The Best Songs of 2018

You can view our list of The Best Albums of 2018 here.

In 2018, the idea of what one song can accomplish and the story it can tell outside the context of an album continued to evolve. Certainly, songs on this list work best within the overarching narrative of the album they exist on, but many others told us a story worth unpacking in a variety of intriguing ways.

Some offered commentary that put previous works by the artist in a new light. Some were driven to new heights by an accompanying music video that expounded on the story within. Others were just fantastic songs to help chase away a year of bad news. They all had a part to play and all proved worthy to make our list of Best Songs of 2018. Take a look – and a listen.

15. mewithoutYou – “Julia (or, ‘Holy to the LORD’ on the Bells of Horses)”

This was the perfect single for mewithoutYou to release as a taste of [Untitled]. It fits the tone of the album perfectly and is a wonderful showcase of both Aaron’s vocals and the band’s musicianship. It breaks new ground for the band, but sounds like it could be a B-side on [A→B] Life. I love the intensity of the crescendo. I love the honest call for social unity in the lyrics. The video is super fun. This song has everything we expect from the band and more. – Nadia Paiva

14. Pronoun – “Wrong”

Pronoun were one of the biggest surprises for me this year. Opening for Justin Pierre, Pronoun hypnotized a full theater into believing that they are one random Tuesday afternoon away from being the biggest band in the country. “Wrong” is an emotional song about the conflict of being angry at someone and the turmoil of coming to terms with conflicting feelings. Simple guitar melodies and drums balance soft vocals and a bouncing synth before exploding towards an unleashed pop guitar. “Wrong” is a perfect introduction to a band that is still finding their footing in the world. – Kyle Schultz

13. The Wonder Years – “The Ocean Grew Hands to Hold Me”

This was undoubtably my favorite track on Sister Cities. I wrote a lot about it in my review of the album but I feel it’s worth mentioning again just how important this track is to the album. It ties together the entire theme: being away from home when you should really be there. Dan Campbell has to rely on the fact that the only thing he and his loved ones have in common at the moment is the ocean that’s between them to make himself feel better about being away at such a pivotal point in time. It’s heart-wrenching in a way that only The Wonder Years can pull off.– NP

12. Kacey Musgraves – “High Horse”

Did Kacey Musgraves write a song about me? Listening to the lyrics of “High Horse”, it’s hard not to feel the culprit, because haven’t we all been a jerk sometimes? “’Cause everyone knows someone who kills the buzz / Every time they open up their mouth”, she sings during the track’s irresistible, radio-ready pre-chorus. “High Horse” is the gateway drug (haha, get it?) to Golden Hour by infusing dance and disco into this uniquely country track and serves as the showcase of how Musgraves is driving the genre into a new era. So maybe “High Horse” is actually directed at all those staunch and rigid country music gatekeepers? Or maybe it’s just about me after all. – Kiel Hauck

11. Saves the Day – “Suzuki”

While 9 is an album full of off-beat, meta songs, “Suzuki” is arguably the most honest. At barely over a minute long, “Suzuki” is not only aware that it is a song, it knows what album it’s on (“I played on Can’t Slow Down so many years ago / Writing album number nine right now”). If Saves The Day is known for anything, it’s a legacy of rock music with vivid imagery painting honest emotions. Not only does singer Chris Conley give the address of where he is, he reflects on the couch, the room and his friends who inspired his career. Equal parts raging and restrained, “Suzuki” is a reflection and acknowledgement of 20 years worth of music, and appreciative of his career. With cool refrain, Conley finishes with, “So in love with life, sometimes it’s all too much / Thank you all forever and always”. – KS

10. Pianos Become the Teeth – “Love on Repeat”

This song makes the list because of how it’s made me feel since it was released and because of the fact that I’ve probably heard it at least once a day since February 15th, which means I’ve listened to it at least 293 times. The whole album always hits the spot for me, but something about this track stood out to me immediately from the first listen. The music drives with such fervor and feeling that you almost can’t help feeling something when it starts, and then all the way through till the end. – NP

9. Fall Out Boy – “Church”

On an album full of epic pop songs, “Church” is a stand-out. The soulful song rages with deep drums and bass tracks and a choir backing one of Patrick Stump’s best vocal performances to date. “Church” manages to be dark, moody and romantic all at once. The conflicting experiences of isolation (“I love the world, but I just don’t love the way it makes me feel”) and romance (“My sanctuary, you’re holy to me”) describe the experiences of religion that many feel. Pete Wentz’s ominous bass lines tread against Stump’s uplifting voice to create an experience equally judgmental and hopeful. – KS

8. Vince Staples – “Feels Like Summer”

At first blush, Vince Staples third studio album, FM!, plays like a radio broadcast serving as soundtrack to a summertime Long Beach barbecue. Listen closer and you’ll find Staples telling stories of the mundanity of violence in his neighborhood. It’s another blunt and beautiful release from one of the most subversive artists of our time, and album opener “Feels Like Summer” sets the stage perfectly. Atop a bass-heavy summery beat, Vince begins with the lines, “Summertime in the LB wild / We gon’ party ‘til the sun or the guns come out”. The cues are easy to miss on a track this smooth, highlighted by a chorus for the ages from Ty Dolla $ign. After a second verse reflecting on friends and family lost, Staples coolly states, “Moved on, life fast like that”. It’s an appropriate aside for a song this affecting and complex that clocks in at a mere 2:29. – KH

7. Watsky – “Welcome to the Family”

I’m not usually one to turn on hip-hop…I leave that to Kiel, but this song is too good to ignore. I’ve been listening to Watsky for years and I feel that this is his best release to date. “Welcome to the Family” came out just before my wedding and it’s become a special track for my husband and I. It’s all about facing things together and making it work even though life is hard. It makes me cry pretty much every time I hear it because it’s so relatable. We all deserve love and this Watsky song is a great reminder of that. – NP

6. Brian Fallon – “Little Nightmares”

“Little Nightmares” scared me so much upon first listen that I simply turned off the music and left my apartment to seek friends for a reassuring drink. Decorated in bouncing guitars and an energetic keyboard, Fallon’s warbling voice tells a story about a couple unraveling with the same inner demons while they tell each other that it will all be okay. The song is told from the shy narrator’s perspective (“All my life, I was the quiet kind / I just kept to myself and my dreaming”) as they attempt to find the courage to reassure their partner during a breakdown (“My words get lost and haunt the back of my throat / And little nightmares keep telling me you’ll go”). The energy of the song hides the darkness, much in the same way that the narrator tries to shield their partner. But there is hope that pours through as they find their courage, and a sense of security finally permeates as Fallon sings, “Don’t you know there’s an ocean of hope / Underneath the grey sky where you’re dreaming”. Fallon is at his emotional and storytelling best during “Little Nightmares” as he manages to break our hearts and then let us know that it will all be okay in the end. – KS

5. Ariana Grande – “thank u, next”

During a year in which Ariana Grande stood at front and center of the pop culture zeitgeist, it wasn’t her high profile relationships or even the success of her fourth album Sweetener that stood as her signature moment. Instead, it was a standalone single in the aftermath, a song so full of hope, given the circumstances, that it was impossible not to enjoy. And oh yeah, it’s one hell of a pop song. “One taught me love / One taught me patience / And one taught me pain / Now I’m amazing”, Grande tells us, knowing full well of our encyclopedic knowledge of her private life. Here, she invites us to look past it all on a song of self-love and empowerment. With her eyes set forward, “next” could mean anything for Grande – the pop world is hers and she is intent on letting nothing hold her back.– KH

4. Childish Gambino – “This is America”

In many ways, “This is America” is the quintessential 2018 song – existing not just as a song itself, but as a multi-media experience of cultural commentary meant to provoke a wide range of emotions before leaning into the continued conversation around race and violence in our country. Donald Glover is a genius in that way, far too coy to meet our general expectations but driven to create something that makes us question them. The brilliance of “This is America” lives largely in the music video – a kind of short art film that teases out and expands upon the song’s minimal and ambiguous lyrics, giving us a grander picture of statement. It’s a stark and affecting display of the black experience in America, fading into a haunting ending – a prolonged shot of a terrified Glover running for his life. Don’t let the weight of it all stop you from unpacking – the progress is meant to begin when the music stops.– KH

3. Senses Fail – “Double Cross”

“Double Cross” is one of pop punk’s most heartbreaking songs, even though Senses Fail are known primarily for hardcore music. It is a memorial to the punk scene Senses Fail started in, and possibly to past members of the band itself. Singer/ songwriter Buddy Nielsen reflects on being one of the last of his generation still active after watching his friends fall off this career path. Almost mocking the pop punk scene of the early 2000’s, “Double Cross” is the poppiest song of the band’s career, even as Nielsen rages, “I’ve been spilling my guts out on the stage / I’ve spent the best years of my life / Drinking myself to sleep at night / And now the glory days have all but faded”. Nielsen comes across equally angry, sad and apologetic as he sings, “Where is the passion that you used to have when music was the only thing that you had”. Making it as a musician is the dream of countless people, and “Double Cross” expresses the regret of ‘making it’ but discovering you stand upon the sacrifice and broken dreams of countless friends, as well. – KS

2. The 1975 – “I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)”

This is without a doubt the best song The 1975 have released. I said it about “Robbers” from 2013’s self titled, and about “Somebody Else” from 2016’s I like it when you sleep, but those have been pushed aside for this epic of a track. It’s pretty unassuming at the start, but by the end of it, you’ve been swept into a whirlwind of some of Matty’s best vocals and some of the band’s most well-composed guitar work of their career. The strings at the end totally make it even more perfect. I could listen to it all day. – NP

1. Drake – “Nice for What”

As Lauryn Hill’s Miseducation turns 20, Drake’s “Nice for What” samples “Ex-Factor” while creating a female empowerment anthem. It’s the song that 2018 needed and hip hop itself needed even more. Not only is the track infectious (note the timeless brilliance of Lauryn Hill), but it flips the typical hip hop club anthem on its head, dropping degrading references to women in favor of an impressed observer, noting everything as worthy of praise.

In the lines, “With your phone out, gotta hit them angles / With your phone out, snappin’ like you Fabo / And you showing off, but it’s alright”, Drake makes note of even the most mundane of activities. Here, selfies and social media posts are earned – rewards for hard work and a deserved night out with friends. Leave it to Drake to turn toxic notions of a digital culture inside out. Leave it to Drake to usurp navel-gazing tendencies for an honest and deep look at women, who have remained one-dimensional in this context for far too long. – KH

Honorable Mention:

As It Is – “The Stigma (Boys Don’t Cry)”
Pusha T – “If You Know, You Know”
Underoath – “On My Teeth”
Bring Me the Horizon – “Mantra”
Cardi B – “I Like It”

Posted by Kiel Hauck

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Podcast: Another Summer of Drake

Drake is back with another mammoth collection of songs, just in time for Summer 2018. On our latest podcast, Kiel Hauck talks with Drake fans Lowell Bieber and Chris Waflart about Drake’s triumphs and misfires on list latest album, Scorpion. They also break down Drake’s massive catalogue of songs, ranking some of the best (and worst) and dissect Drake’s continuing cultural cache. Listen in!

Subscribe to our podcast here.

What tracks compose your Drake playlist? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Podcast: Who Won the 2017 Hip Hop Title Belt?

With another year in the books, Brock Benefiel joins Kiel Hauck to discuss who won the hip hop title belt in 2017 (surprise, it’s Kendrick). The duo also reflect on newcomers and movers and shakers in the genre that shaped the year, while looking ahead to predict what might come to pass in 2018, including possible albums from Kanye West, Childish Gambino, Chance the Rapper and more. Listen in!

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What hip hop albums are you looking forward to in 2018? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Podcast: Predicting the Song of the Summer

Today marks the first day of summer, and you know what that means – time to sing along to the Song of the Summer! But wait, where did that term come from? And what does it even mean? And does any of this even matter?

Richard Clark joins Kiel Hauck to discuss the history of the “Song of the Summer” and reflect on some of their favorite summertime tracks. They also break down the elements that make a summer song successful and even offer up some guesses for 2017’s song of the summer. Listen in!

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What is your favorite song of the summer memory? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Kendrick Lamar Drops “The Heart Part 4”

And just like that, Kendrick Lamar has returned. Not even a week after Drake took over the headlines with his More Life playlist, Kendrick has dropped a new single titled “The Heart Part 4” in preparation for the release of his new album. The final lines of the track hint that the album will arrive on April 7.

There’s no disputing Kendrick’s current hold on the hip hop crown. 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly was an immediate classic – an album that not only elevated Lamar as an artist, but also served as poignant and necessary commentary on race and social injustice in America. “The Heart Part 4” gives us reason to believe that Kendrick’s new body of work will continue the conversation.

There’s a lot to unpack in the nearly five minutes of music that feature no chorus, but one consistent stream of through. Perhaps the most discussed moments on the new track relate to perceived slights against Drake and Big Sean. Whether further barbs lie within the new album remains to be seen.

No matter what April 7 brings, we can rest assured that it will provide plenty to talk about and hopefully another full length album to dig into. Kendrick’s last two releases, To Pimp and good kid, m.A.A.d city, sound just as fresh as they did on the day of their respective releases. It could be a long two weeks, but I have confidence that it will be worth the wait.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Drake Returns with “More Life” Playlist

As winter begins to thaw and give way to spring, there’s one thing you can count on. No, not seasonal allergies – new music from Drake.

The Toronto rapper has been making a habit of dropping surprise projects on us this time of year. In 2015, it was the out-of-nowhere mixtape If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. Last year, Views arrived as one of the biggest releases of 2016. This past weekend brought More Life – a new playlist.

It’s fairly clear that Drake is a man who rarely sleeps. These surprise releases never seem to be short collections, but are instead consistently large bodies of work that take more than a few days to digest, making reaction in the moment nearly impossible. Perhaps that’s the point.

In 2015, If You’re Reading This became a hot topic not just because of its unexpected nature, but because of the immediate conversation of what qualifies as a mixtape in the digital age. Last year, Views, released as an official full length album, immediately became the hottest selling release of the year, despite lukewarm reviews that trickled in as the weeks passed.

This time around, we’re left asking what this playlist even means. According to Drake himself, More Life is intended to serve as a “collection of songs that become the soundtrack to your life.” True to form, it doesn’t quite feel cohesive in a way you’d expect an official release to flow and will likely avoid review in the typical form. It will not, however, avoid weeks of discussion.

This buzz-generating method of releasing new music has become signature Drake, and perhaps further amplifies voices that declare traditional albums to be irrelevant. In fact, Drake has become a central point in the pop culture zeitgeist and pop music discussion without ever releasing what could be qualified as a “classic” album (we can argue about Take Care another time). As long as tracks like “Hotline Bling” and “One Dance” continue to intermittently dominate airwaves and meme generators, he really doesn’t even need one.

I like Drake. I usually enjoy 6-7 songs on these 20-track behemoths that now come as often as Christmas. I’ll probably spend the next few weeks streaming More Life and deciding which songs will make repeat appearances in my Spotify queue. What I can’t do is offer much more than a shrug and a few head nods to the conversation about Drake as anything more than background noise amidst the current boon of powerful and impactful hip hop voices.

And that’s fine. We need sounds to prepare us for summer. If Drake wants to be our annual reminder to create a “new music” playlist, I’m happy to pass the time while waiting for Kendrick’s new album to arrive.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Podcast: Who Won the 2016 Hip Hop Title Belt?

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Another year is in the books, and 2016 was filled with a variety of great music. But who stole the show in the world of hip hop? Kiel Hauck and Brock Benefiel discuss the theory of the hip hop title belt and which rapper dominated 2016 the most, including Chance the Rapper, Q-Tip, Kanye West and more. Listen in!

Subscribe to our podcast here.

Who do you think won the hip hop title belt in 2016? Share your thoughts in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: Drake – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late

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Hip hop is still changing, and that’s a good thing. No longer do we fear the worst when someone breaks from the norms of accepted cultural polity – instead, we watch in anticipation of new possibilities and listen for fresh and illuminating voices. Maybe rocking the boat every now and then isn’t so bad after all.

There was a time when releasing a mixtape required weeks of groundswell before any real response could result. Those times are over, if they weren’t already, with the sudden release of If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late last Thursday night. Yes, it’s a commercial release, complete with a price tag, but OVO Sound maintains its status as a mixtape.

Look, we could argue for the next month about semantics and dissect the drawbacks of what could be considered an unfair cash grab before remembering that we’re all streaming on Spotify anyway, but let’s skip the debate. What’s important here is that Drake just released a brand new collection of 17 songs that are pretty good, and that’s pretty damn cool.

The fact that this mixtape/album/whatever-it-is comes from Drake is fairly important to the conversation. He’s become the face of the new hip hop movement – a multi-talented rapper, singer, actor and all around personality. He’s relatable and likeable, but also lives happily isolated in his own constructed world of self-reflection on fame, fortune and fate. Drake has a little something for everyone, and If You’re Reading This offers a fitting next chapter to his tale.

It’s clear within moments of opening track “Legend” that these aren’t throwaway songs that didn’t make the cut for an upcoming full length – these are hits in their own right. The track features a deep, slow-burn of a beat, allowing Drake to utilize his syrupy-sung delivery as he sings of the dark/light contrast of his fame.

This is the Drake we know well, prone to boldness and bravado one moment, only to collapse into despairing introspection. On “Legend” he raps, “Why do I feel like you owe me one? / 6 G-O-D, I’m the holy one” mere moments before stating, “And I, I just can’t pretend / Seen too much, it’s so hard for me to let new people in”. We still dance before stopping to empathize, even though we’ve heard it before.

Even if you’re prone to balk at this reiteration of the subject matter, it’s impossible to deny the way the production captures the story. If You’re Reading This is a dark album with fitting beats to capture the mood. It’s a Drake record at its core, leaving you pondering whether to blast the speakers while you jump around or sit and listen quietly in a dark room. Either will suffice, as the bi-polar production leaves room for both.

“Energy” is a perfect example – it’s a banger for sure, but the simple keys atop a patient drum beat leave lots of room to breathe as Drake airs his frustrations. Likewise, “Used To” goes hard and features a spectacular guest verse from Lil Wayne, but still allows Drake freedom to swing on his emotional pendulum as he ponders newfound pressure, “It’s just apparent every year / I only see the truth when I’m looking in the mirror”.

While much of the production relies on spacey, ambient beats, there’s a fine line between minimalist and tedious. “No Tellin'” drones on for over five minutes, never reaching a crescendo and never allowing Drake to push the track over the top. His monotone delivery on sulky tracks like this has plagued him in the past and still rears its head in small doses on If You’re Reading This Its Too Late.

Fortunately, Drake is learning more and more how to convey those thoughts without losing momentum, while still letting his personality and charm shine through. How many people can get away with saying “OMG” in their chorus, as he does on “10 Bands”? It’s that authenticity that pushes the track to believability, making it one of the best in his catalogue. It’s why when he gets mopey again on “Now & Forever”, singing, “I’m afraid I’mma die before I get where I’m going / I know I’mma be alone, I know I’m out on my own”, we actually feel for him.

If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late isn’t a game changer for Drake in regards to content, but it does offer a glimmer of artistic and personal growth and solidifies him as one of the most powerful movers and shakers in hip hop. A decade ago, it would have been nearly unthinkable to imagine a heart-on-his-sleeve rapper like Drake dropping a midnight mixtape on iTunes for $9.99. In 2015, it’s a celebration. Instead of analyzing his method of attack, let’s join in and jump around to his new “mixtape.” Tomorrow, we can spin the record again in solemn reflection. Drake wouldn’t have it any other way.

3.5/5

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Most Anticipated of 2015: #2 The Kendrick Lamar Takeover

Kendrick-Lamar-by-Ben-Miller-1

At the age of 27, Kendrick Lamar may be on the verge of becoming the most influential rapper in hip hop. Those are strong words, considering the fact that Kanye West, Lil’ Wayne, Drake and others are all still at the top of their game. Nevertheless, 2015 could be the year that Lamar takes the throne.

We’re all awaiting with rapt attention for the follow up to 2012’s acclaimed good kid, m.A.A.d city, a masterful work of storytelling that articulated the struggle of a young kid growing up in Compton. That semi-autographical breakthrough album became an instant classic and now stands as one of the greatest hip hop releases of the past decade. Given the musical talent that Lamar possesses, his follow-up promises to be just as much of a gem.

Lamar flipped the script on everyone, though, with his late 2014 single “i” – a track that bares nearly no resemblance to his past work. Instead, the track fights for joy and hope, standing defiantly in contrast to past (and current) pain. The song was an immediate hit and could likely serve as a sign of what’s to come.

Lamar’s third studio album is allegedly complete and awaiting release sometime in 2015. According to the man himself, the only person to have a copy of the album is his 10-year-old brother. Lucky kid. The rest of us will have to wait – but hopefully not for much longer.

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

It’s All Dead Podcast Episode: 009 – Drake Season

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On this episode of the official It’s All Dead Podcast, Kiel Hauck welcomes special guests Brock Benefiel and Richard Clark to discuss the cultural relevancy of Drake and his place in hip hop. They also break down the similarities and differences between Drake and Kendrick Lamar and share their thoughts on how each artist will be remembered and what their legacy will be. Listen in!

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Posted by Kiel Hauck