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Top 20 Kansas City Area EPs/Demos Of 2020

Below, in no particular order, you will find my favorite EPs and demos from the Kansas City metro in the year 2020. As shitty as the year was in most respects, I'm thankful I had many of these releases to keep me company and push me to persevere to the day I can see all of these acts in concert again. As always, it's a relatively eclectic selection, so while you're hunkering down in this winter storm, maybe try one you've never heard of before! You can click each EP title for a link to listen to it. A list of my top local LPs/full-length projects will be posted in the coming weeks.

-Loss Prevention - Shoot To Kill

At the time of the first pandemic lockdowns back in March, Loss Prevention was (and from what I can tell, still is) Kansas City’s most in-demand hardcore punk band. Since the group’s start in 2019, they’ve been playing practically every other show that comes to town, giving touring acts a run for their money (if not muscling them out entirely). Following last year’s demo, the band’s vinyl debut via 11 PM Records packs four songs into six minutes and it’s all Midwest hardcore gold. Vocalist Jacob Martella’s bone-dry, razor-sharp wit is on full display and his band backs him up with lightning-fast jams that are simple enough to slam to and unique enough to keep this slab out of the dollar bin.

-Spine - L.O.V.

Spine is essentially Midwest hardcore royalty at this point. Nine years after the Running Out demo, the boys have released L.O.V., a 12-inch EP containing what are arguably their most vicious and precise recordings yet. And they make it look easy! Each song hits like a punch from a cartoon character that leans back and twists their arm around a bunch of times for maximum power.

-Cole3k - Lovesick

I can’t speak for the future, but if you listen to Cole3k right this minute, we’ll still consider you early. Laura Les, half of experimental pop’s most new hyped acts, 100 Gecs, recently gave one of Cole’s SoundCloud tracks a like, if that tells you anything about his abilities. Released in early November, the first Cole3k EP perfectly captures the inner turmoil that often accompanies young love through six glitched-out pop tunes that are as addictive as your social media feed of choice.

-Paris Williams - Cocoa

Growing up is hard. Growing up is fun. Paris Williams knows this, and he raps about it on his latest EP, Cocoa. The Kansas City-via-Muskegon rapper-producer dropped his most mature and consistent music this year without being overserious about it. Cocoa is four songs of bright palettes, pop smarts, and authentic, autobiographical truths. Keep an eye out for the next two parts of his Crybaby EP trilogy next year.

-Blvvme - Blvvme

Rivaling only Bennett Weaver in how many one-man bands he can churn out, Lance Rutledge released some of his best material in 2020. Though he’s best known for his emo and punk projects so far, I wouldn’t be surprised if Blvvme, his blackened post-doom metal project, starts to attract more attention in the future. All three tracks on this self-titled EP are heavy as bricks and contain “wait for it to hit” moments that should prove worthwhile for any metalhead that likes things slow and low.

-Oxford Remedy - For Those Who Know, Tell Me What I’m Supposed To Do

Oxford Remedy makes rock songs that sound kind of like the wave of indie music from the late aughts or early ‘10s, right before the synth overtook the guitar as the instrument of choice for bands on alternative radio. Though most of the group only just finished high school in 2020, they’re already skilled songwriters that only seem to be getting better with time, evidenced by the evolution that occurred between the two pre-EP singles and what’s on For Those Who Know. Vocalist Kate McKown’s melodic gymnastics are a thrill.

-Claire Monroe - Witchhazel

Singer-songwriter Claire Monroe tries on a few different styles of guitar music on her debut EP, Witchhazel; they all suit her well and play together nicely. The EP’s sound is rooted most firmly in indie folk acoustic picking paired with confessional lyrics (not dissimilar to what Adrienne Lenker has been up to recently). Two of its three songs see Monroe blending that style with cathartic emo strumming (“Either Way”) and heady, synth-added shoegaze (“Summer.”) It’s unclear whether she’ll return to this sound again soon -- her follow-up release was a synth track paired with a reading of French philosopher Albert Camus -- but I’m confident whatever comes next will be worth a listen regardless.

-Jorge Arana Trio - Hyena

Though these songs were likely all finished and ready to go before the pandemic hit America (it was released in mid-April), it’s fitting that the Jorge Arana Trio released some of its darkest, most dissonant music yet. Incorporating punk rock speed and no-wave abrasiveness, the trio’s “doom jazz” has never sounded this mean. I wish the virus was gone already so I could see them play these songs on a cozy winter’s evening at recordBar with their nice soundsystem, but also see them play these songs at a DIY spot, in hopes that rockers might start shoving each other.

-No$kope - I Do My Own Stunts

I Do My Own Stunts is No$kope’s best release yet for a few reasons. Simultaneously, the Kansas City-via-Chicago rapper is writing some of his best lyrics yet, selecting tough-as-nails beats, and paying tribute to some of the mixtape era projects he likely grew up on by allowing his partner-in-crime, DJ QuanChi, to run his songs back and play intros and outros at half speed. Face a blunt, throw this on in your car, and salute our hometown’s post-SoundCloud Waka Flocka.

-Window Seat - 9

Rose Brown had a busier 2020 than many local musicians. Bedroom artists had a bit of an advantage, I suppose. Brown released her first three EPs as Window Seat, the last of which, 9, features her most thoughtful songs so far, perfect for days spent alone at home, rethinking your most burdensome memories on a loop. She doesn’t have all the answers, but I’m sure she’ll whisper them to us when she figures them out. Her Bandcamp bio doesn’t call her the “string squeak queen” for nothing.

-DMT O - tRapper

Long celebrated by fellow South Kansas Citians like Southside Dame and Kye Colors, DMT O has spent the last two years releasing a series of over a dozen singles and freestyles with colorful, minimal cover art. O doesn’t possess the aggressive flows or vocal delivery you might expect from someone rapping about the gritty subject matter he often takes on, but he’s a strong enough lyricist to where he can let those lyrics speak for themselves. Listen to O’s gripping bars about grief on “I Cry,” a song featuring a prominent sample from Billie Eilish’s early online hit “Ocean Eyes.”

-Shun Ann - Welcome To Annsland

Shun Ann may be just 19, but his songs are imbued with an emotional weight well beyond his years. Though guitar beats remain very trendy in hip-hop’s mainstream right now, Ann is by no means using them as a crutch, but perhaps to pull in potential fans who will end up sticking around for his substantial storytelling skills. The Southern flavor (Ann was born in Mississippi), block party energy, and rapidfire flows on “Peon” are irresistible and land it among the best songs Kansas City had to offer this year.

-MB58 - Hella Bandz

MB58 has now released at least two projects each year since 2018, and while he spent most of 2020 promoting his full-length, Goaty Story, the EP that preceded it, Hella Bandz, is arguably the stronger of the two. After kicking things off with a traditional gritter-style banger, “Five Eight Pt. 3,” MB goes on to conquer a more experimental beat on “Perc30,” and a more of-the-moment track “Eight One Sticks,” a murky salute to his hometown that any Kansas Citian should feel obliged to shout along to. Mid$tate means business.

-Ghosty - Prodigal Sun

Nearly seven years after the band’s self-titled LP was released on High Dive Records, Kansas City indie rockers Ghosty have released a three-song EP recorded back in 2014. In addition to its core trio, Fullbloods and Shy Boys member Ross Brown lent guitar and keyboard parts to the songs, fitting in perfectly with the group’s playful and inventive pop soundscapes. The band hasn’t hinted at any sort of reunion beyond Prodigal Sun’s release, but we’re thankful enough for this surprise.

-Stik Figa & Conductor Williams - Heavens To Mergatroyd

Named for the catchphrase of an infamous Hanna-Barbera cartoon, Texas-via-Topeka rapper Stik Figa and Kansas City beatmaker Conductor Williams teamed up for one of the year’s most exceptional collab EPs; classy and clever as its pink namesake. Highlights include “Winchester Rd (RIP Lord Infamous)” -- a nod to Stik’s Tennessee upbringing -- and “KCaliens” -- which features a lengthy, hyperlocal verse from the eternally underappreciated Les Izmore. Exit, stage right!

-P. Morris - And Some

What is Goombawave? A more apt question might be, what isn’t Goombawave? Topeka-born musician, DJ, and producer P. Morris and his Bear Club crew have spent the better part of a decade crafting the sound, intuitively cutting and pasting together bits of hip-hop, R&B, pop, electronic, and traditional music from around the world. As Morris has demonstrated on his new Goombawave album and color block EP series, the sound is still evolving. Though each Morris drop is essential listening, And Some may be my personal favorite of the EP series. The future looks as bleak as ever right now, but And Some and its companion releases remain forward-thinking, striving to become the music you dance to as late nights turn to early mornings and early mornings turn to half-sober drives home.

-Warner Alexander - At The Moment

Kansas City rapper Warner Alexander makes a strong first impression on At The Moment. On this six-track EP, both his beat selection and vocal delivery are reminiscent of a few of TDE’s stars, while one or two tracks show a sliver of OVO-style pop sensibilities. The rapper’s follow-up EP, Language, dealt more in bars about racism and personal struggles, as opposed to the posturing of At The Moment. It should be interesting to see which direction Alexander goes from here; he’s got chops and more confidence than most artists at his level of experience.

-Smother - Demo

Firstly, I’d like to tip my baseball cap to Lance Rutledge for being the only musician with two releases on this list. Secondly, this demo rips. If I recall correctly, Rutledge began work on it with the intention of collaborating with members of Dope Piece before he ultimately just completed it himself. Their loss! For as simple as some of these songs feel, Rutledge has blended together dark hardcore and raw punk in a way that’s fairly unconventional. Don’t think -- just commit your next six minutes to the Smother demo.

-Hellfire Club - Demo

Following a bit of lineup shuffling -- a do-si-do, even -- Kansas City’s favorite new DIY country band released its new demo back in October. New vocalist Jonathan Wittbrodt’s bellowing vibrato is one you’ll have to hear to believe and their band’s tunes will surely please any punk who has drunkenly stumbled around Farewell Transmission while singing along to Gunfighter Ballads And Trail Songs. I’ve been told a full-length is on the way in 2021 -- yeehaw!

-Iris Elke - Empty Sounds

Is there a name for the fandom of Boygenius and the supergroup members’ respective solo music? Whatever they’re called, they should check out Iris Elke’s debut EP, Empty Sounds. All five songs feature gorgeous arrangements with the perfect amount of negative space, evocative lyrics that ponder the human condition, and Elke’s pleasantly breathy vocals. Empty Sounds was released just as Elke moved from the Kansas City metro to Tucson, Arizona, so hopefully those of us who found her through the EP will get a hometown show sometime after the pandemic.

Honorable mentions: 

Killus - Vitality, Zotiyac - OMW 2 Hell 2, Riley The Musician - Ana Kennedy, Dwalk - Wizzle, Lady Ehepr - Gloatre, That’s It, It’s Over - The First Of The Last, TGBeam - Beamin

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