It’s finally time to look back on my favorite media that I consumed in 2021 by making personal ranked lists. Starting off these lists will be my top 10 EPs of the year. This is one of the rare years where I feel as strongly about my EP picks as I do with my top 10 album picks, and it’s not like I liked albums less this year – it’s been a strong year for EPs for me.

10. PinkPantheress – To Hell With It

Yes, technically this is a mixtape but the runtime resembles that of an EP’s so I’m considering it like that. The brevity of the tracks paired with her confessional vocals give off this energy of an emo song but wrapped in drum and bass. And boy is the drum and bass production top-notch and to top it all off – there are some solid hooks scattered throughout this mixtape. I’m interested in seeing how she will develop this sound in future releases.

9. Lil Mariko – Lil Mariko

With extremely raunchy lyrics that do a tight rope walk between absurd and hilarious, her self-titled project is also chock-full of genre-shifting, hyper pop-influenced vocal performances, and production that attempts to double down on the whole provocation. Full Tac pulled all the stops with the production, particularly in the trap-metal tracks, and even in the other bass-y songs there is a lot of color. I want to close out my opinions on this by saying that the ending track, Catboys is the funniest song I’ve heard all year – it still cracks me up after all these listens. 

8. Rainbow Chan – Stanley

Without even hearing the vocals, the production by itself evokes this heavy and searing nostalgia – the best case of this being the song Eudaimonia. Despite the wonderful flowery synths and her heart-rending vocals, I think her songwriting is the best aspect of the EP – it comes off so sincere yet so romantic, and looking at the description on the EP’s Bandcamp page tells us why it sounds that way – it’s a collection of farewell songs to things she has grown up with and grown out of. I’m loving this with more subsequent listens.

7. Kimishima Ohzora – Sode no migiwa

This mystical collection of tracks evokes mixed contradictory feelings of heartache and healing that really don’t make sense when I write it down but feel right when I’m listening to the EP. Ohzora uses subtle electronic elements and creative mixing to build the atmosphere of this project, the soft vocals sound like the foams you see forming when a wave washes over the sea-shore. Sure, the flow of the EP is disjointed but its beauty is undeniable.

6. Sam Gellaitry – IV

I love how Mr. Gellaitry deftly pulls off this strong sense of disco and glam slammed onto his wonky, future-bass drizzled production. Despite it being just four tracks long, he covers some ground in terms of versatility. The vocals remind me of Neon Indian in the best way possible, and their processing on them matches the brightness and the shimmeriness of the synths. I lost count of how many times I twisted my knees awkwardly dancing to Assumptions, the grooves are irresistible on that track.

5. Clarence Clarity – Vanishing Act I: No Nouns

Some of his best material since No Now is on this EP, the songs, especially Obsessed, rejuvenated the awe I felt for his glitch-pop-inspired kaleidoscopical production when I was a newbie to experimental music. His songwriting has become more compelling and there isn’t a moment on this EP that made me doubt his mastery over his production. I hope this is a building block to some even more mind-blowing stuff in the future.

4. aespa – Savage

With just 10 songs released from them so far, aespa has convinced me they are the best sounding group in mainstream K-pop in terms of vocal performances… in years. A lot of K-pop groups switch up their concepts with each release but so far, aespa and their production have been building their sound instead of transforming it, and this EP shows the results. The EP has some of the most polished yet feral-sounding production I’ve heard in K-pop. The vocal lines are infectious and the girls’ rapping has actual teeth. I don’t what they are going to do next but what they have already is next level.

3. Soul Glo – DisNi**a Vol. 2

It’s just three songs and it’s enough because they are some of the perfect hardcore punk cuts I’ve heard all year. They sound old-school but they have something that I don’t think just any punk band can emulate, but I’m having a hard time describing what exactly that is. The vocals are tortured and gut-ripping, the basslines have indelible grime and the roughness of the guitars and the mixing of the drums feed into the organic nature of the performances. The flow of the EP is electric and everything feels so in the moment and visceral AAAAAAH – just listen to it.

2. JOY – Hello

You know when you look this up on Spotify, it says “Hello – Special Album”, and while I don’t think it’s an album, it’s very much special. Sure, it’s a collection of covers that, on the surface level, sound like they are featured in CMs or some generic, schmaltzy K-drama. But the cheesiness instantly dissolved when I heard the instrumentals and how well they went with Joy’s vocals, it was like a lightning in a bottle moment. The mixing and mastering of the instrumentals are god-tier, every instrumental aspect has its own distinct presence. It’s a contradiction really, all the layers seem discrete yet they all coalesce with Joy’s wonderful, live-giving vocals to create this natural-sounding, almost euphoric EP. It’s a joy to listen to.

1. Yuta Orisaka – Morning Glory

Discovering and listening to Orisaka’s music this year was a blessing. His voice is mesmerizing – his nasal inflections and falsetto bring out something earthly and soulful in his music in a way unlike anyone else I listened to this year, and his steady power breathes life in whatever instrumental he’s present in. The recording and mixing of the instruments feel not only live but they also have this wonderful transportative quality to them. I don’t know what else to say, I think this EP is healing, comforting, and refreshing while also having this interesting push and pull between romanticism and melancholy. What a deeply moving collection of tracks.

That’s all for this list. I’ll see you at the next one.