If you felt overwhelmed by the 30 records that appeared on our Best Local Albums of 2018 list, you’re in luck. We’ve gone through every EP, double-sided single, and smattering of songs we could find to highlight the best of Boston’s miniature releases. As with last year’s EPs list, we decided to narrow the list down to 15 standout records.
If you’re ready to point out how your favorite EP isn’t on the list, take a moment to review how many other records we considered and how many were our runner-ups. For one, Lost Dog got lost in drawn-out drone rock on Precious Stuff. Then Raavi & the Houseplants untangled some laid-back knotted guitar on the moody And I Miss You Already. Temporary Eyesore dropped a self-titled EP that flashed back to Unrest and the Rondelles. If Mitski’s earlier material made you feel empowered, give Coping by Lydia Deetz a listen. Disco punk got a face-lift thanks to Boston Cream and their long-awaited debut EP MINE. Butch Baby merged sax riffs with loose punk energy on Stoned Butch Blues. Spelling put a little grunge back into alt-rock with Waiter Malone. Banana threw down some sludge pop on Die Alone pt. 2 for all your venting needs. Somerville group Leopard Print Taser put post-punk to the test by filtering it through wild hooks on Teeth Are Not Bones. Pushflowers embraced the brightest corners of indie pop on Wish U Would/Dreamshapes. Elephants threw some indie pop confetti with Birthday and Noble Pedro wrote a straight-up emo twinkle throwback with Letting Go. Meanwhile Brown Lasers was wreaking havoc in the gritty basement rock world with Kitty Cat. Kevin Klein released a handful of whispered acoustic numbers on Matter of Time. My Deer Friends gave melodic emo a try on This Could Happen To Anyone. Kathy Snax reminded us how simple synthpop like The Spooks EP could cure the most bitter heart. Trash Girl released several songs and an EP this year, all of which sounds like the hushed work of Brittle Brian. The Water Cycle channeled their inner collegiate Mac DeMarco for The Water Cycle Falls in Love. And then there was Converge, who kept things on brand with Beautiful Ruin as expected.
Below are our picks for the 15 best local EPs that Boston-based artists had to offer. By highlighting some of our favorites, we hope we inspire you to do some more digging. Boston’s a goldmine of good music, and most of these picks exemplify how much unsigned talent roams free within reach. Last week, you got to read our 30 favorite local albums of the year list, and this week you get a similar sample of our city’s music scene—this time in bite-sized form.
I’ll Come Over / In Real Life
Nothing feels as good as a perfect pop hook. Over the last two years, Lilith have casually proved not only how good they are at writing them, but also at decorating those hooks in pitch-perfect vocal melodies. On this year’s short two-song cassingle, I’ll Come Over / In Real Life, the trio calls out faux-woke feminists and lazy exes. Lilith use these two songs to introduce themselves to those unfamiliar, flaunting why they’re ready to follow in Liz Phair and Veruca Salt’s footsteps.
Hand It Over
There’s something about the worn, lived-in look of haunted houses that makes them alluring despite their eerie undertones. On five-song EP Hand It Over, local duo Neck embody that particular mood. A fuzzy blend of experimental electronics, barren violin, and twinkling omnichord, Hand It Over plays like part dream, part fears. The more Kira McSpice and Bailey Hein recount their time in a psychiatric hospital or an anxious pastime, the closer you lean in, hypnotized by the way it all swirls around you.
It’s Been Real
Despite the cool jazz trumpets or upright bass notes mellowing out behind him, Boogie Da God never loses the heat of his lyrics on It’s Been Real. The Roxbury-based rapper updates the classic sound of street rap by pushing his lyrics to embrace honesty—not just about the world, but about his life. Instead of embellishing details for the sake of a good story, Boogie Da God finds ways to rap about his life and the lessons he’s learned with truth that sounds vivid because of the details he uses. It’s Been Real is a standout record in the Boston music scene if only because of how seamlessly Boogie Da God pulls it all off.
Pop Wig Records
If only getting yelled was as motivational as it feels when Firewalker’s the one doing it. The four-piece hardcore band tears its way through three short songs on ALIVE, yet listening to them on repeat never seems to lessen their effect. From whining guitar lines to Sophie Hendry’s guttural growl, it’s songs like these, especially “Cyanide,” that make you feel invincible when you need to puff up your chest and tell someone to go to hell already.
There’s a lot DEWEY has going for it as a three-piece indie rock band, but it’s Annie Melden’s vocals that steal the show. Like a splitting image of Laura Stevenson, she uses her voice to skip from one emotional pang of a falsetto to the next, even when detailing a recent venture into online astrology stalking. Culdesac is that well-produced, warm, slow type of indie rock that’s instantly comfortable because of how familiar it feels—and we mean that as the highest compliment.
The Game Is the Game
Take a trip back to the ’90s with Kadeem. Self-described as “black as hell, cute as fuck,” the Boston-based rapper makes a hell of a name for himself on his seven-song release The Game Is the Game. His songs fit into day-to-day life: “Destiny Calling” is for a slow-mo flashback, “2nd Hand Lessons” is for a couch makeout, and “Unrivaled” is for a blunt-passing chill-out. With production that sounds straight out of Dr. Dre’s funkier days and the soft enunciation of MF Doom mid-ramble, Kadeem knows how to weave his voice throughout the music without losing the spotlight, all while giving his verses room to breathe.
Summer will never end as long Mint Green is playing in the background. Ronnica, Daniel Huang, Frank Price, and Brandon Geeslin return with Headspace, their punchy take on pop punk after a big year preceding this one. The band’s early influences of groups like Paramore shine bright here, especially on “Foggy,” a flurry of drum fills and belted-out choruses. From the guitar solo on “Pool Party” to the explosive downbeats of “The Siren,” Headspace is the sound of Mint Green pushing themselves to successfully tighten up their sound without losing the initial spritely joy that makes them so fun to listen to.
Justine Bowe’s musical project Photocomfort sounds like it could be on the radio as early as tomorrow. Like a blend of Alt-J and Fever Ray, she stirs her pot of smooth synthpop until it bubbles with an edgy undercurrent. It’s an exploration of all things ominous turned beautiful, where a single song, like “Rose Colored Glasses,” will transform from a friendly warning to a welcoming dance. But above all else, it’s Bowe’s polished vocals that give the music on Understudy its professional feeling. Let’s just say Kate Bush would be proud.
If Only Apart
If you told me Kármán Voh was made of magic, I’d believe you. Like some kind of shooting star-speckled wonderkind, the music they make, especially on If Only Apart, skates through downtempo electronics, shoegaze guitars, and searing vocals like it’s guided by some ethereal entity. The final product sounds like the more stunning and elegant songs in Deerhunter’s catalog or B-sides to Thom Yorke’s The Eraser—massive comparisons, and yet they’re incredibly apt nonetheless.
Midnight Werewolf Records
It’s been four years of Elizabeth Colour Wheel outdoing whoever shares a bill with them—like, say, Cloakroom and Have a Nice Life—and yet technically the doom-lovin’ shoegaze band still hasn’t broken into the national consciousness. Three EPs, a few singles, and dozens of shows deep, the band celebrated its first label release this year thanks to Midnight Werewolf, who released the explosive Queen Tired. With harrowing, intense vocals, creeping bass, and truly thrashing drums, the EP delivers on everything the band is known for: a loud, distorted, and bewitching experience that will leave you slack-jawed and heart-eyed.
Tri Angle Records
This year saw one of Boston’s most underrated and hidden talents—Seoul-born, Boston-based producer mmph—set sail for Los Angeles. While the terse Serenade or its remix EP don’t count as Boston releases because of said move, Dear God does, as it was released at the start of the year. What 24-year-old Sae Heum Han creates on it is a groaning, soothing, experimental world of electronica, where frail wind chimes and syncopated drumming patterns fade in and out of his larger sample-driven sound. Dear God is at once surprising and comfortable, poising mmph as the unofficial protégé of Arca and Nicolas Jaar.
Whoever Gets You in the End
Sometimes it’s the bittersweet songs that sting the most. On Whoever Gets You in the End, duo Tuft navigate a world of heartbreak and simple comforts through the lens of bummer rock. Jessica Hesse and Daniel Radin never seem to raise their volume above a modest four over the course of the EP, but their honesty speaks loudly. Imagine the type of emotionally stirring numbers Katie Ellen writes, and then strip them back a bit. That’s Tuft, a band you will fall in love with through this EP.
The Queer B.I.G. is too busy thriving to focus on the past, and you’re welcome to join them in doing so. After all, Billy Dean Thomas has found a way to embrace themselves in their music and behind the scenes, which explains why both cross paths so consistently on Rocky Barboa. With electronic-flecked samples backing their raps, Thomas calls out flaky friends, self-love, and body positivity without ever stopping for a breath. It’s a fast-paced record that showcases Thomas’ speed as well as their word choices, both of which hint at what’s to come in the future: “I’m on to bigger things / Now I start to pop up.” Don’t say they didn’t warn you.
Power Is Violence
Side Two Records
On their second demo, Innocent return with another onslaught of heavy D-beat hardcore. This time around, though, singer Samantha tackles political idleness, disguised bigotry, and silence as a powerless act. While she lets loose with her trademark sharp notes, the rest of Power Is Violence leans heavily on the first wave of US hardcore. Innocent seem to get tighter as a band as they go, to the point where you swear the drummer’s sticks should have snapped in half by now from sheer force.
Between the addicting hooks of alt-rock and the inventiveness of math rock lays ozlo, a trio that’s both heavier and catchier than they let on. On their recent EP, Sorry Charlie, the three challenge themselves with their most wiry and sporadic instrumentation yet. So by the time “Grand Prix” hits in the middle of the record—there’s a cascade of guitar licks, plus some heady concluding rhythm section—it’s clear Sorry Charlie isn’t just a couple of kids jamming together, but rather the work of a trio who wants to go beyond what’s easy to build music that’s as deceptively complicated as it is fun.