The 20 Best EPs, Mixtapes & Playlists Of 2018
While albums are in danger of becoming extinct in the streaming age, EPs are enjoying something of a renaissance. The once-derided Extended Play allows an artist to share content and build a following without the same commercial pressure as releasing an LP. They are also comparatively cheap and faster to turn around. (Mixtapes and playlists have boomed in popularity for the same reasons). It sounds like a win-win for all involved, but the format isn’t without its pitfalls.
For starters, EPs have occasionally been used as a dumping ground for sub-standard material and there’s nothing more annoying than an artist recycling most (or all) of the content on their next album. Love them or hate them, abbreviated releases are here to stay. And, in the right hands, they can be every bit as intoxicating and transformative as an album. That certainly applies to each of the following EPs.
20. Overthinking — SHY Martin
Key tracks: “Just A Little Longer” and “Forget To Forget”
After penning hits for The Chainsmokers, Astrid S and Bebe Rexha, Sweden’s SHY Martin landed one of her own as the voice of Mike Perry’s “The Ocean.” She used that as a launching pad for her artist project and instantly struck gold with bops like “Good Together,” “Just A Little Longer” and “Forget To Forget.” All of which are included on her very-impressive debut EP, Overthinking.
19. Good Cry — Noah Cyrus
Key tracks: “Mad At You” and “Punches”
Noah Cyrus had an interesting 2018 with some dizzying highs (a bunch of cute collaborations) and some depressing lows (her breakup with Lil Xan will go down in pop culture history). The music, however, has been uniformly great. The rising star’s Good Cry EP showcases her soulful vocals and proves that she’s capable of producing a cohesive collection of tracks. Her duet with Gallant is particularly noteworthy.
18. Survive The Summer — Iggy Azalea
Key tracks: “Kream” and “Hey Iggy”
A throwback to the edgier, more aggressive sound of her pre-fame mixtapes, Iggy Azalea’s Survive The Summer is a potent reminder that there’s more to the hitmaker than pop-centric collaborations. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that). “Kream” was the EP’s breakout hit, but tracks like “Tokyo Snow Trip” and “Hey Iggy” — an unofficial sequel to “Iggy SZN” — also demand your full attention.
17. Heavy Rules Mixtape — ALMA
Key tracks: “Good Vibes” and “Fake Gucci”
ALMA is one of the most prolific artists in pop. It feels like she drops a new song every second week, which would be exhausting if they weren’t all stone-cold bops. The Finnish star really outdid herself on the Heavy Rules Mixtape — a six-song set featuring collaborations with M.O, Tove Styrke and Kiiara. ALMA already has enough bangers for multiple albums, so let’s hope one eventuates in 2019.
16. Love, Me — Lennon Stella
Key tracks: “Bad” and “La Di Da”
Apparently, Lennon Stella was on a popular TV show at some point. I’m sure she was great on it, but the pop newcomer first appeared on my radar with the very-good “Bad.” Since dropping that catchy tune, the 19-year-old has continued to impress with eclectic releases like “Fortress,” “Breakaway” and “Feelings.” Those songs are all housed on Love, Me — a five-song showcase of her versatility and songwriting prowess.
15. Intraduction — Ivy Adara
Key tracks: “Callgirl” and “Currency”
Calling your debut EP Intraduction is an interesting choice. That Australia’s Ivy Adara made of her own volition. That aside, the singer/songwriter’s calling card is a breathtakingly assured collection of pop songs. Radio is the goal here and the assistance of producers like Cirkut, Jon Hume and Lindsey Jackson adds serious shine to perky cuts like “Currency,” “Rebels” and “Callgirl” (don’t worry, it’s not about prostitution). She is definitely One To Watch in 2019.
14. Ready — Ruel
Key tracks: “Don’t Tell Me” and “Younger”
Discovered by M-Phazes (his production credits range from Eminem to Amy Shark), 15-year-old Ruel ranks as one of the breakout stars of 2018 thanks to the wide-eyed sincerity of “Don’t Tell Me” and raspy soul of “Younger.” There isn’t a single misstep on the Aussie teenager’s debut EP, the appropriately-titled Ready, making it feel more like a mini-album than an abbreviated introduction. With co-signs from the likes of Elton John and Khalid, this kid’s future looks very, very bright.
13. Turn Off The Light, Vol. 1 — Kim Petras
Key tracks: “Close Your Eyes” and “Tell Me It’s A Nightmare”
I’m still not sure if this is an album, EP or playlist, but it doesn’t really matter. Kim Petras cemented her status as the queen of edgy gays with Turn Off The Light, Vol. 1. After serving sugary pop perfection on bangers like “Heart To Break” and “I Don’t Want It At All,” there’s a darkness and gloom to this Halloween-themed project that hints at hidden depths. I’m intrigued and already gagging for Vol. 2.
12. Tender Offerings — First Aid Kit
Key tracks: “All That We Get” and “Tender Offerings”
First Aid Kit released their fourth LP, Ruins, in early 2018 and then closed out the year by dropping an EP comprised of unreleased songs from those sessions. You could argue that this makes Tender Offerings a fan-only release, but the four-song set is so compelling that it feels like an essential epilogue to the project. As usual, the Söderberg sisters’ songwriting is impeccable and they dissect matters of the heart with the skill of a surgeon on gems like “All That We Get.”
11. 3rd Ward Bounce — Big Freedia
Key tracks: “Karaoke” and “Rent”
All hail the queen of bounce! Big Freedia’s fingerprints are all over pop culture at the moment with (uncredited) features on Beyoncé’s “Formation” and Drake’s “Nice For What.” The New Orleans icon capitalizes on her sky-high profile with 3rd Ward Bounce — a collection of bangers that will make your toes tap and your ass cheeks clap. It’s hard to pick a highlight when every song goes this hard, but “Karaoke” — a collaboration with Lizzo — is an undeniable anthem.
10. First Impression — Amanda Tenfjord
Key tracks: “Let Me Think” and “First Impression”
Amanda Tenfjord was one of my favorite discoveries of 2018. The Norwegian newcomer came out swinging with “First Impression,” a biting bop about being thoroughly unimpressed by an initial encounter. She was in a similarly feisty mood on “Let Me Think,” another staggeringly good pop song with relatable lyrics and huge hooks. Those singles set the blueprint for the 21-year-old’s debut EP, First Impression, which hints at much bigger things to come.
9. In My Body – SYML
Key tracks: “Where’s My Love” and “Body”
One great song can change an artist’s life. That’s exactly what happened when SYML (real name Brian Fennell) unleashed “Where’s My Love” on Spotify. The haunting ballad caught fire, racking up 200 million streams and spawning a hit club remix by Sam Feldt. It’s the cornerstone of the 35-year-old’s In My Body EP, which also contains exquisitely crafted tunes like “Body” and “The War.”
8. Make My Bed — King Princess
Key tracks: “1950” and “Talia”
Signed to Mark Ronson’s Zelig Records, King Princess was one of the breakout stars of 2018 thanks to the massive success of “1950” (a queer love song for the ages) and her unique approach to social media. While “1950” is delightfully retro, the rest of her debut EP, Make My Bed, is more concerned with the here and now. “Talia” (the one with sex doll in the video) is heartbreaking, while “Holy” stands out as another highlight. This needs to be re-released with “Pussy Is God.”
7. Suncity — Khalid
Key tracks: “Better” and “Saturday Nights”
Everything Khalid touches turns to gold. That’s not hyperbole. From the multi-platinum “Location” to crashing the top 10 with the Normani-assisted “Love Lies,” the 20-year-old is racking up streaming numbers that make rivals weep. He follows up his debut LP with an EP called Suncity and, unsurprisingly enough, landed a hit with the instantly-catchy “Better.” It speaks to his formidable consistency that the other six songs on the EP are every bit as good.
6. Sugar & Spice — Hatchie
Key tracks: “Sure” and “Sugar & Spice”
Australia produced more than its fair share of exciting newcomers in 2018, but Hatchie (real name Harriette Pilbeam) was one of the best. The Brisbane singer/songwriter creates dreamy, shoe-gazer bops with cascading synths and fuzzy guitars that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a college radio station in the ’90s. The title track of Sugar & Spice is a great introduction to the 25-year-old’s winning sound, but “Sure” is every bit as addictive.
5. Super Sunset — Allie X
Key tracks: “Not So Bad In LA” and “Little Things”
Again, I’m not really sure if Allie X’s Super Sunset is an album or EP (or something in-between). I do know, however, that it is one of the year’s most intriguing electro-pop offerings. And quite possibly the only one to feature songs from the perspective of three alter-egos including a nun and a Hollywood starlet. It would be a case of artistic hubris if the Canadian wasn’t so damn good at her art. “Not So Bad In LA,” “Little Things” and “Focus” are all perfect pop songs that deserve a much wider audience.
4. Spring — Wallows
Key tracks: “These Days” and “Pictures Of Girls”
Wallows is an annoyingly talented trio of multi-hyphenates from LA fronted by Dylan Minnette of 13 Reasons Why fame. Clay Jensen finally got to drop a tape of his own in 2018 via the band’s excellent Spring EP. Produced by John Congleton, the six-song set bounces from blissed-out surf-rock and shoe-gazer grunge to jangly indie-pop without missing a beat. Their debut LP is one of my most-anticipated releases of 2019.
3. In The Sky — Mallrat
Key tracks: “UFO” and “Groceries”
Mallrat, the rather unglamorous moniker of Australia’s Grace Shaw, is one of the most exciting new artists in pop. Part of the current wave of singer/rappers, she stands out from the crowd with her drowsy delivery, oddball lyrics (the 20-year-old really had the nerve to write a great song about buying groceries) and knack for unlikely hooks. All of which are on full display on her In The Sky EP. If Mallrat’s debut album contains anything half as good as “UFO,” it’s going to be a triumph.
2. Alien — Morgan Saint
Key tracks: “On Fire” and “Momma, Set Me Free”
Taken as whole, 17 HERO and Alien, would be in my top five favorite albums of the year. As fate would have it, Morgan Saint’s debut album was split into two EPs and the second installment provided me no end of enjoyment in 2018. A celebration of emo, alt-adjacent electro, the sexy slowburn of “On Fire” sits alongside weird club experiments and a touching coming-out anthem called “Momma, Set Me Free.” Her time will absolutely come.
1. Sad Girl & Loser — Sasha Sloan
Key tracks: “Faking It,” “Normal” and “Again”
Sasha Sloan really showed out in 2018 by releasing not one, but two perfect EPs. I love them both, but Loser feels rawer and more intimate than Sad Girl. Two things separate the 23-year-old from other talented songwriters on the path to pop stardom. Her perspective hasn’t been diluted by writing for other artists and she isn’t afraid to pick at emotional wounds — all without ever skimping on hooks and a catchy chorus. Sasha’s debut album is going to be something else.