Top 20 EPs of 2018: 20-11 (Jarvix’s Big 50)

For info on the Big 50, head over here.

20. Abbigale Dawn by Abbigale Dawn

Whether she’s rocking the acoustic blues of “Nicotine Kisses” or softly crooning on the poignantly sad “Little Bird”, singer-songwriter Abbigale Dawn delivers emotionally direct performances that enhance every thoughtful detail she writes into her songs. On her self-titled EP, these songs relate to one another as a sort of collage of different moments and feelings in the wake of a relationship.

Take “Paper Boats” and “Connecticut with You”, both of which deal with loss in a similar way. These songs envision a part of oneself to be not only gone, but a great distance removed as well. In the former track, a broken heart is left out to sea with no sign of rescue, whereas in the latter, a more general “part” is taken with a loved one to the east coast. They are subtly different in tone, however.

“Paper Boats” is strictly a solo acoustic affair, emphasizing the delicacy of its namesake. Abbigale Dawn relays a great deal of uncertainty for the future in this song, and she does so in a resigned voice, observing from a detached distance. “Connecticut with You”, meanwhile, is more emotive, lingering in an immediate place of loss as heartfelt overdubs of steel guitar and a sluggish drum kit wallow in the emotions.

There is a great deal of vulnerability on Abbigale Dawn, but sometimes the album veers into the other lane, too. “Ex-Boyfriend Blues” is a classic revenge tune that brings in a bit of upbeat country twang to drive home its point. “You thought that you could wreck my life and drive your truck,” it quips in the opening verse before the sabotage begins.

The production sounds as if the EP was recorded in a home studio somewhere, as there’s a sort of homespun, DIY feel to the album that’s further reflected in the organic, unfiltered performances. While this adds to the charm of the recordings, somebody does get a little carried away with the vocal echo effects at times. Similarly, the album itself is occasionally indulgent, like when the bluesy, clarinet-colored “Saturday Rain” clocks in its seventh slow-paced minute.

These quibbles, though, are eclipsed by the most important parts of any singer-songwriter project, and those are the songs and the performances. They 100% carry the album, tugging on different emotional strings at a time to provide a nicely varied experience in its 6 tracks. Abbigale Dawn is a thoughtful creator with a penchant for poetic moments, and one can only hope that she will continue to build on her talents as her promising future comes to fruition.

Recommended track: “Connecticut with You”

19. Skysia by Skysia

Whether from Tulsa, OKC, or even Ada, it’s hard to miss the legion of slam, hardcore, and death metal bands the populate the corners of Oklahoma once one becomes aware of them. 2018 saw no shortage of impressive record releases from this often unrecognized community, and there’s plenty more bands out there that simply haven’t dropped a project yet.

Skysia’s self-titled EP is a fine example of what Tulsa’s scene has to offer. The six-track record hits hard in all the areas one would want in a modern metal record. The drums offer rapidfire kicks and punchy beats, the guitars are dark and heavy, and the growling vocals are beastly and gutteral. If one can manage to make out the lyrics, pessimistic themes await. All of this, when combined with the quality production, puts Skysia into the top tier of local metal releases to drop this year.

What further sets it apart from the crowd, however, is its especially sickening tone. Skysia’s guitar and production work meddles with its performance and effects to produce nauseating effects, usually by pulling notes in and out of tune to disorient the listener or clashing dissonant notes together. On “Overthrower” and “Serpent Bearer”, this manifests in a warped lead guitar riff that evokes a feeling of vertigo. Tracks like “Dissected Hollow”, on the other hand, are a bit subtler, with chunky chords of musical concrete mixing together ill-fitting notes. There is also some toying with the spatial mix on this track, too, with a nearly microtonal descent of what sounds to be distant room noise. These are just a few examples of how Skysia plants an undercurrent of visceral unease throughout its music, and this doesn’t even delve into the lead vocals’ orificial moistness.

If the very thought of “orificial moistness” is enough to stir a gag reflex, Skysia is probably not going to be a pleasurable listen. However, for those that seek out the grimy extremes of rock music, this album will probably scratch a lot of itches. Skysia hits all the right buttons with its ferocious self-titled outing, and it stays thoroughly engaging with a variety of different sounds and sequences appearing from start to finish. While there may be louder or more technical bands out there, Skysia offers a well-rounded yet distinct metal record that does far more with its creators’ strengths than many releases manage to do in studio. For that reason and more, Skysia is a pretty spectacular accomplishment.

Recommended track: “Serpent Bearer”

18. Hallways by Ken Pomeroy

It’s hard to think of any young artist that has stirred as much folk community buzz as Ken Pomeroy. Still in her teens, she has already shared stages with a who’s who of Oklahoma singer-songwriters. It’s no fluke, either. Pomeroy really does possess both talent and skill that bats in the same league as many of these artists. She sings with a voice tailored beyond her years, and her guitar picking is no different.

Most remarkably, though, is that she doesn’t seem content to merely coast on her performance abilities. If her first two albums are any indication, Pomeroy is far from plateauing. 2017’s Minutes to Hours is a fine debut of quaint songs that are filled out by a backing band on most tracks. Hallways, however, comes across as a more studious effort. With the learning curve of putting together a studio album in rearview, Pomeroy takes a more stripped approach on the new EP, choosing to focus more on the art of song itself.

There are minimal moments of additional production and arrangement, to be sure, that help propel the album’s dynamic range, but as a whole, Hallways stands on the quality of its songwriting and solo performance. There are some emotionally charged parts here that help the lyrics jump into the forefront, and Pomeroy’s vocals shine exceptionally in this context. She never showboats, choosing to serve the songs with only the occasional head-turning note of power. Further adding to her dynamic sense of restraint can be found in her techniques. Try listening for the way she tucks additional notes around lead melodies, choosing legato slurs at some points and opting for a more pronounced melisma at others.

Some may find songs like “Hallways” and “Living the Dream” as beyond the scope of someone so young, but to believe so discounts the impressive amount of experience that Pomeroy has already had at this age, experience many people don’t see in their entire lives. One wonders, if the album’s marketing weren’t so hinged on playing up the youthful angle, would an unfamiliar listener be able to catch the age difference at all?

Recommended track: “The Sidewalk Song”

17. Empty Daydream by Tripsitters

The opening track to Empty Daydream starts with sounds of a public beach before the breezy indie rock music softly enters. While setting the tone for what is a pretty relaxed EP, it also provides the right context for some of the band’s instrumental choices to sound familiar when they otherwise probably wouldn’t.

Immediately as the band opens with “Who Is Real” for instance, there is a highly distorted guitar plunk that recurs in a hazy 20-second musical on-ramp. In context, however, the haze replicates a fuzzy ocean horizon coming into focus on a bright day, and the guitar mimics the beachiest of sounds, steel drums. As the song comes into full stride, slide guitar is sparingly used to echo the sounds of a tropical pedal steel guitar.

Make no mistake, though. This isn’t a slow-paced dreampop record. Tripsitters provides upbeat grooves that are more likely to get a crowd jumping than swaying in a live venue. Empty Daydream does borrow a lot of ideas from dreampop and similar indie subgenres, though, but to create something different. As a result, Tripsitters is one of the fresher-sounding indie rock acts to come ashore in the Norman scene in some time.

The closest the band comes to pushing any sort of boundaries is probably with “Words On Paper”, which has a number of fun moments, from the extended opening squeal to the pointed glockenspiel chimes. It shows that there might be some slightly more experimental notes on the horizon for Tripsitters, but for now, the group seems perfectly content to rest easy in the comforts of traditional song structure and shimmering pop production.

Music fans looking for something warm on a cool day or vice versa need look no further than this album. Empty Daydream is full of smooth, uplifting songs helmed by dreamy male lead vocals and supported by sunny guitars that shine long after the sun has gone down.

Recommended track: “Crush”

16. Crobone by Crobone

If epic, melodic hard rock/metal is Crobone’s calling card, then the OKC band’s self-titled debut is one hell of a portfolio. Every page turn is a different punch of fantasy and vinegar, and each is delivered with such raw ecstasy that it will have fans saying, “Thank you. May I have another?”

Chunky electric guitars dip in and out of stratospheric riffage as rumbling drums and rattling cymbals charge alongside. Lead vocals range from shouted spurts of heathen vigor to highflying rock-god melodies. All of this is performed impeccably, and the sheer energy that is captured on record here is electrifying.

All of this firepower serves to represent and convey Crobone’s artistic muses, which tend toward the dark, the mythic, the ancient, and the supernatural. From reanimated skeletons to familial witchcraft, the band finds creative ways to tell stories that sound as if they were passed down through the ages.

Crobone isn’t exactly doing anything new here, but instead is doing exactly what the project set out to do and executing it flawlessly. If there’s anything worth possibly reconsidering, it’s the production. While the recording quality is really quite good, it doesn’t do much to boost the incredible performances it captures. As such, the album plays more as a representation of the raw, live energy one would encounter at a show rather than a display of the full realized potential of these six songs. In other words, Crobone hits hard, but it doesn’t take advantage of the studio process, which could help it hit even harder.

Regardless, Crobone’s debut strikes like lightning in a bottle. Whether it’s the setting of an ill-fated ship or a maze of catacombs, the rock band provides the ideal soundtrack for dark and epic fantasy. Musical phantasmagoria in OKC hasn’t sounded this delicious since probably the height of Rainbows Are Free. This EP bleeds rock and roll to the bone, and it’s a must-try for hard rock fans everywhere.

Recommended track: “Thunder and Steel”

15. SkyTigers by Red City Radio

For the past decade, Red City Radio has been doing Oklahoma City proud on the punk circuit, offering high-octane live shows and putting out acclaimed records with a work ethic that epitomizes the Oklahoma state motto. The band’s refreshing worldview, meanwhile, guides songwriting that stands out for its unique sense of heartfelt realism. It takes the bad with the good but never lets one get the best of the other.

The band has been on a steady path of evolving sound since its early days, and that continues to be the case with new release SkyTigers. Were this from a new band, most listeners would probably not associate it with punk at all, as it comes across as more of a general rock release that incorporates punk influences and pop influences alike. It’s enough to turn away genre purists, but Red City Radio was never one to pander to preordained conventions.

Dramatic chord progressions set the stage for big waves of rock ‘n roll momentum and even bigger choruses. Towering guitar riffs are backed by a burly rhythm section, and at the helm are the band’s trademark grizzled lead vocals. All of this builds up through jam after jam, climbing through bright performances and bittersweet lyrics until the album reaches its final track. Here, the sense of hope that has been smuggled through the preceding songs at last breaks through in an uplifting six-minute ode to happiness and unity.

Red City Radio’s power pop side comes out in extravagance on this last track, which is also the album’s namesake. “SkyTigers” is as fiercely optimistic as its title implies, with the album’s bold backing choral arrangements hitting a sky-high watermark alongside equally passionate guitars and unshakable chords. It goes all out, pulling so many strings to convey its enduring faith in human potential that even an extended speech sample from Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator is laid across the top of the song’s second half.

Taken out of context, “SkyTigers” might come across as wishful thinking or naivete. The opening lines, though, crush that notion out of the gate, proclaiming, “Hammer on my six-string like a loser / Callin’ what I do art like it’s the future / And I know that it’s nothin’ that I can rely on / But at least I’m happy, and hey, that’s somethin’.” It’s a starting point that reminds the listener that Red City Radio is coming from an especially grounded place, something the past four songs have spent much energy establishing. For the band to not sound the least bit defeatist after cuts like “I’ll Still Be Around” is significant, but for “SkyTigers” to then soar as lavishly as it does is enough to cause cynics to do a double take. Red City Radio is as enthusiastic as ever on SkyTigers, and that’s ultimately what elevates it from a well-made album to a can’t-miss one.

Recommended track: “SkyTigers”

14. Diva Diaries by Ciara Brooke

A common piece of everyday wisdom says to never judge a book by its cover, and that would seem especially obvious in the case of a personal journal. Nonetheless, Ciara Brooke’s Diva Diaries runs the risk of being written off by some as shallow based purely on its pretty pop music exterior and self-professed “girly girl” interests. Judge not, though. Brooke’s new EP not only contains incredibly insightful messages of identity and social dynamics, but it also does so while reclaiming language that has become negatively, wrongfully loaded.

Diva Diaries comes in a classy, colorful palette of piano, electronic drums, bubbly string sounds, synth tones, and the occasional electric guitar. This core sound is applied to styles as varied as the modern doo-wop of the title track to the fanciful, rock-hued “Dystopian Daydream”, the latter of which sounds straight out of the end credits of a YA novel’s Hollywood film adaptation. All of this music comes complete with possibly the best pop vocals of the year from Ciara Brooke. While this would be impressive enough in itself, she goes the extra mile by pulling triple duty as songwriter, instrumentalist, and record producer.

The challenges of pop diva preconceptions don’t stop there. On “Finer Things”, Ciara Brooke asks a rhetorical question: “I enjoy the finer things / Is that such a bad thing?” While there’s probably a lot of ways this can be misconstrued, in the context of Diva Diaries, it combats the notion that treating oneself with material things must always equate to materialism. By definition, though, it doesn’t, and that’s a reminder that’s as relevant now as it ever has been. Brooke goes on to point out in the song that her diva tendencies are not borne out of need, but of preference, and that’s a bullseye of a difference, subtle as it may be.

Similarly, Ciara Brooke’s EP as a whole is an empowering takedown of cultural shorthand, where people–especially women–are frequently shamed and/or invalidated for simply having a strong sense of self-worth. It turns the whole notion on its head by showing that it’s often the people who throw around the term “shallow” that are the shallow ones. There are lyrical footnotes all over Diva Diaries that set the record straight.

The EP’s closer is a showstopper called “Messy Parts”, which reminds that no matter how unlike people can be in personality, lifestyle, and so forth, everyone is connected by the pain, the fear, and the scars of simply being human in this world, even divas. At this point, the album title comes into clearer focus. Diva Diaries is not merely a fun look into the exploits of a diva’s life. Rather, it reveals the honestly written pages behind the facade of what most people see but rarely get to know.

Ciara Brooke says more in six pop songs than many full-length albums even come close to touching, and how she says it is even more noteworthy. She validates some listeners while enlightening others, and she does it all in the same breath without losing any of her musical charm. Diva Diaries is as smart and insightful as it is fun and lively, and it’s one that will keep pop music fans–and maybe even others–coming back for more.

Recommended track: “Bother Me”

13. Regardless EP by Jacobi Ryan

Those even marginally aware of Oklahoma City’s hip-hop scene will probably know the name Fresh, which has been Jacobi Ryan’s emcee moniker for years. To the unacquainted, suffice it to say that Fresh is a big deal around here, having dropped plenty of singles, features, and music videos while playing podcast host and jumping on hip-hop lineups constantly. His charisma, talent, and hard work has propelled him to the top of the pack, and yet he sits on unreleased material and lets his particularity keep projects on the shelf.

On Regardless EP, there’s an extended sound bite at the end of “Little Bit” that Internet culture fiends might recognize. It’s the post-game interview with high school football player Apollos Hester that went viral for his inspirational, near cinematic enthusiasm in answering a simple question. It struck such a chord with Youtubers that it was even turned into a song by the “Autotune the News” guys.

The general idea of the impromptu speech is that one can be down in the halftimes of life, but continuing to believe in oneself is a powerful energy that can make success a reality, “regardless of the situation, regardless of the scoreboard.” This clip doesn’t just explain the name of Jacobi Ryan’s new EP. It informs a lot of where he comes from on many of his verses, like the lines “All these years I been grindin’ ’bout to be so worth it” on “In the Sky” and “Everybody that’s last ain’t last” on “Clap Ain’t Glad”. The latter even proves itself in the context of this very list, where Ryan’s debut EP is quite possibly the last OKC hip-hop release of the year–it releases this Friday, Dec. 28th–but it’s far from last when it comes to reviewing the quality of albums at the end of the year.

Inspiring album concept aside, Regardless EP offers some of the smoothest jams of 2018 alongside some of the tightest bars of 2018. Vinyl crackles populate the spaces between saxophone lines, jazz piano embellishments, funky lounge synths, and the occasional swingtime beat. Ryan’s slick rhymes and tight flow, meanwhile, are of the high quality one has come to expect from the emcee, which is to say it’s immaculate. Anyone on the hunt for positive hip-hop–or great music of any genre, to be honest–would be doing themselves a favor to catch Jacobi Ryan’s much awaited debut.

Recommended track: “Clap Ain’t Glad”

12. Overnight by When the Clock Strikes

Pop punk doesn’t get much better than When the Clock Strikes. The Tulsa band’s music pumps a rush of pure adrenaline through speakers and headphones alike, with tight, upbeat performances across the board. The electric guitar work is fast and vivid, the bass tones are delicious and gravelly, the drums don’t miss a beat as they trailblaze through quick tempos, and the spot-on punk vocals ride the line perfectly between dramatic and happy-go-lucky.

On Overnight, the band rocks some of its most serious material to date, but that doesn’t mean it foregoes the fun. Opening track “Ducks” is a great example of this. Set to a catchy guitar riff, the song has an absolute heyday with a metaphor that laments the difficulty of maintaining control of life’s responsibilities. “I can’t get my ducks in a row,” the lyrics state. “They just spread their wings and peck at me when I get too close.” A later line comedically asks, “Is there egg on my face? / Or is it something else?”

Other songs also dip into metaphor but play it more tonally straight. “Moonlight” and “Night Terrors” both use nocturnal references to convey personal darkness, and “Plate Tectonics” gets a lot of mileage out of comparing the inevitability of disruption in life with naturally occurring geological changes.

“Plate Tectonics” is the closer, and it does what many perceive to be a misdeed of rock music. It pulls out the acoustic guitar, as if to show that the band can be emotionally deep. When the Clock Strikes, however, earns this moment where a lot of bands don’t. It’s not a forced style because the EP has nothing to prove at this point. Rather, the style is genuinely an artistic choice, one that makes space for the song’s emotions to breathe for a change. When the final, poetic line is delivered with such forlorn acceptance, it hits directly in the feels.

Overnight deals with some real issues, diving into the complex feelings that bridge adolescence and maturity. The pop punk energy meanwhile heightens all of these feelings, conveying both frivolity and angst in a way that only this genre can. When the Clock Strikes is a band at the top of its game, and it does a spectacular job capturing that–and so much more–in Overnight.

Recommended track: “Ducks”

11. Country Folk by Brad Fielder

Brad Fielder has been crusading against the grain of modern music trends for quite a while now. His signature brand of lo-fi, blue-collar folk is so rooted in its own early roots that it’s old-fashioned even for the old-fashioned. Between his solo field recording style and his twangy bellow, his songs can be too rough around the edges for new school listeners.

What if Fielder were to go into a studio and lay down some clean tracks with a full band?

Country Folk is the new 4-track EP that answers that question. It’s a mostly light-hearted record about country folks whose characterizations are relayed through classic sounds of both country and folk styles of music (get it?). Fiddles, steel pedal, mandolin, and honky-tonk piano all make striking appearances with solid musicianship all around. The studio quality recordings are a welcome change of pace for Fielder, too, as they never get in the way of the arrangements and instrumentation, instead serving to capture every performance in its best light.

If there’s any concern that this might affect Fielder’s trademark quirk and charm, it doesn’t. His voice and songwriting remain so distinct that the listener ends up getting the best of both worlds. This rings true on every song here, whether it’s in the awfully witty and occasionally off-color “Don’t Tell Me” or the somber obituary of an entire town in “Enid, Oklahoma”, which describes the town as “possibly the worst place on this earth” and doesn’t play it for laughs.

The last track is nothing short of a genuine hoot, and it comes with a tuba to boot. “Farmer’s Dementia Blues” is probably not the song that Fielder put the most energy into, but sometimes songs come from such a lightning strike of a good idea that they practically write themselves. The arrangement makes the most of it, with fiddle and mandolin solos breaking up the song’s central and only refrain, albeit a refrain that swaps out details with each iteration. The icing on the cake is the backing chorus, which comes straight out of the gospel family bands of yesteryear.

In a post Yodeling Kid world, there seems to be a resurge of interest in classic country music, and many wrongly assume it’s strictly a thing of the past. However, one need not look any further than artists like Brad Fielder to see that there are troubadours in deep pockets of the American landscape that are still carrying the torch. The songs of Country Folk are colorful, wise, and unforgettable, and even at a brief 17 minutes, the album makes a strong case for its style of music without diluting it for the sake of mass appeal.

Recommended track: “Farmer’s Dimentia Blues”

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