The 20 best EPs and mixtapes of 2020

Both emerging and established artists are using the EP and mixtape format to get stuff off their chests

The album isn’t the be and end all, y’know. In recent memory, we’ve seen just as much innovation and success had by artists in the more creative, relaxed formats – it’s where rules are to be broken and names to be made.

In 2020, EPs and mixtapes have taken on new roles; both big artists and those emerging have used their releases to offer snapshots of a difficult year, or to plough on regardless and hone in on their craft. There’s been festival-headliners looking to shake things up (Bring Me The Horizon), vivid details of lockdown anxiety (Christine and The Queens) and would-be breakouts setting the stage for next summer’s festival run (Bad Boy Chiller Crew, Easy Life). These are the pick of the lot…

Contributors: Ali Shutler, Ben Jolley, Hannah Mylrea, Katy Hills, Kyann-Sian Williams, Luke Cartledge, Mia Hughes, Rhian Daly, Rhys Buchanan, Sophie Williams, Thomas Smith, Will Richards.

Bad Boy Chiller Crew – ‘Full Wack No Brakes’

Who: Bradford boyos joyriding their way to viral notoriety
What NME said: “On a mission to put Bradford on the musical and comedic map, their unexpectedly-layered debut mixtape ‘Full Wack No Brakes’ unleashes a barrage of 100mph bassline rap bangers as MC Kane, DJ/rapper GK and mulleted funnyman Sam wheel out witty bars about not paying fines, risking red lights, dodging cops, counterfeit goods and driving sideways on roundabouts. It’s not big or clever… but it’s a shitload of fun.” Read more
Key track: ‘450’

Bob Vylan – ‘We Live Here’

Who: Punk duo shouting the hard truths Old Blighty’s middle-class don’t want to hear
What NME said: ‘We Live Here’ is now a reflection of the frustration being displayed right now – it’s painful in its directness and that’s exactly the point. The release ends with ‘Moment Of Silence’ which plays out dead air. It’s an ‘over to you, we’ve said our piece’ moment. As their namesake once sang, ‘the times they are a-changin’, but there’s still plenty of work to be done.” Read more
Key track: ‘We Live Here’

Bree Runway – ‘2000AND4EVA’

Who: British pop innovator with fans and collaborators in Missy Elliot and Rico Nasty
What NME said: “While paying homage to that period, ‘2000AND4EVA’ also forcefully challenges the white supremacy that has historically underpinned the music industry’s manufacturing of the ‘popstar’. The Hackney-raised Bree has always been outspoken on issues surrounding misogynoir, but by its nature alone ‘2000AND4EVA’ is a radical move as a pop project that unapologetically centres Black womanhood.” Read more
Key track: ‘ATM’

Bring Me The Horizon – ‘Post Human: Survival Horror’

Who: Sheffield’s metal titans disrupt their album cycle with the first in a new series of EPs
What NME said: “What could have been an act of self-sabotage or self-indulgence – or both – has transpired to be a welcome reminder of all that this band does best, rooted in raw relevance for today and the cyber-punk energy of tomorrow.” Read more
Key track: ‘OBEY’

Christine and the Queens – ‘La Vita Nuova’

Who: Beloved French pop star reflects on life in lockdown
What NME said: “At this point, you’d really expect nothing less from Christine and The Queens, who has continually proven that she has a gift for injecting emotional heft into the vessel of warped, left-field pop. Conceptually, ‘La Vita Nuova’ is an astonishing feat – but even better than that, it also oozes an intensity of feeling that punches right in the gut.” Read more
Key track: ‘People I’ve Been Sad’

Do Nothing – ‘Zero Dollar Bill’

Who: Notts gang who powered through lockdown with a bruising and brilliant debut EP
What NME said: “If you’re faced with a sense of confusion or boredom at the state of things in life right now – then Do Nothing are the people providing your anthems. After all, the band have said they deal in such currencies. It might have taken some working out, but this EP has all the makings of a legendary first statement. They’re a voice that we should be immensely thankful for right now.” Read more
Key track: ‘Fits’

Easy Life – ‘Junk Food’

Who: Would-be festival heroes who kickstarted 2020 with a banging new mixtape and an NME Award
What NME said: “It’s packed with their unique brand of undefinable, genre-bending indie-jazz, plus the hip-hop-influenced sound that they’ve tinkered with since their 2017 arrival, but there’s a decidedly pop edge this time around. There are songs on this mixtape that deserve to be right up there in the UK charts. Whether it’s the funky ‘Nice Guys’, the wonky ‘Earth’ or the tongue-in-cheek ‘Dead Celebrities’, there’s proof here that Easy Life are becoming some of Britain’s most astute and witty songwriters.” Read more
Key track: ‘Dead Celebrities’

Emma-Jean Thackray – ‘Rain Dance’

Who: Leeds-raised, London-based player, composer and arranger of jazz to move your mind, body and soul.
What NME said: “There’s some dextrous playing in Thackray’s new EP, ‘Rain Dance’. Whether it be on the smoky double-opener ‘Rain Dance/Wisdom’, the hip-hop leaning ‘Open’ or dancefloor dynamo ‘Movementt’ – Thackray’s vision is fully realised alongside her most ambitious compositions to date.” Read more
Key track: ‘Movementt’

Holly Humberstone – ‘Falling Asleep At The Wheel’

Who: Spectral and sparse indie from Lincolnshire songwriter
What NME said: “The collection sees her attempt to find reconciliation with heartbreak and mental health struggles via a minimal approach to bruised, Phoebe Bridgers-shaped indie pop, as pillowy melodies are set to smoky timbres and harmony-rich arrangements” Read more
Key track: ‘Deep End’

India Jordan – ‘For You’

Who: Doncaster-born, London-based producer making uplifting club bangers to celebrate one’s individuality
What NME said: “Inspired by formative years in the North East, India Jordan strikes the perfect balance between joyous euphoria and vulnerable emotion. Be prepared for utopian rave weapons and would-be festival anthems.” Read more
Key track: ‘For You’

James Blake – ‘Before’

Who: British heavyweight embraces his ravey side on sparkling new collection
What NME said: “In the intervening years, balladry has overtaken knob-twiddling as his primary concern. On the ‘Before’ EP, though, he finds a space where both can exist in harmony, even on the same song, and the end product sounds like something approaching a final form for Blake.” Read more
Key track: ‘Summer Of Now’

Jockstrap – ‘Wicked City’

Who: London duo pushing the boundaries of electro-pop
What NME said: “How on earth does one describe this new EP by Jockstrap? ‘Wicked City’ bubbles with the joy of creation as Taylor Skye and Georgia Ellery dance around one another, her plaintive songwriting draped in his wild, fizzy production like an intoxicating mist.” Read more
Key track: ‘Acid’

Little Simz – ‘Drop 6’ EP

Who: Islington rapper resurrects her beloved DIY series mid-lockdown
What NME said: “On ‘Drop 6’ the 26-year-old tries to find a silver lining in challenging times; the resulting record itself a time capsule of lockdown life – a rough-edged release that includes much of the push and pull between introspection, catharsis and careful optimism that we all know too well in these isolated times. It also has a palpable sense of freedom to it, with quarantine allowing artists greater room to experiment consequence-free.” Read more
Key track: ‘might bang might not’

Omar Apollo – ‘Apolonio’

Who: LA-based heartthrob paying tribute to his heritage through the prism of steamy, funk-infused R&B
What NME said: “‘Apolonio’, its title taken from his middle name, is a subtly eclectic ride through timeless funk licks, ultra-modern sensibilities and nods to Apollo’s Mexican heritage. It aches with unrequited feelings but, musically, sets the young star up as the new master of steamy bedroom jams. ‘Want U Around’, featuring Aussie singer-songwriter Ruel, is painted with soulful falsetto cries as Apollo sings of a relationship gone sour.” Read more
Key track: ‘Stayback’

Pa Salieu – ‘Send Them To Coventry’

Who: The UK’s breakout rap star of 2020 solidifies the hype with debut mixtape
What NME said: “‘Send Them To Coventry’ promises that Salieu is unbelievably gifted with a ceiling nowhere in sight. He carries the entire mixtape with his singular voice oscillating between conventional rap flows, dancehall toasts and ice-cold venomous lyrics.” Read more
Key track: ‘My Family’

PVA – ‘Toner’

Who: Ninja Tune-affiliated trio follow-up their blistering debut single with collection full of no-nonsense beats and imperious ambition
What NME said: “There’s an admirable clarity of purpose to ‘Toner’ that suggests PVA are only just beginning to flex their creative muscles. When we can finally see them in full flow again, preferably somewhere loud and sweaty, it’ll be a moment to cherish.” Read more
Key track: ‘Talks’

Remi Wolf – ‘I’m Allergic To Dogs!’

Who: Californian pop newcomer conjures some of her most colourful funk moments yet
What NME said: “‘I’m Allergic To Dogs!’ is a flamboyant collage of pop that sticks together vignettes of her love life, hedonism and humdrum hindrances. At the centre is Wolf’s caramel soul vocals, which are either wrapped in harmonies, disrupted by clever samples or backed by a pseudo-glee club choir. Wolf’s stories are consequently vivid: as full of character as they are of characters.” Read more
Key track: ‘Woo!’

Shygirl – ‘ALIAS’

Who: The versatile London artist commandeers a maximalist joyride that sounds like it’s been beamed in from the cyber-rave dancefloors of 2080
What NME said: “‘ALIAS’ proves that Shygirl is in full control of her artistic vision no matter the scale. Undaunted by the prospect of not being able to bring the EP to physical life until her UK and Europe tour in May 2021, Shygirl has instead created her own alternative reality for fans to immerse themselves in.” Read more
Key track: ‘FREAK’

Tkay Maidza – ‘Last Year Was Weird, Pt 2’

Who: Immensely talented Australian rapper and singer serves up the second instalment of her ‘Last Year Was Weird’ trilogy
What NME said: “The eight-track EP displays her penchant for flitting between meaningless genres, dipping her toes into what she pleases. This may just be a mixtape, but it bodes well for the future, as if Maidza is cutting her loosies away from a major record, experimenting to see what sticks while garnering a wide audience.” Read more
Key track: ‘Don’t Call Again’

Yaeji – ‘WHAT WE DREW 우리가 그려왔던’

Who: Korean-American producer’s new mixtape expands and elevates her intricate electronic sound
What NME said: ‘WHAT WE DREW 우리가 그려왔던’ sees Yaeji’s intricate electronic sound both expanded and elevated. While she blended murmuring deep-house with minimalist hip-hop on 2017’s breakthrough ‘EP2’, this new release confounds and evades pigeon-holing at every turn.” Read more
Key track: ‘IN THE MIRROR 거울’

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