40 Great Punk EPs, Splits & Singles from 2021
EPs, splits, and other small releases have been a key part of punk since the genre's inception, and even today, those types of releases are often some of the best. We included a handful of EPs on our list of the 50 best punk albums of 2021, but since it was largely an album-centric list, here's a list with 40 of the best EPs, splits, and singles that the punk world had to offer in 2021. Some of these were also on our punk albums list, but most weren't, and as with that list, I'm using "punk" to mean anything across hardcore, post-hardcore, emo, screamo, metalcore, ska-punk, pop punk, indie-punk, and some of the hard-to-define stuff in between. Not only is genre a vague and subjective thing, the very definition of an EP vs an album is becoming less clear too. For example, this list does not include Home Is Where's I Became Birds (six songs in under 19 minutes), because the band describes it as an album, but it does include Knocked Loose's A Tear in the Fabric of Life (six songs in 21 minutes), because the band describes it as an EP. You can spend all day arguing about what should count and what shouldn't, but most importantly, there was just so much good music in this realm released this year and I made this list as a way to highlight even more of it.
40 might sound like a lot, but hundreds of EPs in this realm came out in 2021 and even capping it at 40 meant leaving off some of my favorites. (A list's gotta end sometime!) So if your favorite punk/hardcore/emo/etc EP of the year isn't here, leave it in the comments. Maybe we just haven't heard it yet.
Read on for the list, in no particular order...
Getting more accessible after a breakthrough is a common path, but after become leaders of metalcore's current wave with 2019's A Different Shade of Blue, Knocked Loose have only gotten heavier and weirder. A Tear in the Fabric of Life, their new EP/short film, further explores the death metal influences that poked through on Blue, and Knocked Loose have figured out how to fuse death metal and metalcore in a way that doesn't sound like "deathcore." They pull from death metal's murky atmosphere and dissonant riffage, and they meld those things seamlessly with the crisp metalcore attack they've been perfecting since day one. Backing vocalist Isaac Hale and guest vocalist Matt King (of Portrayal of Guilt) bring the subterranean filth, and frontman Bryan Garris contrasts it with the piercing, higher-pitched shriek that's made him one of metalcore's most distinct frontmen. This all makes A Tear in the Fabric of Life Knocked Loose's most aggressive release to date, but it's their most experimental too, with industrial-tinged passages and a creepy Beach Boys sample that suggest Knocked Loose have ambitions beyond being one of the heaviest bands on the planet. They aim to be one of the most artistic too.
Pick up a black vinyl copy.
Baltimore's Pinkshift emerged as one of 2020's most vital new punk bands off the strength of just a few songs, and they really made good on that promise in 2021, winning over crowds as an opener on Mannequin Pussy's tour (which they'll presumably do again in 2022 with PUP) and with the release of their debut EP Saccharine, which compiled their four 2020 songs with a revved-up re-recording of their 2019 demo song "Mars." The influence of major 2000s melodic punk bands like Paramore and My Chemical Romance shine through loud and clear, and Pinkshift reshape those influences into something that sounds urgent and fresh within the context of today's DIY indie-punk scene. The songs all feel like they could be hits, and best of all, Pinkshift rip. Ashrita Kumar has a soaring, sneering voice that allows her to turn these catchy songs into punk anthems, the rhythm section is airtight, and the secret weapon just might be guitarist Paul Vallejo, whose shredding solos are just as arena-sized and heroic as Ashrita's choruses.
2021 saw the emergence of post-everything emo band Home Is Where, and if you want more where that came from, the latest EP from Hey, ily! is not to miss. Internet Breath doesn't actually sound anything like Home Is Where, but both bands share a knack for fearless innovation in a totally modern, 2020s way. Internet Breath connects the dots between lo-fi bedroom synthpop, emo-punk, harsh screamo, and more, and the results are way more seamless than it ever could have sounded on paper. Picture a cross between the first Hellogoodbye EP and the first Passion Pit EP, but with some parts that sound like Orchid and some parts that sound like lo-fi beats to relax/study to, and that might give you kind of an idea. Internet Breath exists just on the verge of being a little too ridiculous, but it never actually is. And aside from all the genre experiments, Caleb is just a great songwriter. If you like catchy, weird emo songs, these are some of the best released all year.
The current pop punk revival often centers on the Travis Barker-affiliated acts that sound like they could've dominated TRL in the Y2K era, but if you want something with a little more edge, you need Action/Adventure in your life. Their Pure Noise debut Pulling Focus offers up the kind of glossy yet hardcore-informed pop punk that dominated Drive-Thru Records in the early 2000s and bands like The Wonder Years and The Story So Far in the early 2010s, and Action/Adventure are one of the best new bands in that realm that I've heard in years. They scratch all the right itches -- they're impossibly tight, every song is a pit-starter, and the hooks are sugar-sweet -- and they also avoid lyrical pop punk clichés in favor of anti-racist anthems like "Barricades," which has quickly become the band's signature song. Even the best pop punk bands are often juvenile; Action/Adventure prove that the genre's even better when you inspire a little growth.
Meet Me @ The Altar sound like they're ready to take over the world. They embrace the arena-sized pop punk that (their current label) Fueled by Ramen put out in the mid 2000s, chuggy easycore, and the more atmospheric approach of a lot of modern emo/punk, and they fuse it all into something that sounds larger than life. Edith Johnson sings every song like she's playing a packed arena and singing to the people in the nosebleeds, and the rest of the band sound like they're constantly trying to make the walls shake. The entire Model Citizen EP is so loudly and unabashedly poppy that it might ruffle the feathers of some punk purists, but their loss -- this is some of the most genuine, energizing music released all year.
Back in the early 2000s, bands like At the Drive In, Glassjaw, and The Blood Brothers helped give birth to an entire generation of post-hardcore bands with flamboyant, theatrical singers -- if you were part of a punk scene, there's a good chance you encountered at least one of them. Philly's Johnny Football Hero sound like they could've been one of those bands if they formed 20 years ago, but they also incorporate much more, from the knotty Midwest emo that predated that era to the lo-fi indie vibes of modern emo. They sound built for basement shows, but their hooks and guitar solos are big enough to fill arenas. Their new EP Complacency induces nostalgia for so many different time periods and vibes and subgenres all at once, that it just can't help but feel innovative.
The emo revival of the 2010s initially started as a reaction against the poppier sounds of the genre's 2000s era, but eventually we got albums like The Hotelier's Home, Like Noplace Is There and Pianos Become the Teeth's Keep You that reminded people that you could write big, clean, catchy emo songs and still be a tasteful band. Arm's Length's sophomore EP Everything Nice seems to pick up where those albums left off, and tie things back even more directly to poppier 2000s bands like The Early November and Armor For Sleep. Everything Nice envisions a world where emo-pop and underground emo never diverged, one where atmosphere and experimentation and sugary pop punk could go hand in hand. It's an EP that would've sounded just as at home on Drive-Thru in 2003 as it would have on No Sleep in 2013, and it still sounds remarkable today too.
Most members of Hazing Over used to be an excellent screamo band called Shin Guard, but they've shifted some people around, picked a new name, and now they're an excellent metalcore/borderline-deathcore band. It's hard not to make comparisons to fellow Pittsburgh Code Orange, who underwent a similar change circa I Am King, and if you like that band's ambitious metalcore excursions you should definitely be listening to Hazing Over too. With just four songs, Pestilence establishes Hazing Over as a force, capable of connecting the dots between mathcore legends Botch and Myspace deathcore purveyors Job for a Cowboy in ways that feel tasteful and fresh.
Between Skankin' Pickle, The Chinkees, The Bruce Lee Band, and Asian Man/Dill Records, Mike Park has been one of the most crucial figures in ska and ska-punk for decades, and the music he's been putting out with the latest iteration of The Bruce Lee Band is truly some of his best yet. The band's current lineup -- which includes Jeff Rosenstock, Dan Potthast (MU330), and Kevin Higuchi -- is even better than BLB's '90s and 2000s lineups, and they've developed a warmer, cleaner sound than most third wave ska-punk bands that sets them apart and makes them sound more timeless than ever. And, as the title suggests, Division in the Heartland is an outwardly political EP that looks at racism, fascism, hate, greed, and other threats to American society. (It also features one song where Jeff Rosenstock sings in Korean.) Mike Park has been making political music since day one, but given the climate of the last couple years, it's cathartic to hear him getting even more explicit than ever.
Thoughtz & Prayerz is Heart Attack Man's shortest release in years, but it's also one of their most musically diverse, with the increasingly good band going in a handful of thrilling directions. "Pitch Black" is one of the year's best punk singles; from its jangly acoustic intro to the melodic hardcore-infused grit of the verses to the explosive alt-rock choruses, it scratches so many itches and it feels like a breath of fresh air for the genre. Elsewhere on the EP, there's the genuinely heavy post-hardcore of "Puke" and the title track, and songs that recall mid 2000s Weezer ("Cool 2 Me") and Sum 41 ("Leap Year") without an ounce of cringe. With lyrics that take on everything from do-nothing politicians to incel culture, the messages hit just as hard as the hooks.
Pick up a black vinyl copy.
In addition to releasing one of the best punk albums of 2021 with his grindy hardcore band Regional Justice Center, Ian Shelton released two great EPs with his much less heavy band Militarie Gun. Sounding closer to '90s post-hardcore and indie rock, All Roads Lead to the Gun I & II prove that Ian is capable of so much more than throat-shredding sonic assault. These songs have genuinely big hooks -- sometimes you might even call them pretty -- but even Militarie Gun's sweetest sounding songs are covered in gravel and grit. If The Jesus Lizard ever tried to write an emo album, it might sound something like this.
One of the most fearlessly innovative bands in modern hardcore strikes again. Ahead of Soul Glo's highly anticipated full-length for Epitaph, they dropped two EPs this year, and they're all over the place in the best way possible. From grimy hip hop to circle-put-inducing hardcore to polyrhythmic, Latin-tinged post-hardcore (with help from Juanchi of Zeta, who are masters of that exact subgenre), Vol. 1's three songs couldn't be more different. Vol. 2 is more in straightup punk/hardcore territory, and it's got some of the band's most fiery songs yet. Can't wait to see where they go on that full-length.
Mannequin Pussy released their best album yet with 2019's Patience, and if you're wondering what they might do next, this short-but-sweet EP has some options. Will they pivot to mile-a-minute hardcore? The title track and "Pigs Is Pigs" suggests they definitely could. Maybe they'll head towards ethereal dream pop? EP closer "Darling" says why not? Or will we get more crowdpleasing indie-punk anthems? "Control" and "To Lose You" are exactly that. It's always a cool thing when bands use EPs as a way to try out different stuff, and Perfect sticks every landing.
Long Island emo is back, baby. Not that Long Island ever stopped having emo bands, but that classic, distinct Long Island emo sound -- the one solidified by LI gods Silent Majority and brought to the mainstream by bands like The Movielife and Crime In Stereo -- is having a real moment right now and Koyo are at the forefront of it. The members are all deeply ingrained in the hardcore scene, and they bring that spirit to their records and shows, but Koyo reach for the cathartic, yearning melodies that made Long Island emo reach the hearts of hundreds of thousands of kids worldwide, and Drives Out East feels as exciting today as Koyo's forebears did two decades ago.
Koyo aren't the only band who did justice to Silent Majority-core in 2021; their neighbors Stand Still also breathed new life into that sound with their debut EP A Practice In Patience. There's no question that these guys collectively own a few worn-out copies of Life Of A Spectator, but when the songs are this instantly-satisfying, who cares if you wear your influences on your sleeves? Like Koyo, Stand Still harness the power of hardcore, but those choruses would've had Victory Records knocking at their door 20 years ago.
As chaotic hardcore, mathcore, and sasscore continues to infiltrate the current music scene, one band that gets namedropped a lot as a major influence is Heavy Heavy Low Low. HHLL were supposed to finally reunite until the pandemic put those plans on hold, but then three members (including vocalist Robbie Smith) and producer/guitarist Sam Pura finally released new music as Bone Cutter. The band has been working on a full-length which Robbie amazingly describes as "what if Head Automatica veered into grind and death?", and you can already hear the seeds of that sound being sewn on this four-song EP. It's like a harsher, darker, heavier version of HHLL that still finds time for dance beats. In other words, it's some of the most batshit music released all year.
Pick it up on limited-to-100 oxblood/black swirl vinyl.
Just about a year after releasing one of 2020's best punk albums with their debut LP Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress, Santa Cruz hardcore band Gulch revealed that they'd be breaking up. That's a huge bummer, but at least they gave us two more absolute ragers before calling it quits. Their two songs on this split take the formula of Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress (devil-horn riffs, drums on speed, and lava-gargling screams) and push them even further. It's truly nuts. Joining Gulch for the ride is related band Sunami, whose metallic hardcore attack is pretty ferocious too. They say their two songs on this split serve as a teaser for their upcoming debut LP, and we say our bodies are ready.
Pick this up on clear tan vinyl.
If you like the chaotic post-hardcore that bands like SeeYouSpaceCowboy and For Your Health brought to the forefront of the punk scene in 2021 and you're wondering who might be next, this 4-way split has some answers. p.s.you'redead call themselves danceviolence and if that word sounds as exciting to you as it does to me, you are definitely going to like their song on this split. In other subsubgenre territory is cyberpop/hypergrind band Thotcrime, whose contribution to this split sounds like I Set My Friends On Fire, 100 gecs, and HORSE The Band in a blender. The Queen Guillotined (who also put out the very good EP Nothing Will Get Us to Heaven this year) make the case that Myspace-era deathcore is a genuinely good genre with a lot more to say, and Kurama's contribution offers up some of the year's most caustic metalcore. None of these bands sound anything alike, but all of them make me feel like the future of post-hardcore is looking very bright.
4 Ways To Die is one of two splits that p.s.you'redead were on this year, and their other one is just as essential. As legend has it, this split came together after For Your Health tweeted that Mikau and p.s.you'redead should do a split, so thank you For Your Health for willing one of 2021's best splits into existence. p.s.you'redead's two songs scratch the same very appealing itch as their one on 4 Ways To Die, and Mikau (who share drummer Austin O'Rourke with the great blackened screamo band Infant Island) find the common ground between bone-crushing metalcore and glossy synthpop. It's very late 2000s Myspace/Hot Topic in theory, but they didn't do it back then the way Mikau does it now.
Before sasscore leaders SeeYouSpaceCowboy released one of 2021's best punk albums with The Romance of Affliction, they put out this killer split with If I Die First (who also appear on the SYSC album and who also put out the EP They Drew Blood which features SYSC vocalist Connie Sgarbossa in August). SYSC's two songs are just as awesomely over-the-top as anything on Romance, and If I Die First offer up two killer songs that connect the dots between Myspace metalcore and the emo-rap scene that band members Lil Lotus, Nedarb, and Zubin are all part of. But the EP's best song is "bloodstainedeyes," a collaboration from both bands (which also comes with a genuinely awesome music video). These two bands have a lot of traits in common, but their differences are clear too, and this collaboration is far greater than the sum of its parts. It's one of 2021's most startlingly unique moments.
Pick up a vinyl copy here.
Right now, the world is patiently awaiting Age of Apocalypse's debut album for Closed Casket Activities, and part of the reason that album is so anticipated is this killer split with Pain of Truth. Age of Apocalypse look and feel like a hardcore band, but their bellowing alt-metal vocals make them sound closer to something like Life of Agony, and in a time where Headbangers Ball is cool again, they seem poised to take over. Pain of Truth (whose vocalist Michael Smith also plays guitar in Hangman) have a tougher, metallic hardcore vibe that hearkens back to '90s NYHC and proto-metalcore, and it's gonna sound real good on tour with Drain next year.
With just a two-song single, Chicago's Buggin established themselves as one of the brightest new voices in hardcore. The title track is one of the best punk songs of the year -- groovy, catchy, and vicious all at once, and tight as fuck. If the Turnstile hype has you looking for more hardcore bands that really know how to groove, you need Buggin in your life. And keeping with that same vibe, the B-side is a cover of Beastie Boys' rap rock classic "Gratitude," and Buggin's version ties it back to the raw hardcore scene than the Beasties came from in the first place.
See Through Person severely leveled up this year. It was only a year ago that the Florida band were making scrappy Midwest-style emo on their Chariot EP, but there's nothing "scrappy" about Sun. It's harder, sharper, cleaner, and it blends the band's DIY emo roots with the mathy post-hardcore of bands like The Fall of Troy and Damiera. If that sounds exciting on paper, wait until you hear it in execution.
NYC's blair remind me a lot of Whenever, If Ever-era TWIABP, both in the way that they have a communal, post-rocky emo sound and in the way that they feel like they could fall apart at any given moment yet never do. All four members sing, and it makes for a sound that's constantly changing shape. One member is humming over slowcore guitars one minute, and another is yelling over an explosive climax the next. Tears To Grow only has three songs, but even this small release can often feel gigantic.
NJ's Gel make raw, noisy, breakneck-speed hardcore that's covered in a psychedelic haze, and their dark, minor-key songs sound more negative and pessimistic than overly aggressive. Their Violent Closure EP offers up seven 90-ish second rippers, and it was already one of my favorite EPs of the year, but then Gel just recently put out the song "Mental Static" (off a TBA split coming out on Convulse Records in 2022), and it's bigger, better, louder, and tighter in every possible way.
If you like the new Portrayal of Guilt albums and you haven't heard Porcupine's The Sibyl EP, I highly recommend changing that. Like PoG, Porcupine shove punk/metal-centric genres in a blender -- including but not limited to screamo, hardcore, black metal, sludge metal, grindcore, metalcore, noise rock, and post-rock -- and they come out with songs that are as impassioned as they are chaotic.
You don't need to read lyric sheets or interviews to realize how explicitly political Boston hardcore band Move are. Vocalist Corey's bark is clear as day, and when he screams lines like "Called to the scene/My neck is met with your knee/No justice, no peace/Abolish the police," he makes his stance on cops, the prison system, capitalism, and other corrupt aspects of American society abundantly clear. As he does, the rest of the band dishes out crisp, tight rhythms that would get even the most cynical crowd moving.
"In my mind [punk] is inherently political," says Peter Pawlak, vocalist of the rising Bay Area hardcore band Spy. "It makes sense to me that if you’re making angry music then you’re gonna be yelling about something you have genuine rage about." It's a stance that feels especially relevant in 2021, and Spy don't just talk the talk. Habitual Offender is full of songs that take direct aim at the justice system, labor laws, misguided patriotism, and more, and it does so while offering up some of the most caustic hardcore laid to tape this year.
Living Weapon are a new Boston metalcore band whose lead vocalist Jonathan Lhaubouet also handles bass and backing vocals in Vein.fm, and whose drummer Nick Herrmann is also in Vomit Forth and Detriment, and with a résumé like that, it should come as no surprise that Living Weapon released one of the most punishing metalcore debut EPs of the year. Like Vein.fm, the influence of late '90s / early 2000s metalcore and mathcore is clear, but Living Weapon take things far beyond idol worship. Their crisp, modern production and thrilling sense of urgency give this genre the new blood it deserves.
Hum-inspired heavy shoegaze and Ferret Records style post-hardcore have both been having major comebacks lately, but I'm not sure I can think of many bands who do both of those things at once like Philly band ASkySoBlack do on their debut EP What Is Yet To Come?. It not only nails a balance between nostalgic and innovative, ASkySoBlack also really have the songs. Too many shoegazy bands layer on the effects to cover up weak songwriting, but the melodies and Jordan Shteif's soaring voice make these feel like songs we'll be singing along to for years to come.
Following last year's split single with Portrayal of Guilt, Atlanta's Slow Fire Pistol (ex-Dead In The Dirt, Foundation) returned with their own new EP and first for Triple B Records. With a sound that pulls from '90s screamo fury, whiplash-inducing hardcore, melodic emo, atmospheric post-rock, and more, Slow Fire Pistol can not be easily pigeonholed. They usually touch on two or three or more of those things in one song alone, and they do it with all the passion and determination that this type of music demands.
For Circa Survive's first release in four years, they've made one of their most drastic musical departures yet. Imposter Syndrome still contains hints of the progressive post-hardcore sound that Circa Survive trademarked in the 2000s, and Anthony Green's voice is as unmistakable as ever, but these are the most chilled-out, atmospheric, electronic-infused songs the band has ever released. You can feel that the band sound as inspired on these songs as they did in their early days, determined not to coast on past successes or become a nostalgia act. It's the perfect mix of doing something new while still sounding like yourself.
If you like the new One Step Closer album as much as I do and you want more new melodic hardcore in your life, do not miss the debut EP from North Carolina's No Longer At Ease. They cite bands like Have Heart, Verse, Bane, and Turning Point as influences, and you can hear it, and No Longer At Ease's urgent sound would make their heroes proud.
Sgt. Scag are a New Haven ska-punk band that have been active since the '90s, and Hans Gruber and the Die Hards are a great newer ska-punk band from Austin, and their multi-generational three-song split is one of 2021's true gems. Sgt. Scag's "Cultination" will make you forget that '90s ska-punk ever died, and Hans Gruber and the Die Hards contribute two songs that continue to solidify them as one of the most promising new ska-punk bands around. They're upbeat and catchy and full of bright horn lines, but they've also got a gnarly hardcore punk edge and lyrical content that give things a darker, more serious edge.
Fresh have been one of the best new bands in the UK indie-punk scene for a few years, and with their recent signing to Philly label Get Better Records, they seem on the verge of a deserved breakthrough in the US too. 2021 brought their new EP The Summer I Got Good At Guitar, which offers up fiery rippers in the vein of bands like Camp Cope and Muncie Girls, offset by somber acoustic songs like "Cry For Help" and a few that fall somewhere in between. Singer Kathryn Woods (who's also in ME REX and cheerbleederz) has a voice that can't be ignored, and whether she's delivering scathing takedowns of sexism in the music scene or singing personal, introspective songs, she leaves you hanging on every word. Months after putting out that EP, Fresh dropped the super catchy new single "Morgan & Joanne" that suggests they're only getting better.
Pittsburgh metalcore band 156/Silence released one of 2020's best punk albums with Irrational Pull, and they've already made a leap forward with the three proper songs of this year's Don't Hold Your Breath EP. It's bigger, cleaner, more atmospheric, and more accessible than anything else they've released, but not at the expense of the band's sheer aggression. It's a shorter release than Irrational Pull, but the music is much more expansive.
Pianos Become the Teeth are slowly but surely working on a new album, but if you can't wait until then for new music from frontman Kyle Durfey, don't miss out on his new band Burial Waves' debut EP. The band also includes members of We Were Black Clouds, Deleted Scenes, Caverns, and more, and they favor heavier post-metal and rawer production than PBTT, but Kyle's voice is as distinct as ever. It's a familiar feeling in an entirely new setting.
Speaking of filling the Pianos Become the Teeth void, this Gates EP has been scratching a similar itch for me this year too. They hadn't released music in five years, but they finally returned with this EP and it's some of their best stuff yet. They share PBTT's knack for churning out climactic post-rock/emo fusions, and they also share some DNA with Thrice's late 2000s art rock era, and Gates have a lot of substance beneath the surface-level comparisons. The atmospheric production is gorgeous, the melodic twists and turns are so satisfying, and it's a struggle to get these songs out of your head.
Over the course of three 2021 solo EPs, Motion City Soundtrack frontman Justin Courtney Pierre reminded the world why he was such a beloved songwriter in the first place. Motion City Soundtrack were grouped in with the emo-pop explosion, though they were always more of a quirky power pop/indie rock band, and now that third wave emo is like 15 years in the rearview, Justin is still writing songs that feel as timeless and welcoming as he ever was. The An Anthropologist On Mars, The Price of Salt, and Ghost World EPs make me think less of Warped Tour and more of a band like Nada Surf, whose enduring pop smarts long outlasted the trend that mainstream media tried to group them with. Justin Courtney Pierre has done the same.
So much modern screamo is obviously indebted to the genre's '90s / early 2000s era, but if you're looking for screamo that sounds genuinely new and different, you need this split. These four bands (Pictures of June, Your Arms Are My Cocoon, Floral Patterns, and Lights Strung Like Stars) owe as much to OG screamo as they do to Bandcamp-era lo-fi bedroom pop, especially in the cases of Your Arms Are My Cocoon and Lights Strung Like Stars, who seem to rely more on GarageBand-style electronics than guitar amps.