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Year-End Lists

The Best EPs Of 2023

Our favorite short players of the year, including Kelsea Ballerini, Maren Morris, Aphex Twin and Summer Walker
best EPs of 2023

The EP, or extended play, has always occupied a strange little niche in the music industry – not quite an album, but more substantial than a single. These days, major labels often use them to ensure their artists are constantly in the public eye, with a frequent tactic being multiple separately released EPs later assembled into a full album. Other artists utilize EPs to make complete artistic statements in a more compact package, tease a new direction, team up with a collaborator or find a home for a few good songs that just didn’t fit on the last record. Here are our favorite releases in the format from 2023.

25. d4vd – Petals to Thorns

Houston-based teenager David “d4vd” Burke had a successful esports career before he even made music. In fact, he started recording original songs to soundtrack his Fortnite montages, just so YouTube wouldn’t take down his videos for using copyright-protected music. His brooding indie pop sound struck a chord on TikTok, and d4vd’s debut EP for Darkroom/Interscope features two songs (“Romantic Homicide” and “Here With Me”) which each have racked up more than a billion streams.

24. Wynne – Some Like It Hot 

Maybe the backlash to Iggy Azalea’s success is still lingering, but if the world is ready for another blonde hip-hop diva, Portland, Ore.-based Sina Wynne Holwerda is white girl rap’s best hope right now. Wynne attacks trap beats with snarky punchlines for most of her Some Like It Hot EP, but on “What Would Comb Do?,” she sounds right at home on the kind of soul loop beat you’d hear on a Westside Gunn album.

23. Bishop Briggs – When Everything Went Dark 

Back in 2016, Briggs was an eagerly anticipated “next big thing” for Island Records, with a song in a car commercial and an opening slot on a Coldplay tour before anybody had any idea who the London-born singer was. Briggs never quite made it big with her first two albums, but after jumping to Arista Records, she’s released an EP of songs that feel like a cathartic new beginning. “Can’t write the songs I used to,” she sings on “Baggage.” “I cut some ties, I tried to, but there’s wounds that I can’t leave behind.”

22. Ringo Starr – Rewind Forward 

Since 2021, Starr has released four EPs recorded in his home studio, evincing at least some of the same offhanded charm which made him a solo star in the 1970s. The latest in the series, Rewind Forward, even features the new Paul McCartney composition “Feel the Sunshine,” a bright and chipper contrast to the “last Beatles song” released a few weeks later, “Now and Then.”

21. Boygenius – The Rest 

Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus first joined forces as boygenius for a self-titled EP in 2018, followed by this year’s massively successful full-length The Record. In October, the indie supergroup took a victory lap with The Rest, collecting four songs left off the album. The delicate “Voyager” was co-written by Bright Eyes frontman Conor Oberst, who previously collaborated with Bridgers as Better Oblivion Community Center in 2019.

20. Rema – Ravage 

Afrobeats has become so popular worldwide that Billboard began publishing a new chart, U.S. Afrobeats Songs, last year to track hits from the African diaspora. For 58 weeks, the No. 1 song on it has been a remix of Nigerian singer Rema’s “Calm Down” featuring Selena Gomez. Rema’s first five new songs since the success of “Calm Down” have a similar mix of luxurious grooves and lilting melodies, and “Trouble Maker” and “DND” deserve to be hits with or without assistance from an American pop star.

19. Zach Bryan – Boys of Faith 

Bryan fans were vocally disappointed when the Oklahoma-based singer/songwriter released the tracklist for his self-titled album over the summer and “Deep Satin,” a fan favorite he’s been performing live since 2022, wasn’t on it. Weeks later, the prolific Bryan chased the album with an EP featuring “Deep Satin” as well as a collaboration with one of his biggest influences, Bon Iver.

18. Illiterate Light – Aloe 

The relationship implied by the titles of Virgina duo Illiterate Light’s two 2023 releases is that the four-song Aloe EP is a soothing balm compared to the harrowing emotional journey of their second album Sunburned. That’s probably just a humorous exaggeration, but the hard rocking “Don’t Settle Down” and the bright, catchy “Always Always” are a refreshingly playful contrast to the band’s full-length psych rock opus. 

17. Mickey Dolenz – Dolenz Sings R.E.M.

The Monkees have long been beloved by the alternative rock community, with stars such as Rivers Cuomo and Noel Gallagher writing songs for the band’s late period reunion albums. This year, the last surviving Monkee saluted one of alt-rock’s greatest bands with this EP of covers. Instead of just sticking to R.E.M.’s hitmaking peak, Dolenz selected songs like a true fan, spanning nearly their entire career from 1983’s “Radio Free Europe” to 2004’s “Leaving New York.”

16. Chris Walla – 2002 

In October, former Death Cab for Cutie guitarist and producer Chris Walla decided to unearth his earliest solo work. The hypnotic extended metaphor “When I Was a Radio” and two crisp power pop songs were recorded in 2002, when he was working on the band’s mainstream breakthrough, Transatlanticism. “Imposter syndrome is a rat gnawing at your wires and when they short circuit your judgment, you do things like, for example, sit on pretty respectable and finished work for, say, 20 or so years,” Walla wrote on Bandcamp when releasing the 2002

15. Ice Spice – Like..? 

These days, artists often add a few songs to an EP to expand it into an album. Ice Spice tends to make bite-sized two-minute songs though, so when the Bronx rapper followed her January EP with a deluxe edition in July, Like…? was still an EP with a running time of just 22 minutes. Ice Spice and producer RiotUSA have struck gold with their subdued, girly take on Brooklyn drill, but songs like “Deli” provide a glimpse of her potential to make anthems when she raps above a whisper.

14. Kaliii – Fck Girl Szn 

Roswell, Ga., rapper Kaliii blew up in 2023 with “Area Codes,” a minimal banger that interpolates Ludacris’s 2001 hit of the same name. Returning to the studio with some of Atlanta’s best producers, such as London On Da Track and Honorable C.N.O.T.E., Kaliii delivers four impressive songs on Fck Girl Szn which suggest she’s not going to be just a one-hit wonder.

13. Baby Tate – Sexploration: The Musical

The versatile Baby Tate has moved fluidly between hip-hop and R&B over the last few years on a series of albums and EPs. On her latest EP, she sticks to singing but takes a bit of a detour into musical theater, with its five songs (and music videos) running together as a narrative.

12. Curren$y & Jermaine Dupri – For Motivational Use Only, Vol. 1

In 2021, New Orleans stoner rap veteran Curren$y released a song called “Jermaine Dupri” which saluted the Atlanta hip-hop mogul. Two years later, they linked up to make music together, and the fusion of Dupri’s flashy So So Def sound and Curren$y’s laid back flow feels surprisingly natural.

11. Addison Rae – AR 

Addison Rae amassed more than 80 million followers on TikTok, mostly by dancing to other people’s music, but Atlantic Records couldn’t resist signing the influencer and trying to turn her into a pop star. Rae’s debut single “Obsessed” missed the charts in 2021, and she then shelved her debut EP. After the songs leaked and started to gain a cult following, Rae relented and released the EP, which features collaborations with Charli XCX and Swedish hitmaker Rami Yacoub.

10. Ryerson Ehrens – The Skies Within 

Will Ryerson (Other Colors, Chiffon) and Jon Ehrens (Repelican, Dungeonesse) met in the Baltimore indie rock scene, and remained friends and collaborators after relocating to Montana and Vermont, respectively. Their first EP as a duo is a soft rock gem – smoother than anything either songwriter has made before but teeming with comforting tunes and pillowy harmonies.

9. Summer Walker – Clear 2: Soft Life

Walker has made two of the biggest R&B albums of the last five years, but this year, she released a sequel to her 2019 EP Clear, saying that the series represents her “favorite type of sound,” in contrast to “what I got to make for the radio.” Clear 2: Soft Life features guest spots by J. Cole and Childish Gambino, but is far mellower than Still Over it thanks to eschewing recognizable samples in favor of excursions into neo-soul and spoken word.

8. Tori Kelly – Tori

A former American Idol hopeful with a big, soulful voice, Kelly has won two Grammys for her gospel work, but has never scored a major hit with her secular pop. Her latest EP is one of her most impressive releases to date, updating Y2K-era pop and R&B with vital, modern sounds. Five days before the EP’s release in July, Kelly had a health scare and was hospitalized with blood clots in her legs and lungs. Thankfully, she seems to have recovered, and was able to celebrate the release date from a hospital bed.

7. Aphex Twin – Blackbox Life Recorder 21f / in a room 7 F760

Richard D. James has made some of the most acclaimed electronic albums of all time, but he’s only released EPs in the last two decades except 2014’s Syro. Aphex Twin’s latest breakbeat-heavy release seems to combine as many different drum sounds as possible into one brief 14-minute record, with a syncopated cowbell pattern livening up “in a room 7 F760.”

6. Ted Leo – Heaven’s Off

New Jersey punk poet Ted Leo has gone back to the lo-fi roots of his early solo work with a series of EPs released exclusively on Bandcamp, including two in 2023. Heaven’s Off, released in April, is a delightful grab bag of new and old ideas, including a song co-written with Aimee Mann, and a cover of the Scottish power pop band the Headboys’ 1979 single “The Shape of Things To Come.” 

5. NewJeans – Get Up

K-pop wears its American influences on its sleeve, but the biggest Korean groups often seem to be stuck on the vibe of old Britney Spears and Black Eyed Peas records. The girl group NewJeans has a more exciting and omnivorous sound that incorporates everything from U.K. garage to Baltimore club music. Their second project, Get Up, became the only EP to hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in 2023.

4. Terrace Martin & James Fauntleroy – Nova

Martin is a West Coast jazz and rap veteran who has made music with everyone from Kendrick Lamar and Snoop Dogg to Herbie Hancock. He enjoyed an incredibly prolific run in 2023, releasing collaborative albums with Alex Isley, Gallant, Calvin Keys and his jazz supergroup Dinner Party. On the Nova EP, Martin teams up with another musical talent who’s mostly known to people who read liner notes, songwriter James Fauntleroy, for six tracks of bedroom soul with a cameo by pianist Robert Glasper. 

3. Dawn Richard – The Architect

After launching her career with Danity Kane and Dirty Money, Richard has become one of the most exciting artists at the intersection of R&B and electronic music, taking her sound to new places on every album. The Architect is an enticing three-song preview of where she’s headed next, with “Babe Ruth” combining thumping house beats with art rock guitars.

2. Maren Morris – The Bridge

The Chicks risked their careers to criticize President George W. Bush two decades ago, and these days Morris is one of country’s biggest left-leaning stars who doesn’t hold her tongue about conservative contemporaries such as Jason Aldean. This year, she seemed to imply she’s just about fed up and ready to leave country music, or at least Nashville’s regressive politics, behind on two pointed new songs. “I’m takin’ an axe to the tree / The rot at the roots is the root of the problem / But you wanna blame it on me,” she sang on “The Tree.”

1. Kelsea Ballerini – Rolling Up the Welcome Mat 

This Ballerini EP in many ways got a bigger promotional push than any of her four full-length albums. Every song on Rolling Up the Welcome Mat had a video, released together as a Beyonce-style “visual album” short film, and Ballerini performed for the first time on both Saturday Night Live and the MTV Video Music Awards. Ballerini and fellow country singer Morgan Evans announced their divorce in 2022, and Rolling Up is a brief but devastating glimpse at that raw moment just after the Band-Aid has been ripped off and a troubled marriage has ended.