The 100 Best EPs of All Time


The 100 Best EPs of All Time

October 19, 2018 | by No Recess! Staff

Albums are too damn long, and they keep getting longer. The ability to cherry-pick favorites, which became easier with CDs and then too easy with iTunes and streaming, has turned the focus away from quality control and towards cramming as much work as possible into a record. What used to be called a double album is now the norm.

The EP is undervalued. Concise and stripped-down, it’s a format that knows its limitations, there for new artists who want to experiment and get themselves out there, and for established acts to release leftover material. EPs were at their best in the late ‘70s to early ‘90s, peak eras for punk and alternative rock, when anybody could pick up a guitar but most only had the patience for a few songs. It was a good time, and for some acts, it’s never gone away.

So here are NO RECESS’ 100 favorite EPs of all time, honoring a fast, short, and pure type of record that deserves more respect. Give them all a listen. It won’t take too long. – Melody Danielle Rice

User Guide: Click on album images to open a new window and listen.

100. s/s/s, Beak & Claw (Anticon, 2012)

On this impossibly beautiful mystery text, three gifted semi-stars definable by their relative introversion find untold joys in community. This suits the ostensible concept, a series of scenes reminding us that before America went full dystopia, the strictures and expectations the recession dismantled led to a period of pink-cloud hope for a wave of millennials and their wide-open minds. The music sounds like the waking dream the best of those times felt like, and the allusive lyrics attain the scope of a movie — and with room for a bonus, “Octomom,” in which a tabloid target is transformed into an empathy lesson. – Ryan Maffei

99. Drake, So Far Gone (OVO, 2009)

On the most influential rap EP of the last 10 years, a pair of unknown, former child actors in Toronto stirred up their feelings with some icy synths and spare 808s to cook up a sound that defined a generation. Drake and 40’s luxurious, 300-thread count performative sorrow immediately stood them apart from the rigid mainstream rap world of the time. Of course, better days were ahead (really, only half of these songs are keepers), but there’s only one chance to make a first impression. And So Far Gone left a hell of an imprint. – Dan Alvarez

98. The Paranoid Style, Rock and Roll Just Can’t Recall (Battle Worldwide, 2015) Their 2016 full-length debut Rolling Disclosure is a must-listen, but these lobbyists/critics-turned-garage-rockers work best in the EP format, because when humanity is totally fucked — as husband-wife duo Elizabeth Nelson and Timothy Bracy clearly believe we are — why bother lengthening anything? This is their best work thus far, politically savvy enough to be cynical, optimistic enough to believe their audience can keep up with them, and with tunes like these, it’s worth trying. They recently re-released it with three new songs, ‘cause they have more great songs than they know what to do with. – Melody Danielle Rice

97. Wussy, Duo (Shake It, 2014)

As they near veteranhood — a mantle ex-Ass Pony Chuck Cleaver started this group wearing ironically — Wussy may have felt a few zephyrs of the respect they’ve spent so long earning. But they also still face a destiny as rock ‘n’ roll’s (these days we don’t need guitars like we once did) best best-kept secret. Here, the three musicians who round out their thunderous sound step aside and let the songwriters do their thing, and it’s the usual disarming monsoon of bitter tears, magic words, and beyond-belief chemistry. – Ryan Maffei

96. Tool, Opiate (Zoo Entertainment, 1992)

Preceding Tool's first full-length release, Opiate is pure, raw power and absent of opuses — and the title a nod to Karl Marx's "religions ... is the opiate of the masses." These guys weren't to big on religion and many of these tracks feel just as relevant today. – Jocelyn Hoppa

95. Dum Dum Girls, He Gets Me High (Sub Pop, 2011)

Giddy rock ‘n' roll leather jacket love songs, especially the shockingly great Smiths cover. Dee Dee's harmonies feel born of supernatural passion and late night drives on foggy nights. – C.M. Crockford

94. Slayer, Haunting the Chapel (Metal Blade, 1984)

Slayer’s been cranking out breakneck thrash longer than I’ve been breathing, but what’s most impressive about going back to their hastily produced second project is how fully-formed they arrived. Aside from the production (the phrase, “recorded on a toaster” comes to mind), it’s tough to argue the disc’s four tempestuous tracks would sound out of place on any of the legendary LPs that followed thereafter. It’s no surprise that these tracks continue to pop up on their set lists more than 30 years down the road. – Dan Alvarez

93. Neko Case, Canadian Amp (Lady Pilot, 2001)

Over a decade before she took a torch to the gender binary with “Man,” country’s least compromising siren was turning a no-BS eye to the often too-real war between the sexes with dagger-like incisiveness. Nominally a celebration of Canadian songwriters, it’s not always an indictment or subversion of the male mess — she makes time to hail Neil Young and Hank Williams as brothers. But by the time she gets to poor Ellen Smith’s fate, you know she’s making no bones about the full, bloody potential of patriarchal cruelty — and you’re increasingly concerned what fully appropriate revenge she might be cooking up. – Ryan Maffei

92. Modern Baseball, Mobo Presents: The Perfect Cast EP (Lame-O, 2015) Don’t let the goofy name* or the sprightly pop-punk melodies fool you, few groups have written more incisively about mental health in recent years than the Philly foursome. This six-track project sees twin frontmen Brendan Lukens and Jake Ewald explore loss, depression, friendship, and addiction with honesty and empathy that belies their years. On leadoff track “The Waterboy Returns,” Lukens expresses concern about a drifting friend with a care and generosity that is hard to find and indicative of why their music has meant so much to so many people. – Dan Alvarez

*The album title is a literal “Goofy Movie” reference

91. Neighborhood Brats, Neighborhood Brats (self-released, 2011)

Former San Franciscoans bashing out hyper urban songs like “Lurking the Loin” and “FTW” in the mode of fellow residents The Avengers. Just some glorious, hopped-up California hardcore punk. – C.M. Crockford

90. James Blake, CMYK (R&S, 2010)

Miles away from the polished sadboi crooner that just performed up at the VMAs, the mopey Londoner’s sophomore beat-tape helped define the dance music of my early twenties. Recorded at his home in South London, a then-unknown Blake stirred up his love for radio R&B with spare IDM and lonely jazz keys to help create a subdued sound that sparked a million dumb internet sub-genres (#postdubstep4eva). Its Kelis-sampling title track is still an absolute classic, and its final two tracks are interesting early sketches of the direction that led him to collaborations with people like Beyoncé, Drake, and Travis Scott. – Dan Alvarez

89. Sonic Youth, SYR1: Anagrama EP (SYR, 1997)

Sonic Youth's late-career "emancipation" side hustle here, with the first release on SYR, their label. While not as wild or abstract as what would follow, Anagrama offers a shaggy concision, with the band faux-jamming hard enough to find a few snug, discordant grooves: shuddering hisses, a patch of jazz, a lengthy improv whose initial modesty is a feint. A sly snack between LP-sized meals. – Raymond Cummings

88. Aesop Rock & Homeboy Sandman, Lice (2015, Stones Throw) Two of the finest alt-rappers of the 21st century trade verses over beats from five different producers. The results are as funny and smart as they are hypnotizing. – Melody Danielle Rice

87. Rodan, How the Winter Passed (Three Little Girls, 1993)

This whole of this EP is two songs: “Exoskeleton” and “Milk & Melancholy,” released as a warm-up promo for a limited release cassette demo Aviary and then the band’s lone studio release in 1994, Rusty. Two melodically dark and intensely brutal tracks totally exemplifying the early ‘90s post-hardcore/math rock that Louisville became cherished for. – Jocelyn Hoppa

86. Be Your Own Pet, Damn Damn Leash (XL, 2004)

Be Your Own Pet broke up too soon but their brief discography is still a treasure trove of spite and punk vitriol. This is the first shot fired, a quick blast of feminist feeling that reverberates more than ever. The highlight here is “Electric Shake,” an anti-slut shaming anthem with a great surf guitar solo and Jemina Pearl's ever joyful voice. – C.M. Crockford

85. Shabazz Palaces, Shabazz Palaces (self-released, 2009)

This EP, for most listeners, marked the semi-public return of a hip-hop legend, Digable Planets' Ishmael Reed. Shabazz Palaces' beamed its signals from a distant spaceship: a bumping, inquisitive new wave of Afro-futurism that mixed heady raps with underground dance music. – Andre Perry

84. Beastie Boys, Aglio e Olio (Grand Royal, 1995)

Is there anything more mid-90s than the Beastie Boys going back to their hardcore, skate park roots (13 years previous was 1981’s Polly Wog Stew before the then-foursome ever realized a rap record)? Answer: Of course, but Aglio e Olio is certainly up there. With nods to Minor Threat, The Germs, and Bad Brains, this breakneck EP that’s all of 11-minutes long is the result of the trio writing too many punk songs for their upcoming record Hello Nasty. – Jocelyn Hoppa

83. Robyn, Body Talk Pt. 1 (Konichiwa, 2010)

Good dance music is an escape, a temporary release from whatever’s going on in your actual life. Great dance music is more than that. It welcomes your personal baggage, then invites you to unpack it and release it on the dance floor. When you hear “Dancing on my Own” or “Cry When You Get Older,” you don’t forget your problems and move to the beat. Your issues — your lame ass ex, that person who didn’t text you back — become your power source, and you’re compelled to dance your way right past them. Robyn has crafted a incredible amount of those ultra-rare songs, and Body Talk Pt. 1 is her most densely concentrated collection of them. – Dan Alvarez