Fortune is smiling on us this week as pop fans. We have a fine new album from Brandy (Two Eleven), a new song-of-the-year candidate from Taylor Swift (“State of Grace”) and a quite hilariously titled holiday album from Christina Perri (A Very Merry Perri Christmas, natch). But perhaps best of all, we also have two of the pop EPs of the year—little pre-album previews, neither of which eclipses 20 minutes in run time, that provide some of the more exhilarating musical thrills of the year: Sky Ferreira’s Ghost and Icona Pop’s Iconic.
Singer/songwriter/part-time model Sky Ferreira has been around for a while—a while considering that she’s only 20 years old, anyway—and her career has gotten off to a couple promising but somewhat abortive starts. Her (possibly autobiographical?) girl-gone-wild cautionary tale “17″ made for a minor MTV hit, but failed to crossover, and though her subsequent releases (“One,” “Obsession,” the excellentAs If EP) gained some buzz, an album never materialized, and Sky continued to linger in the underground as the best pop talent and biggest potential megastar that nobody seemed to really know about.
The album’s still not out—I’m Not Alright is due before the end of the year, though we probably wouldn’t bet on it happening until ’13—but now we have a second EP, Ghost, that seems likely to raise Sky’s profile even further. The lead single from it, “Everything is Embarrassing,” has been getting a lot of attention, and deservedly so—the piano and drum-machine led ballad taps into a sort of a hushed ’80s synth-pop sound that feels lush and minimal at the same time, gorgeous and impossibly sad. (And as a beautiful young half-model with an emotive wisp of a voice, Sky does “impossibly sad” unsurprisingly well.)
“Embarrassing” is probably the best song onGhost but it’s far from the only highlight. The EP is stunningly diverse, as Sky finds success not only withDrive-like sentimental synth-pop but Goldfrapp-esque electro stomp (“Lost in My Bedroom,” “Red Lips”), gentle, aching indie-pop (“Sad Dream”) and even Wilco-like alt-country (the title track). Ferreira has impressive taste in collaborators, and shows an impressive ability to shape her voice and her songwriting to match the style of her producers, sounding like Fiona Apple while working with Jon Brion and like Garbage’s Shirley Manson while working with…well, Manson herself, as the Shirley-co-penned “Red Lips” is probably a song Garbage themselves would’ve killed for ten years ago.
In fact, if there’s one grievance to be had with the EP is that it’s so all-over-the-place that it’s hard to get a consistent feel for Sky herself, as her chameleon act leaves you wondering a bit what she’s like when not changing colors so rapidly. But that’s a problem for the full-length album, should she ever choose to release it—the EP is just supposed to showcase what she does well as a pop talent, and from the evidence of Ghost, the answer would appear to be “everything.” It’s officially time to get excited for the next ten years of Sky Ferreira’s career.
The potential might not be quite so limitless for Swedish duo Icona Pop on their Iconic EP, but they suffer from no such identity crisis. Their MO is laid out somewhat explicitly in the EP’s first track, the barnstorming “I Love It.” You might already know the song from its use as Snooki and J-Woww’s theme on their eponymous spin-off program, or just from the appropriately rapturous reception the song has received around certain corners of the pop-reviewing internet, but the song is among the year’s most undeniable pop anthems, with zooming synths and pounding drums and some fantastic shout-along lyrics, including “I crashed my car into the bridge / I watched, I let it burn!” and the T-shirt-worthy “You’re from the ’70s, but I’m a ’90s bitch!”
As with Sky’s “Embarrassing,” the single is the high-water mark for the EP, but it’s just the beginning of the delights contained within. “Good For You” is nearly as addictive, sounding like Ace of Base covering a song by Brooklyn retro-pop duo Tanlines (or vice versa—so hard to tell with these things) and with a chorus nearly as charming in its oddly phrased braggadocio (“You love my love, you know you’ll never find better love / You hate my love because you’re dead without it”). “Manners” has a Passion Pit-like exuberance to it (and not just because of the title), and another great catchphrase for a chorus, “Manners / Take a second look and you’ll see / There is no one like me,” which has already provided the hook for a minor Chiddy Bang hit.
Like the GhostEP, Manners is also a great advertisement for the EP format in general, albeit for different reasons. The giddy rush that the album provides over its six tracks would very likely prove exhausting over a full LP, but for its 18-minute run time, the collection is easily appreciated as a pure pop blast, and one of the best sets of pre-party pump-up tunes you’re likely to hear this year. (When you have a song called “Ready for the Weekend” and it’s probably the least appropriate song for a Friday night car-ride scream-along, that should tell you something.)
Both Ghost and Manners are out this week, available on iTunes and on Spotify. We expect you to have them both committed to memory by this time next week.