MUSICALLY, 2018 has been as unconventional and bizarre as the news cycle – a year of very public beefs and heel turns, incredible chart successes, and the increasing dominance of streaming within the pop landscape.
While it’s difficult to draw a linear through-line between the songs on this list, the first half of 2018 has also been a non genre-specific success. The 25 songs listed here are the songs we thought have best summed up a notably strong year of releases so far.
Ross from Friends
A prime example of the nascent lo-fi house movement within dance music, ‘John Cage’ is a low-key, break-beat affected ear worm that builds sneakily into a tranquil oasis of a crescendo.
“It’s been a shaky-ass year,” admits Kanye on ‘No Mistakes’, the high-point of the most uneven record he’s made yet. ‘No Mistakes’ is an island on Ye, a calming throwback to soul-sample Kanye with a beautiful Charlie Wilson feature.
Twenty-year-old Sophie Allison (aka Soccer Mommy) writes songs with a casual, disaffected leer in her voice. On ‘Cool’, this coalesces into a seething, rumbling paean to another girl that’s equal parts resentment and respect.
‘Girls On The TV’ unfurls a wistful narrative of adolescence through the use of several vignettes and the melancholic instrumentation of ’80s synth pop, with every character presented as a fully realised being – a wholly impressive feat for a five-minute pop song.
The best Strokes song Julian Casablancas has written in 10 years, a lightly stoned romp through the type of guitar-boogie he used to be able to write in his sleep tempered by a beautifully off-colour guitar solo.
On ‘Canary Yellow’, Deafheaven continue to experiment with the confines of the black metal-inflected shoegaze they’ve perfected over three records: the first three minutes could be a Slowdive song. The twinkle eventually gives way to the band’s usual Sturm und Drang, the song’s closing denouement the most impressive achievement of their career.
‘Make Me Feel’ is the most immediate single Monae’s ever made, showcasing her vocal dexterity and ample skill as an arranger – from the laser-guided synth blasts to the slinky guitar that burrows itself into the song’s second verse.
There’s a scope and expanse to ‘Desire’ that we’ve never seen from Ought before – from Tim Darcy’s honest-to-god croon to the gorgeous greek chorus of a choir that interjects in the song’s back-half. A crowning achievement, and an exciting step-forward for the Canadian post-punks.
‘My My My’ absolutely sparkles with the glow of new-found infatuation, Sivan externalising himself over halcyon synths and beds of his own voice. It’s the most immediate pop song of the year, and nigh-on-impossible not to be swept up in.
There’s no band in the world more self-aware than Parquet Courts, and ‘Wide Awake’ is pitch-perfect excoriation of the type of white liberal all too willing to prove their activist bona-fides. It’s also the most fun song of their career, riding an infectious groove and a group-chant to its logical end.
The most impressive debut single of the year, ‘1950’ is an anomaly within modern pop, at once both classical in its instrumentation and hooks and wholly modernistic in presenting an unashamed queer love story. It’s an ode to monogamy that has an invigorating warmness alongside its openly-beating heart.
A Russian-doll of a track, ‘Everything Connected’ is the most impressive technical achievement of Hopkins’ career – a towering, three-part suite that successfully combines several disparate elements into a stunning finale.
The greatest strength of ‘How Simple’ is in its conciseness. The lyrics are fully-realised vignettes in a few lines, and Frances Quinlan’s voice glides beautifully over the jangly, fizzy indie-pop Hop Along have traded in for several years now. ‘How Simple’ is a break-up anthem that relies on the initial euphoria of breaking up.
Willaris K’s music is all about the margins, and how to skirt them successfully without losing sight of the main melody. ‘Risen’ does as its name suggests – the track’s peak has several synths fluttering at once in line with an industrial rhythm, before it all begins to peter out; the song’s coda is a quiet rumination in its own right.
Amen Dunes uses a former surfing hero as a symbol of hubris to look inwardly at his own flaws on ‘Miki Dora’. ‘Miki Dora’, named after the titular surfer, syncs a watery synth line with bluesy interjections courtesy of indie hero Delicate Steve to paint an insightful picture of the male psyche.
A brutally verbose, scene-setting blast of an introduction to Pusha’s Daytona, ‘If You Know You Know’ is commandingly dense in both the rhymes Pusha spits and Kanye’s forceful, remorseless production.
‘Going Steady’ has the woozy sway of a lucid dream, Francis’ cracked voice sweetly intoning over strummy, elegiac guitars. It’s a compact stunner of a single, matching a pop sensibility with a pleasantly grungy execution.
Among sweetly plaintive backing, Snail Mail’s Lindsay Jordan proves she’s adept at shredding in both the emotional sense and the technical sense, matching a beating emotional core with superlative guitar runs and trills.
‘I Do’ matches an unrecognisably auto-tuned SZA to bring some sweetness to Cardi B’s requisite fierceness. Her meteoric rise to celebrity prominence has obscured just how much she’s improved as a rapper, and ‘I Do’ is a fine showcase for her own singular star quality as well as her upgraded bars.
The twee of ‘Could You Love Me?’ and its message of monogamy is tempered nicely by twirling organs and a skipping drum machine, an amalgamation of Daniel Johnston lo-fi and the pop fantasia of Brian Wilson’s dreams.