of Communicating. There’s only one crossover between the two, the sparkling “Particle,” and Nicole Miglis spends the rest of Currency dancing in elliptical circles on highlights like the theatrical “Takeover” and the breathy “Jewel In My Hands.” That Hundred Waters has enough viable material to relegate these songs to sideshow status just proves how boundless their vision is.
STREAM IT: Spotify | Apple Music

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Julia Michaels – Nervous System (Republic)

Julia Michaels deservedly picked up her first Grammy nominations as an artist this year, for Best New Artist and Song Of The Year (“Issues”), and she’s the rare behind-the-scenes pop artist that actually delivers the goods when stepping out on her own. Michaels comes from the major label songwriting camp system and says she originally had no intentions of being a solo artist, but she has a distinctive style that has been markedly changing the trend of pop radio in recent years. All her compositions, from the songs on Nervous System to the hits she’s written for others, are spun from the same web — a syncopated rhythm, negative space, and an undeniable hook — and it’s a blueprint that proves itself time and time again. It manages to sound exciting and fresh while checking off all the boxes for a great pop song.
STREAM IT: Spotify | Apple Music

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Kamasi Washington – Harmony Of Difference (Young Turks)

Kamasi Washington has managed to become one of the biggest names in contemporary jazz largely because of his frequent associations with the rap and rock and electronic worlds, drawing in listeners that often don’t normally give jazz the time of day. But as he proved on his sprawling 2015 debut The Epic and its more concise but no less impactful follow-up, this year’s Harmony Of Difference, there’s a reason that so many big names want to work with him and a there’s a reason why it looks like he’ll be sticking around for a long time to come. Harmony Of Difference is a masterful work that manages to be transportive and impeccably composed and played, and pieces like “Desire” and “Perspective” show off both sides of Washington’s drive, both as a crowd-pleaser and a fierce auteur.
STREAM IT: Spotify | Apple Music | Bandcamp

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Miya Folick – Give It To Me (Terrible/Interscope)

There’s perhaps no better music video and song pairing this year than the one for Miya Folick’s “Give It To Me.” In it, the California-based musician sits front row on a roller coaster, the camera in extreme close-up, highlighting her vulnerability and unflinching strength. As the song builds and builds, the ride she’s on begins its gradual click-clack ascension, descending right as Folick’s gravelly voice reaches its peak. It’s a chill-inducing moment, inseparable from track itself. Undoubtedly, “Give It To Me” is a force of nature, and so is the EP that’s named after it. Folick channels raw emotion and personality into every note of her music, and her newest songs overflow with potential and talent that feels like it’s only just being tapped into.
STREAM IT: Spotify | Apple Music | Bandcamp

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Moor Mother & Mental Jewelry – Crime Waves (Don Giovanni)

Moor Mother’s 2016 album Fetish Bones was a breakout for musician and activist Camae Ayewa. For its follow-up, she teamed up with fellow Philadelphia-based producer Steven Montenegro (who records as Mental Jewelry) on a collaborative EP called Crime Waves. Together, Ayewa and Montenegro make squelching industrial beats that wriggle and bleed with fury and frustration. They’re improvisational with intentionality; these songs feel urgent and menacing and leave a lasting impression. One of the starkest is “Death Booming,” which sounds like a sharp inhalation stretched out over three minutes, a tense standoff where Ayewa circles back to a single phrase: “Death boomin’ out the projects/ I know you hear it.”
STREAM IT: Spotify | Apple Music | Bandcamp

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Nine Inch Nails – ADD VIOLENCE (Null Corporation)

Nine Inch Nails’ second EP in a promised trilogy is a formal exercise in decay, both in a sonic sense and as part of American society’s trend towards disintegration. It’s the second NIN release since officially incorporating Reznor’s longtime film score collaborator Atticus Ross into this project’s framework, and Add Violence matches the duo’s cinematic ambitions. After opening with a feint towards accessibility via the sharp-tongued “Less Than” (“Did it fix what was wrong inside? Are you less than?”), Reznor pivots towards space-y and sinister productions that gradually rot from the inside out. The penultimate scorcher “Not Anymore” bleeds into “The Background World”‘s 12-minute breakdown, a loop that acts out a dialogue between Reznor’s initially clean voice as it descends into a deep-throated Cookie Monster growl, breaking out in static by the composition’s end. Even after all these years, Reznor’s approach to music is as ingenious and mysterious as ever.
STREAM IT: Spotify | Apple Music

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Palm – Shadow Expert (Carpark)

There’s a tendency to talk about Palm, the incredibly talented art-rock group from Philly, in terms of their technical feats — the wacky time signatures and complicatedly interlocked grooves are fodder for fellow musicians to latch onto as a way of demonstrating their skill. But there’s something to be said for the visceral nature of the music itself, outside of its accomplishment, and Shadow Expert is perhaps the best distillation of Palm’s ability to be hooky and fun, too. These songs shape-shift and bounce in the best ways, from the opening wails of “Walkie Talkie” through to stop-start queasiness of closer “Sign To Signal.” Their music might even work best in miniature bursts, when you can really admire every moving part rather than get overwhelmed by the bigger picture.
STREAM IT: Spotify | Apple Music | Bandcamp

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Pill – Aggressive Advertising (Dull Tools)

The New York punk four-piece Pill sounded intensely focused and determined on their debut album, Convenience, but they take advantage of the truncated runtime of Aggressive Advertising to inject a little laxness into their approach. Outside of the amped and aggressive “Empathizer (Rat In The Box)” and “Afraid Of The Mirror,” which hurl forward with a riotous energy, Veronica Torres and the rest of the band opt to spiral in concentric circles rather than get in your face. The hypnotizing “Piña Queen,” “Scared Away,” and the jazzy pair of “Aa” intros are evidence that taking a breather can be a form of protest in and of itself.
STREAM IT: Spotify | Apple Music | Bandcamp

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Skepta – Vicious (Boy Better Know)

Skepta has been in victory lap mode since releasing his revitalizing Konnichiwa last year, but on Halloween he dropped a surprise: a new EP called Vicious. The grime artist has made a bit of a habit dropping new releases around that time (including two tracks that are included here, “No Security” and “Worst,” last year), and his creeping sense of foreboding is a great match for spooky season. The highlights here are “Hypocrisy,” a mental check-in of his state following his banner year, and the collaborations with Lil B and A$AP Rocky and A$AP Nast, both of which allow Skepta to bounce off artists that operate in a different lane.
STREAM IT: Spotify | Apple Music

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Soccer Mommy – Collection (Fat Possum)

Collection acts like more of a greatest hits compilation for Sophie Allison’s short but fruitful discography than any sort of definitive statement, but it’s a powerful grouping of tracks. It’s a clearing of the passageway as Soccer Mommy becomes less of a bedroom project and more of a full-fledged band, and here Allison fleshes out songs from her past that best benefit from a richer arrangement. “Try” and “Benadryl Dreams” especially flourish with more muscle behind them, and the new additions to Soccer Mommy’s canon, “Allison” and “Out Worn,” show that she can conjure powerful emotions in both solitude and with a crew.
STREAM IT: Spotify | Apple Music | Bandcamp

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Strawberry Runners – In The Garden, In The Night (Salinas)

In The Garden, In The Night is Strawberry Runners’ first proper release, and it’s an impressive showcase for Emi Night’s relaxed but sharp folk songwriting. On its two hookiest, “Garden Hose” and “Dog Days,” Night’s syrupy voice spins in ellipses, sagging and sweet. “I don’t feel ready/ Stumble over my feet/ Trying to face myself,” she sings on the latter, a personal reckoning that her confidently unspooling EP suggests that she’s ready to confront. In The Garden, In The Night is brief but it’s not slight, and Night’s songs strike a nerve somewhere between nostalgic and melancholic and always warm.
STREAM IT: Spotify | Apple Music | Bandcamp

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Swet Shop Boys – Sufi La (Customs)

Heems and Riz Ahmed’s masterful team-up as Swet Shop Boys picks up right where the impressive Cashmere left off with Sufi La, a collection of six tracks that feels joyously tossed-off. The duo are in more of a party mode this time around compared to the socially-conscious verses of their debut, but they are still setting things on fire even as they’re blowing off steam. They come barreling right out of the gate with the self-fulfilling “Anthem,” and Redinho’s back-breaking production twists and turns don’t let up from there. The Heems-only “Birding” is exceptionally fun despite lacking the frantic interplay between the two rappers, and also serves as a helpful guide if you want to learn a bunch of different bird species. Swet Shop Boys exude enthusiasm, and Sufi La is a valuable addition to a growing discography between two forces of personality.
STREAM IT: Spotify | Apple Music | Bandcamp

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UV-TV – Go Away (Emotional Response)

Restless Gainesville punks UV-TV put out their frenetic debut album, Glass, earlier this year, and a couple months later they followed it up with the Go Away EP before you could even blink. That urgent schedule doesn’t leave space to breathe in a way that mimics the music they make, which swings by and hits hard. Go Away features four intensely likable songs worth of toe-tapping madness that feel like they could lead to insanity if played loud enough. And though UV-TV play fast, they’re not sloppy, and it’s their precision that keeps these songs in check.
STREAM IT: Spotify | Apple Music | Bandcamp

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Yaeji – EP2 (Godmode)

Kathy Yaeji Lee had the red carpet rolled out for her this year, and with good reason. Yaeji released two EPs within a few months of each other that both felt like watershed moments to an extent that feels outsized compared to the whispered, insular dance music Lee makes out of her Brooklyn studio. Either release would be a strong contender for this list, but EP2 sounds just a touch more defined, tent-poled by “Raingurl” and “Drink I’m Sippin On,” two tracks that emphasize Yaeji’s skill at crafting dissociative soundscapes. EP2 comes off like a mist, all-encompassing before it dissipates forever. Her heady beats evoke a beguiling sense of coolness that’s difficult to pin down, but it’s a quality you know when you hear it, and Yaeji’s certainly got it.
STREAM IT: Spotify | Apple Music

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Young M.A. – Herstory (M.A. Music/3D)

Young M.A. is still undoubtedly defined by “Ooouuu,” and she’s been slow-moving in establishing herself further with a proper debut, but earlier this year she released an EP called Herstory that provides just enough ammunition to keep one eye fixated on the Brooklyn rapper. Nothing here approaches the immediacy of her breakout 2016 single, but tracks like “Hot Sauce” and “Same Set” show that she’s still supremely confident even as she’s treading water, a confident shit-talker that can casually lap her way around a hazy beat.
STREAM IT: Spotify | Apple Music

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Yucky Duster – Duster’s Lament (Infinity Cat)

The playful Brooklyn-based quartet Yucky Duster have the showmanship of a children’s school choir that’s been muddied by the grim realities of adulthood. On their 2016 self-titled debut and the Duster’s Lament EP from earlier this year, the band places sweet harmonies and theatrical roundabouts on top of seasick, woozy guitars in order to exploit the discordance between the two for maximum effect. “All these different ways to live to me just sound like different ways to die,” they sing on the nervy “Different People.” And on “Elementary School Dropout,” the group offers up a possible explanation for their stunted development, doomed to repeat the mistakes of our childhood over and over again. But they make that stalling sound fun as hell, like maybe you can have a good time while life screws around with you, too.
STREAM IT: Spotify | Apple Music | Bandcamp

Listen to selections from our great EPs list on Spotify.