My Favorite Songs of 2018

56. Julia Holter
“Words I Heard”
Aviary (Domino)
The LA composer’s wonderful 5th album was inspired by the way memories can flap around in our heads like birds in an aviary. And you can really hear it on this feathery track, which pairs Holter’s pliable vocals with a beautiful, yet chaotic string arrangement. No matter how much the strings swell, her resolute voice cuts through them, mimicking the way truth can force its way through even the most cluttered mind.

55. Lucinda Chua
“Somebody Who”
Digital Single
One of the best new finds of the year, the London-based cellist’s weightless first single will soothe anyone’s weary psyche. Over a delicate piano line and expansive cello filigree, Chua carefully lays on her soft, spellbinding vocals, layer-by-layer. She coos that even though the world around us is going to shit, we can still share a tender moment with somebody. And if that doesn’t sum up what life is like in 2018, I’m not sure what does.

54. Tracey Thorn
“Air” (f/ Shura)
Record (Merge)

This glittering disco jam from the former Everything But The Girl leader is a powerful look at the journey to self-acceptance and finding your place in the world. Now in her mid 50’s, Thorn goes all the way back and opens up about struggling to fit in with hyper-feminine beauty standards and, crucially, how it inspired her to find her own strength (“I’ll squeeze air”).

53. Blood Orange
Negro Swan (Domino)
I still prefer Dev Hynes the songwriter to Dev Hynes the singer,  but his fourth LP is such a rich amalgam of the soul, pop, and R&B influences that he’s built his career on. My favorite moment comes on the heady, dreamlike “Jewelry,” a tune which opens with empowering words from trans activist Janet Mock and features low-key speak-rapping, soulful sax, and evocative crooning. There’s a lot going on — which Mock reminds us is just fine — but it is sharply synthesized into a trio of masterful movements.

52. Lil Peep x ILoveMakonnen
“Sunlight on Your Skin”
Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 2 (AUTNMY)
Posthumous albums are always dicey, but the second half of Peep’s major label debut is a celebration of his unique sound and a crushing testament to how far he could have taken it. That singularity is never more evident than on the disc’s final track, a legitimately sweet love-song with collaborator, friend, and rumored romantic partner ILoveMakonnen. Peep and Makonnen make eyes at one other over easy, strummed guitars and vocal melodies that could have been nicked from a Good Charlotte track. Nobody made music quite like Peep, and the music world is worse off for his absence. RIP.

51. Ian Isiah
Shugga Sextape (Vol. 1) (UNO NYC)

From the moment I heard his singular, “Freak U Down,” back in 2013, it was obvious that the NY R&B deconstructor was a ‘1 of 1’. And though he’s has been a little quiet in recent years, Isiah came back in a major way this you with a stunning, relentlessly experimental new mixtape. Its leadoff track finds Ian at his playful, flippant best, sashaying over gaunt but rousing synth droplets from longtime contributor Sinjin Hawke.

50. Westerman
“I Turned Away”
Confirmation (Blue Flowers)
It feels sacrilegious (and highly unfair) to compare anybody to Arthur Russell, yet there’s nobody else that the rising London singer sounds more like to my ears. “I Turned Away” lives in the same space between synthetic and acoustic that many of my favorite Arthur songs did, creating a sound that feels folky but also vaguely danceable. Vocally, (Will) Westerman is a real talent too, blessed with a falsetto that packs so much emotion into every line. He’s obviously only just getting started, but the 26 year-old has got a big future.

49. Quando Rondo
Life B4 Fame (self-released)

One of the most soulful artists out, the 19 year-old dropped a powerful pair of mixtapes this year, and “Paradise” is a toast to lost friends and the essential people who keep him grounded. It crackles with the remnants of a difficult childhood, the exuberance of a promising young career, and the fear that it all all be too much to handle. Hopefully, he can be boosted by the first one, and the second can help him deal with the third.

48. Serpentwithfeet
“bless ur heart”
soil (Secretly Canadian)
Josiah Wise’s voice is in constant motion — it glides, it creeps, it tiptoes — and never more than on his debut LP’s staggering closer. The 30 year-old Maryland native throws his voice down on the altar of his lover, exalting his majesty with the unrestrained abandon of an evangelist. It’s a welcome reminder that our loved ones deserve our praise for the essential roles they play in our lives.

47. Jon Hopkins
“Feel First Life”
Singularity (Domino)
If this isn’t used for the first contact moment of a new alien movie, some studio head should be fired. The London composer creates a spellbinding sonic landscape with taut strings and beautiful droplets of piano. You can just imagine Amy Adams (or whoever) putting her hand up against the glass, as the tension builds. And just as the vocals come in on 3 minutes, the alien life force slams one of its tentacles against hers. Boom. Everyone cries. Everyone gets a bunch of Oscars. We all go home happy.

46. Channel Tres
Channel Tres (GODMODE)
A unique amalgam of house and west-coast rap, Compton’s Channel Tres came with one of the freshest new sounds of the year. His debut EP’s closer, “Glide,” sums up his USP perfectly, pairing his ultra-slick baritone flow with a late-night deep house groove. Compton might not be known for dance music, but maybe it will be soon.

45. No Rome
“Narcissist” (f/ The 1975)
RIP Indo Hisashi (Dirty Hit)
A breezy, carefree bop about being a total dickhead. For three delirious minutes, the Filipino pop singer and Matty Healy revel in their fuccboi-ery, impishly laying out exactly how awful it would be to date either of them. They admit to hooking up with their girl’s friend(s), consistently taking a bunch of acid, and bleeding profusely in pubic. It’s not cute, but at least they’re honest, right?

44. Xzavier Stone
Thirst (Fractal Fantasy)
If you aren’t staying up-to-date with Sinjin Hawke and Zora Jones’ forward-focused Fractal Fantasy label, you are missing out. The duo have uncovered a stream of genre-fluid dancefloor innovators, and Xzavier Stone is next on that list. Though he’s publicly kept a low-profile, his debut is anything but subtle, packing an intoxicating blend of warped R&B vocals, swirling club music, and instrumental grime. Leadoff track, “CCW,” is his most potent brew, pairing a sexy vocal sample with skittering percussion and hooks for days.

43. Mariah Carey
Caution (Epic)
She named it “Caution” for a reason. On the lead single from her watertight, 15th LP, Mariah whips up 3-and-a-half minutes of musical razor-wire, savaging a trifling ex over luxurious synths courtesy of OVO mainman Nineteen85. Vocally, she’s scaled things back a little, but her pen has never been sharper. And “GTFO” does a beautiful job of walking the thin line between harsh and hilarious without getting any of the spatter on her shoes.

42. Lucy Dacus
“Night Shift”
Historian (Matador)
Though the Virginia singer claims never to have written a break-up song before “Night Shift,” I kind of don’t believe her. It’s hard for me to believe that her first effort to sum up post break-up bitterness would hit quite this perfectly. From the stunning opening salvo — “the first time I tasted somebody else’s spit, I had a coughing fit” — on, Dacus chooses her language wisely, and each line is sharp, illuminating, and so so so relatable to anybody who has ever been pissed off at an ex (i.e., everyone).

41. Rosalía
“Malamente – Cap 1: Augurio”
El Mal Querer (Sony)
I was initially hesitant to approach the talented Catalan singer’s uber-hyped second LP because most of the early press seemed hellbent on using it as a stick to beat other popular Latin singers. Once I got over that, I found that “El Mal Querer” has some fascinating ideas, mostly when it comes to synthesizing the ancient spirit of Flamenco with modern sounds. Lead off track, “Malamente,” balances traditional handclaps with 808s and deep synths, creating a sound that embraces the past and is boosted by the present.

40. Tom Demac x Real Lies
“White Flowers”
Digital Single
After three years away, the London trio returned with a pair of new tunes — the strongest being this nostalgia-soaked slowburner with techno producer Tom Demac. An ode to the late, legendary club writer Gavin Hills and soundtracked by ultra-moody Underworld white labels, “White Flowers” bristles with the possibility of a big night out while being weighed down by the knowledge that you’ve probably done this all before. It’s a potent elixir and few wield it with the precision that the likely Londoners do.

39. 1010 Benja SL
“Tragic X”
Two Houses (Young Turks)
The rising Kansas City singer makes R&B pocket arias that defy verse-chorus conventions and traditional genres. His best song, “Tragic X,” is split into two unique movements, which each uniquely frame his powerful tenor. The first is all comforting blankets of high-thread count synth chords, whereas the second starts icy and skeletal before devolving into harsh layers of distorted sub-bass. Through the changing seasons, his voice stands firm, keeping both worlds (er, houses) together and on-track.

Posted on by TP1.COM in Best of '18, Columns

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