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20 Best EPs of 2017 (so far)

Welcome to our Best of 2017 series, in which we explore the year’s best albums, songs and extended plays.

On the heels of our 25 Best Albums of 2017 (so far), B-Sides & Badlands has decided to give credit to the mass of extended play releases in 2017. EPs are far less common in country music; artists typically focus on sweeping storylines over 10+ tracks. But it is a free-for-all in most strands of pop music, from synth-heavy productions to more stream-lined anthems. We have compiled our 20 favorite EPs of the year so far, and you can spin a Spotify playlist at the bottom, if you so desire

Without further adieu, take a gander:

Linda Ortega, Til the Goin’ Gets Gone (buy)

Genre: Americana

Label: Soundly Music

Release Date: March 17, 2017

Ortega has always sketched dark, troubled characters in her work, often inhabiting the roles herself or portraying the eerily voyeuristic narrator. When she had considered quitting music altogether–“I was having a hard time paying my rent and getting groceries,” she said–a song struck her like a bolt of lightning. The sinister snarl of “Final Bow” reenergized her, reminding her of her purpose and ability to move people. “I’ll sing one last song for old time’s sake,” she whispers into a spooky mix of echoing, layered piano. The full EP examines outcasts struggling to get by, as she examines on “What a Girls Gotta Do,” a story-song about a stripper, and her cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “Waiting ‘Round to Die” is devastating and stunningly evocative.


Great Good Fine OK, III (buy)

Genre: Pop

Label: Duck L’Orange Records

Release Date: January 6, 2017

A third in a series, Jon Sandler and Luke Moellman hit new levels of danceable rage, jet-setting through spacey orbits and shiny balls of gaseous matter. Sandler’s intoxicating falsetto violently shades such standouts as “Get Away” and “Holding You,” clutching tightly to vigorous hooks and otherworldly, alien-like moods. With Moellman striding between classic-80s and new-wave-painted overtones, production style is zesty and easy-listening and goes down smooth like a shot of whiskey. “Thinking,” especially, is airy and melts together syrupy pop with ’90s-bent R&B. “You came in from the other side, took your time, made me feel live. Why’d you let me go?” Sandler ponders on bouncy opener “Take It or Leave It,” drenching the imposing beats with honeyed phrases.


Party Nails, Come Again (buy)

Genre: Pop

Label: Independent

Release Date: February 10, 2017

If The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles and Black Mirror‘s magical “San Junipero” episode had a threesome, their love-child would be Party Nails. “I’ve always been fascinated with that bittersweet, happy/sad thing,” she said, marinating her EP in sorrowful lyrics and hyped rhythms. That juxtaposition of pain/light encapsulates her own complex journey to greatness. From “Blow Me Away” to “Better” and the title cut, the five-track EP whisks by as spectacularly as Halley’s Comet: her vocal radiates in the afterglow of shimmering guitar beams and you can’t help but believe every word she utters. “Oh, put on my party nails. They all stare at me,” she yowls on the groovy closer “One by One.” Pay attention, she’s gonna be huge.


Lindsay Ell, Worth the Wait (buy)

Genre: Country

Label: Stoney Creek Records

Release Date: March 24, 2017

The major label system almost chewed her up and spit her out. With songs like “Trippin’ on Us” and “Shut Me Up,” she aimed high for heavily-pop influenced hits–to little avail. Her guitar skills have always been a crucial selling point, and the songs never lived up to the hype. But with her long-awaited debut EP, she has finally found her voice, soaked in southern rock and a husky rasp. “Space” is her finest composition to-date, quite ghoulish with a chilling vocal. Ell muses on a boy’s “Criminal” emotional plays and on pushing “her heart beyond itself, way past what it should take” with the tender, smoldering “Worth the Wait.” And her version of John Mayer’s “Stop This Train” just feels right, timely and critical.


Sigrid, Don’t Kill My Vibe (buy)

Genre: Pop

Label: Island Records/UMG

Release Date: May 12, 2017

The Norwegian up and comer winds her way through a forested maze of cutting, resplendent songwriting and buoyant melodies. Whether she’s rising like a warrior with the fiery lead single and opener “Don’t Kill My Vibe” or weaving “Plot Twist” after another, she is intense and alert, cracking the code of delicious Top 40 hooks with deeply-rooted stories. Even on “Fake Friends,” there is a driving propulsion of well-crafted lines, including this key moment: “Let the flame die out and rip the bandaid off / so slow that you can feel it burning.” She never sacrifices lyrics for addictive choruses, either. She then throws a curveball with an acoustic rendering of “Dynamite,” closing out her wild, impulsive and daring debut EP.


Jake McMullen, Giving Up (buy)

Genre: Pop/Alternative

Label: Independent

Release Date: May 12, 2017

Murky mumbles, stoic clashes liquefy under the fierce rays of McMullen’s off-kilter, unconventional timbre. Among a cavalcade of pop musicians coming out of Nashville, he exudes a strange, puzzling blackness. His rendition of Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own” can be jarring, but repeat listens elicit a magnetizing aura. “Falling” and the folky “How Do You Get It Back?” (which seems to run as a river does, tumbling down the mountainside) are exceptionally written and performed. He pours out blurry-eyed, out-of-focus snapshots of his existence. “I don’t think it’s good trying to fit yourself into one box to please somebody,” he said about heroic ambitions to destroy genre labels. He even dabbles in effervescent ’80s sparkle on the title track.


Madelin, self-titled (buy)

Genre: Pop/Alternative

Label: Independent

Release Date: May 19, 2017

Madelin conceives a massive takedown of the patriarchy with “Good List,” the set’s scornful and empowering clapback of being cat-called. Constructed over the course of three long years, themes of feminism and strength spill over onto the other four tracks. Despite naysayers ripping her tunes as “not pop enough,” she saw right through their intentions and did things her way. “I really see that’s bullshit, and I can make the music that resonates with me,” she explained. Elsewhere, she hits hard on such flare-ups as “Pinnacle” (a galloping alt-pop piece) and the hip-hop-hinged “Crew,” complete with disruptive hand claps and a choir of children’s yelps. “High School Boys” throbs with electric guitar, ardent percussion and Madelin’s pure vocal.


Jimmy Lumpkin & the Revival, self-titled (buy)

Genre: Americana/Rock

Label: Skate Mountain Records

Release Date: May 12, 2017

Hiding away in a cabin deep within the marshlands outside of Mobile, Ala., Jimmy Lumpkin is intently aware of his roots: southern influence, ranging from rock, soul and alt-country, subtly guiding his instincts. The band’s first EP, sampling their forthcoming debut LP later this summer, is lively rag-time adorned with big-band sounds, scuffled organ and heavy doses of waterlogged guitar. It’s often dirty, too, sticking in your ears (“Every Time I Leave”) or tingling down the spine (“The Best One”). Using analog equipment once used by such pillars of country as Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan, the meager four tracks are caked in history, splintered and free, earthy but glassy. Lumpkin’s voice flitters between gliding and punchy, effectively conjuring up every mood like a faucet.


Violet Skies, This Was Us (buy)

Genre: Pop

Label: Saiorse Records

Release Date: May 26, 2017

A by-product of Wales, Joni Mitchell fandom and the deterioration of a relationship, Violet Skies’ debut EP chronicles her journey in enticing depth and intimacy. “I can’t stay in Soho. It reminds me of you,” she coos on piano ballad “Soho,” while “Island” is warm and enveloping, “Make me an island, cover my soul,” she howls. She mingles the virtuous penmanship of Mitchell and Sara Bareilles with the twilight of romanticism, from the budding stages into the corrosive aftermath, tailspinning her out of control. The use of vocoder on “Silence” and “No Night, No Day” is grisly but enlightened. Then, on “When the Love Runs Out,” her vocal in its (mostly) natural state is wistful, without crossing into saccharine.


The Easy Leaves, The Wheels (buy)

Genre: Americana/Country

Label:

Release Date: May 26, 2017

In the shadow of such stalwarts as Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, and others of the Bakersfield Sound, Sage Fifield and Kevin Carducci uphold those traditions, beginning with their 2009 self-titled studio album. They piece together stories ripped directly from the American heartland, roughed over from years of whiskey, gravel-top and the trenches of grungy dive bars and saloons. Their new EP inches along at a honky-tonk pace, as you’ll hear locomotive-style on standouts like the guitar-led “Made on the River” and “Highwaymen,” a sterling homage to The Highwaymen themselves. The title cut, then, reinvents the classic “On the Road Again” theme, booming down Nelson’s blazed path but with their own swagger. “Eleven Hours” concludes with restraint, woozy and heavy.


Sheare, TURBULENCE (buy)

Genre: Pop

Label: Independent

Release Date: May 12, 2017

The New York City performer basks in catharsis on his first EP, utilizing his slippery vocal to bear the full weight of his well-dressed, sharp-witted lyrics. “Wait, there’s something in the water, shadowing on all of my doubts,” he warbles on “Beautiful Dysfunction,” which morphs from brooding ballad into fervent club banger. The slow rumble of “RIP” and the drip-drop-drip-drippity-drop of “Levitate,” then, augment his vocal abilities and blossom full-heartily amidst thick-swirled production choices. “We don’t have to go on talking about who we are,” Sheare presses (on “Fences”) and sweeps between his chest voice and his signature, viscerally-charged falsetto: both magical and languid. He’s utterly distinctive and destined for MSG.


Michaela May, Rogue (buy)

Genre: Pop

Label: iKON Records

Release Date: June 9, 2017

What you get with May, a rough-hewn gemstone in the looming crown of pop music, is a bedazzled amalgam of vast ’80s styles: from saxophone drips on the soulful “You & I” to “1954,” easily one of 2017’s best should-be smashes. Her debut EP, the zippy, aptly titled Rogue, features maddening melodies–as with a Madonna-homage on “Sapiosexual” and a guitar-laden “Lost,” a feverish bookend to one helluva staggering lineup. “I’m lost. It’s breaking every part of me,” she meditates. A thin veil of synths, percussion and guitar characterize much of her work, both organic and manufactured. The atypical production style, down to the flickering synths inhabiting a heartbeat groove, “1954” out-schools Katy Perry, Ed Sheeran and The Chainsmokers.


Bebe Rexha, All Your Fault – Part 1 (buy)

Genre: Pop

Label: Warner Bros.

Release Date: February 16, 2017

There are not enough words to appropriately describe Rexha’s dangerous, down-and-dirty mix of R&B and pop. From the slow-burn of “Atmosphere” and jaunty bounce of “I Got You” to the thumb-biting kiss-off “F.F.F.” (yes, featuring that guy named G-Eazy), the project sprints at break-neck speed–detonating pop music like Rita Ora should have done. “Let’s talk about the way you left me, left me with a text so cold,” she concocts on the EP’s most temperamental, hazy moment, “Gateway Drug.” Rexha holds her ground against the production, pushing and pulling and even levitating off the ground, caught up in the foggy atmospheres and windswept breakdowns. “Feels like I’m making love to the enemy,” she admits on “Small Doses.”


My Red + Blue, Keep It Moving (buy)

Genre: Pop

Label: Sorted Noise Records

Release Date: March 31, 2017

Essential to today’s Nashville pop scene, he rises and falls over hard beats (the titular track), sultry caresses (“As Good as It Gets”) and Coldplay-sized arena-fillers (“Beautiful Life”). The red/blue duality of primary colors represent his West Coast roots and his evolution in Music City, a petri dish of folk, rock, country and glossy pop, and he pulls from each tightly-pulled thread to construct his own towering monument. “I want to believe we still got something,” he sings on the alt-rock confessional “Me + You + the Night,” containing unwashed synths. “Hold on to the Feeling” feels reminiscent of Calvin Harris, purring with revved-up guitar and one monstrous chorus. “We’re gonna make this last,” he chants.


Levon, self-titled (buy)

Genre: Country

Label: Sony Music

Release Date: May 12, 2017

“Runaway Love” harkens to Kelly Clarkson’s “Don’t Rush,” a call-back to Ronnie Milsap, who courted both country and pop in the 1970s and ’80s. “Why Oh Why” could have easily been a Jon Pardi b-side–glowing with that same 1990s luminescence currently returning to radio: neo-traditional in many aspects but wholly progressive in others. “Wired” expands their sound into accessible guitar-rich pop-country, and “Give Up Your Heart” echoes with the spirit of Kenny Rogers and Little Big Town, an acoustic guitar-only track with lofty, tight harmonies. With another trio called Midland notching their first Top 10 hit, Michael David Hall, Jake Singleton and Ryan Holladay have their work cut out for them. “Ms. Marianne” closes out the set Brooks & Dunn-style.


Astrid S, Party’s Over (buy)

Genre: Pop

Label: Universal

Release Date: June 30, 2017

Astrid S, a mythical siren of pop royalty, is slowing taking over the conversation: instead of following, she’s setting her own strides ahead of everyone else. “Breathe” is a top-tier jam, one of 2017’s most refreshing moments, and “Such a Boy” hits such an unstoppable groove even the likes of Zedd and Diplo could not have assembled on their good days. “Sushi” features such a bizarre but irresistible lyric, and meanwhile, “Bloodstream” vies for dark horse of the millennium. She later makes it rain on the title track, cooing in her little wispy way, “We don’t feel a thing, chardonnay running through our veins. We don’t have to go, go home. We can stay here, laid out on the floor.” She is completely on-trend while also establishing a brand new wave–that’s what makes real artists with legacies.


Superfruit, Future Friends – Part 1 (buy)

Genre: Pop

Label: RCA

Release Date: June 30, 2017

Who could have predicted The Sing-Off would actually produce a bonafide superstar act? Three Grammys to their name, the a cappella force is going through quite a shakeup. Avi Kaplan has since departed–who knows what their futures hold. But for now, members Scotty Hoying and Mitch Grassi, together as Superfruit on YouTube, foray into their first funky side project. Coolly pounding hard on “Imaginary Friends” and “Bad 4 Us,” the pair make quite the noise-makers, going dark on “Worth It (Perfect)” and sprightly with “Vacation.” No, this isn’t a cappella music and as a surprise to no one, they are spellbinding. “Sexy Ladies” and “Heartthrob” are Justin Timberlake-level flow; the title track is gloriously house-heavy.


Eve Minor, Shooting $tars (buy)

Genre: Alternative/Rock

Label: Independent

Release Date: June 24, 2017

When Minor howls into the ether on “Supervillian,” channeling Courtney Love, she knocks you to your knees. The haunting filter running over her new EP is detaching but that’s where the charm lies. She’s meticulously hooked into the DIY-style of producing and creating, tempered through tense and uncomfortable melodies and starry-eyed energy. Much like another alternative act called Family Pet making measurable impressions in the industry, Minor is earnest, desperately seeking her own salvation and will do anything to get it. “Queen of the Jungle” and “Last Day Here” are furiously masterful, pressed with penetrating piano and drums–and one frenetic, crazed vocal.


Carrie Lane, California Freaks (buy)

Genre: Pop/Rock

Label: Faction Entertainment

Release Date: June 23, 2017

Tinged with regret and passage of time, Lane’s vocals swim between swampier Joss Stone and more supple Ellie Goulding–an unorthodox mixture, for sure, but one that makes sense when framed beside her third EP. She battles lust (“Florida Keys”), love (“If I Can’t Be With You”), mental imprisonment (“Think About It”) and wayward rapture (“Drowning”). Four tracks is not damn near enough, especially when the singer is Lane, who can topple mountains and shatter glass. “I’m afraid I’m already lost in you,” she bats her eyes on “If I Can’t Be with You,” and on “Drowning,” she considers his affections are doing much more than roping her in: “you’re love is melting me,” she concedes. Next stop, full-length album, yeah?


Maggie Rose, Dreams>Dollars (buy)

Genre: Country/Pop

Label: Independent

Release Date: May 19, 2017

Rose has more guts than most singers and songwriters in Nashville. Following a major label deal and one of 2013’s best, most criminally-underrated albums (Cut to Impress), she was then able to let go and reach new heights. She rides both the pop/country saddles, unapologetically, and it never feels half-backed or overwrought. It just feels special. Her second EP incorporates more of her country and gospel roots, after last year’s full-on pop detour with The Variety Show: Vol. 1. “I Won’t” sees her deliver one of her sharpest and most impassioned vocals, while “More Dreams Than Dollars” stealthily flavors with a R&B-backed melody and “Body on Fire” catapults directly into the sun. She’s on fire, and that is a fact.


Honorable Mentions: Maggie RogersNow That the Light is Fading (buy); Sam Setton‘s Renegade (buy); and DeModa‘s Lucid Dreams (buy).


Spin the accompanying playlist below:

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Jason Scott

<p>Editor-in-Chief of the Badlands, spinning those B-Sides. Love Parks & Rec. Addicted to high-priced coffee drinks, alt-country and synth-pop, and never know when to quit. Got a cat named Jake–and she doesn’t like you very much.</p>