6th November 2023
2022 has had its fair share of groovy albums, and Top 10 albums lists. But what of the equally strong mixtapes and EPs? Let’s fix this by sharing my Top 10 mixtapes and EPs of this year.
EPs are shorter than an album and released to keep fans excited. This happens while the artist cooks up the real album. EPs (and mixtapes) are not accompanied by big tours nor heavy promotion. Budgets (music production and visuals) are small, and so are expectations for sales. Sometimes, these projects include more off-beat songs that the label may not want in the main album.
While most artists drop festive songs on Christmas, Qveen Herby is different. The rapper unveiled Mad Qveen on April Fools’ Day. This EP celebrates silliness, camp and being a romantic. Eff what they say about being “realistic” and expecting less. Herby (AKA Amy Noonan) is not a cynic. The “Sugar Daddy” star gleefully revels in being spoiled by her beloved on “Spoil Me” and loving herself on “Rabbit Hole”. In “F Myself”, Herby laughs at her ageist critics, while “Umm” sees her gas herself up. The producer plays along with her quirky vision by garnishing the beats with eccentric arrangements.
Genre: Dance pop
Josie Man’s fans were awaiting this EP since its June announcement. The 6-track EP finally fell on our laps in November and proved to be an improvement on Man’s vocals. It is the perfect little treat to listen to when feeling down. With the uplifting opener “no one cares” to the swooning love songs “unbreak ur heart” and “lime and soda”, this airy record should be on every romantic’s playlist.
Genre: Indie pop, synth-pop
After BENEE’s 2021 debut, Hey u x, we didn’t know what to expect. Will the next record live up to her LP? When Lychee dropped quietly this year, the Kiwi singer’s fans only had good things to say. BENEE displays a more evolved musical style here. She makes it clear she won’t stick to a single sound. So, we’ve got a dreamy bedroom-pop tune with “Beach Boy”. There are electro-glitch sonics in the epic 6 minute-long “Make You Sick”. And trap influences in “Never Ending”. An intriguing, albeit muted, body of work.
Genre: Electronica, garage, alt R&B
Jetta John-Hartley hails from Liverpool but is based in London. The best single from Jetta’s new EP is “Livin'”, a garage throwback that’ll get everyone moving. Interestingly, “Livin'” has been out for two years, but the EP came forth this August. The “Feels Like Coming Home” singer plays with a variety of styles. “I Wanna Know” is electronic and synth-driven. It dabbles with dystopian and cyberpunk elements. “He Usually Likes Boys” is a vulnerable ballad about love triangles. And finally, “No Fire” will get you reminiscing about the 90s due to its soul leanings. These self-produced tracks are a hell of a ride.
Genre: Trap, experimental, hyper-pop
Russian outfit Pussy Riot unleashed their project MATRIARCHY NOW this August. In this mixtape, Nadya Tolokonnikova explores the different shades of kink. “HATEF**K” and “PUNISH” (co-written by Tove Lo) are from the POV of a dominatrix. Meanwhile, “PLASTIC” (a personal favourite) walks the line between a sub’s POV and a sarcastic indictment of objectification. So, which one is it? Who knows. It’s super catchy and features a strong verse by ILOVEMAKONNEN.
We get more naughty delights in “SUGAR MOMMY” and the hyperpop-y “HORNY”. A critic argued that the band’s message of feminism wrapped in individual sexual empowerment is a dated concept. In the search of feminist kink, the mixtape ignores something more important, female unity. The title is misleading as you go into it expecting a serious call to arms for smashing the patriarchy. We wouldn’t expect any less from a band that was imprisoned by Putin. What we do find is a BDSM club that frustrated women escape to so they can live out the fantasy of being in control. While true, these criticisms don’t sway my opinion that this record is… so fun.
Genre: Garage, EDM, hip hop
Rico Nasty took our breath away with her debut, Nightmare Vacation. The Maryland rapper has once again blown us away with this mixtape. We’ve never seen Nasty experiment this extremely with diverse genres. The result is exciting. The “Money” rapper plays with garage in “Phuckin Lady”, EDM in “One on 5”, hyper-pop in “Skullflower”, acoustic guitar in “Easy”, and many, many more. However, the first half of the record is superior to the second half. The energy significantly nosedives in the latter. But Las Ruinas remains a daring body of work. And Rico is clearly enjoying herself.
Genre: Indie rock/pop
As a mini-album, Dreams, Pains and Paper Planes is an outlier in this list. Released on September 30 by Liverpool native Pixey, this project is sunny and breezy. Tracks like “I’m Just High” and “Recycled Paper Planes” see the singer have a cheeky blast. But Pixey doesn’t shy from treading rougher waters with the dark “Treat Me Right” and “In My House”. We are excited for the artist-producer’s next move, like releasing “Million Dollar Baby”.
Genre: Experimental trap metal, electronica
You may know of Kero Kero Bonito. The musical trio’s lead singer, Sarah Midori Perry, has ventured on her solo career. Under the pseudonym Cryalot, she’s released Icarus. This EP plunges us into madness. Co-produced by Jennifer Whalton, the EP begins with “Touch The Sun”. It is a euphoric portrait of the optimistic Icarus who flies to touch the sun. But the heat makes her wings fall apart and throws her to the seas below. In the ensuing tracks, the narrator deals with this harrowing aftermath. A highlight is “Hell Is Here” which mixes screamo metal with trap to deliver a dirge about torment.
By the time we reach the end, we’ve been through the seven stages of a wringer. But we do find closure, if not emotionally but aesthetically.
Genre: Indie pop/dance
Miso is hands down my favourite discovery this year. Hailing from London, the Japanese-English producer tingles our ears with catchy samples and ASMR sounds. The artist was raised on anime, Bend It like Beckham and old-skool hip hop. She was initially unsure of how to describe her sound. But then, she came up with the alternate universe, the Misoverse.
The Misoverse? I touch on this in a lyric …. – “Welcome to an alternate reality / Open-door kind of policy / Full of peace and musicality”. Which, essentially kind of summarizes the Misoverse for me … it’s this very free-flowing, fun-loving place where anyone’s really welcome, and creativity is paramount.– Miso Extra speaking to Stereofox (April 2022)
Great Taste EP is a potpourri of chopped up beats, accordion loops, Japanese lyrics and the message of agape. There’s no one like Miso in the scene.
Genre: Art pop, afrobeat
CAPRISONGS by FKA twigs is the show stealer this year. Personally, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Twigs’ ambient pop sound in Magdalene and LP1. Thankfully, there’s a more focused vision here. The basic tale of CAPRISONGS is that the artist recovers from personal tragedies to fall in love with herself again. It rings truer since Twigs publicly accused actor and former boyfriend Shia Leboeuf of abusing her. Leboeuf admitted it’s true. Twigs had severe depression.
Twigs mixes her soprano voice with ethereal harmonies. Another amazing highlight are the hooks in “meta angel”, “tears in the club” and “careless” which I couldn’t get out of my head. The last two feature The Weeknd and Daniel Caesar, two artists I didn’t care much about. But by the end, I was impressed by their indispensable contributions.
Twigs laces the project with several voice messages and recordings of her with friends. Such interludes sound gimmicky in the hands of lesser artists. But here, the sound bites tie the project together. They further push the narrative of the wounded butterfly, ready to fly again with the help of her friends. Listen to her confidante speak of how the universe is bigger than you can imagine in “meta angel”. Or when Twigs’ astrologer gushes about the blessings coming her way in “christi interlude”. Twigs feels the love of these people and so do we.
The mixtape has replay value with every cut feeling important and necessary. CAPRISONGS is dynamic, unable to be put in a box. If the “Cellophane” singer was backed by a bigger label, she would be hogging all the Grammys this year and putting these singers to shame.