Top 20 Songs of 2018
20. Travis Scott, “Sicko Mode”
Although Travis Scott’s team up with Drake and Swae Lee, “Sicko Mode,” has been meme-ed to death, it remains a strong statement about Scott’s distinct style and growing influence. The psychedelic trap that Scott has been pioneering with his music is on display here as the heavily sub-woofed beats and distorted vocals carry the sound of this multifaceted song. “Sicko Mode” also feels stitched together and doesn’t stay in one place too long keeping the listeners’ attention. The icing on top that broke this song into the stratosphere was Drake. Champagne Papi had a rollercoaster of a year but gifting the internet stacks of incredibly meme-able lines on “Sick Mode” was one of the high points. Paired with an equally psychedelic music video, “Sicko Mode,” will be able to survive the test of time far more easily than the album it is off of, Astroworld.
19. Sharon Van Etten, “Comeback Kid”
A complete 180 from Sharon Van Etten’s usually slow and soft indie rock, “Comeback Kid” is a burst of kinetic energy. The big trend of pulling from the pool of 1980’s sound seems inescapable and Etten is not immune. The gated reverb on the pounding drums ooze of the ‘80s but Etten has definitely incorporated some sound of modern indie-rock onto the track. The background droning sound that opens off and permeates throughout the whole track along with some little bits of production value here and there make for a good mix of sounds. The sentiments (mainly rebellion) and the mixed sound of “Comeback Kid” give us a good idea of what to expect for Etten’s highly anticipated upcoming album, Remind Me Tomorrow.
18. MGMT, “Me and Michael”
A beautiful piece of synth pop, “Me and Michael,” is a quaint simple love song that is “solid as they come.” In an interview with Q, the band discussed that the refrain of the song was originally written “me and my girl” but band member Ben Goldwasser said that it was “boring and cheesy” opting for the current title. Because of this title switch, the straightforward love song becomes a little more ambiguous. No matter what or who the song is about, the euphoria that the song evokes is what catapults it to being one of MGMT’s best.
17. Julia Holter, “I Shall Love 2”
Ever the pop innovator, Julia Holter doesn’t hold back on her new album, Aviary. Cacophonous in sound and deep in its influences, the album isn’t exactly an easy listen and definitely not for everyone. Despite this, Holter finds the perfect balance between her soft vocals and experimental nature on the soothingly beautiful “I Shall Love 2.” The instrumentation and echo in Holter’s voice construct a very spacious atmosphere at the beginning of the song that builds over time. Instruments and little nuggets of sound come in and out while Holter’s voice becomes more and more apparent. In many popular love songs, the statement is of longing for love as if it is like winning the lottery. Conversely in “I Shall Love 2,” Holter’s voice envelopes the entire song as she shouts confidently “I shall love” over and over. The brash confidence of love is a different flavor that, along with the creative arrangement, make “I Shall Love 2” a thing of beauty.
16. Kali Uchis, “After the Storm”
“Kali, what you mean? I take it offensive / ‘Cause I’m the hottest flower boy / That popped up on the scene” Tyler, the Creator raps on the “After the Storm,” the eminent song off of Kali Uchis’ debut, Isolation. “After the Storm” comes as a role reversal of sorts as Uchis has been a frequent feature on many Tyler, the Creator tracks (most notably “See You Again”). There are many references to Tyler, the Creator’s previous album, Flower Boy, and “After the Storm” shares a similar sound and style to that album. The funky instrumentation and playful backing lyrics (courtesy of the legendary Bootsy Collins) give the track very Flower Boy vibes but this time Uchis is in the driver’s seat. Like most of Isolation, “After the Storm,” is a bout of confidence and tale of perseverance. “So if you need a hero / Just look in the mirror” Uchis sings as “After the Storm” becomes an anthem for this level of brash confidence.
15. Father John Misty, “God’s Favorite Customer”
From Father John Misty’s (Josh Tillman’s) gruff look and somewhat bipolar nature of his songs, you can tell he’s been through some stuff. Growing up with deeply religious parents (his mother was raised by missionaries in Ethiopia), Tillman has had a complicated relationship with his religion. On his previous album, Pure Comedy (BPJ’s #1 album of 2017!), Tillman seems at odds with religion as he sees it as causing many of the issues in the world. On the title track to his latest album, God’s Favorite Customer, it seems like Tillman has reconciled with his religious gripes (or has he?). Much of the album chronicles his issues with his love life which presumably have led him to have a redo with the big G. Like the rest of the album, the song “Gods Favorite Customer,” could be completely referring to his wife as imagery in the music video for “Please Don’t Die.” This would make some sense as Tillman didn’t realize what he lost until he lost it.
“God’s Favorite Customer” is a somber yet beautiful song. The piano melody and lyrics create such an atmosphere that is painfully sympathetic. What pushes this song to be great is the progression from the harmonica and the backing vocals from Weyes Blood really creating an atmosphere that appears in the music video. Although Tillman took a break from sociopolitically charged masterpieces, the somber love song appears polished in his arsenal.
14. Soccer Mommy, “Wildflowers”
The somewhat convoluted nature metaphor that Soccer Mommy is trying to conjure on her latest album, Clean, comes to fruition on its final track, “Wildflower.” Sophie Allison’s soft sultry voice sings “Wildflowers don’t grow in the city / My heart turns grey and shriveled now.” She realizes that the vast relationships that she is trying to conform to throughout Clean aren’t worth it. These sentiments are somewhat cheesy at best but what pushes this song to be the best off of Clean, is the somber yet powerful lo-fi instrumentals. The guitar is almost (gently) weeping in the introduction before Allison’s hoarse voice hits. I wasn’t completely sold on the soft indie-rock revival, but the emotion in the guitar and Allison’s voice showed me the potential of this genre for the future.
13. Ariana Grande, “thank u, next”
If there was ever a song that broke the internet in 2018, it was Ariana Grande’s “thank u, next.” On top of the world after the release of Sweetener, Grande’s year took a tumultuous turn as her former boyfriend, Mac Miller, died of an overdose and she broke off her engagement with Pete Davidson. At its core, “thank u, next” is a song of confidence and learning from your mistakes. Though the song is seen as a hardy f*ck you to men in general, Grande’s big take away is learning from each of her relationships (ie. “one taught me love…”). Although, this wasn’t enough to make this song a cultural phenomenon. Realizing the millennial army she had amassed, the music video for “thank u, next” was made to be a crash course in early 2000’s movies. With enough bronzer to make Snooki jealous, Grande puts herself in the middle of everything from Legally Blonde to Mean Girls and successfully cements herself as a cultural force for many years to come.
12. Noname, “Self”
A short yet poignant song, “Self” by Noname opens Room 25 and contains much of the same confidence that many female artists exuded in 2018. “Y’all really thought a b*tch couldn’t rap huh?” Noname says as she talks about everything from questioning Kanye to colonialism. In essence, Noname is trying to take on the patriarchy that is ever present in modern rap music. She doesn’t do this in a toxic “men are trash” sort of demeanor but instead uses the line “Mr. Money Man, Mr. Ever Day He Got Me / Mr. Wifing Me Down, Mr. Me-Love, Mr. Miyagi” to describe the aspects of men that are foul or whatnot (Mr. Miyagi is supposed to represent mansplaining?). “Self” contains everything great about Room 25. A conscious song with an amazing minimalist, jazzy sound that emphasizes Noname’s soft voice. Noname ends the song with an audience further educated on her ability saying “And y’all still thought a b*tch couldn’t rap huh? Maybe this your answer for that.”
11. Arctic Monkeys, “Star Treatment”
The introduction to the ethereal new Arctic Monkeys album, Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino, shows the band going in a drastic new direction. For the past few albums they have definitely been straying from the Brit-pop/punk rock roots of their first album, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, for a more modern alternative rock sound that was well on display on their last album, AM. Nothing could prepare us for their drastic shift into a groovy, lounge-pop sound. The crown jewel of this new style is the aforementioned album opener, “Star Treatment.” The ringing piano melody and Alex Turner’s echoing voice create an irresistible atmosphere that carries throughout the entire album. The other facet that makes this song great is the fantastic and cheeky story that the lyrics paint. “I’m a big name in deep space, ask your mates” Turner sings trying to convince the audience of his merit. More space imagery like “Rocket-ship grease down the cracks of my knuckles / Karate bandanna, warp speed chic” add to the mood of the song. There’s some subtext concerning Bladerunner and George Orwell’s 1984 but it doesn’t land as hard as the other components of the song. “Star Treatment” is a fun brash statement of the changing genre that Arctic Monkey undertakes on their latest album.
10. Lucy Dacus, “Night Shift”
Lucy Dacus makes up one-third of the new indie-rock supergroup, boygenius, that made a splash this year with a breakout EP. Earlier in the year, Dacus released her second studio album, Historian, to much critical acclaim. Nothing can prepare you for the emotional rollercoaster that is “Night Shift,” the first song off Historian sets a very intense tone that is hard to match. “The first time I tasted somebody else’s spit, I had a coughing fit” Dacus sings as the introduction begins as a soft tale about a break up that Dacus wasn’t able to recover from. Everything changes as halfway through the song, the chorus explodes and a massive guitar riff fills the air. Dacus’s voice turns from singing into screaming and you can feel every ounce of emotion in her performance. Although Dacus is singing a tale as old as time, the pure emotion of her performance makes it a completely unique and compelling song that is her best yet.
9. Lana Del Rey, “Venice Bitch”
Lana Del Rey was relatively quiet in 2018 apart from two singles that came out in September. The first was a doom and gloom piano ballad called “Mariners Apartment Complex” which seemed like a more stripped down version of the patented Lana Del Rey style. While this song didn’t exactly blow me away the next single Lana released, “Venice Bitch,” sunk my battleship. The almost ten-minute romp about a picturesque American relationship goes through many sonic twists and turns. The beginning is as soft-rock as it gets as Lana’s vocals give such a contagious feeling of euphoria. But as most Lana Del Rey songs go, something is rotten in Denmark (Venice). Throughout the gorgeous vocals, you can hear twangs of doubt as Lana sings “Nothing gold can stay… You’re beautiful and I’m insane / We’re American-made.” The song then segues instrumentally into a more crowded sound that doesn’t exactly have our tale turn sour but infers some sort of conflict. There is no big fight, as the instrumentals tease, rather Lana ends the song with psychedelic chanting and not a care in the world.
8. Kacey Musgraves, “High Horse”
“You’re classic in the wrong way” Kacey Musgraves sings as she simultaneously breaks down and builds up the foundation of many country music tropes. The facade of macho and pristine view of John Wayne and cowboys, in general, is destroyed as Musgraves diminishes them to “thinking they’re cooler than everybody else.” Musically “High Horse” stands out like a sore thumb in the tracklisting for Musgraves new album, Golden Hour. The most upbeat and lively song off the album, “High Horse” is also the funkiest country song you will ever hear. The baseline that permeates throughout the entire song is somehow funky and country at the same time. The funk-country fusion that Musgraves accomplishes on this track (as well as the fusion on the rest of the album) is unparalleled and the reason that she is being hailed as so revolutionary.
7. Car Seat Headrest, “Beach Life-in-Death”
“Beach Life-in-Death” is the sonic epicenter of the rework of Car Seat Headrest’s 2011 cult classic, Twin Fantasy. A colossal thirteen minutes long, “Beach Life-in-Death” is a sonic and emotional rollercoaster that is just as poetic as destructive. Many points in the song seem very cryptic. The beginning sees frontman Will Toledo create a metaphor about trains and his love life. There is also random chanting throughout the song like “Get more groceries, get eaten,” that doesn’t make all that much sense. While other parts of the song are emotionally in your face. Toledo talks about everything from depression to his struggles with coming out to not wanting to have schizophrenia. “Beach Life-in-Death” could definitely be analyzed in a literature class as it is chocked full of every type of literary device. Despite this poetry, what pushes this song is the energy created by the fantastic sound. The booming sound created by searing electric guitars gives wings to Toledo’s voice as he screams “I don’t want to go insane / I don’t want to have schizophrenia.” The passion and amazing enveloping instrumentation on “Beach Life-in-Death” is a great example of how Car Seat Headrest rose up from the underground to indie-rock stardom.
6. KIDS SEE GHOST, “4th Dimension”
Kanye West was in rare form on the production side on his collaboration with Kid Cudi, Kids See Ghost. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the track “4th Dimension” which features a sample from Louis Prima’s 1936 holiday song “What Will Santa Claus Say” as the backbone of the song. Most people would scratch their heads at hearing an old-fashion Christmas tune in a psychedelic rap song from 2018 but somehow Kanye makes it work. The beat breakdown that transitions from the Christmas song to the first verse is a thing of beauty. Kanye seamlessly weaves the “Oh, oh, oh / What is Santa bringing?” into a *killer* beat. Apart from the samples, the backing soundscape throughout the song creates a psychedelic sound that permeates the entire album. Kanye’s lyrics are as odd and ridiculous as ever as he references Lacoste and Rick Ross. Although Kanye had a very turmoil-filled year, him and Kid Cudi’s Kid See Ghost project continues to be a shining highlight of 2018.
5. Parquet Courts, “Wide Awake”
Inspired by the funk and mardi gras sound of New Orleans, “Wide Awake,” is a song for all the “woke” kids out there. In an album full of songs about gun violence and global warming, the somewhat light-hearted nature of “Wide Awake” gives a good break from some of these harsh realities. The band pokes fun at the social currency that has come about from being socially “woke” in the modern age. “I’m wide awake /Mind so woke ‘cause my brain never pushes the brakes” tongue-in-cheekily Andrew Savage sings. While the band is making fun of this phenomena they are also right in the trenches as much of the album sees them being “woke” about topics from gun violence to hate speech. Because of this, “Wide Awake” brings some semblance of self-awareness to their music as it comes off at times preachy. The band is somewhat safe as much of their light-hearted criticism of “wokeness” stems from surface level arguments that are mainly used for social points. Apart from this, “Wide Awake” is the grooviest track off the album and proves that Parquet Courts is a creative and artistic force in the rock-punk scene.
4. Mitski, “Nobody”
“My God, I’m so lonely” Mitski sings on the lead single to her latest album, “Nobody.” The song originates from a holiday Mitski spent in Malaysia away from family, spurring the loneliness. Though the story isn’t exactly page turning, what makes “Nobody” so enticing is how up front and personal Mitski is in this song. Many sad boi hours songs like this are buried in metaphor or so disingenuous that it is it hard to extract any real emotion. While there is a metaphor in “Nobody” about Venus being destroyed by global warming, it doesn’t dominate the song. What dominates the song is the impact of Mitski singing “I’ve been big and small… and still, nobody wants me.”
The instrumentation also enhances the emotions throughout the song. The echoing but soft piano chords that fill the beginnings of the song amplify how somber the first few lyrics are by creating a spacious sound. Throughout the song, the instrumentation begins to build up and become more lively until it climaxes with Mitski’s repeated chanting of “Nobody.” Even Mitski’s voice changes through the end of this song giving a more vocoded vibe. The instrumentation in the middle and towards the end of the song create a more vibrant sound and mood that suggest a change in Mitski’s feelings. With the vocoding of her voice, the song ends in an unsure state tonally. “Nobody” is a brash statement of loneliness that leaves more questions than answers but is one great song.
3. Childish Gambino, “This Is America”
After the release of 2016’s Awaken, My Love!, it seemed like Childish Gambino was done with music and set to focus on different aspects of his multi-faceted career. So it came as a surprise when Gambino released the political statement and cultural force of the year, “This Is America.” Accompanied by a music video that will be analyzed (and meme-ed) for ages, “This Is America” is a trap banger that is as catchy as it is deep. “This Is America,” though a political song at its core, is much more subtle and tasteful than many of the “f*ck Donald Trump” like songs that have come out in recent years. The song serves to juxtapose pop cultures views on black people with the brutal reality. The happy-go-lucky “yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah’s” and choir singing are contrasted with gunshots and harsh beat switches. The lyrics also serve this juxtaposition deeply as the first verse is “we just wanna party” and about getting money while the chorus chants “This is America / Don’t catch you slippin’ now.”
The music video is a whole other story as the sentiments in the song are amplified by the vast amounts of imagery. In the video Gambino represents a caricature of black people in the Jim Crow south (he is also wearing confederate soldier pants) as he dances and his body movements mimic said caricature. Gambino seems frivolous to his chaotic surroundings and shoots the captured man and the singing choir at the two main beat switches that happen throughout the song. What makes this music video and song so incredible is that you don’t need to dive deep into the imagery or the lyrics to extract the ultimate point that is trying to be made: that “This Is America.”
2. Kanye West, “Ghost Town”
Kanye’s crowning jewel of his summer of madness, “Ghost Town,” is a microcosm of thought and emotion in the mind of Kanye West. Although it remains one of the most collaborative tracks off all five Kanye projects, “Ghost Town,” is still unequivocally, emotionally all Kanye. The track shares a similar Shirly Ann Lee sample to “4th Dimension” and it seems like the track inspired much of what would become Kids See Ghost. Sonically the track is dynamic and evokes everything from electronic to psychedelic to gospel music. The emotional link that Kanye shares deeply with this song can be seen in the connection to God that is all too familiar in Kanye’s music (see “I Am a God”). The Shirley Ann Lee sample talks about wearing a “starry crown” and in the first verse PARTYNEXTDOOR sings “Some day, some day, some day / I wanna lay down, like God did, on Sunday.” Kanye is comparing his legacy to God’s creation which is a hefty statement but reflects on the confidence of his vision.
Other events in the life of Kanye relate deeply as later in that same verse PARTYNEXTDOOR sings “Some days I wanna hit the red dot on everybody… Now that I’m livin’ high, I do whatever I wanna” reflecting some of his frustrations and attitude in 2018. Cudi is another patron of Kanye’s feelings as his short chorus “I’ve been tryin’ to make you love me / But everything I try just takes you further from me” can be seen in multiple lights. This could be his relationship with Kim Kardashian or it could be referring to his relationship to the general public regarding his many outbursts this year on Twitter. Most likely (as in the song “I Thought About Killing You”) Kanye is referring to himself as self-love is a huge theme on Ye.
Everybody’s performance is spot on in “Ghost Town” but the big unsung star of this song is 070 Shake. The outro sung by this new artist captures the feeling of freedom and euphoria that much of the song professes. “I feel kinda free… I put my hand on a stove, to see if I still bleed” 070 Shake sings as Kanye deconstructs what we perceive as freedom. The outro is pure bliss as the deep guitar riffs carry the song out to oblivion. There is never a more controversial figure in recent memory as Kanye West, “Ghost Town” gives a quick glimpse into the internal madness that has been causing his countless internet outbursts.
1. Janelle Monáe, “Make Me Feel”
Like Gambino, Janelle Monáe seemed to be focusing more on acting of late starring in Hidden Figures, Moonlight, and Welcome to Marwen. This sentiment changed in late February when she released the first single for her upcoming album, “Make Me Feel.” The song is a true statement from an audiophile and keeps with the theme of confident female performances. “Make Me Feel” is filled to the brim with an irresistible sticky funk riff that would have fit snug on Prince’s 1999 or Michael Jackson’s Bad. Apart from the beautiful sparse funk riff the chorus of the song explodes into a dense wall of static sound that gives it a more modern alternative rock feel.
Since Janelle Monáe’s early days as a performer, questions often arose about her sexuality. The opening lyrics on “Make Me Feel” can be seen as the beginning of a love song or a rash explanation of her sexuality to the media. Monáe is not one to shy away from her sexuality as is prevalent from the lyrics and the music video released alongside the single. Regardless of this, the chorus is what emotionally hits. The repeated refrain of “That’s just the way you make me feel / So good, so good, so f*ckin’ real” throws out the question of sexuality and focuses on the emotion.
From the onset I knew “Make Me Feel” was sonically my favorite song of the year but what pushed this track to become BPJ’s song of the year is the brash confidence that Monáe displays here. “I Shall Love 2,” “Wildflowers,” “High Horse,” “Night Shift,” “thank u, next,” “Self,” these are all songs that are spearheaded by confident female voices and to honor trend that characterized much of the great music in 2018, it was only fitting to have Janelle Monáe’s “Make Me Feel” get the number one spot.
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