12 For ’12: The EPs That Had Us Popping This Year
As far as pop is concerned, 2012 may be remembered as the year that there were more exceptional EPs than albums. While we had to scrape to come up with 10 LPs we truly loved this year — at least, loved enough to feature in our Best Albums of 2012 list — there were more standout EPs than we had space to include.
Call it an indication of the shifting music industry that the most promising artists have to drop EPs first to test the waters before they’ll get the chance to shine on an LP, but the year in short-play releases, from established popstrels like Lana Del Rey and Ke$ha to rising talents like Kitten and AlunaGeorge, left us impressed. And it was the EPs, not the albums, that gave us some of our favorite songs of the year — like Solange‘s “Losing You,” Sky Ferreira‘s “Everything Is Embarrassing” and Icona Pop‘s “I Love It.”
2012 was the year of the EP, and that’s a good thing. Head below to see what Idolator editors Robbie Daw, Carl Williott, Sam Lansky and Erika Brooks Adickman selected as the best of 2012.
Sky Ferreira, Ghost Carl says: Sky Ferreira still hasn’t settled on one sonic identity, but the varied songs on Ghost all coalesce into one beautifully melancholy cloud. Whether it was the swaying croon of the title track and “Sad Dream,” the angsty crunch of “Red Lips” or the weary synth-pop of “Everything Is Embarrassing,” this EP had us singing and pouting at the same time.
Azealia Banks, 1991 Sam says: Even though she didn’t release an album and her debut single “212” barely even charted, in many ways 2012 belonged to Azealia Banks: The Harlem-based rapstress actually managed to drown out the buzz with her precocious talent, as showcased on 1991. The ’90s house flowed freely, the beats were expansive, the rhymes were quick-witted — and on the too-smart-for-its-own-good “Liquorice” and in the maximalist splendor of “Van Vogue,” Banks proved why 2013 will probably be her year, too.
Katy B, Danger Robbie says: This 23-year-old Brit’s EP came late in the game this year — it was released last week! — but it’s still worth a mention. The highlight: “Aaliyah,” a retro 1990s house number that has Katy pairing up with Jessie Ware and Geeneus while paying homage to the R&B icon Aaliyah Haughton. The beats, synths and insistent chirping are straight-up 1993 realness. Three other songs fill up the EP, but “Aaliyah” is the crown jewel.
Solange, True Sam says: On the merits of Solange’s luminous “Losing You” alone, True earns its space on this list. Was there a song this year that evoked as many complex feelings simultaneously — of frustration, regret, loss and confusion — over such a dissonantly sweet track? True performs the nifty feat of being both immensely nostalgic and forward-thinking in its sound: Look to the churning, clicking “Some Things Never Seem To Fucking Work” or the velvety smooth “Lovers In the Parking Lot” for that. Not only is True one of the strongest releases of 2012, that “small pop” vibe sounds more like 2013 than anything this year.
Charli XCX, You’re The One Carl says: With her debut EP, Charli XCX distilled her entire sound into a tidy two-song package. “Nuclear Seasons” and “You’re The One” showcase her affinity for murky synth-pop, using gloomy, bordering-on-darkwave squelches mixed with saccharine pop hooks. If Carrie was named prom queen and that whole pig’s blood thing had never happened, she’d probably make music like this.
Frank + Derol, Frank + Derol Sam says: The first single from Los Angeles-based duo Frank + Derol, “Barely Love You Too,” instantly secured its place as one of the year’s best songs. A remarkably self-assured sliver of lush twee pop, “Barely” would have been enough on its own. But then Codi and Brandi released their debut EP, and it turned out to be just as luminous as their single — the skittering singalong “Apparition” and the thrillingly urgent “Let It Go” are as pristine as any pop released this year.
Icona Pop, Iconic EP Erika says: Science has yet to prove why all great music comes from Sweden. But rest assured that when they do, duo Icona Pop will be included in their data. With Iconic, Aino Jawo and Caroline Hjelt put forth into the world six stellar tracks that accomplish a rare feat: songs that are not only instantly addictive, but manage to sustain their lovability. Try as I might, I have yet to grow tired of “I Love It.” The ladies put every ounce of sass they have into the fun, sultry and confident “Good For You” and “Manners.” (The latter was even used by Chiddy Bang, who couldn’t help but incorporate the delightful uptempo chorus for “Mind Your Manners.”) Iconic is both music to listen to while getting “Ready For The Weekend” — and to get a party started. Disagree? To quote IP, “I don’t care. I love it!”
Kitten, Cut It Out Carl says: Fluctuating between moments of relaxed cool and dramatic crescendos, Cut It Out‘s waves of reverb, keyboards and stomping percussion are so precisely constructed that no single element ever drowns out the others. The band’s precocious 17-year-old singer Chloe Chaidez ties it all together, easing from hushed whispers into commanding howls, and it all combines for an effortlessly anthemic, lush sound.
MS MR, Candy Bar Creep Show Sam says: Tumblrwave alt-pop duo MS MR are still flying under the radar with their gloomy, glitchy songs that just happen to pack more memorable hooks than a Carly Rae Jepsen album, but their EP Candy Bar Creep Show (which, awesomely, is the title of an episode of Rugrats) positioned them for a big breakthrough. Lead single “Hurricane” and the effectively conceptual “Dark Doo Wop” show off keen songcraft. However, it’s the cooing refrain on “Ash Tree Lane” that will haunt your dreams.
Ke$ha, Deconstructed Sam says: Ke$ha’s latest LP Warrior delighted some fans and disappointed others — chiefly in the latter camp, those who were excited to hear K$ show off her fine vocal chops. For them, her Deconstructed EP was a rare treat, since Ke$ha’s smoky, soulful vocals are paired with spare, stripped-back production on well-loved album tracks like “The Harold Song,” new cuts like “Supernatural” and “Die Young,” and most gorgeously, a song Ke$ha’s mother Pebe Sebert wrote that was made famous by Dolly Parton, “Old Flames.” The people who still say Ke$ha has no talent probably didn’t hear it, but hey — it’s their loss.
AlunaGeorge, You Know You Like It Carl says: Aluna Francis and George Reid approach R&B the way Little Dragon does — they deconstruct it and put it back together with glitchy, analog parts. But thanks to Aluna’s voice, the songs here are as sexy as they are synthetic. Robot sex has never sounded hotter.
Lana Del Rey, Paradise Carl says: Lana Del Rey’s Born To Die mimicked the frenzy surrounding it: overblown, overflowing and, at times, downright annoying. Her Paradise EP was created (and released) under far less harried circumstances, and perhaps as a result of that it sounds more streamlined and graceful. Lana’s voice is nimbler than ever on songs like “Ride” and “Bel Air.” The production is restrained, but nails it when it goes grand (“Body Electric”). The reworked version of “Yayo” that appears here is the most intriguing thing Lana has recorded. She may still be plagued by dicey TV performances, but we’ll gladly get lost in this EP to forget about them.