Which EPs made the cut?
EPs occupy a strange space in the music world, not quite being albums and ranging anywhere from three to eight songs and lasting anywhere between 10-30 minutes. With more albums shorter in length with fewer songs, the line between and album and an EP seems increasingly fine, but what isn’t in doubt is the role of an EP in providing shorter bursts of enjoyment from artists either not quite ready for an album or seeking a quicker win through a release.
These were the top 18 EPs – 17 chosen by 5-9 editor, Andrew Belt, and one by New Music Weekly’s Karl Blakesley – of 2023.
18. The Pale White – A New Breed
Newcastle’s The Pale White first came to my attention in 2019 through their single, ‘Medicine’ – one of my favourite songs from that year. Since then, I’ve not come across them until this year and their first release as a four-piece – six songs which showcase that their ear for a good rock tune is still strong.
17. Daneshevskaya – Long is the Tunnel
The alias of New York’s Anna Beckerman, Daneshevskaya produced a few of this year’s best songs on Long is the Tunnel, but diving deeper into the EP didn’t produce any more pearls with the seven songs a frustratingly mixed bag for an artist with a wonderful voice and huge potential.
16. Eaves Wilder – Hookey
A first foray beyond singles, young Londoner, Eaves Wilder maintained the momentum behind her on four songs traversing guitar-heavy genres and showcasing shades of Wolf Alice.
15. Mickey Callisto – Homospace
Reviewed by Karl Blakesley for 5-9, he described the debut EP by Liverpool’s Mickey Callisto as ‘a star-making debut’. High praise indeed, and plenty within the review suggested the EP was well worth a listen.
14. The Early Purple – Summer Hide
Multi-instrumentalist and bird enthusiast, Matt Saxon, produced a wonderful debut EP as The Early Purple with its five folk-indie songs inviting you into his inquisitive world with lyrics about nature and politics in his Northumberland hometown of Blyth.
13. Billy Tibbals – Stay Teenage
A late entry onto the list, I gave this a listen after reading 5-9 Album of the Month podcaster, Kiley Larsen’s top EPs of 2023 list. Kiley describes the EP by Los Angeles-based Londoner, Billy Tibbals, as ‘glam rock perfection’ and the six songs produced as evidence don’t disappoint. Worth a listen for fans of David Bowie and T Rex, Stay Teenage is a lot of fun and had I spent more time with it throughout the year, this may have featured higher in this list.
12. Fräulein – Pedestal
Northern Irish/Dutch duo, Fräulein, hark back to the early ‘90s grunge scene with their minimalist take on that era. Having enjoyed their early singles and debut EP, A Small Taste, they continue to excite with the four songs on Pedestal, in particular, through lead single, ‘Pet’.
11. Nia Archives – Sunrise Bang Ur Head Against Tha Wall
Also thrilling in 2023 through harking back to previous eras of music is Nia Archives, with the 24-year-old Bradford native reaching into the sounds of jungle which were popular in the early 2000s. A gleefully innocent call back to that period of time, the six songs on Sunrise… focus on the transcendence love can provide over drum ‘n’ bass, jungle and garage beats, coming together like accessible pop songs.
10. Julie Byrne with Laugh Cry Laugh
Julie Byrne is another Kiley recommendation and, having not got round to properly listening to her acclaimed album The Greater Wings this year, I did manage to squeeze in her EP with Laugh Cry Laugh, which was an immersive four songs including one beguiling instrumental and a cover of Jackson Browne’s ‘These Days’ with Byrne’s silky vocals elevating the experience.
9. boygenius – the rest
Like fellow Album of the Month podcasters, Karl and Kiley, I ended up with mixed feelings on boygenius’s the album, liking the heavier efforts more so than the stripped back songs. On the rest, I found myself far more in sync with what Messrs Bridgers, Dacus and Baker are all about with their folky album offcuts creating a cohesive, four-track folk EP which highlighted their individual talents without losing sight of their band aesthetic.
8. Alex Nicol – Been a Long Year Vol. 1
Montreal’s Alex Nicol served up five sad, haunting songs on this EP which has since been joined by a second volume to create an album. Leaning in to the sound of Nick Drake, Nicol shared the difficult experiences he’s had in his life over the past few years to create a thoughtful, cathartic collection of songs.
7. Birdmask – Tristan
Another melancholic effort was Tristan – the first of two EPs by Zeal & Ardor’s Manuel Gagneux, with a second slated for release in early 2024. Piano-driven pop songs providing a platform for Gagneux’s distinctive vocals to shine gave rise to a strong quintet of songs on this release.
6. Lowmello – That Sweet Breath
Not only does Kiley write about music and join Karl and I on 5-9’s Album of the Month podcast, but he is head honcho of Mama Mañana Records – a label he runs in New Mexico. That Sweet Breath was one of the label’s EP releases this year and happily for podcast relations, the five songs on it from Albuquerque-based musician, Lowmello, condense a wide spectrum of rock genres and plenty of cerebral narrative to make this an excellent eclectic listen.
5. Bloc Party – The High Life
Bloc Party’s return to form since the low point of fifth album, Hymns, continues with The High Life another strong effort after 2022’s Alpha Games. It’s like the band of old on the four songs on the EP, with ‘Keep it Rolling’ – the collaboration with KennyHoopla – the standout track.
4. Brooke Bentham – Caring
Another entry from the North East of England, Caring reaffirmed why Brooke Bentham is an artist from a region teeming with talent who deserves your attention. The four songs radiate warmth and maturity with Bentham’s vocals soaring above the inviting indie-rock soundscape.
3. Angel Olsen – Forever Means
A luxurious listen, Angel Olsen carried on where she left off with last year’s Big Time LP with Forever Means. Superb vocals, retro orchestration and meaningful lyrics, Olsen is at the top of her game.
2. Gretel Hänlyn – Head of the Love Club
Spanning eight songs and lasting almost 30 minutes, Head of the Love Club verged into album territory but, whatever you label it, it showcased London singer-songwriter, Gretel Hänlyn’s unique talent. Gothic arrangements, diverse vocals and direct, scathing lyrics made this an intriguing and nourishing listen which builds excitement for a first official album release.
1. Softcult – See You in the Dark
Like Head of the Love Club, Softcult’s See You in the Dark was played repeatedly across 2023 and it was a difficult task to separate these two excellent EPs. In the end, the six songs by the Canadian duo won out, with its shoegaze sound and hard-hitting lyrics on gender roles, relationships and sexual assault. Heavy both in sound and theme, See You in the Dark is an exceptional immersive experience which transports you to the duo’s thoughtful, unflinching worldview and provides a tantalising glimpse of what they could conjure in future as a wise force in modern music.