Exclaim!'s 15 Best EPs of 2022
Published Dec 13, 2022Ah, the humble EP. Not only are they the short kings of release formatting, the very essence of their length seems to be continuously under negotiation. Can a three-track release still be considered a single? Is eight songs too few to constitute a full-length album? Who knows! We certainly aren't claiming to, which is why you'll find EPs of all shapes and sizes that landed among our favourites from 2022, as picked by our staff members.
Check out what Exclaim! named the year's 50 best albums, 25 best songs and more.
(Dog Show / Atlantic)
It's been an aeon since we heard the first whispers of 10000 gecs, and 100 gecs masterminds Laura Les and Dylan Brady seem to be aware of our impatience, dropping their Snake Eyes EP as a surprise treat before the LP's March release. Following 2021's "mememe" and this year's excellent "Doritos & Fritos," the gecs would be forgiven if this latest batch of material didn't measure up, but they've delivered yet again. Leading its three tracks is the abrasive, Sleigh Bells-indebted "Hey Big Man," which is padded out with signature freeform gecs rhyming attacks like, "I smoked two bricks, now I can't pronounce anemone / Went to a party and I did a human centipede." They take a sharp left turn back into familiar hyperpop/dubstep territory with help from Skrillex on the very grimy track two, "Torture Me," whereas final track "Runaway" returns to classic gecs fare — albeit slightly less confrontational — with extreme Auto-Tune and blasted-out bass over Les's breakup lyrics.
Vancouver renaissance man Aaron Read is probably best-known as a comedian and improviser, and second-best for his surreal visual art. It's remarkable that music ranks so low on his resume, because he's amazing at it. HEALTHY touches on Talking Heads-esque new wave boogie ("Job Heaven"), yearning folk ("Swim Coach") and wonky indie rock ("Healthy," "Worry Wart"), all of which have been filtered through a strange prism of squiggly synth experimentation. It's thoroughly weird yet totally inviting, its experimentations never coming at the expense of plaintive emotions and Reed's signature wit. "When a dog eats a worm / I'll bet it tastes like candy" is one of my favourite lyrics of the year.
Blunt Chunks sneaks up on you when you least expect it. By the time the swaying country-twang of "Body Rush" fades out in echoing reverb into wry Faye Websterian domestic humidity on "Natural Actors," Jaunt's Caitlin Woelfle-O'Brien has perhaps already played with expectations more than the average five-track debut EP. But "BWFW," the fourth song in the cycle, is a Roman candle — a distortion-drenched alt-rock anthem with a barbed truth of startling simplicity at its centre: "When I'm with you, I'm alone."
Born at Midnite
"I don't wanna be a rockstar anymore / Wanna party rainbow raver till the mornin'" — so goes the chorus to Born at Midnite's guitar-disavowing twee anthem "Rockstar Raver." The duo of TOPS's David Carriere and BBQT's Amery Sandford make good on that synthpop mission statement on the short but sweet Alternity, which includes the faux "West End Girls" rapping of "Y o Y" and the ever-so-slightly shadowier minor key melodies of the title track. Clocking in at just 10 minutes, Alternity is a humble, low-key triumph.
(Art for Their Good)
On his first mostly instrumental project, Channel Tres proves that he's much more than just his sultry vocals. refresh is a seven-track, fully self-produced effort — and despite those missing rap verses, it's as catchy as anything else he's put out. With his long-awaited full-length debut rumoured to come any time now, this EP solidifies that Channel Tres's signature brand of house-inflected dance music will not grow formulaic any time soon.
Khruangbin & Leon Bridges
Leon Bridges and Khruangbin are remarkable acts on their own right, which is why it's such a feat for their team-ups to be greater than the sum of their parts. Following the 2020-formed quartet's Texas Sun, they returned this year with another helping of psychedelic soul on its nighttime twin, Texas Moon. The five-track EP kicks off thick as butter with "Doris," and picks up on "B-Side," which is where we hear both halves of the collaboration in top form. Bridges's reverberated vocals on "Chocolate Hills" evoke Beyoncé's Lemonade era, while the band's dubby bass and soaring guitar solos lend an airy quality to the track not yet found on their other explorations. "Father Father" brings the tempo down to make way for "Mariella," a tune primed for soundtracking a desert ayahuasca walkabout with your honey. It's another slam dunk for these twin flames; we can only hope they keep making music together forever.
There's a palatial poise to the ways in which Nemah Hasan lays herself bare. On "suicide," she coos almost matter-of-factly, "I am a triple threat / Three nations want my head," over the sparse yet lush folk-futurist balladic bedrock of her debut EP — named after the 11-acre farm in Milton, ON, where she grew up. The Palestinian-Canadian's crucial voice is one that captures you with an unflinching confidentiality that recalls Mustafa's landmark When Smoke Rises, as well as the chilling ability to orchestrate closeness and distance — and cinematically pan the lens between the two — that's all Hasan's own.
Floating Through the Wonderwave
Just like on 2019's excellent In the Dark, Rapport leader Maddy Wilde (Moon King, Spiral Beach) delivers six absolutely perfect new wave pop ditties. Full of chugging Cars guitars, twinkling OMD synths and Wilde's bubblegum melodies, Floating Through the Wonderwave is an absolutely delightful '80s throwback, with the jangle pop of "Trial Run" and the Air-like airiness of moody closer "My Bed" displaying a range that goes way beyond mere period pastiche.
Following her lauded 2020 debut, Opia, Savannah Ré remains firmly in the driver's seat on No Weapons: "Caution, this gas / Full speed," she warns in opening the listen. It's an emotionally turbulent six-song set, touring Ré's own intro- and extroversion in songs of love and lust, devotion and deceit. Through it all, the Toronto artist handles life's hairpin turns with aplomb in racing toward R&B stardom, shifting gears between lithe vocal runs and rigorous rap flows, riding through this year's house music renaissance with "Closure" and putting the pedal to the floor on closing kiss-off "WTF."
The seventh instalment of his label home's Ilian Skee release series, ISS007 is Skee Mask fully enveloped in his vaporous textural tendencies, making for an ambient marvel unlike any other entry. Moving away from the focused rhythms of last year's Pool full-length, the eight-song EP gently floats upon yearning melody and deeply detailed sound design, reflected in the glacial layers of "Past Present" and "Verdigris," the pastoral strings which briefly appear amid the rainy, hazy filters of "Farm," and the birdsong and human vocals nestled in amongst the dulcet "MDP93."
The Soft Pink Truth
Was It Ever Real?
A sticky aperitif in preparation for the decadence of Is It Going To Get Any Deeper Than This?, Was It Ever Real? is for the dizzy, red-lit quickie before the bar; music that tingles the skin and drips down the chin. Flexing through ripened house, desiccated disco and glittering jazz passages, Was It Ever Real? finds Drew Daniel leaning headlong into physical euphoria. Where his past work has often found pleasure in the cerebral, these four tracks are more interested in the body's lower half. Never is that more clear than on his heavy-lidded, sweat-soaked cover of Coil's "The Anal Staircase" — transmuting the original's menacing leather clatter into lithe velveteen, Daniel finds new depths of dark, forbidden warmth.
It's a testament to the amount of incredible music delivered this year that the return of Elizabeth Fraser — the Elizabeth Fraser, heartbeat of Cocteau Twins and, y'know, the voice of God — fell like rain rather than a meteor. But despite leaving its long-gestating chrysalis rather quietly, Sun's Signature is no low-stakes novelty; Fraser's most substantive musical dispatch in 25 years, it's a dense and deeply emotive work, expanding her liquidity into a dam-breaking rush of electro-acoustic prog rock. Crafted with partner Damon Reece, Sun's Signature's shape-shifting complexity feels, finally, like a suitable vessel for Fraser's inimitable voice, traversing new ground rather than attempting to recapture the mercurial majesty of her work with Cocteau Twins. It's incredible to bask in the rays of her voice after decades of feeling it peek briefly from behind the clouds; hopefully we'll hear from her again soon.
Aperture of Body
This unearthly three-song set from the Toronto trio marks their first release since acclaimed 2019 LP Planetary Clairvoyance, and, in contrast to the punishing sounds of that album, Aperture of Body finds Tomb Mold continuing their ascent into modern death metal's upper echelons on the strength of their technical prowess. Synth scene-setter "Final Assembly of Light" is a brief reprieve ahead of the title track riding a warp drive through a galaxy of crushing passages, leaving the torrid "Prestige of Rebirth" to tear open a rift through which listeners fall into a cleanly picked final spacewalk reminiscent of guitarist Derek Vella's equally stunning side project Dream Unending.
Towards the End
(Arts & Crafts)
The hallmark of the whole nature-versus-nurture debate is that, well, it's actually both. Things are more one-sided when it comes to Katie Tupper's music; although she grew up in Saskatoon's fields of gold cups, her immaculately buttery neo-soul stylings feel wholly innate. Tupper's melt-in-your-mouth melodies make every single track of her debut memorable — from the first beat of the sauntering kick drum on "Live Inside" to the penultimate steelpans and horn flourishes of "Misbehavin'."
Una Rose (a.k.a. Bodywash's Rosie Long Decter) knows how to build a sonic universe. Fluctuating between underwater level-sounding synths and jangly guitars, Myth Between is atmospheric and contemplative. It brings just the right amount of melancholy to its pool of nostalgia — appearing more in feeling than in influence — to make for one of the most exciting debuts to come out of Montreal this year.