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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The Best Albums of 2017

You can view our list of The Best Songs of 2017 here.

Another year is in the books, and while it’s easy to dwell on the negatives of one of the strangest years in recent memory, 2017 was certainly not wanting for incredible music. In fact, 2017 produced so many great albums, it’s hard to show end-of-the-year love to all that deserve it. But we’re going to try anyway.

Our list of the best albums of 2017 touched on a variety of powerful and important topics, from social injustice to mental illness to the strength it takes to shift power imbalances and overcome abuse. The artists below not only thoughtfully tackled important themes, but did so in a way that made us move and forced us to find hope in the mist of brokenness. Without further ado, take a look at some of the best albums of the year.

 

15. New Found Glory – Makes Me Sick

When New Found Glory release an album, there is a certain expectation for how it should sound. When they release an album that manages to branch out enough to rank as one of their more unique releases, it is something to pay attention to. Makes Me Sick is a true summer album that delves into cavity inducing pop while maintaining mosh-ready guitars (“Call Me Anti-Social”). The synth that make its way into the album make each song instantly recognizable, especially as the band take stabs at the world around them (“Party on Apocalypse”), and rarely has the band sounded so inspired (“Barbed Wire”). Makes Me Sick is the reason that after 20 years, New Found Glory are still as important as they were when they helped found the modern pop punk scene. – Kyle Schultz

14. Eisley – I’m Only Dreaming

The spirit of Eisley moves onward on I’m Only Dreaming, even in the absence of DuPree sisters Stacy and Chauntelle. In their stead, Sherri DuPree-Bemis carries the vocal load across an array of tracks that harken to the ambiguity and innocence of Room Noises. At once melodically gorgeous and sonically curious, I’m Only Dreaming offers the dream-like soundscape that put Eisley on the map well over a decade ago. DuPree-Bemis floats above her cousin Garron’s shoegaze guitar licks that range from grungier affairs “Louder Than a Lion” to indie pop numbers that stand as some of the band’s best work to date “Always Wrong”. – Kiel Hauck

13. The Early November – Fifteen Years

It’s hard to imagine an acoustic ‘best of’ album being one of the best of the year, but Ace Enders has always defied expectation. Fifteen Years not only finds a way to hit all of the band’s best songs, but in many ways, it surpasses the originals. Enders has always impressed with his acoustic songs, but the stripped-down versions of some of their biggest hits allows his vocals to truly shine like they never have before. What were some of the band’s biggest rock songs (“Decorations”, “In Currents” “Boxing Timelines”) become emotional ballads. It’s apparent that The Early November have spent their career deserving more credit than anyone ever suspected. – KS

12. Palisades – Palisades

Call it a progression, but reinvention works just as well. Palisades’ self-titled release finds the New Jersey post-hardcore act shedding the electronicore leanings they embraced across their first two records. On Palisades, the band finds a new voice within grunge and nu metal elements that serve as the perfect playground for vocalist Louis Miceli Jr. to display his new, commanding delivery. With the absence of party gimmicks, the band is free to cover fresh thematic territory, adding a welcome dose of levity to match their new style. It’s the kind of 180 turn that opens a variety of doors for a band that has a chance to make a splash in the alt rock waters. – KH

11. Neck Deep – The Peace and the Panic

Neck Deep are an endlessly fascinating band. They have managed to harness the best aspects of pop punk and continuously remind us why the genre matters. The guitars are harsh but sway with rich melody that make easycore bands envious. Every song on The Peace and the Panic demands to be sung along to as the band tackles every topic from rebellion against the government (“Don’t Wait”), depression (“The Grand Delusion”), or telling a story of romance (“19 Seventy Sumthin’”). Neck Deep are a shining example of what makes pop punk such a brilliant genre, and they do it with a sound that marches forward as much as it honors the bands of yesteryear. – KS

10. PVRIS – All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell

Shedding any notion of a sophomore slump, PVRIS delivered with their anticipated follow up to White Noise. All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell zeros in on the best parts of the band’s debut and expands on both sonic and thematic levels. Making use of dark synthesizers and deep, grooving basslines, the trio build dread-infused soundscapes that allow Lynn Gunn to explore an array of fears and regrets. Whether she’s powering through anthems like “Heaven” or growling across the chorus of “No Mercy”, Gunn has become one of the most exciting voices in the scene, and PVRIS appears to have the legs to reach the next level. – KH

9. Kesha – Rainbow

To use a most tired cliché, Rainbow is a roller coaster, driving us through the turbulent aftermath of abuse and the will and strength of a survivor. The album is varied and messy, but works beautifully as a therapeutic outlet of the highest order. From the fist-pumping fury of “Woman” to the tear-jerking pleas of “Praying”, Kesha provides a voice for the broken and a song for the redeemed. Amidst tears and laughter Kesha weaves the story of life on the other side and embraces the freedom in letting go. Rainbow is truly the brilliant comeback everyone was rooting for. – KH

8. Lorde – Melodrama

Lorde (Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor) risked becoming irrelevant by releasing her sophomore album three long years after her debut. “Melodrama”, however, is an absolute masterpiece and refuses to be ignored. This album meets even the highest of expectations that led up to Lorde’s second release. She used the past few years to grow vocally and artistically, and with help from another pop mastermind, Jack Antonoff, Lorde has (once again) completely changed the face of alt-pop. – Nadia Paiva

7. Lucky Boys Confusion – Stormchasers

Coming back from the dead, Lucky Boys Confusion have rarely sounded better. Stormchasers exceeds expectations for a band that hadn’t written a song together for a decade. Biting into the personal tragedies that have plagued the band for the last few years, LBC manage to make some of the most inspired rock songs of their career. “It’s After Midnight” picks up directly off of the sound of their last EP (released in 2006), while “Stormchaser” taps into the sounds of the band’s career to honor fallen band member, Joe Sell.  “Sun In My Eyes” looks towards a brighter future and “Good Luck”, celebrates the band’s past and tells the story of making it as a band. Lucky Boys Confusion is a continuous story of perseverance and honoring a fan base that refuses to quit. – KS

6. Glassjaw – Material Control

Fifteen years have passed since Long Island’s post-hardcore kings released an album, and yet, somehow, Material Control feels like the most Glassjaw record ever put to tape. Material Control is the visceral blend of aggression and melody that put the band on the map nearly two decades ago, yet sounds as fresh as any heavy record released in 2017. The dirty bassline on “Shira” will cause you to break a sweat while Daryl Palumbo’s vocal acrobatics on “Golgotha” will make your jaw drop. Material Control is the kind of relentless record that hard rock desperately needed, and a worthy successor to Worship and Tribute, even if the wait was far too long. – KH

5. Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory

With Big Fish Theory, Vince Staples remains one of the most coy (koi) rappers around (get it?) Across the album’s 12 tracks, Staples wrestles with the fame that has lifted him from his home and threatens to numb him of the pain and struggle that still plagues those around him. Doing it all atop beats that embrace club and house leanings, Staples invites his listeners to dance, even as the themes force you to stop and think. It’s a juxtaposition as profound as the rapper himself, and just another reason why Staples may be one of the most underappreciated artists of our time. – KH

4. AFI – The Blood Album

AFI (The Blood Album) was one of the first records released in 2017 and it is still among the year’s top contenders as the year comes to an end. The Blood Album picks up where the band left things on 2013’s Burials, and pushes forward to make the record one of the best they have ever released. Jade Puget’s dark guitar lines still manage to impress and blaze with the power that other bands require multiple musicians for. Having been the second of three albums that Davey Havok sang for within the span of a year (Blaqk Audio and DREAMCAR), the intensity of his voice is mesmerizing. AFI’s dark pop songs are a masterclass in musicianship. As an amalgamation of everything they have released over the course of a 20+ year career, AFI (The Blood Album) is worthy of being the band’s first self-titled effort, and standing among their best releases. – KS

3. Paramore – After Laughter

Paramore’s long-awaited return came with a release defining some of the most overarching topics plaguing young adults today: mental illness, hopelessness, loneliness, and the idea that we can find the light we’ve lost. Taking a sharp turn from their alternative roots and moving into an ‘80s synth direction, Paramore provided a dose of reality packaged in both fun and reflective ways. We’ve watched Hayley Williams and co. grow up and face some difficult times and, somehow, they’ve always portrayed it gracefully. “After Laughter” is no different. – NP

2. Julien Baker – Turn Out the Lights

On Turn Out the Lights, Julien Baker does more than tug at our heartstrings, she dives deep into the crevices of depression without pulling punches. Whether accompanied by just her guitar or surrounded by organs and strings, Baker’s voice fluctuates from crackling despair to cries of strength, voicing a struggle familiar to many. What makes Baker’s songs so meaningful is her painful honesty – there is no sugarcoating – and when she searches for hope, she does so with every fiber of her being. At the end of the journey, her powerful final cry of ,“I wanted to stay”, is enough to shake any listener to the core. – KH

1. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.

How do you follow up one of the most heralded and important hip hop releases in recent memory? Like this, apparently. Whereas To Pimp a Butterfly stretched outward into the systematic oppressions of our society, DAMN. worms its way into Kendrick Lamar’s psyche, revealing the inner workings of one of the most important artistic voices of our time. Oscillating between “Pride” and “Humble”, “Love” and “Lust”, “Fear” and “God”, Kendrick fights for truth and hope amidst brokenness.

From the rumbling bassline of “DNA” to the throwback samples and drums of “Duckworth”, Kendrick paints a canvas that opens new possibilities for his own rhyme schemes and vocal delivery. At once timeless and fresh, DAMN. is the new bench mark for modern hip hop. There is little room left for debate: Kendrick Lamar is the best rapper alive. – KH

Honorable Mention

Bleachers – Gone Now
Halsey – Hopeless Fountain Kingdom
Jay-Z – 4:44
Tigers Jaw – Spin
Tyler, The Creator – Flower Boy

Posted by Kiel Hauck