Best EPs of 2016

EPs are to albums what starters are to main courses. Or, at least, that’s how it has traditionally been. These days, EPs take all kinds of forms, from two-track 12” records to mini-albums.

In the past, I’ve included selected EPs within my main album round-up. Now it’s time I gave these releases a spotlight of their own.

Soultress Lianne La Havas, house artists Disclosure and Snakehips, rapper Lizzo, enigmatic R&B singer Abra, and so many more have released some superb EPs. As always, I wanted to include more – especially the aforementioned artists, as I have had many of their tracks on repeat this year. But here’s my choice selection of 10 which have stayed with me, and all offer something special in their own right.

10. Sinead Harnett – Sinead Harnett EP
9. Flawes – Ctrl EP
8. Shakka – The Island EP
7. Throwing Shade – House of Silk EP
6. Marie Dahlstrom – 0.0 EP
5. Kojey Radical – 23Winters EP
4. Jodie Abacus – For Real Life and Not Pretend EP
3. Charlotte Day Wilson – CDW EP
2. Jorja Smith – Project 11 EP
1. Kesley Lu – Church EP

See my entire albums of 2016 series.

10. Sinead Harnett – Sinead Harnett EP
I honestly thought we’d see a debut album this year from London house vocalist extraordinaire Sinead Harnett. That wasn’t the case. But she did gift us with her four-track self-titled EP, which features productions from Grades, Snakehips, Kaytranada and JD Reid. Harnett still hooks me with every inflection of her voice on songs by Disclosure and Rudimental, and the Snakehips-produced ‘Rather Be with You’ is no different.

9. Flawes – Ctrl EP
Flawes are a three-piece band from Huddersfield, UK, that blend the crushed electronics of Sohn with the sparse instrumentation of The xx. I was fortunate enough to witness them perform live at Heaven nightclub in London. Ctrl is their second EP, and Frontman Josh Carruthers’s striking voice stays with you long after its songs are over.

8. Shakka – The Island EP
Two-time MOBO Award winner, Shakka, hit us with his fourth EP this year, The Island. This London singer-producer’s blend of conscious lyricism and reggae-influenced tropical R&B brings out the sunshine. Songs ‘Don’t Call Me’ and dab-ready ‘Inner London (feat. Giggs)’ are solid 2016 favourites.

7. Throwing Shade – House of Silk EP
London producer and radio DJ Throwing Shade caught my ear with the ironic ‘Hashtag IRL’ in March. That track was a satirical comment on the social media bubble so many of us can’t do without, with its Likes, its followers and its false promise of ending loneliness. The rest of her debut EP, titled House of Silk, was a marvellous set of meditative electronic instrumentals (‘Ecco Ecco’) and minimalist trance (‘Underneath My Eyelids’).

6. Marie Dahlstrom – 0.0 EP
My view: “Marie Dahlstrom’s latest EP, 0.0, is a sublime four-track dinner date that combines words and 90s-inspired R&B to bring a fresh side to Dahlstrom’s repertoire… Succinct sweet somethings that lead you from lakeside to twilight hideaway to solitary longing. Dahlstrom’s deep respect for her craft makes it easier to fall in love with her music with every release.”

5. Kojey Radical – 23Winters EP
Kojey Radical combines intelligent spoken word poetry with infectious rhythmic energy. The 23-year-old’s 2016 EP includes the MOBO-nominated ‘Footsteps’, as well as guest appearances by Ray Blk and Zulu. It’s a powerful EP that only shows half of what this talented wordsmith can do. To experience Kojey unchained and uncut, you really must see him live.

4. Jodie Abacus – For Real Life and Not Pretend EP
“Have you ever tasted whiskey from a first time kiss?” asks Jodie Abacus on ‘Hot Kitchen’. Imaginative, intelligent and irresistibly soulful is Abacus in a nutshell. His debut EP offers just a small glimpse of what this new king of warped soul is capable of. With an uplifting vibe akin to the Stax and Motown greats, he’s sure to delight.

3. Charlotte Day Wilson – CDW EP
My view: “Slow-cooked emotion is what Wilson’s music is about. There’s a deep, jazz tone to it similar to Alice Russell, but also a serene timbre that emanates that of Julia Holter – in fact, opening mood-setter, ‘On Your Own’, gives off a strong sense of Holter’s ‘Hello Stranger’. Straddling these different vocal styles, her voice is as confounding and as it is captivating.”

2. Jorja Smith – Project 11 EP
My view: “Project 11 is a marvellous demonstration of Jorja Smith’s vocal and storytelling abilities. Vocally, Smith brings Ms Dynamite and Katy B to mind, and her love of reggae can be felt in the occasional Caribbean lilt to her phrasing (‘Something in the Way’). Charming, confident, and street smart: this young lady is poised to take 2017 by storm.”

1. Kelsey Lu – Church EP
At roughly 35 minutes long, Kelsey Lu’s Church is the length of a short album. But regardless of its running time, the debut work from this 27-year-old prodigy is astounding. Lu’s music is an otherworldly fusion of classical strings and soprano-type singing. Starter ‘Dreams’ fills your atmosphere with four minutes of inquisitive tuning, before Lu wades in with knockout vocals. Lu’s voice brings Natasha Khan and Julia Holter to mind for me, and these compositions of hers are equally bold. Take ‘Time’, a haunting lamentation over lost love, wrapped around a glorious tick-tock rhythm that reminds me of De La Soul and Little Dragon’s ‘Drawn’. Or the utter bliss of ‘Lair’, which bares the delicately of Masayoshi Fujita’s vibraphone music. “Lutherial” is how the New York cellist describes her music. Make up your own mind about what that means while you absorb her deep, introspective sounds.

Share your thoughts in the comments section below or via @aarnlee.

See my entire albums of 2016 series.

Images: collage (clockwise from top left) Ninja Tune/PR, Marie Dahlstrom/PR, Kesley Lu/PR, Jodie Abacus/PR. Images and photos belong to respective parties

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