Top 10 EPs of the Year
10. The Mould You Build Around Yourself – Homebound
This third EP, The Mould You Build Yourself Around, from pop-punkers Homebound proves they are here to stay. The five perfectly executed songs, clocking in just under 20 minutes, shine bright and leave the listener wanting more. The melodies bounce throughout, and the guitar work is clearly reminiscent of Neck Deep and The Story So Far. While this is firmly a pop-punk EP, the band really leans into the punk influence by featuring more gain and grit in the guitar tone and giving the drums more punch in the mix. “Sonder” sees the band steer into the darker, emo side of the genre, both lyrically and instrumentally, incorporating a minor chord progression that isn’t often seen in the genre. Closer “Broken Reverie” shows how great this band can be, featuring the catchiest chorus & bridge of the year. This EP shows clear progression for the band from the previous two EPs. Clearly, their continued experimentation and solidifying of the direction of their band has benefitted them on this release, showcasing a much more mature and well-rounded sound. Their songwriting is the best it has ever been, and songs like “Headspace” and “Broken Reverie” really showcase their knowledge of when to play with song-structure and when not to. There’s experimentation and restraint shown, and the choices of when to have harmony is perfectly executed. This is a thoroughly enjoyable EP, hopefully with a debut full-length to come.
Check out: Broken Reverie, Headspace
9. Whenever You’re Ready – Parkside
The second of three pop-punk EPs on this list, Parkside’s Whenever You’re Ready barely made the list, as it was only released on December 8th. However, in those three weeks following before this list was solidified, this Ep was in heavy rotation. Oakville natives, Parkside could have easily walked in the footsteps of fellow Oakville pop-punkers Seaway, but they instead chose to forge their own path in the genre. This EP sees the band move more emo than pop-punk, and it is definitely for the better. After going two years without releasing music, Whenever You’re Ready was long overdue, but well worth the wait. Both “53″ and “Sting,” the opener and closer respectively, bookend the moody EP with great punch and energy, with the band taking listeners on a journey in between these two songs through the emotions of change and moving on. The EP has great sing-along moments and well-executed instrumentation with a lyrical maturity that goes beyond the typical “my girl left me and now I’m sad” approach that is synonymous with the pop-punk genre. Songs like “Paste,” an introspective song, showcase how great the band can be, as the song structure and emotional content is brilliant. With infectious melodies and driving guitars matched by a deeper album, lyrically, this is one EP that deserves attention.
Check out: 53, Keep Up
8. Sleep – Limbs
Chaos. That’s the best way to describe Sleep, Limbs label debut EP. Right from the opening riff on “Poison,” there’s no question that this band has the chaotic feel of Underoath, The Chariot and Norma Jean of the past. But make no mistake, this band is not just a rehash of mid-2000s chaos-core bands. They completely stand on their own, building upon their influences and adding an element that hadn’t always been there. They are a band gifted, heavy, aggressive, and in your face, and you can take it or leave it. They don’t apologize, instead going full force in their direction. The clean vocals are reminiscent of current post-hardcore juggernauts The White Noise, engaging a similar aggression but taking it a few steps further. They deal with greed, depression and a few other heavy topics that most bands would leave until later releases to deal with. It’s clear Limbs will not shy away from who they want to be, a commendable attribute that is the central to this EP. Though the entire EP is enjoyable, the breakdown a minute into “Bones” is a declaration of what this band is about. Overall, this unrelenting EP is perfect for the gym, and creative enough that it will not fall to the wayside when the next breakdown-laden scene band’s album drops.
Check out: Poison, Sleep
7. Almira – Tyson Motsenbocker
Tyson Motsenbocker, Tooth & Nail’s only folk singer on the label, released two separate EPs this year, but I decided to only feature my favourite of the two to have another EP on the list. Almira, the earlier of the two, gives the listener the haunting folk style fans have come to know and love from Tyson. The opening (and title) track, “Almira,” portrays this perfectly, with nothing but vocals, an acoustic guitar and soft piano chords throughout most of the song until a John Mayer-esque electric guitar enters the song for the last minute and adds to the haunting feeling. The feeling of loss is tangible, and Motsenbocker has such a gift with portraying emotion both through vocals and lyrics, as showcased in that song. From the song titles to the feel of the songs, location is present. Tyson grew up in Washington, hence the “Almira” and “Coeur d’Alene” (Idaho) references, and lyrically the entire EP runs together as a continued story about leaving, moving to new places, returning back from those new places, and all the emotions between love and loss in all of that. The gifted songwriter showcases his best on this EP, with focus and continuity throughout, and standout track “Coeur d’Alene” proves to be his catchiest song yet. And while that may not be why one listens to folk, its incredible to see a tried and true folk artists try and completely succeed at a totally different song style. There’s nostalgia, regret, and everything in between throughout this, and it proves just how tapped into his listeners Motsenbocker is, and how effective of a songwriter he is.
Check out: Almira, Couer d’Alene
6. Your Memorial – Your Memorial
Long live Your Memorial. This bittersweet EP is incredible, and shows that this band should not be hanging up the mic, but the fans don’t get to make that decision. Your Memorial is a heavy, musically intricate and lyrically deep farewell, a perfect way to end the band. “Degenerate” is arguably the heaviest song Your Memorial have released, featuring brutal breakdown and grungy riffs. That song kicks off half an hour of some of the best work this band has ever achieved. The EP takes the listener on a journey, from the degeneration all the way through regeneration and finally steadfastness. What’s unquestionable is the bands ability in their craft. From their debut album Seasons back in 2008 to this final EP, the growth and perfection of musicianship is unmistakable. They have become the greatest at their craft, both in execution and passion. There is a thread of consistency throughout the EP, flowing beautifully from song to song. Though the instrumentation is incredible, the lyrics and the message are what stand out the most, and vocalist Blake Suddath truly shines on this final offering to fans. His vocal execution is top notch, and his lyricism often invokes introspection. This is a masterclass of the genre, of passion, and of execution. It’s a shame to see them go, but what a way to go out.
Check out: Degenerate, Embers
5. Nothing Here Is Permanent – Bearings
Pop-punk is the hot genre right now, just like metalcore was ten years ago. And in the swath of bands, it’s easy to get lost in the mix when trying to make your claim in the genre. That doesn’t seem to be a problem for Bearings, though, on their Pure Noise Records label debut EP. Putting forth an emotionally focused take on the genre, Bearings really stands out in their catchy, often melancholy chord progression and lyricism. Hailing from Ottawa, it’s clear the new wave of Ontario pop-punk bands have helped pave the way for bands like Bearings to find their own footing in the genre and put forth an EP with such confidence and purpose. Vocalist Doug Cousins is a gifted writer, avoiding cliches in his lyrics and instead finding powerful imagery and symbolism. Instrumentally, songs like “Letters Home” stand out with a riff in the verse that feels so original and fresh. Each song is very dynamic, building up and dropping out, keeping the listener intrigued in what will come next. There’s lots of room for the five members of the band to shine individually. “North Hansen” is the stand out track, personally, which places the listener in a hospital, visiting someone who is ill. It’s a beautiful song, one that deserves multiple listens to sink your teeth into the lyrics. It also has a beautiful bridge that takes a moment to give the weight of the song to sit, only to build up with all of these thoughts of worry and regret, culminating in a wall of sound with a beautiful guitar solo. Bearings has something special in their approach, and if they continue to write songs like “North Hansen,” they’ll have no problem standing out among the crowd.
Check out: Petrichor, North Hansen
4. Lion/Lamb – Joshua Leventhal
Josh is a new worship artist that has the vocal and lyrical chops of a veteran. The EP itself is a little disjointed, featuring a few distinctly corporate worship-type songs (“Washed,” “Dwell”), and others sounding much more singer-songwriter, coffee shop feel (“Jealous,” “Eternity”). But that tiny nitpick does not take away from some incredibly deep theological songs, and lyricist Leventhal is able to weave metaphors together with fresh meaning. Josh’s passion for richness in theology is shown in his lyrics, with every word being poured over, confirming that they are indeed biblically sound. And while the lyrics are great, and speak to many people’s souls, the music is not subpar. Far too often, CCM artists cheapen the lyrics or music (or sometimes both) in order for the music to be more accessible or friendly. Josh does not do that, opting more for a sophisticated approach to his instrumentation. Aided by many other gifted artists in the recording of this EP, Josh was able to masterfully orchestrate every song with talent. This is clearest when the EP is taken in as a whole body of work, with every song being its own. Every song is different, both in genre, approach, and lyrics. And, as mentioned above, this does take away from the sonic listening experience of the EP, but only slightly, as every song is incredibly good. His influences shine through on the EP, but it does not feel like a carbon copy of any one artists at any moment, wholly Leventhal. What Josh has accomplished with this EP is something many artists dream of their whole careers, and this is just his starting point.
Check out: Jealous, Eternity
3. From The Unforgiving Arms of God – END
A supergroup of sorts (Counterparts, Fit For An Autopsy, Shai Hulud, Misery Signals, etc.), END features 17 minutes of blisteringly fast chaotic hardcore. This aggressive EP serves as a creative outlet for each member to make a type of music a little different than they’re used to, and a chance for vocalist Brendan Murphy to show off a different vocal styling than he has in Counterparts. This EP doesn’t offer anything new to the genre, but it doubles down on what the genre is known for. It’s fast, heavy, aggressive, and full of rage. It’s unrelenting throughout, and features some incredible breakdowns. The production value, courtesy of scene legend and band member Will Putney, really pushes the entire project over the edge, as every moment of the EP is executed to perfection. Reminiscent of Converge and NAILS far more than the respective band members other bands, From the Unforgiving Arms of God is far better than it deserves to be, as barely any of the bands members have played this specific style of music before. And this EP deserves recognition outside of who is in the band, unlike a group like The Fever, which is popular only because of who is in it, and not because they make good music. END is the opposite. This record completely stands on its own, and the name drops of Putney and Murphy don’t matter. It is short, sweet, and without filler, bringing the chaotic intensity for the full length of the EP. The closing minutes of both “From the Unforgiving Arms of God” and “Necessary Death” feature some of the most brutal moments in hardcore’s recent memory. Press play, and get ready to mosh.
Check out: Chewing Glass, Usurper
2. Destroy and Rebuild – Nothing Left
Another supergroup of sorts, featuring the Leitru brothers of For Today fame, Danon, the vocalist of A Bullet For Pretty Boy and one of the best drummers in the scene, Alex of Silent Planet. This EP rips, featuring an equal amount of hardcore and metalcore, and an unrelenting onslaught of heavy. The Leitru brothers flex their musicianship muscles on this EP, proving they aren’t machines churning out the same riffs over and over in For Today, as this EP is really creative, with great, chaotic riffs. Danon is extremely impressive and matches this style of music much better than ABFPB’s last album. There’s a chaotic frenzy in this album that all members previous bands didn’t contain, and each of them shine in this new outlet of more raw and crude songwriting and recording compared to the tightness and shininess that is often associated with talented metalcore bands. Similar to END’s EP, this one clocks in at 17 minutes, and feels just as chaotic and unrelenting, with aggressive songwriting and execution. The breakdown in “No Way Out” is a metalcore take on a hardcore breakdown, and is so fresh. The choppy instrumentation, aided by Alex’s incredible drumming, proves the Leitru brothers are not slaves to their past, and this EP shows they will continue to build on their history to create good, new music in whatever genre they feel like.
Check out: Destroy and Rebuild, Hands of Death
1. Ember Island – Ember Island
Though well known for their covers (Where Are You Now, Umbrella, Creep), Ember Island’s original work deserves just as much, if not more attention. Their debut EP, Ember Island, was slowly released over two years, with the final song released in November, along with the EP, the culmination of their hard work. The Swedish electro-pop trio have such a gift for music creation, able to create such intimate atmospheres for the listener. More than just music for the sake of music, Ember Island give fans a place to escape, which is clearly shown through the amount of effort they put into every component of their art. Their music videos are cinematic, their online presence is gracious and welcoming, and their approach to art is unlike any other. Each song on the EP deals with love and/or loss, a tumultuous relationship clearly shown by the song titles. The soft guitars, the atmospheric synths and the haunting vocals of Alex all work together for the sake of the song and the mood, or the ‘vibes’ if you will. What is most fascinating about this band is they are a concept band, wanting the actual Ember Island to be a place for fans to escape to, and each music video reveals more of this Ember Island, including a greenhouse that continues to pop up. Their entire approach, both to the music and the art surrounding their music, is beautiful, magical, and altogether enchanting. Each song is a ballad of sorts on its own, and altogether the EP is a journey, full of whimsey and excitement. This is a beautiful beginning to a band that has a whole world of fantasy up their sleeves for their listeners.
Check out: Hide Me, Need You
Pain & Suffering – Advent
+1 – Michael Barr
Lost in Familiarity – Valliers
Reimagined – First Ghost
I’ll Never Go Back – Hold Close