After about six weeks of hard work, here they are: my 22 favorite songs of 2018. Yeah, 22. Got a problem with that? I didn’t think so.
I’ve provided both a Spotify playlist that goes from the end of the list to #1, and individual videos for each song. These posts are always hard to get right with all the embeds, so please be patient if it takes awhile to load.
Most of all, enjoy!
“Notes On a Life Not Quite Led” – Mastersystem
This was my hardest song to decide whether or not to include. For several months it was on the running list I keep throughout the year. Then I dropped it late in the summer when I stopped listening to all Scott Hutchison’s music. Finally, at the last moment, I slipped it back in.
Hutchison’s final act was in a super group with his brother Grant and the Lockey brothers, also from Scotland, in a band with a much heavier sound than Frightened Rabbit’s. It was to be a shout out to the ‘90s alt rock and grunge they grew up on. Several of the songs worked quite well.
I imagine there is unreleased FR music that we’ll hear at some point, but these are likely the final recordings we’ll ever hear from Scott. There is an official video, but I decided to share this The Quay Sessions performance instead. It was recorded about a month before Scott’s death and he, honestly, looks kind of terrible, which makes it painful to watch. But the song sounds amazing. Like so many of his songs, I can’t help but pick apart the lyrics and connect them to how his life ended.
These words are meant for nothing
Hope is born of hopelessness
These thoughts won’t change the clocks
Notes on a life not quite lived
“What Are You Like” – Pugwash
As I mentioned the first time I shared this song, it sounds like 1970s, California, AM Radio pop. So of course this dude us from Ireland. It doesn’t have to make sense to be good.
“Toy Soldier” – The Menzingers
These Pennsylvania punks followed up last year’s After the Party album with two excellent singles in 2018. This one hit me the hardest, mostly because of that one line that can be applied to so many things right now:
There’s so much to be sad about these days
“Mistake” – Middle Kids
After a slow introduction that stretched over two years, Middle Kids finally released their first, full length album last spring. And it delivered on all the potential their early singles and EP suggested. I just went back and listened to the album about a week ago and was again surprised at how good so many of the songs are. They make my Favorites list for the third-straight year and are officially in the conversation for my favorite current band. I also enjoy watching Hannah Joy dance.
“Sugar & Spice” – Hatchie
Dream pop magnificence from Down Under. It sounds so bright and shiny, but there are hints of pain and regret in the lyrics. I just love the “But you don’t call me baby anymore,” line.
“One Day Left” – Stars
A different spin on the break-up song: rather than writing about the breakup or its aftermath, Stars instead wrote about the final hours before the breakup. As often is the case with their songs, it sounds epic and magnificent despite the rather melancholy lyrics.
The Americana Tracks
“Glass Jar” – Tristen
With a little help from Jenny Lewis, this Nashville artist splits the difference between poppy, 1970s country and psychedelic, 1960s pop. It’s quite a combination.
“Wake Up” – Chastity Brown
Another song that evokes 1970s AM radio, this with just a hint of country twang to back that driving beat that makes it a perfect road trip song.
The ‘Sounds Like The War on Drugs’ All Stars
“Queens of the Breakers” – The Barr Brothers
“I Am A War Machine” – SONTALK
“Lake Erie” – Wild Pink
No band was as good as The War on Drugs to my ears this year. No band dropped an album I listened to as much as TWOD’s recent albums. But each of these songs carry a little of TWOD’s spirit within them.
The Top 10+
10 – “We Are All Going to Die” – Spielbergs. This song made me want to run through walls, destroy stuff, and punch people. My co-coach for L’s soccer team was also a fan, and kept saying we needed to make our team run out to it before games. I’m not sure it would have pumped the kids up as much as the coaches.
9 – “The Red Door” – Restorations. Sharp, intelligent music that kicks ass. Thank goodness for the Restorations.
8 – “Frame for One” – Jesse Marchant. I believe I heard this song, and the song that you’ll find at #1, the same week back in January. That was a damn good week, although may have set my expectations too high for what was to follow in the rest of the year.
This song begins warm and contemplative. The second guitar that comes in at the 2:42 mark takes it to another level. I can’t believe this hasn’t been used in like 80 movies and TV shows in very dramatic scenes.
7a – An Air Conditioned Man – Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever
7b – Mainland – Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever
For the fourth time in recent years, I’m including two songs from one band. RBCF had an amazing year. When I first heard them a couple years back, I described them as Australia’s answer to Parquet Courts: smart, hipster, art rock. However, where Parquet Courts remain very arty and snotty, RBCF have established themselves simply as a great band that invoke many of the traditional sounds of the best Australian pop and rock.
Ironically, for the second-straight year, it is an Australian band that I believe made the most profound political statements. On “Mainland,” and others, RBCF blast the short-sighted, racist policies of Trump and others who hold similar views. And while “An Air Conditioned Man” is more about the dreaded post-relationship period of ennui, I find those frenzied guitars to be filled with political overtones. Yeah, they’re bummed they lost their girl. But what really pisses them off is the state of the world.
6 – “Just Goes to Show” – Eliza Shaddad
I damn near missed Shaddad’s first full-length album as it got very little run in the US. Thank goodness I accidentally stumbled across it, though, because the album is fantastic – showing strong growth from her 2016 EP – and this song soars. She said when she wrote it she imagined it playing in the final scene of some cheesy 1990s teen movie. When I read that I nearly shouted “YES!” because that is exactly the vibe I picked up the first time I heard it.
5 – “Me & My Dog” – boygenius
The second super group of the countdown, this one features Lucy Dacus, Julien Baker, and Phoebe Bridgers, who takes the lead vocals here. Bridgers has become one of my favorite new artists – see the next song – and Baker and Dacus slide in beautifully behind her, elevating the song without taking it over.
4 – The Gold – Phoebe Bridgers covering Manchester Orchestra.
“The Gold” remains one of the most remarkable indie rock songs of recent years. The various SiriusXM alt/indie rock stations kept the Manchester Orchestra original, which finished at #2 on last year’s Favorites list, in regular rotation for nearly eight months of 2017. And, amazingly, I still heard it often deep into 2018. One week this October I heard it five or six times; once twice within the same 15 minutes (on two different stations). It’s a great, great song.
And then Phoebe Bridgers did this to it… There’s no way I can say her version is better than MO’s. But it is still crazy good. It has all the elements of a great cover: pays proper respect to the original while still taking it in a direction that is consistent with the covering artist’s sound. Had I never heard the original, this would totally sound like a Bridgers-penned track. It sounds so good, in fact, that I’m putting a cover of a song that is only one year old by an artist who already appeared in the countdown at #4 for the year. Breaking all kinds of D’s Dumb Music List Rules here!
3 – “Pynk (feat. Grimes)” – Janelle Monáe
We don’t deserve Janelle Monáe. She makes shockingly good music. She’s the most natural heir to Prince’s sound; he assisted on some of the early work for her Dirty Computer album before his death. She makes amazing visual art. She’s a fine actress. And she takes bold social stances. My quote of the year is her proclaiming that she is a “free-ass motherfucker” when confirming her relationship with actress Tessa Thompson and describing herself as “Pan-Sexual.” We need more free-ass motherfuckers in the world.
This is not one of the songs that she worked with Prince on. But it has all the hallmarks of one of his early classics. It’s funky, sneakily nasty-as-hell, and is a total earworm. You can’t help but drop your windows, snap your fingers, and sing along.
2 – “Believe” – Amen Dunes
Damon McMahon defies defining. He doesn’t make bedroom pop, experimental folk, or straight indie but rather a hybrid of these three sounds, with elements of others thrown in as well. His album Freedom sounded different than anything else that was released this year. And its songs stuck with me throughout the year.
This one hit the hardest. Each of McMahon’s songs have a specific topic or point of inspiration. Here it is the final days of his mother’s life. As she was fighting a terminal illness they, for perhaps the first time in their lives together, sat down and had some hard conversations about the way she lived her life, how it impacted McMahon, and whether they could find a way to get beyond that and become close as her life wound down. The closing section sounds like one of those difficult interactions, completed in brief statements in the moments when her pain wanes.
Pretty heavy stuff. The song is haunting without diving into the lyrics and their inspiration. Knowing that background makes it unforgettable.
1 – “Night Shift” – Lucy Dacus
One of the other members of boygenius delivered the first great song I heard this year. One that was never topped.
I was a fan of Dacus’ work already, but on Historian she made a stunning leap in her craft. Almost every song is fantastic. Which they kind of had to be since this is track one on the disk.
It begins with one of the best lyrics of the year:
The first time I tasted somebody else’s spit I had a coughing fit.
I mistakenly called them by your name
I was let down, it wasn’t the same.
From there it evolves into a different kind of breakup song. It isn’t just about the pain of the relationship ending, or blaming either side for its failure. Rather it is about two people who still live in the same world trying to find a way to carry on as normal without bumping into each other. The choices we are forced to make aren’t always good ones, but sometimes they are necessary if you don’t want to upend your entire life.
You got a 9 to 5, so I’ll take the night shift
And I’ll never see you again if I can help it
Dacus delivers an absolute powerhouse vocal performance, one that is raw and full of every emotion that comes with attempting to move on.
- Last year it was Gang of Youths. ↩