BEST OF 2018- PART 9: TOP 25 EPs OF 2018

So here we are in December- what does that mean? End of year lists, of course. Over the last few years here, around Decembertime, we as a site collate our favourite EPs, albums, songs and music videos of the year, videos and music that have impacted us throughout said particular year. And while I was intentionally meaning to have a best of Jan-June EP list and a best of July-Dec EP list, the busyness of life intervened, and thus here we are now, unveiling a best of 2018 list in terms of EPs, just one list. And so if this year was any indication, what I said at the end of 2017 of how 2017 was the year of the EP, let me just precursor this- that statement is only partly true. Because 2018 was more of an EP year than 2017 ever was. And because of this, I’ve compiled my top 25 EPs of 2018 thus far, alongside 10 honourable mentions, that have impacted my life thus far this year. And many, if not all these EPs, are emotive and powerful, some even being some of my favourites from that particular artist throughout their whole career up until now. Yes, I’m dead serious. And so without further ado, here below are 25 EPs (and 10 honourable mentions) that have shaped our own lives within the last 12 months. Let us know in the comments about your own favourite EPs. Til then, have a great week!

Tenth Avenue North- The Things We’ve Been Afraid to Say

Songs like these on The Things We’ve Been Afraid to Say don’t come every so often, and when they do, we ought to sit up and take notice. For a band to discuss the topics they have, and for it be with such grace, allows everyone who hears it to champion them as well, and to move alongside the band and welcome in a new era, where we aren’t afraid to unveil things about ourselves that we consider ugly, different, dare I say unlovable! The topics discussed on this EP are many. ‘Covenant’ showcases the theme of being attracted to people that aren’t our spouses, while the burden and the hassle of secrets, and our desire to want to be rid of them, is unveiled through ‘Secrets (Light Shine In)’. Then there’s the struggle with pornography addiction (‘Counterfeits’), the ability to love and not pass any kind of judgement in an age where everyone seems to be political and divides and cuts off relationships based upon people’s political beliefs and hidden agendas (‘Love Anyway’), and the ever so delicate topic of sexual abuse (‘I’m Listening’) and the fear felt by many affected when coming to the public with their own stories. Especially in such a movement in today as it is with #MeToo; such a topic like sexual abuse is told with such poignancy and dignity in ‘I’m Listening’, a song that champions us to listen over speaking and even passing judgement upon victims themselves. Even the song ‘Afraid’ (originally on Followers) is present on this EP, and I reckon for the topic of the song to be us not wanting to be afraid, in general; the song slots right at home in this 6-track list. 

Tori Kelly- Hiding Place

Tori Kelly took the world by storm with her pop album Unbreakable Smile in 2015 and now three years later, I guarantee she will gain many more fans with her gospel album Hiding Place. A challenging project, and equally confronting and comforting, Kirk Franklin has outdone himself as a songwriter and producer here, in a way that isn’t that preachy, but still coming from a place of love, and a yearning to understand God more. And as a singer, Tori Kelly completely nails each of the 8 songs, and I am sure that even if she goes back to mainstream, her third album will definitely sound a whole lot more ‘God-inspired’ or more ‘faith-based’ than her first, simply because she has grown as a Christian and as a singer and as a songwriter in leaps and bounds. With Hiding Place basically a masterpiece, I can listen to entire duration on repeat for many times, and still not be bored! 

Branan Murphy- Branan Murphy EP

Branan Murphy’s music is different. Unique. A fusion between pop and rap. Something that you would never expect. It’s like mixing oil and water, but in this case, it works. With Branan rapping quite well in a few of the songs (particularly in “All The Wrong Things” and “Top Of The World”); Branan fuses together a number of genres to create a very unique project that we all need to stop and check out. There’s literally nothing much more that I can say about this EP- it’s a perfect score from me- so what don’t you all hop onto Spotify or iTunes or wherever you all listen to music these days, and blast out Branan’s debut EP loud for all to hear. I guarantee you, it’ll be the surprise EP of the year, and you’ll definitely love it as much as I do! 

Mack Brock- Greater Things

With Elevation Worship still going strong, and Mack Brock seemingly fitting right into the ‘solo artist set-up’, this could be a win-win situation for everyone, as Greater Things reminds us that there is something great happening soon that is waiting on the horizon for us. As Mack preps for the Heaven fall tour with Mosiac MSC and Cody Carnes, I reckon this album is sure to be in one of my top ‘favourite albums’ come the end of 2018. So, what are you guys waiting for? Listen to Greater Things, then listen some more!

Josh Wilson- Don’t Look Back EP

With honesty that is as frank as what it should be (but not necessarily the case) in the CCM industry, Josh has continued to tackle issues that a necessary for us to hear- in this case, it is for us to dream small as well as dreaming big. In tandem. To know that it is ok not to be ok, but also be encouraged that worries that we often collect for ourselves are only reserved for the day that they are for, not for us to take the worries for tomorrow and place them for today. Josh’s poetic nature in writing songs is what has drawn me to his music in the first place, and that is nothing short of being true, in his new EP offering. Though a little too short, this new collection of songs is hopefully just an appetite of what to expect from Josh in the near future when he hopefully unveils his first full-length project under Black River Christian. 

Rhett Walker Band- Rhett Walker Band EP

After 4 years, this is Rhett Walker and co. still at their best, and though it may not have been a full length album fans would’ve wanted, the EP nonetheless provides songs that’ll strike deep to the core of who we are as we wrestle the themes explored within the confines of these 6 melodies. Rhett Walker is back, rejuvenated and with a renewed purpose, and a lot of this new EP reflects this. Though a lot of this EP is heavily influenced, stylistically, through the southern rock and country genres, the messages are centrally focused on Christ and the Christian life, however messy it could be. 

Needtobreathe- Nile City Sessions EP

A great collection to tie us over until their new full length album (hopefully it’s coming very soon??), what is good about NEEDTOBREATHE is the fact that they are able to be musically versatile. Maybe this EP is a precursor of what we could expect from them musically in their future full-length project? Who knows. Nevertheless, on the heels of HARDLOVE and HARD CUTS, this new offering is showing us a side of NEEDTOBREATHE that hasn’t necessarily been explored, till now. Maybe a new full length album in 2019? Till then, let us enjoy songs like the title track, ‘Bullets’ and ‘Darlin’, songs that challenge us to look at our own lives and see what we may need to change. 

Jason Gray- Kipper Gray Sessions

The Kipper Gray Sessions, in all its heartfelt moments of clarity, direction, emotion and comfort, becomes an EP of 5 tracks, two of which are seemingly fit and primed for radio (‘Mountain’, ‘Becoming’), all of which embody themes of community, individuality, alongside embracing the journey instead of longing for the end point at a quicker time frame, to name a few. Jason himself brings to us musical arrangements that further asserts his presence as an underrated artist in today’s Christian music society. Nevertheless, Jason is perhaps one of the greatest lyricists in modern CCM, and much of this new EP is evidence of this bold claim. Even though Jason is still not necessarily the most recognised or even the most popular artist within the ranks of CCM currently (artists like Chris Tomlin, Natalie Grant, Francesca Battistelli and Matthew West receive much more radio airplay than Jason), Jason nevertheless forges on, as a songwriter whose songs have become the cornerstone of change in many people’s lives around the world, inclusive of mine. 

Ryan Stevenson- No Matter What

No Matter What by Ryan Stevenson isn’t perfect, as there are a couple of tracks that are a bit misplaced, either lyrically or musically (I’m looking at you “Single Wide Dreamin’” and “Welcome To Bonanza”!), and the album on the whole is too short. But I reckon it’s great that the theme of God always being with us is the undercurrent of almost every track here. Though quickly with multiple listens, the above nit-picks become only that- nit-picks, as this release becomes more and more enjoyable with every listen, and Ryan does just enough for me to be intrigued by what may release in the future. So should you check out this ‘EP’, considering how short it is and the few out-of-place tracks? Yep, you still should, as we’re all different people. You may love No Matter What or hate it, but one thing’s for sure, you’ll be hearing more of Ryan Stevenson in the near future as he builds upon the platform that he’s laid the solid groundwork to here.

Cimorelli- Here’s to Us

Their new EP Here’s To Us, featuring both originally written songs and covers, while it doesn’t say that much explicitly about God, if at all, what I am reminded of when hearing these songs is that the love humans have for each other in a romantic sense, is only a glimpse into what God feels for His children, what He feels for the creation and the love He has for each of us.  And so yes, this new EP has shed much light upon the understanding of how God’s love for each of us is unwavering and unending. As we’re made in God’s image, how we love each other is in fact how God loves us, and then some. Here’s To Us: Wedding Songs is not just for people who enjoy and love love songs, but rather, those who love music, full stop. Cimorelli are underrated, and hopefully with this EP release, alongside their most recent EP I Love You Or Whatever, and their increased youtube presence throughout the last year or so; we can see the journey of how a little youtube cover band can be transformed into a band that is influencing many young teenagers and young adults around the world today. 

Chris August- Seasons

Releasing in June, and being the most surprising EP/album release of the year thus far, Chris’s latest effort is one to cherish, remember, savour and highlight as the songs on Seasons take on a whole different meaning when they’re placed against the backdrop of winter for the Southern Hemisphere and summer for the Northern Hemisphere. With Chris’s unique musical style that sets him apart from other CCM artists like Josh Wilson, Brandon Heath or Matthew West; Chris continues to wow fans and critics alike with his whimsical fun atmosphere, his serious moments of heart and hope, as well as songs that are just plain enjoyable and fun, with this album being no different. From the title track to songs like “Delivery”, “Worry”, “Nothing’s Beyond Broken” and “Moonlight”; this is a perfect gift for anyone who loves soul-pop, and enjoys music by similar style artists like Unspoken, Dara Maclean, Shawn McDonald or Jimmy Needham. 

Dan Bremnes- Wherever I Go EP

Dan Bremnes on a new label, and with a new EP a few years later. No seriously, check out his music, especially the songs ‘Beautiful’ and ‘Where the Light Is’ of a few years ago, and then hear these new songs that are from an album that is a unique and different, though still very valid, chapter that the Lord has continued to place Dan upon. While the songs are on a holistic view much more universal in nature and message (except for the last song that is very much gospel in song!), that doesn’t mean that the Lord doesn’t use it any less. Dan continues to be faithful to his God and family, and this EP is a testament to that. Dan continues to impress, and is a must listen if you love acoustic-folk-CCM, Canadian artists, or both. 

LEDGER- LEDGER EP

Jen Ledger, drummer for Skillet for the last 10 years or so, decided to branch out this year, and release something of her own- an EP, simply titled LEDGER that released last month. And while it can be a worrying sign, in that many people who often release solo albums as side projects (when they are still in the band) can in fact and often do split from said band and go out on their own to varying degrees of success; what Jen has stated from the beginning is of her non-intention of leaving Skillet. So…we can know and rest assured that this LEDGER career is a side thing, and who knows, someone can have 2 budding careers going at once, right? Skillet, alongside other chart-topping artists like needtobreathe and Switchfoot, even RED, Jars of Clay, Third Day and Fireflight; have anchored the Christian rock music industry for quite some time, and with Jen’s enthusiastic drumming over the years, she has also been a great compliment in her clean and crisp vocals as compared to John Cooper’s raspy texture of his voice, and his trademark Mark Stuart-esque style of singing (often losing his voice at times because of his screaming in other moments in other tracks on albums!). Fans of the band have, I’m sure, at one point or another, wanted Jen to delve into singing lead, whether it be solo or on several Skillet songs. Now, we see Jen venture into the world of artistry with herself as the front-woman. The result? LEDGER EP, a 6 track EP in partnership with Atlantic Records and Hear It Loud.

Unspoken- Just Give Me Jesus EP

Just Give Me Jesus EP quietly is becoming one of my favourite EPs of the year, and if I hear the songs more times in the future, the EP could become one of my top 5 EP’s of 2018 thus far! That’s how powerful and hopeful, encouraging and poignant, the EP really is. As Chad and co. give us courage and perseverance to press on and ask the hard questions, to really allow us the space to think if we really can answer such a question honestly (whether we truly will be satisfied with Jesus and nothing else, or not); Unspoken have once again presented a winner. With the title track a very big consideration for WOW Hits 2020; this soul-pop band have shown us what a follow-up to a sophomore album, should sound like. Upbeat and enjoyable, fast paced, enthusiastic, energetic, lyrically poignant and hard-hitting, the EP is one that is very much needed now in a culture of comparison than it ever was before! 

Stars Go Dim- Better EP

‘…#Better is simple. We all want our tomorrows to be better than our todays. These songs are a glimpse at the journey that I’ve been on to make that a reality for my family and I, and I hope that after you listen that you are a little better than you were before…’ So there you have it… Better EP by Stars Go Dim…or should I rather say, by Chris Cleveland of Stars Go Dim? Or just Chris Cleveland? Nevertheless, Chris has brought to the table heart and passion, as evidenced in much of these songs. While the EP itself isn’t as long as I hoped it would be, what is released nevertheless is full of hope and honesty, emotion and encouragement as Chris and co. (is it co. or just himself?) invite us to sing along to these anthems and prayers, as this EP challenges us to shine fully and devotedly towards Christ and His plans for us. While I may have wanted Better to be an album instead of an EP, these songs presented are nevertheless poignant and powerful, albeit a little underrated and maybe even underappreciated when comparing such an EP like this to various other releases recently. 

Marc Martel- Thunderbolt and Lightning

I may not know much about Queen. But I know that Marc Martel, still a Christian, is now instead making music for believers as well as non-believers alike, as evidenced by his thoughtful interview with Andrew Greer. With Marc Martel becoming his own person musically after splitting from Downhere and recording his new solo material, My Way Vol 1 EP was a fitting and well-timed reminder of how brilliant Marc is as a singer and entertainer…but Thunderbolt And Lightning is where Marc shines the best. Forget the fact that this album is a great Marc Martel album- let’s just say that it’s a great album period. I can’t think of any flaws here, and for a cover album that’s very big of me to proclaim. So let me just say this. Well done Marc, your EP is top notch, and I can’t wait to see what’s next in the rest of 2018 and moving into 2019. Maybe I will check out the rest of Marc’s solo discography… don’t you all think that’s a genius idea? Don’t you all think you should as well if you haven’t?

Carmen Justice- Quarter Life Crisis

Carmen has come a long way from her 1GN days. While it is saddening to see the band no more, we are told that they split amicably, and that they are still best of friends. Nevertheless, here’s hoping that all these members have successful careers in the future. As for Carmen, with the release of Quarter Life Crisis so shortly after Against The Odds, we are witnessing that though a quick turnaround; this EP has been the birthing spot of various songs that are certain to be anthems of many as the months usher along, myself included in the ‘many’. Full of passion and poignancy, EDM, pop and moments of anthems, as Carmen presents one of this year’s most unique releases of 2018 thus far; Carmen’s shift musically outside the box of CCM is actually a good thing- and yet, while some listeners may start to shy away from her style at the moment; Carmen and her music still have a purpose here in this musical industry, and Quarter Life Crisis and its structural cohesiveness is evidence of this. 

Mark Lee- Unshakeable Heart

What is next for Mark Lee? I guess it would be to create more music and write more books, but I’d have to say that I don’t know. But whatever it is, Unshakable Heart is just the beginning of a new journey for Mark, and one that should be very exciting, even if it is scary. If you are a bit apprehensive to check out his solo material, given that Mark didn’t really sing that much with Third Day; that’s ok. But let me tell you that you’ll be pleasantly surprised here, as we hear an artist on fire for Jesus, and passionate for spreading the gospel through song. Sure Mac’s voice is more distinctive, but Mark’s voice is engaging and inspiring also. So, what are you waiting for? Why don’t you see if your heart is unshakable, and check out Unshakable Heart?

For All Seasons- Clarity EP

It is a reminder to always seek the Lord first in whatever we undertake, that whatever come is a direct result of our fervent and enthusiastic obedience to whatever the Lord has in our way to undertake at various circumstances in our lives. The band itself and their own influence through songs like ‘No Other’, ‘Bigger Than’ and the title track, is certain to increase in the upcoming months ahead as the release of Clarity becomes nearer. This up-and-coming band are talented, and on fire for Jesus, worshippers that give their all in whatever song they sing, be it original or worship covers. A great job well done for a group that I reckon could become the next Jesus Culture or Hillsong in a few years; Clarity that releases on Australia Day has been well worth the wait, ever since their first single on Centricity Music, ‘Higher’, released in July last year. Well done to Emily and the band for such a soul-stirring EP, one that will be much appreciated by those who are fans of modern worship music, as well as music that tends to stretch the boundaries as to what worship music should be and look like!

Karyn Williams- Blame it on the Hope

Karyn Williams’s third musical offering is a long time coming (3 years… as was the wait between the first and second albums), yet the wait is well worth it, as the diversity of Blame It On the Hope continues to assert Karyn’s relevance in a CCM industry that is continuously evolving. Artists come and go, and sometimes artists that make a big splash with a debut album sometimes fall into oblivion. So to travel through the sophomore slump with such grace and emotion, and then onto the third project with such buoyancy and hope that is presented in this new album is a feat in and of itself. From re-release ‘Enough For Me’ and the Mandisa cover ‘These Days’, to the title track and the Mac Powell duet ‘I’m Still Here’, this is an album (or is it a long EP?) worthy to be placed within my top ‘out-of-the-box’ and ‘most intriguing’ albums of 2018 so far. Kudos to Karyn for such an encouraging and emotive album, and for releasing within a week of other prominent releases, from artists like Blanca, Jason Gray, Mosaic MSC, Zach Williams, Rivers and Robots, Branan Murphy and Carrie Underwood to name a few; Karyn’s surprising release is one to savour and take notice of, as this ever-reliable pop-CCM artist, while not on a label, still is one of CCM’s most underrated voices and treasures.

Jonny Diaz- Sweetness and Sorrow EP

With Jonny Diaz still right now being underrated in the CCM industry, I reckon it is Sweetness and Sorrow that will make him be noticed by…almost everyone I guess. While “Define Me” slipped totally under the radar with no promotion; the same goes for this EP, however these 6 melodies remind us all that Jonny is back to his brilliant best. With Jonny’s newest Centricity Music album being one of my favourite EP releases this year; there’s no reason not to listen to this underrated, and maybe later on the totally not-underrated EP! Well done Jonny for creating thoughtful music. Bring on the next full-length album I say (maybe at the end of 2018 or early 2019! Maybe a Christmas project?)!

Cimorelli- I Love You Or Whatever

Cimorelli are some of the most honest, emotive, raw, hopeful, and encouraging artists that have influenced both the mainstream and Christian circles, delivering a myriad of pop and inspirational covers, alongside 5 EPs and 3 albums full of original material. These six sisters (all of which have a further 5 brothers; and are in a family of 11!) are as needed in today’s society, as role models to the young generation, as they are relevant and heartfelt, and much of their music, be it covers or original material, oozes such passion and fervour. With the band releasing a variety of cover material this year, alongside originally written songs ‘Thirst For Life’ and ‘Single on Valentine’s Day’, not to mention a few worship covers in ‘I Can Only Imagine/What a Beautiful Name’, ‘Oceans’ and ‘Reckless Love’, we are in awe of how these sisters can impact both the genres of mainstream music and CCM, at once. Their new EP, which released in July for those who pre-ordered online, and August 1st for everybody else, features more of a happier, fun, poppy sound compared to their sombre and more reflective Sad Girls Club last year, and thus, I Love You or Whatever is a reminder of how unique these sisters are, and with each album/EP release, their music style is unique and different- the girls have indeed moved from more of a country style musical undertone in Up at Night, to the worshipful Alive, the pop-reflective Sad Girls Club and now the summer-y pop goodness in I Love You Or Whatever.

Caitie Hurst- How Could I Be Silent EP

As far as debut projects go, Caitie Hurst’s How Could I Be Silent is near-flawless- it’s heartfelt, relevant, inspiring, personal and life-changing, as we remember that Jesus is the One whom we should trust with our questions, and trust with our whole lives. He has shown us the signs, come into our lives to turn on the lights of our hearts, and ensured that we are no longer wandering and lost. With plenty of melodies being highlights (can I say all 7 are my favourite tracks?), all of these songs are thoroughly compelling, moving and poignant, and I can definitely declare that Caitie will have a bright future in the coming years for sure. Caitie’s journey as a music artist is just beginning, and I for one am eager to see how she progresses over the upcoming years. 

Vertical Worship- Planetarium EP

With the vast amount of worship movements, from Bethel Music, Jesus Culture, Hillsong UNITED and Hillsong Young and Free, to Passion, Gateway Worship, Desperation Band, Fearless BND and the ever reliable Hillsong Worship; Vertical Worship from Chicago, Illinois is such a movement where each album subsequent has been better than the last, and both Bright Faith, Bold Future and Planetarium are no different. Their most heartfelt and encouraging set of albums I’ve heard from the group since their debut album in 2012; Andi Rozier, Tara Stutes and everyone else, have given us an album worthy to be placed within my top 15 favourite albums of 2018 thus far. From the first track “Open the Gates” to the Jason Ingram led “Shelter” and my favourite song, ‘Over All I Know’, Essential Worship and Provident Label Group have a worship movement that’s certain to grow and continue to increase its popularity amongst listeners in the upcoming months. Well done Vertical Worship for these 11 songs on the album, and 6 on the EP, some of the most enjoyable collection of worship tracks this year, alongside Phil Wickham’s Living Hope and Rend Collective’s Good News!

Bryan and Katie Torwalt- Praise Before My Breakthrough

Praising in the midst of our struggles, before any breakthrough in our lives, is often unfathomable and most of the time unrealistic- how can you lift your hands and sing worship to God when there’s so much pain and despair around. Yet this is the heartbeat and the main message of Bryan & Katie Torwalt’s newest EP Praise Before My Breakthrough. One of the mainstays and veterans on Jesus Culture, this husband and wife duo have wowed us before, with songs like “I See Heaven”, “Shores”, “When You Walk Into The Room”, “Mountain”, “Let There Be Light” and “King Over All The Earth” to name a few- yet it is only now that I have stepped out and intentionally listened to their music. Sure, I’ve listened to a few songs on Spotify, but Praise Before My Breakthrough is my first release of theirs that I have fully listened to, for one reason or another. And what is my assessment, after listening to this EP twice, three times, numerous times? Well, it’s pretty good, and totally wrecks you when you fully understand the concept of worshipping in the midst of trials and tribulations. Sure, we have “Blessed Be Your Name” from Matt Redman, but these songs are quite remarkable and will definitely have us entering into much healthy discussion in the coming days, weeks and months.

Honourable Mentions

  • Aaron Cole- Virginia Boy
  • Teresa Paterson- Faithful
  • The Katinas- 19
  • Ellie Holcomb- Sing: Creation Songs
  • Carrolton- Made For This EP
  • Brian Ortize- Open the Windows
  • Shawn McDonald- The Search
  • Brooke Robertson- Have My Heart EP
  • Tori Harper- Seasons
  • Ben & Noelle Kilgore- A Resting Place EP

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