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We were too busy hammering together ‘best of’ lists to put an EPs column together at the end of last year, but what better way to kick off 2016 than rounding up the best short(ish) releases we heard in November and December. (Or in other words, we haven’t received anything decent yet this year and need something to fill the site up… joking, joking!) One thing’s for certain: 2016 needs to hit the ground running to match the way 2015 bowed out…

Bonzai – Royah

Sassy, sensual, sharp and smooth, Bonzai’s adroitly produced Royah EP demands the use of headphones (and apparently the overuse of sibilance). The Indiana-born Dubliner has already worked with Mura Masa and NAO since being discovered by her Music Tech teacher, and Royah was released on the former’s Anchor Point imprint. He’s described her as “a ferocious talent… we don’t have many performers like her this side of the Atlantic. Her potential is scary and exciting.”

It’s hard to disagree with him, especially after listening to ‘Doses’, a glorious opener that teases the listener with silky synths and cement-hard snares. ‘Nikka’ is more of skulker wearing sunglasses in the shadows, while ‘Skhokho’ is a dancehall rave taking place entirely in the headphones of kid behind you on the bus. ‘Noise’ rounds things off with what initially sounds like a slow jam, but soon lives up to its name with some throbbing synth action.

Paying tribute to her peers, Bonzai says she was “definitely inspired by what Mura and NAO were doing. In their own ways they were both taking RnB to new places. I hope I can do the same but add a bit of Ireland to the mix.” She’s made one hell of a start.

Danny L Harle – Broken Flowers

A lot of people hate on PC Music for their arch, self-referential superficiality. Not me. I don’t mind a bit of conceptual artifice, nor a bit of pop by e-numbers when I’m in the mood. No, I’ve hated on PC Music because the tunes have largely been shit, and whether you’re writing pop music or sending up pop music, that is unforgivable.

So praise be to Danny L Harle, who has written PC Music’s first perfect pop song. ‘Broken Flowers’ boasts all the usual colourful, plastic production, but here the tune is actually brilliant too – it’s like something off a mid-nineties Best Dance Album in the World… Ever! compilation, brought bang up to date with a shiny new coat.

While the rest of the EP doesn’t come close to that star-bursting sugar rush, the heliumed-up posh vox of ‘Forever’ and sharply crafted arrangement of ‘Without You’ manage to come across as intriguing, even charming, rather than annoying (although admittedly the same can’t quite be said of the hyper-rave ‘Awake For Hours’ version of ‘Broken Flowers’). The jury’s still out on PC Music as far as I’m concerned, but Danny L Harle has made the best case for the defence to date.

Equals – Old Habits

We first covered Hackney future-soul duo Equals back in 2014, so it was a pleasure to finally hear a proper EP from them in November. Old Habits opens with the track that first seduced our ears, ‘Pyre’, and it’s one of four older numbers that form the bulk of the release. The James Blake meets Mary J. Blige swells of ‘Black On Gold’ are perhaps the most impressive of those, while the more recently released title track provides possibly the finest example of James Low and Ade Omotayo’s musical chemistry to date.

The other new track turns out to be a cover, with Equals taking on eighties soul superstar Sade’s ‘No Ordinary Love’. Their version is significantly more downbeat, echoing the bubbling underwater atmosphere of the original’s video as much as the track itself. However, it’s not a patch on the best of their own tracks; even the oldest of which sounds as fresh as when first released. Old habits die hard, and so, it seems, do old songs…

Jacky Winter – The Nails

Apparently Melbourne native Jacky Winter experienced a musical epiphany when someone started blasting out Wu-Tang Clan in the pub where he worked, and he immediately went out and bought an MPC as a result. Well, maybe not immediately; he probably finished his shift first. This wasn’t a drastic ‘Losing My Edge’ style switch of genres either – JW used the MPC to complement his guitar rather than replace it.

The result, as captured on his EP The Nails, is a magpie music-box of low-key grooves, garnished with a variety of samples. The guitar plays an integral part too, with wiggly loops and distortion blasts proving crucial to the sultry ‘You Gotta Give Me Something’. The howling riff of ‘Half Of it’ also works nicely, sounding like a battered cassette recording of MGMT where the spools have loosened, and the wobbly title track best justifies the press release’s invocation of Beck’s Odelay.

Jacky Winter takes his name from a common Australian bird, a sort of grey robin. According to Wikipedia, “rather than plumage playing a role in attracting the opposite sex, [a] jacky winter male uses song to do this in hope of attracting a female for courtship.” Hopefully The Nails will allow the bird’s human namesake to feather his own nest fulsomely…

Josep – Casa Club

Catalan casanova Josep presents his debonair Casa Club collection, which would ideally be listened to in a well-polished party palace boasting plenty of neon lights and outlandish cocktails, while sporting a jacket with the most outrageous lapels possible. Unfortunately, unless you’re the lead in a Brian De Palma film, that isn’t always possible. Luckily, Casa Club is open to all, twenty-four hours a day.

Casa Club caters for every part of the night; The eighties electro of ‘Dancing’ takes your coat, the kosmiche disco of ‘I Remember’ coaxes you onto the dancefloor, ‘Success!’ sees you whispering inappropriately into your partner’s ear, and the spacey ‘I’ll Take A Picture’ is there for when the ludes kick in.

While ‘We Look Good Together’ could see you ejected by any bouncer who overhears your lascivious come-ons, ‘Tonight’ makes sure you walk out with your head held high as your cab pulls up. Put simply, Casa Club is the sort of place you’d happily start a long-term tab (if only your name was down on the guestlist).

Muzi – Fire FX

Young South African maestro Muzi recently starred in a short Noisey documentary which saw him welcoming Stormzy to his homeland. His pulsating Fire FX shows he has the production chops to match the grime upstart’s lyrical ones.

Opener ‘Umzimba’ takes the diamond-sharp rhythmic thrust of South Africa’s thriving gqom scene and transposes it into a modish carnival of sounds. Bright and bassy, Muzi’s sonic battery powers a reliably uplifting machine throughout. Thus the orchestral stabs that perforate ‘Access Denied’ are sped into something akin to a grime banger produced by an amphetamised Daft Punk, while the trap rhythms of ‘Vuka’ evoke a massive mosquito that spreads nothing but good vibes.

‘Yebo’ is less insectile and more like a toad that breeds in bassbins, although closer ‘Fire’ is ironically the only track that isn’t particularly lit. Still, by this point Muzi has already razed everything to the ground anyway, and proven that South Africa is as hot as South London when it comes to electronic music nowadays.

Pure Beauty – Pure Beauty

Regular readers will know that we’re big fans of the saxophone at The Monitors, and we’re pleased to hear Pure Beauty following the fine post-punk tradition of Essential Logic, James Chance and Blurt, by spreading lashings of sax all over their eponymous debut release.

They start as they mean to go on, when ‘Back Slashing’ gets delay-laden guitar to link arms with punchy sax, before they both lead us all into a brave new dawn – the sort of dawn you normally experience after a good night’s raving (before the pills wear off). ‘Tucano’ then shifts the groove towards afrobeat, before ‘Magic City’ lopes towards the finish line with all the confidence of a marathon runner who’s built an insurmountable lead over their competitors.

While ‘Panama Hands’ doesn’t twist itself into quite such interesting shapes, it can’t stop Pure Beauty taking gold. Although we suspect this is a band you really need to see live to experience their full effect…

Rocks FOE – Legion

If 2015 was the year that the grime got back into fifth gear, then it’s good to know that MC/producers like Rocks FOE are there looking to drunkenly grab the wheel and cause an almighty pile-up. The tense string loops of ‘Law’ gets the adrenaline racing straight away, but it’s Rocks FOE’s vocal delivery that really ratchets things up. You imagine him spitting in a literal sense as he delivers his bars with a snarl, before he switches to a more self-assured stance, like he’s just sparked someone out with one punch.

The distorted bass of ‘Hold That (L)’ manages to match the vocals for raw power, although his vocal dexterity here is even more impressive if anything. Seriously, this guy really knows how to enunciate the letter ‘L’. The second half of the EP is less grime-centric, although the dark sparkles of ‘Dismay’ and moody vibes of ‘Crushed’ are still enjoyable despite not being as ear-catching.

Rocks FOE may blur the boundaries between hip-hop and grime, but both genres are much more interesting when he’s in the driving seat – and Legion puts him in pole position for 2016.

Kier Wiater Carnihan

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