Rosy Overdrive’s Top 25 EPs of 2021

2021 was a great EP year, by my estimation. Maybe it’s because the pandemic made EPs more practical vis-à-vis full-lengths to release than normal, maybe because I’m more in touch with smaller (and thus more likely to release EPs) bands than normal this year, but I liked a lot of EPs this year. I chose nine for the 2020 year-end list; I could’ve done fifty this time without running out of ones that I liked. I stuck with 25 because I don’t want to do another big big scope list after Rosy Overdrive’s 100 favorite albums of 2021 took so long, and the descriptions here are shorter than that list too. I wrote about the majority of these earlier in the year, anyway, so you can read more about them if you want.

I’d like to do one more new music round-up before the end of the year, and there will also be a “Best reissues/compilations of 2021” list at…some point. Maybe not ‘til January, but it’ll go up eventually.

Here is a link to a playlist of all these EPs (minus the one not on streaming services) on Spotify.

25. Oscar Bait – Everything Louder Than Everything Else

Release date: October 1st
Record label: Little Elephant
Genre: Melodic hardcore, post-hardcore
Formats: Vinyl, digital

Everything Louder Than Everything Else is just about everything one could want from a melodic post-hardcore record in 2021. For one, the EP rips through six catchy bursts of energy in less than ten minutes; for another, its tough exterior is backed with an introspective underneath, with lead singer Jim Howes pulling inspiration everywhere from professional sports to David Foster Wallace. Rippers like “Blitzer” and “This Is Water” are plenty enjoyable even without taking the microscope to Howes’ lyrics, but there is enough going on there to warrant a closer reading. (Read more)

24. Beauty Pill – Instant Night

Release date: December 3rd
Record label: Northern Spy
Genre: Electronic, experimental indie rock
Formats: Vinyl, CD, digital

Although Beauty Pill’s latest EP only contains two “full” songs, an instrumental, and a remix, it’s far from a throwaway release. The title track to Instant Night showed up as a standalone single right before the 2020 election last year, and it floats along just as ominously here as it did a year ago. The synth-funk of “You Need a Better Mind” is a world away from “Instant Night” musically, but Clark’s lyrics are not so much, perhaps a more personal take on the isolation and loneliness of the title track. (Read more)

23. My Idea – That’s My Idea

Release date: July 30th
Record label: Hardly Art
Genre: Indie pop, pop rock, synthpop
Formats: Digital

Lily Konigsberg and Nate Amos have appeared on Rosy Overdrive plenty of times, and not infrequently together—Konigsberg has guested on Amos’ This Is Lorelei project several times, and Amos produced Konigsberg’s debut solo album—so it’s not surprising that My Idea, a new act formed by the two of them together, made the cut. That’s My Idea confidently cycles through the hallmarks of both of their output: jangly guitar pop in “I Can’t Dance” and “That’s My Idea”, spunky punk-pop in “Stay Away Still”, minimalist synthpop on “Birthday”. It’s a debut release in band name only.

22. J. Marinelli – Fjorden & Fjellet

Release date: June 4th
Record label: Self-released
Genre: Lo-fi pop rock
Formats: Digital

The four song Fjordan & Fjellet EP is a sort of musical evolution for the Norway-based, West Virginia-originating J. Marinelli—the long-time live-to-tape “one-man punk band” recorded his instruments separately this time around, giving Marinelli freedom to add in more fleshed-out drum parts, some bass guitar, and plenty of handclaps. Nevertheless, these songs still sport Marinelli’s familiar Appalachian spin on Robert Pollard-esque lo-fi pop rock, with “Worker and Parasite” and “Where They’d Have Us” in particular coming off as pleasing yet curiously-written.  (Read more)

21. Snow Ellet – Suburban Indie Rock Star

Release date: March 19th/August 13th
Record label: Self-released/Wax Bodega
Genre: Emo pop, power pop
Formats: Cassette, digital

Snow Ellet and Suburban Indie Rock Star are definitely worthy of the very specific but very real hype they’ve gotten. The debut EP from the Chicagoland solo project plants its flag in the middle of indie rock and emo, and songs like the Oso-Oso-via-Madchester opener “To Some I’m Genius” or the starry-eyed bummer pop of reissued bonus track “Wine on the Carpet” are just executed incredibly. Along with the just-as-good non-album single “Cannonball”, Snow Ellet is an undeniable rising (suburban indie) pop rock star.

20. Noun – In the Shade

Release date: July 13th
Record label: State Champion
Genre: Indie rock, indie punk
Formats: Vinyl, digital

Earlier this month, Screaming Females’ Marissa Paternoster released her solo debut Peace Meter—it’s an intriguing departure from her band, and perhaps I will talk about it more on Rosy Overdrive. In July, though, she released the three-song In the Shade EP as Noun, which hews much closer in sound to Screaming Females—and is just as good as her main group. The title track is Paternoster in classic “alt-rock banger” form, and the other two songs nail “dramatic tension” (“Heather”) and “hypnotic light-grooving” (“Speak to Me”).

19. Camp Trash – Downtiming

Release date: January 22nd 
Record label: Count Your Lucky Stars
Genre: Emo power pop
Formats: Vinyl, digital

Florida’s Camp Trash debuted in January with a four-song tour-de-force of bright Sunshine State emo. Downtiming confidently and casually positions itself among the long lineage of commercial “alternative rock”, evoking everything from Bleed American to the Clone High soundtrack to the effortless cool of the Gallagher brothers to The Get-Up Kids covering Superchunk to PureVolume pop punk to “Hey Jealousy” to Jade Lilitri and other “fifth wave emo” guitar pop bands. Did I forget anything? (Read more)

18. Molly O’Malley – Goodwill Toy

Release date: October 21st
Record label: Mollywhop Record Shop
Genre: Synthpop, dream pop
Formats: Digital

Goodwill Toy dives fully into Molly O’Malley’s specific blend of synthpop production and reverb-guitar tones, journal entry-evoking lyrics delivered in a wistful voice, and an ambitious presentation that goes far beyond what one might expect for a four-song EP, and either you’re up for it or you aren’t. O’Malley’s emotional, front-and-center voice helms pop anthems (“Princess Mia (Ybsntcht)” and bittersweet, subtler dramas (“Tangible”) alike, and though short, Goodwill Toy’s four songs hang together thematically and completely. (Read more)

17. Cub Scout Bowling Pins – Heaven Beats Iowa

Release date: January 22nd  
Record label: GBV, Inc.
Genre: Lo-fi indie rock, power pop
Formats: Vinyl, CD, digital

Robert Pollard has seemingly finally found stability in the last half decade, focusing on his current iteration of Guided by Voices over his myriad side projects. Cub Scout Bowling Pins only goes further to prove Pollard’s happiness with his current group of collaborators—Heaven Beats Iowa is a collaboration between Pollard and the rest of the GBV lineup, resulting in a muddy, informal feel that buries Pollard’s (strong as ever) hooks lower in the mix, but never so low that they’re less effective. (Read more)

16. Sour Widows – Crossing Over

Release date: April 23rd
Record label: Exploding in Sound
Genre: Slowcore, folk rock
Formats: Vinyl, digital

The latest EP from the Bay Area’s Sour Widows is a solid collection of four casually beautiful indie rock songs that push the record past twenty minutes without overstaying its welcome. Shades of folk rock, slowcore, and dream pop turn up throughout Crossing Over, though not slotting neatly into any one of those categories. One thing they do commit to is the harmonies between co-lead-singers Susanna Thomson and Maia Sinaiko, one of the most obvious reasons why these songs sound as great as they do.

15. Oblivz – Uplifts

Release date: April 5th
Record label: Self-released
Genre: Synthpop
Formats: Cassette,digital

Oblivz’s Charlie Wilmoth and Andrew Slater are more well-known (to me at least) for their guitar pop band Fox Japan, but their new project veers headfirst into electronic territory. Slater’s guitar still interjects along Uplifts’ four tracks, but its neighbors are drum machines and synths this time. Fox Japan’s dark humor still marks these songs, particularly in “Only the Weak Survive” and “Two Is Impossible”, and the treadmill pop of “Time Cop” is proof that Wilmoth and Slater are as good at nailing synthpop hooks as they are power pop. (Read more)

14. Enumclaw – Jimbo Demo

Release date: April 30th
Record label: Suite A/Youth Riot
Genre: Alt-rock, shoegaze
Formats: CD, cassette, digital

The one release from Tacoma, Washington’s Enumclaw thus far is a captivating record of ever-so-slightly-crooked Pacific Northwest indie rock that both hints at the band’s full potential and works quite well on its own. The five songs on Jimbo Demo are all incredibly catchy (particularly opening track “Cents” and single “Fast N All”), and there’s depth underneath: lead singer Aramis Johnson’s vocals give these songs melancholy, sometimes even dark sides, and Nathan Cornell’s prominent bass pops throughout.

13. Mt. Oriander – This Is Not the Way I Wanted You to Find Out

Release date: October 8th
Record label: Count Your Lucky Stars
Genre: Midwest emo
Formats: Cassette, CD, digital

Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) and Parting’s Keith Latinen seems to try to lower the stakes of his new solo project Mt. Oriander’s debut EP with its title (referencing that he wanted to release a full-length record before today’s craziness got in the way), but This Is Not the Way I Wanted You to Find Out needs no such shunting.  These five songs place Latinen’s clean, melodic vocals even more front-and-center than his past bands, sounding like a mix between palpably heavy full-band slowcore and Latinen’s Midwest emo background. It’s a subtle record from him, but a career highlight nevertheless. (Read more)

12. Dan Wriggins – Still Is: Dan Wriggins Sings Utah Phillips

Release date: May 7th
Record label: Orindal
Genre: Folk
Formats: Digital

Friendship’s Dan Wriggins recorded (most of) Still Is at the same time as his debut solo EP, Mr. Chill, though at the time he wasn’t sure if these songs—all covers of folk singer and labor activist Utah Phillips—would ever see the light of day, until they surfaced as a digital Bandcamp-only release. One doesn’t have to be familiar with Utah Phillips’ work to appreciate Still Is—that’s a testament both to Phillips’ original songs and how Wriggins performs them. Some of these songs are bluntly, blisteringly political, and others are just as affecting on the personal level—as the title of the EP suggests, Phillips’ songs are no less powerful or relevant today. (Read more)

11. This Is Lorelei – Bad Forever

Release date: April 2nd
Record label: Wharf Cat
Genre: Pop punk
Formats: Digital

Amidst the torrent of Nate Amos’ prolific 2021, Bad Forever stands out in particular. The nine-song release finds Amos with the guitars cranked up, in full pop punk mode—it is (yet another) left turn for This Is Lorelei, but it’s not a world away from the hooky guitar pop Amos typically makes.  Bad Forever is sloppier and, in a sense, trashier than the (relatively) more restrained, measured previous work of This Is Lorelei, and Amos (with the help of the Greek chorus of Palberta) sounds like he’s teetering on the edge of something throughout the album’s frenetic pace. (Read more)

10. Mannequin Pussy – Perfect

Release date: May 21st
Record label: Epitaph
Genre: Punk rock, indie rock, hardcore punk
Formats: Vinyl, digital

I’ve been a casual Mannequin Pussy fan for awhile now, appreciating if not “getting” their rather fervent following, but I’m fully on board with the Philadelphia band’s latest. Perfect is more or less exactly what I’ve wanted from this band: it’s a nearly 50/50 mix of exciting hardcore-influenced tracks and stately, capital E-emotional indie rock, both of which are executed about as well as one could hope. Based on the rest of this list, it’s unsurprising that the latter are more up my alley (see: “Control”, “To Lose You”), but the more, ah, confrontational Colins “Bear” Regisford-sung “Pigs Is Pigs” is just as good.

9. (T-T)b – Suporma

Release date: April 16th
Record label: Acrobat Unstable
Genre: Pop punk, emo, 90s indie rock
Formats: Cassette, digital

(T-T)b is a chiptune and video game soundtrack instrumentation-incorporating “bitpunk” band named after an emoji who make music on the emo label Acrobat Unstable. Whatever you expected them to sound like after that description, you’re probably wrong—Suporma is, I think, a slacker-rock record more than anything else. From the triumphant chorus of opening track “I Don’t Wanna Die” and the chugging, “When I Come Around”-esque guitar chords on “Daisy”, (T-T)b utilize their bleeps the way another band might use “traditional” synths or even horns, and it works on Suporma just as well as any of those embellishments might.

8. Meat Wave – Volcano Park

Release date: June 11th
Record label: Many Hats/Big Scary Monsters
Genre: Post-hardcore, noise rock, punk rock
Formats: Vinyl, digital

The first multi-song release from Meat Wave in four years is a heartening sign that the Chicago band are alive, well, and making some of the best music of their career. Volcano Park is surprisingly musically dynamic, while at the same time being an incredibly thematically cohesive set of songs—the rage of their past work is still there, but the mask slips to reveal a frantic, existential core over these six songs. Threads of individual commodification and wear and tear run through Volcano Park, before closing track “Fire Dreams” burns it all down. (Read more)

7. Snakeskin – Heart Orb Bone

Release date: July 13th
Record label: State Champion
Genre: Indie rock
Formats: Vinyl, digital

The first new music from New Jersey’s Snakeskin since 2018 is a three-song, 12-minute picture disc in which the band sounds as polished and clear-eyed as ever. “T.V.” and the title track are irresistible widescreen, grand-scale indie rock, deploying chopper-takeoff power chords and sparkly melodic guitar leads as well as dramatic, nostalgia-tinged lyrics from lead singer Shanna Polley. Although overshadowed by the other two songs, acoustic closer “Happening” succeeds well at something else entirely.

6. Options – On the Draw

Release date: June 11th
Record label: Self-released
Genre: Bedroom pop, pop punk, indie rock
Formats: Digital

Options’ Seth Engel has probably engineered a record by your favorite Chicago band, but he’s also found time to build a robust discography of his own. The nine-song, 18-minute “mixtape” On the Draw (which is an EP because I said so) is a pretty sharp departure the chilly, slowcore-and-emo-indie-rock of the last two Options records, 2020’s Window’s Open and Wind’s Gonna Blow. Recorded at home instead of Engel’s studio domain, On the Draw embraces a lo-fi pop sound that speeds through a fun selection of brief auto-tuned melodies and zippy power chords, particularly nailing the sub-two minute closing tracks “Hoper” and “Run Wild”.

5. Canandaigua – Slight Return

Release date: August 6th
Record label: Baja Dracula
Genre: Folk rock, alt-country
Formats: Digital

Slight Return is the most substantial release yet from Raul Zahir De Leon’s Canandaigua solo project. The EP’s six tracks show off De Leon’s compelling, off-kilter interpretation of Americana that jumps from ragged electric rock to more traditional folk/country sounds—it’s ramshackle, but intentionally so. Slight Return’s elemental lyrics describe love, sadness, toil, and friendship in a way that declines to date these songs, even as modern anxieties and struggles creep in around the edges. De Leon tackles some weighty topics, like confronting difficult societal truths and the fallibility of the Americana canon over sharp, swelling country-rock instrumentals. (Read more)

4. MJ Lenderman – Knockin’

Release date: August 20th
Record label: Dear Life
Genre: Lo-fi folk, alt-country
Formats: Digital

Knockin’, the third release under the MJ Lenderman name in 2021, is the sound of the Asheville musician getting comfortable with his distinct style of alt-country—no bells and whistles, just five full-fleshed out Lenderman songs. Instead of losing the spontaneous magic of March’s Ghost of Your Guitar Solo, tracks like the country groove of “TV Dinners”, the tender wrestling rumination “TLC Cage Match”, and the Daniel Johnston-esque “Happiness” only serve to affirm that Lenderman can write a hell of a song. Few in music had a 2021 that even approached that of MJ Lenderman. (Read more)

3. Cashmere Washington – The Shape of Things to Come

Release date: September 17th
Record label: Fish People Birds/Black Ram
Genre: Emo-indie-rock, R&B
Formats: Cassette, digital

The formal debut from Midland, Michigan’s Thomas Dunn II is an EP that’s been accurately called “post emo” (by their tape label) and “bedroom punk/hip-hop” (by Dunn). The Shape of Things to Come isn’t the first release to meld emo-adjacent rock and rap, but it distinguishes itself by committing to a lo-fi, fuzzy sound anchored by Dunn’s guitar playing, even in songs like “Last Year” where the hip-hop influence is particularly felt. If Cashmere Washington’s next releases (more EPs are forthcoming, per Dunn) live up to the promise that The Shape of Things to Come demonstrates, then perhaps it’ll just be the beginning. (Read more)

2. Olivia’s World – Tuff 2B Tender

Release date: April 23rd
Record label: Lost Sound Tapes
Genre: Twee pop
Formats: Cassette, digital

Olivia’s World bandleader Alice Rezende’s songwriting is bursting with big ideas, and the group goes big musically to back them up. The Queensland-based four-piece paints Tuff 2B Tender with a layered, full-band sound that does justice to both ends of the EP’s title. Opening track “Debutante” gradually turns into a wall of sound featuring ringing piano and cascading guitars, “Hell-Bent” is a romp that features Rezende’s best stream of consciousness lyrics, and the pastoral fantasy of “Grassland” ends Tuff 2B Tender by finding comfort and strength in discovering and inventing new worlds—appropriate for a “twee” act that doesn’t just stick to that genre’s signature guileless indie pop. (Read more)

1. Dan Wriggins – Mr. Chill

Release date: March 12th
Record label: Orindal
Genre: Alt-country
Formats: Cassette, digital

Stripping down the “ambient country” of his main band Friendship even further, Mr. Chill is comprised of five sparse tracks that feature only Dan Wriggins’ acoustic guitar, occasional organ and piano stabs, and fellow Friendship member Michael Cormier’s steady drumming. Wriggins’ distinctive warble and strong songwriting shines on Mr. Chill just as much as it does on his work with the underrated Friendship—the title track and “Lucinda on June Bug” are some of the fullest, sharpest songs Wriggins has penned to date, and the less immediate ones (particularly the dark “Season”) reveal themselves just as confidently with time. (Read more)

Honorable mentions:

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