Ads Top

Top 20 Kansas City Area EPs/Demos of 2021

Pictured: P.S.Y.W.A.R. Photo by Aaron Rhodes.
I'm an idiot because whenever I make a year-end list of any sort, I don't even begin to compile it until there are a handful of days left on the calendar. I think it's mostly because I think to myself, "What if someone releases something crazy on New Year's Eve that fucks up my list?" That usually doesn't happen (it did not this year) and I could always just start earlier and wait until New Year's Day to post, yet here we are. Anyway, the following list (in no specific order) compiles my 20 favorite EPs and demos by artists from Kansas City, Lawrence, and the surrounding areas in the year 2021. My list of LPs and full-length projects will be posted when I'm done with it (I have multiple Rich The Factor albums to consume). 


Click on each release's title to stream them. Bolded text in a blurb leads to another Shuttlecock article.

A'Sean & [Walt] - Seven Days (SWAN)

Five years after their first EP together, A'Sean and [Walt] again provided Kansas City one of its finest hip-hop releases of the year. Seven Days sees A'Sean flexing his melodic muscles while retaining all of his storytelling prowess. [Walt]'s production is gorgeous, evoking images of golden hour walks and late evening talks.

A'Sean & 1Bounce - A Perfect World (SWAN / For Hustlers By Hustlers)

There's a reason I put A'Sean on the cover of the second issue of Shuttlecock's print edition. Both of his 2021 EPs are solid on their own. In conjunction, they showcase his impressive level of versatility. A Perfect World, produced by hip-hop scene fixture 1Bounce, is closer to traditional hip-hop than Seven Days, but traditional does not mean ordinary.

P.S.Y.W.A.R. - Demo (Peyote Death)

I haven't done as much traveling as many of my musician pals, but I have to imagine that I-70 from Kansas City to Denver is one of the more dull and daunting drives in the continental United States. I'm thankful that the members of this middle-of-the-map hardcore punk supergroup have been willing to make the trek though, because this demo rips. Featuring two members from each city (who also play in the bands Devil's Den, Reality Complex, The Consequence, and Direct Threat), this is perhaps the meanest six-minute release of the year. Matthew Ryan is a born frontman.

Spine - Himnos Mambises (Practiced Hatred)

Released on limited edition lathe-cut vinyl and digitally as one four-and-a-half-minute track, Himnos Mambises consists of multiple new Spine songs (with more powerviolence influence than on most of their records), a cover of Negative Approach's "Ready To Fight," samples of salsa music, and audio from Cuban political demonstrations. It's really bewildering how every Spine release is somehow more vicious than the last. I'm going to chant for an encore if they don't play "Ready To Fight" at their next gig.

Rachel Cion - Wanted! (self-released)

Yes, every artist or band that was on the cover of an issue of Shuttlecock in 2021 is obviously going to be on the year-end lists. If you're not familiar yet, Rachel Cion is an Olathe-raised, Lawrence-based singer-songwriter who can craft a veritable banger in more styles than most artists even try out. Wanted! is her three-song bedroom pop/outlaw country hybrid EP, by default one of the most unique local releases of the year.

Window Seat - <3 (self-released)

Though her band Flooding has taken the local indie scene by storm in recent months, Rose Brown's most recent solo release as Window Seat should not be overlooked. The songs on <3 (I should ask her how she pronounces this title) are just as thoughtful and haunting as her past EPs, if not more so. Fingers crossed that the solo project is not abandoned in this new year.

Youth Pool - The Youth Pool (Pool Soundsystem Corporation)

Youth Pool released a series of live demos and remixes to tide fans over from 2017 to 2019, but the band finally released The Youth Pool, its second official EP (its first since 2016's Dive In), in 2021. It was clear from those demos that the band was heading in this direction, leaning into influences from the '80s "Madchester" scene (house music and all), but to hear the sound realized on these four pristine tracks was worth the wait. In addition to the sleek integration of those dance beats, guitarist/vocalist David Chavez has never sounded this confident on a record before. His vocals were buried deep in the mix on past recordings, so to hear him belting out the psychedelic (and highly remixable) lyrics on this EP added an extra layer of euphoria for longtime fans.

Valta - Demo (self-released)

Valta played its first show (Shuttlecock's outdoor July 4 gig) three days before releasing its demo and played at least one more show (though definitely no more than a handful) after that. Hopefully the group is jabbed with a metaphorical Pulp Fiction-style adrenaline shot soon because this is the best Kansas City d-beat release of the last five years.

D.Y.E. - D.Y.E. (Dirtbag Distro)

In a year where gigs were only possible for six months, playing four Kansas City punk gigs was an impressive feat. In addition to their consistent performances, D.Y.E. cranked out two cassette tapes: one full-length called Rules and this self-titled debut. The four songs on this EP are all just as short (none longer than 1:42) and snotty as you want your early '80s-style American hardcore punk to be.

Sarin Reaper - Demo (Dirtbag Distro)

I wrote extensively about this demo in my original blog post about it and the band's Shuttlecock cover story. If you've neglected to read those articles or listen to this demo yet, do yourself a favor and check out this young, misanthropic blackened d-beat band immediately.

Perfume - Charlie's Angels (Setterwind Records)

Now That's What I Call '90s Nostalgia! Jokes aside, if you dig any angsty alt-rock, space rock, or nu-metal (nu-metal haters, please go be a boring snob somewhere else) from the mid-to-late part of the decade, this is the EP for you. Vocalist/guitarist Jamie Woodard had been telling me about how Perfume was going to sound since at least mid-2019 (and likely mapping things out even before that) and I'll be damned if he and his bandmates didn't execute on that vision. All of the tones -- from amps/pedals to production to Woodard's distinctive vocal whine -- are on point and I find myself humming "Madonna" on a semi-regular basis.

Amira Wang - Titties N Tequila (self-released)

Amira Wang is still, as I first proclaimed in my 2019 Pitch profile of the Kansas City rapper, a walking, talking one-woman party. Last year brought her long-awaited sophomore EP, Titties N Tequila, nearly three full years after her 2018 debut. Though TNT doesn't venture too far from the sounds first heard on Rap Game Ragu, the quality of the music hasn't dipped in the slightest. The opening track "Payroll Flow" features Amira getting bars off on a beat built from a sped-up sample of the Luniz classic "I Got 5 On It." Songs like "Gimmie" and "FWM" extend her love affair with New Orleans bounce music, "Bout Dat Bag" is a Memphis party rap banger (fans of BlocBoy JB, NLE Choppa, and Duke Deuce should love this one), and "Big, Blvck & Fabulous" is a boisterous, sex-posi exercise in self-love. The EP ends with "F The Club Up," which, while aiming to send up any party it's played at, is also a frustrated, mournful tribute to Amira's late friend and fellow rapper Cultourzz. It might strike an unknowing listener as odd, but I have to figure that any friend of Amira's would want her to use her gift and do what she does best as she pays tribute.

Zarin Micheal - Days Before AMMA (GMF Entertainment / Fearless)

Ten months before Zarin Micheal released his album A Million Miles Away 2, fans were given notice with his Days Before AMMA EP. (I'm curious exactly how Zarin landed on this title, which I'm guessing is a reference to Travis Scott's 2014 tape Days Before Rodeo, and this cover art, which is formatted to look like The Weeknd's first three mixtapes, the first of which was released in 2011. Zarin happened to move to Scott's hometown of Houston recently and revealed to me in his Pitch profile that he once aspired to be an R&B singer. I apologize for this mostly useless and overthought aside.) The four songs here are Zarin in a sort of transitional period: half raps about the wealth and women he was striving for and confident about obtaining (the song about the women was written in 2019 or earlier, prior to his engagement), the other half emotionally vulnerable narratives involving the people he's closest to in life. If you're unfamiliar with Z and want a quick idea of where he's at before committing to the new album, this is a great listen. If you've listened before and skipped some releases, this is a good place to catch up.

Quiet Takes - San Fidel (Mags Media)

Quiet Takes is the stage name of Kansas City singer-songwriter Sarah Magill. Her bio describes her as an "introvert who makes music for feelers." Perhaps that's part of why it took me a moment to fully appreciate her two 2021 EPs -- Magill isn't too aggressive on social media and I don't believe I've received any emails from or about her (though I have learned she does maintain an email newsletter for fans rather than keeping her Facebook updated). After observing her on several other local year-end lists, I gave each EP another listen and promptly kicked myself for not spending more time with them. San Fidel is my favorite of the two (both are solid, but I may be partial due to Shy Boys' Kyle Rausch playing drums on this one). Magill's songs are simultaneously melancholy, but (mostly) optimistic, and possess an airy minimalism that allow her pensive lyrics and buoyant singing voice to shine unencumbered.

The Freak - In The Beginning (Waste Your Potential / Dirtbag Distro)

In The Beginning is a hardcore punk tape with a backstory. Jake Streiff has been attending gigs in Kansas City's DIY scene for roughly a decade and playing in bands since 2017, most notably as the vocalist of Liquid Swords and the guitarist of Prüde. This tape began circulating locally over the summer after Streiff had mailed a box containing 104 copies of it to Jame Mendenhall (Dirtbag Distro, Sarin Reaper, Foil) to distribute however they saw fit. The package had been mailed from Texas and I had been told by an acquaintance that this EP was recorded just before Streiff had skipped town for Mexico, leaving their bedroom in their shared living space covered in paint (if any of this is factually incorrect, I'm happy to edit this post with a correction). Given the context, this tape plays like a punk rocker disillusioned with and pushed into a cynical rage by the scene they had once called home. Goes the opening track: "You wanna make a fucking difference? / Think your voice fucking matters? / No one gives a shit what you have to say / Thought you were gonna change the world with a shitty punk band? / You fuckin' dumbass." The tape rages on, maintaining this same energy for four more songs. I haven't heard about Jake's whereabouts since this package's arrival. I hope wherever they are right now that they have found refuge from whatever ills were plaguing their life as this piece of music was created.


Kye Colors - WOW (Wasteland Records) 

The lone single released in advance of this Kye Colors EP, "1-800" (ft. Southside Dame), received an outpouring of love on social media (especially its dazzling music video), but despite that, WOW flew largely under the radar. It's a shame because the five-song release simultaneously contains some of the rapper-producer's grooviest and most mature tunes yet.

Khrystal. - Life Be Life'ing (self-released)

The world as we know it has been through the wringer over the last two years, but you wouldn't know it by listening to Khrystal's most recent EP (dubbed a "mini album," collecting five new songs plus a bonus track and two demos). The KCK singer-songwriter/producer/rapper sounds calm as can be -- meditative, even -- on Life Be Life'ing, dealing in gentle R&B basslines, minimal percussion, and thoughtful reflections on life and love. Press play if you need to unwind.

Brooke Winter - Keep Coming (self-released)

Brooke Winter's latest EP does justice for the R&B slow jam. Keep Coming is a set of seven sensuous songs that manage to evade the territory of bland quiet storm programming, ready to be engaged with by fans of music for grown-ups (but not the boring type). A majority of these tracks are radio- and club- ready in the best way; DJs, consider this post a flashing neon sign saying "spin this record!"


P. Morris - Five Jingles For Ads: Tiny Music From The Plop Shoppe (Bear Club Music Group)

Aside from one entry in his (incredibly fun) Pop.Morris DJ mix series in 2018, Topeka musician/producer P. Morris had released no new music between the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2020. But when the pandemic hit and he found himself back home, the flood gates opened up. Morris has released over a dozen albums, EPs, and singles over the last two years. One of my favorites among them is Five Jingles For Ads. Though the Plop Shoppe (where Morris sells homemade coffee, candles, and garments on his Bandcamp) only exists online (and briefly IRL at Shuttlecock's last Lawrence swap meet), imagine this set of micro-songs as that shop's muzak (you can even pretend in your mind that the shop is in the concourse of a diorama of an airport, which in turn is playing Brian Eno's Ambient 1 in the terminals). Also recommended for fans of the Nintendo Wii shop channel soundtrack.

Ivy Roots - Love Art Growth 2 (self-released)

There's a lot to love on Ivy Roots' Love Art Growth sequel. There's the abundance of crisp textures in its instrumentation and production, Ivy's warm, memorable voice, and the kind of neo-soul songwriting that kindly beckons the listener to a mental space far more hospitable than whatever their default is. It's regretful that Kansas City has recently lost her to the Lone Star State.

Honorable Mentions[Walt] - Walt And His Imagination, No$kope - Firing Squad, Dead Ends - Lost In Reflection, The Wild Type - Thank You, Stranger, Wadi - To Be Honest, Liam Kazar - Aquarium Drunkard Lagniappe Session, Collidescope - Deep Tape, Jooby Truth - Vengeance, Flora - Keep Calling

No comments:

Powered by Blogger.