‘Tis the season for all those end-of-year Top Singles and Best Albums listicles. We’re splitting the difference with a list of the five EPs that were most deserving of your ears this year.
Nao – February 15
From the perfect lockstep of bassline and melody on slinky “Inhale Exhale” to the avant R&B of “Apple Cherry,” East London songstress Nao crafted one the year’s best releases, bar none. Whatever that “neo-soul” tag actually means these days, February 15 sounds like it.
Raury – Indigo Child
The tribal chant of “We are the truth/We are forever/We are the youth/We are together” sets the tone for this eclectic mix of indie rap and folk by the Atlanta young gun. “God’s Whisper”—a triumphal call-to-arms leavened by suburban teenage ennui—grabbed the attention of Kanye, but expansive closer “Seven Suns” could just as easily do the same to you.
Chloe Martini – Private Joy
Polish producer wunderkind Chloe Martini has soaked up damn near every drop of early ‘90s American R&B and it shows, from SWV/Brownstone balladry (“Get Enough”) to the boots-knocking slow jams of Silk and Jodeci (“Unknown”). While still keeping one foot planted solidly in the past, Martini’s deft application of EDM influences helps her sidestep mere nostalgic fetishism. The result? Private Joy plays like a brand new throwback.
Thundercat – The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam
Los Angeles virtuoso bassist and singer-songwriter Thundercat (nee Stephen Bruner) took time off from producing Kendrick Lamar’s instant classic to whip up this prog-jazz exploration. The atmospheric funk of “Them Changes” is the sound of a master musician seizing control of the studio board and twisting all the knobs in the right direction. If you can justifiably call an EP “sprawling,” then this surely qualifies.
Petite Noir – The King of Anxiety
South Africa’s Yannick Ilunga writes and sings under the Francophonic moniker of Petite Noir. While Ilunga’s spacious voice summons comparisons to a multiplicity of Eighties pop vocalists (from The Cure’s Robert Smith to Roland Orzabal of Tears for Fears), his guitar-driven melodies mingle new wave with South African influences to form a signature sound he dubs “noir-wave.” From the inexorable build of centerpiece “Chess” to the Bloc Party-goes-Soweto of “Shadows,” The King of Anxiety provides a riveting listen, if an all too short one.