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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Review: Senses Fail – If There Is Light, It Will Find You

There is a true rage on If There Is Light, It Will Find You, the new album from Senses Fail, that can only manifest with age. Eighteen-year-olds can scream all they want, but they haven’t lived life long enough to see everything truly collapse yet. The demons haunting Buddy Nielsen, lead vocalist, and the album’s writer, are the type that inspire not only true art, but also unconditional emotional failure. Coming out on the other side of these issues is what gives If There Is Light such a powerful message that few bands can mimic.

You can buy If There Is Light, It Will Find You on Bandcamp.

I won’t claim to be a big Senses Fail fan, but I know the essence of their sound and the horror tinged lyrics that accompanied many of their early albums. I also know of the Drive-Thru Records pop elements that fused into their hardcore edge. As the first album from the band written entirely by Nielsen, If There Is Light captures the sound of Senses Fail and puts me in the mind of what the band were hoping to achieve on their debut LP, Let It Enfold You.

The guitars thrash with heavy power chords and hard pop, reminiscent of The Movielife. However, rather than forcing the harder edge of mid-career Senses Fail, Nielsen relies on the pop element to lift the songs to catchier highs and sharper hooks. A few Queen-inspired guitar solos help lift the spirit of the music from time to time, too.

The poppier elements are a juxtaposition against the darker lyrics that also shows the light beaming through the nightmares. Rather than rely on lyrical screaming, Nielsen’s clean vocals are more than enough to communicate the depth of the real-life horror of this album, as well as how thankful he is to be on the other side.

One of the recurring themes of If There Is Light, is that Nielsen is one of the few his age still relying on music. At this point in my 30s, everyone I grew up with listening to the same music has abandoned listening to it, much less still performing. “Double Cross” finds Nielsen reminiscing about the passion he shared with others while singing from the stage, but now age has made them jaded.

“Is It Gonna Be The Year?” may be one of the most open songs pop punk has ever seen. Nielsen is split between wanting to pursue music forever even as his peers fall away, and the realization that maturity kills the genre. It’s genuinely a stab to the heart to hear him shout, “I never thought that it would last this long / And neither did the others, that’s why they’re all gone / When is it time to give it up, and how long is long enough? / And when should I throw it in, cause I don’t wanna be a washed up old man”.

But where the theme of the album finds its truth is in the songs clearly dedicated to Nielsen’s wife. “First Breath, Last Breath” is a true hell, as it tells the story of watching his wife almost die during childbirth. The guitars chug slowly, letting every note bleed as Buddy sings, “I have never felt so crushed / The sadness buried in my bones / How the hell am I supposed to raise a daughter on my own?” Following later on is quick burner, “Orlando And A Miscarriage”, which seems to be a title that needs no explanation, as the pain that flows from it is visceral.

However, knowing that she survived, “You Get So Alone At Times It Just Makes Sense” is a glorious redemption. The music blasts as Buddy praises her for giving him the strength to keep moving. It’s playful (“I love the way that you don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks / And I’m trying so hard to think like that / but I’m the singer in a fucking band and I’m still neurotic as shit”), and a confession of true love (“All my life I’ve waited to kiss your perfect face / Into the darkest night I’ll take you by my side”).

What makes If There Is Light so redeeming is that each song, and each theme has a callback. For each song that fears being the aging punk, he rallies the troops of youth in a rage against the government (“Gold Jacket, Green Jacket…”) or relishes the memories of Saves The Day from 12 years ago (“Stay What You Are”). For each song about potentially losing his wife, he sings her praises for making him stronger. For all of the darkness swirling across the album, closer “If There Is Light, It Will Find You” ends with a note of hope, as the last lyrics of the entire album are, “Don’t be afraid”.

If There Is Light, It Will Find You is a heartbreaking experience. It’s also something so real and terrifying, the horror pop lyrics of early Senses Fail seems childish in comparison. The poppier aspects of the album may turn off fans hoping for a harder edge, but this is a masterpiece considering it was written by Buddy Nielsen alone. I can’t claim to have any idea of where it will stand in the band’s discography, but it is an album everyone should experience. You’ll be thankful once you’re on the other side. Cheers.

4.5/5

Photo Credit: Tyler Ross

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and discovered Senses Fail moments before he discovered The Early November, one of his all-time favorite bands. He also saw Senses Fail open for Saves The Day, another of his all-time favorite bands. It took over 15 years, but he is finally in love with Senses Fail without overshadowing them with something else. Please throw apples at his temples if you see him.

Review: Speak The Truth… Even If Your Voice Shakes – Everyone You Love Will Slip Away from You

I will always thank Drive-Thru Records for my love of music. Though I still listen to many of those influential bands, there are two groups that frequently fall off of my radar, only to resurface every few years as a new obsession before being put to the sidelines again: Senses Fail and Finch. It is because of these bands that I stumbled into a love of hardcore music. Speak The Truth… Even If Your Voice Shakes, the new(ish) supergroup consisting of members from both bands finds its inspiration from the golden era of emo and unabashedly flaunts it.

You can buy Everyone You Love Will Slip Away from You on iTunes.

Speak The Truth consists of Senses Fail’s Buddy Neilsen on vocals while Alex Linares (guitars), Daniel Wonacott (bass) and Alex Pappas (drums) of Finch round out the instrumentation. Though both bands hail from a harder sound, Speak The Truth hits an odd mix of genres that somehow makes a cohesive sound.

While their singles remind me of the racing guitars of Anberlin (“Crash My Car”), or an emo band putting out their first record (“Everyone You Love Will Slip Away from You”), there is a maturity that channels the positive lyricism of modern pop punk (“The Upside Down”). The result is a record that toys with expectations, honors the legacy that helped get these musicians to where they are now and is a truly refreshing record about coping with the world around you.

While I admittedly haven’t followed either Senses Fail or Finch as closely as I would care to admit, I can say this – this is some of the most inspired music from Linares, Wonacott and Pappas that I have seen from their career. What could be brushed off as a “throw-back” pop punk record churns with luscious guitar rhythms and brutal drumming that seems to crop up just when you want it to. Though the album is significantly poppier than I expected, “Go for the Throat” is a pleasant surprise that sounds like a long lost track off of What It Is To Burn.

Neilsen is fantastic. I forget how much I love his vocals until I hear him, and Speak The Truth is no exception. While he relies mostly on clean vocals, his trademark screams find their spot on the record as well. Though scarce, the screams highlight the darker aspects of the songs while his clean vocals tackle the more hopeful spots (“The Upside Down”).

Everyone You Love Will Slip Away from You is a revival of modern emo. Though the album’s title and main theme revolve around the tragedies of life, the album focuses on handling it with poise and determination to come out on the other side as strong as possible. The idea of coping is a strength and Neilsen portrays it brutally.

On “The Upside Down”, Neilsen lays down a thesis for the album, singing, “Sometimes depression is the only thing reminding me that I feel alive/ And all the sadness could be more beautiful than all of the stars in the sky / I don’t wanna be afraid to be who I am / I don’t wanna be ashamed”.

During “Carpenter In Prison”, after describing the idea of being a shell of the person your younger self hoped to have been, he mixes clean vocals and microphone distorting screams of, “Save yourself / Cause there is nothing more / You gotta wade out into the water / You gotta wade out further / If you’re dying inside you gotta swim to the surface”.

Not everything is hopeful, though. “Mornings Mournings” is a unrelenting rage attack on someone. “Crash My Car” is a more traditional emo song, with a chorus of “I crash my car into a wall to bleed with you”. “Drowning on the Sidewalk or Dying Inside” finds Neilsen admitting, “I write better when I’m depressed and anxious / Nobody wants to hear about the sunny side of life / They’d rather hear that I’m choking inside”. The song also acts as a eulogy for a loved one and is the poppiest song on the record (try not to love that piano during the chorus).

That said, this record isn’t perfect. While the lyricism has a thematic element to it, the songwriting feels as though there were too many ideas. As stated before, while one song sounds like a pop punk anthem, the next is a guitar heavy alternative track. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it has a distinctive sound of several writing sessions that were mushed together. Additionally, Neilsen’s lyrics on “At Least There’s Always Lexapro” seem like they are half audible under the production, which pulled me out of it entirely. It’s a track I tend to skip over on repeat listens, which is a shame.

Finally, the album closer, “Show Your Scars” is a truly awful track (lol). It is completely different from the rest of the album sonically, and it seems to come out of nowhere after listening to the previous nine tracks.

All said and done though, Everyone You Love Will Slip Away from You is a solid debut from a band consisting of seasoned veterans. Musically, it is more of a departure from what fans of either Senses Fail or Finch are expecting, but the execution and exploration of sound is brilliant. Consisting of two bands that rose from the heyday of Drive-Thru, their influences aren’t hidden. Speak The Truth sound like a crowning achievement that both pays homage to the bands that brought the scene to where it is today as much as it pushes that sound forward with modern sensibilities.

3.5/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and has a cat that just snored so loudly, he thought someone was breaking into his apartment. As a natural defense, he heroically leapt up, smashed his knee on a table and promptly fell over.