Given everything that happened throughout 2020, at times, it was easier to digest bite-sized nuggets of new music than a full-length effort. Lucky us, then, that this year provided many compact releases that introduced a legion of rising, exciting artists to get invested in and keep us distracted from what was going on outside our windows. Here are our favourite EPs, mixtapes and projects of the year.
20Troye Sivan – ‘In A Dream’
The places that Troye Sivan explored on ‘In A Dream’ were really, really special. This collection of heartrending break up songs delicately navigated wearying optimism, intimacy and that staggering feeling of being overwhelmed by everything at once.
Standout track: ‘Easy’
19Salmon Cat – ‘Wha’ppened?’
On this hooky and whimsical self-released debut EP, South London newcomers Salmon Cat spliced and shook up the elements of scruffy bedroom pop. Warbling 808 beats reigned over these lowkey tracks, and demonstrated the intricacy of the band’s sleek, charismatic production.
Standout track: ‘Fortune 500’
18Phoebe Bridgers and Rob Moose – ‘Copycat Killer’
Through whirling strings and exquisite percussive elements, this collection delivered four breathtaking orchestral reworkings of songs from our album of the year, ‘Punisher’, and carried an even greater emotional weight than the already-affecting originals.
Standout track: ‘Kyoto (Copycat Killer version)’
17Leo Bhanji – ‘No Guard’
‘No Guard’ found Leo Bhanji wading through his thoughts. Undercut by a soft, woozy vocal, at the centre of it all was the 20-year-old’s inviting outlook on love and growth, which frequently blurred into a gorgeous lo-fi haze.
Standout track: ‘Nightlife’
16Mealtime – ‘Aperitif’
Y2K pop revivalists Mealtime’s funky, punky debut EP was a maximalist joyride that more than befits its cheeky title. By draping vivid storytelling over sugar-rush choruses and blown-out beats, the result was deliciously listenable.
Standout track: ‘Rain Like This’
15Jessica Winter – ‘Sad Music’
Mixing crystalline, pitch-shifted vocal hooks with warped synth chords, the dark debut EP from Jessica Winter offered a series of striking tracks that took your notice immediately. The nightmarish lyrics provided a touch of darkness, and intensified this powerful first statement.
Standout track: ‘World On Fire’
14Flo Milli – ‘Ho, Why Is You Here?’
Flo Milli is, in a single word, unstoppable. The Alabama rapper’s debut mixtape soared over towering expectations from fans and critics alike, and deftly flipped between gasp-inducing wordplay and bass-heavy freestyles. If you hadn’t already heard – she has arrived.
Standout track: ‘Beef FloMix’
13Emma Jean Thackray – ‘Rain Dance’
Revealing something new and exciting upon each return, ‘Rain Dance’ was a coruscating flash of visceral jazz, house and left-field hip-hop influences. It used every chance to land a new sound, and made us believe that inside these vibrant songs, anything was possible.
Standout track: ‘Open’
12 TSHA – ‘Flowers’
‘Flowers’ seeked catharsis in a new beginning. Inspired by the London-based TSHA’s extraordinary lockdown story – in April, she reconnected with her long-lost sister via Facebook – her newfound joy blossomed into sprawling, life-affirming electronic bangers.
Standout track: ‘Sister’
11Christine & The Queens – ‘La vita nuova’
One of 2020’s most affecting portraits of romantic grief, ‘La vita nuova’ untangled the many emotional setbacks that accompany heartbreak atop tender, sumptuous lullabies. These sobering revelations were so deeply compelling that they lingered long after each listen.
Standout track: ‘People, I’ve been sad’
10Shygirl – ‘ALIAS’
Boasting a series of expansive floor-fillers stuffed with exhilarating rap twists, this slickly produced project felt unbound and limitless. Delightfully filthy lyrics amplified Shygirl’s already exhilarating music, and revealed more of herself than ever before.
Standout track: ‘FREAK’
9Jockstrap – ‘Wicked City’
The piercingly electronic, eye-bulging ‘Wicked City’ made for one of the most intense, yet perfectly uneasy listening experiences of the year, where layered synths and swivelling strings contorted into unpredictable shapes. Searching for the future of pop? This is what it sounds like.
Standout track: ‘Acid’
8Matt Maltese – ‘Madhouse’
Following 2019’s tear-streaked, despairing ‘Krystal’, the six-song ‘Madhouse’ was the sound of turning heartbroken feelings of old into quietly positive self-reflections, and allowing them to bloom over twinkling chimes and lilting piano leads.
Standout track: ‘Queen Bee’
7India Jordan – ‘For You’
Released at the start of a summer that was devoid of festivals – and well, fun – listening to this club-ready EP was a bittersweet affair. These effervescent songs beautifully captured the communal spirit of the rave when we were missing it the most.
Standout track: ‘I’m Waiting (Just 4 U)’
6Remi Wolf – ‘I’m Allergic To Dogs’
By creating an eclectic, dizzying melange of lurid pop-soul ripples and unforgettable imagery, ‘I’m Allergic To Dogs’ embraced the kitsch and the kooky. Bursts of peculiar rhymes moved through styles and textures, with everything unified by the 24-year-old’s outsized personality.
Standout track: ‘Woo!’
5Baby Queen – ‘Medicine’
This sparkling, self-contained universe of an EP felt huge and anthemic, while being simultaneously open-hearted and intimate. ‘Medicine’ was Baby Queen’s personal examination of a dynamic young woman discovering herself on the internet – and beyond.
Standout track: ‘Internet Religion’
4Holly Humberstone – ‘Falling Asleep At The Wheel’
A dazzling culmination of her teenage years, Holly Humberstone’s debut release packed fragments of feeling into precise, gentle indie-pop. Turning to masterful songwriting and luminescent melodies, these songs put you right inside her ever-changing world.
Standout track: ‘Overkill’
3Little Simz – ‘drop 6’
Despite the fact that this surprise release was borne from quarantine boredom, on ‘drop 6’, Little Simz sounded more alive than ever before. Filled with wild amounts of determination and personality, the London rapper’s instantly identifiable flow soared over zig-zagging basslines and taut midtempo beats.
Standout track: ‘might bang, might not’
2Bree Runway – ‘2000AND4EVA’
Bold, bombastic and experimental, ‘2000AND4EVA’ saw Bree Runway transfigure from a buzzworthy star-in-the-making to a bonafide pop icon. It was a vast, three-dimensional body of work that spotlighted the Londoner’s ability to be terrifically over-the-top.
Standout track: ‘APESHIT’
1Yaeji – ‘WHAT WE DREW 우리가 그려왔던’
Korean-American producer Yaeji made this mood-elevating mixtape with the goal of matching the production to the force of her emotions. From the title track’s smiling-through-tears ambience to the self-love affirmations of ‘Never Settling Down’, it provided deep relief to hold onto.
Standout track: ‘WAKING UP DOWN’
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