My Favorite Songs of 2018

38. Caitlyn Smith
“This Town Is Killing Me”
Starfire (Monument)
The great Jessica Hopper wrote an illuminating piece about how rotten it is for female country artists trying to break through in Nashville. Or, you can just listen to this fingerpicked beauty from Caitlyn Smith’s debut LP. Exhausted, frustrated, but still full of fight, the seasoned songwriter sharply chronicles the myriad sacrifices that talented women make every day in pursuit of their dream. She hasn’t found answers yet but stands firm and resolute, knowing she’ll give everything to share her gifts with the world. And we’re lucky she does.

37. Grouper
Grid of Points (Yellow Electric)
Liz Harris’ work doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it lives in the real world that loves to inject itself when we least expect it, laying waste to our best laid plans. She recorded her spectral eleventh album over 10 days in rural Wyoming before being unexpectedly struck down by illness. And it’s unfinished nature comes through heavily on its mournful final track. Just as the haunting piano ballad builds to its crescendo, the song is cut off by a passing train, leaving you maddeningly wondering what could have been.

36. Nio García x Darell x Casper Mágico
“Te Boté” (f/ Bad Bunny, Nicky Jam, and Ozuna)
Digital Single (Flow La Movie Inc.)
A joyous celebration of the rich vein of Latin music that is popping off worldwide, “Te Boté” mixes sweet sounds with stinging sentiments. An homage to cutting toxic people out of your life, this 7-minute thriller is dripping with both the bitterness and freedom that comes from breaking up. Never fear non-Spanish speakers, the buoyant beat and the high fructose vocal melodies will still speak to you even if their lyrics don’t.

35. Playboi Carti
“Shoota” (f/ Lil Uzi Vert)
Die Lit (Interscope)
Even at this early stage in his career, the 22 year-old Atlanta native is cementing himself as an artist who seeks odd, off-kilter beats and turns them into hits. “Magnolia” broke the mold, but “Shoota” might be the wonkiest of the bunch. Featuring a Maaly Raw beat that sounds like something from Kirby’s Dream Land (Google it, kids), Playboi and Uzi go verse for verse, totally undeterred by the cherubic synths and bass and percussion-free first 75 seconds.

34. Roddy Ricch
“Die Young”
Feed Tha Streets II (self-released)
In a society that increasingly fetishizes young death, the Compton native wants nothing of the sort. “Die Young” asks the question do you protect yourself at all costs and take your chances with the legal system, or do you put yourself at mercy of your rivals and rely on the police to protect you? It’s an impossible calculus that a depressing number of young people face. Sadly, its visceral, sobering message likely won’t be heard by the people who can actually make a difference and put an end to this poisonous reality that has cut so many promising lives short.

33. Chromatics
“Black Walls”
Dear Tommy (out LOLBITCH)
“After months of waiting, we finally get a taste of Chromatics’ hugely anticipated fifth LP. And my god, it’s tasty.” I wrote that in FEBRUARY OF 2015! I was still in my 20’s. Obama was still president.  What the hellll guys? “Dear Tommy” is never ever coming out and honestly I wish I could just move past it. But every year, Johnny Jewel and co. drop a few of the delicious, neon-soaked bread-crumbs that only they can, which keeps my blind, desperate faith alive. I hate it, I hate them, but I just can’t quit them.

32. Father John Misty
“The Songwriter”
God’s Favorite Customer (Subpop)
Everybody on the Internet hates Father John Misty, but not nearly as much as Josh Tillman hates him. On the most self-searing moment of his crushing fourth LP, the 37 year-old takes on the perspective of his long-suffering wife and turns his eviscerating gaze back on himself, ripping down the FJM facade and exposing himself as the self-centered, small man behind the curtain. It’s the truest moment of his career, and it signals that Tillman knows he may have to kill Misty to save himself.

31. Drake x BlocBoy J: “Look Alive” // Bad Bunny x Drake: “MIA” // Drake: “Nice For What” // Travis Scott x Drake: “Sicko Mode” // Lil Baby x Drake: “Yes Indeed”
This is extremely cheating, but it’s also a testament to what a malleable rapper Drake is. He’s just as comfortable on bouncy Memphis street rap as widescreen, post-Yeezus apocalypse rap as hyperactive NOLA bounce. Fuck, he even sings pretty well in Spanish (and you know, I was ready to hate that song). At this point, all you can do is praise our sweetboy king and recognize his ridiculously broad talents.


30. Afro B
“Drogba (Joanna)”
Digital Single (Marathon)
As a fan of a team who got terrorized by the Ivory Coast and Chelsea striker for the better part of 10 years, it was going to take something special for me to love a song named “Drogba.” And this one delivered. A perfect song to get you through the bleak winter months ahead, the South London-based, Ivory Coast-rooted singer’s voice is dripping with sunny optimism. Over three delirious minutes, Afro B turns getting curved into a joyful occasion, playfully gliding over the Soca beat and island keys with infectious energy.

29. 700 Bliss
“Ring the Alarm”
Spa 700 (Don Giovanni)
The Philadelphian duo (MC Moor Mother and DJ Haram) dropped one of the most exciting, uncharacterizable debuts of the year, combining elements of rap, progressive dance music, spoken word, and ambient for a sound that is all their own. Its revolutionary-minded centerpiece, “Ring the Alarm,” pairs Moor’s ravenous, impactful bars (“you heard what I said, that anti-Black’s programmed in your head”) with a mantric, hyper-modern electro beat. I have no clue where they’ll go from here, but I am stoked to find out.

28. Slowthai
“T N Biscuits”
Digital Single (Bone Soda)

Nobody goes harder than the hyperactive Northampton rapper, and “T N Biscuits” is bristling with the kind of unsettling, unhinged energy that young crowds feed off. His choppy, staccato flow injects urgency into every bar, and he cleverly elongates the syllables at the end of each line in the chorus (“drug dee-lahhh, I wear Nike, not Fee-lahhh”) to interject just that little bit of catchiness to the sonic tornado without sacrificing one inch of grit. This kid is a star in the making.

27. Unknown T
“Homerton B”
Digital Single
The Hackney MC might have to find a new name because his muscular sound has made him into one of the UK’s hottest names. His breakthrough single — named for his rough East London district — pairs his deceptively playful flow with a foreboding drill beat. The Giggs comparisons are obvious, but they’re lazy. T raps with a kinetic energy that doesn’t feel at all like Giggs, and it perfectly balances his gravely, menacing baritone. Unknown, no more.

26. Santi
“Rapid Fire” (f/ Amaarae & Shane Eagle)
Digital Single
This weightless banger from three of Africa’s top young talents is basically a Drake feature away from taking over the world and finding itself at the top of a lot of next year’s year-end lists. Not that it needs it, of course. Still frustratingly ignored by most mainstream, American blogs, Santi is the leader of a bubbling Lagos scene called alté (alt) that fuses Afrobeats with touches of rap, dancehall, and R&B. And though Santi and South African MC Shane Eagle deliver the goods, it’s Ghanaian vocalist Amaarae who really steals the show here, deliciously flipping Ja and J-Lo’s “I’m Real” and effortlessly weaving it into her star-making second verse.

25. Blueface
Famous Cryp (886011)
There’s fighting the beat, there’s rapping off-beat, and then, there’s Blueface (né Johnathan Porter). Sometimes, it feels like the rising LA rapper hasn’t actually heard the beat he’s rapping on, swerving in and out of thoughts like a blacked out driver. At first listen, his 0% punctuation, 100% word-vom run-on flow is disorienting. But after a few spins, you’ll start to find his wave and pretty soon, it’ll all make sense. “I could sit here and talk off beat, my shit still slap like a pimp on his worst day,” he boasts. He’s not lying.

24. Snail Mail
Lush (Matador)
It’s hard to tell what’s more impressive, Lindsey Jordan’s guitarwork, songwriting, or singing. On her debut LP’s knotty opener, they all intertwine together at max capacity, resulting in an absolute gem. Built on a constantly shifting array of technical, nimble guitar riffs, the 19 year-old struggles to come to terms with the realization that no matter how she tries, the person she loves doesn’t see her that way. It’s a relatable story (we’ve ALL been there) told with candor and clarity. And though the singing might not blow you away at first, her urgency builds with the song, and when we get to the bridge, she really lets it go. I’m telling you, not many people can do all three of these things this well.

23. Wild Pink
“Lake Erie”
Tiny Engines
If there was any fairness in the world, the unheralded Buffalo-bred trio’s second LP would have gotten just as much love as the War on Drugs record from last year. Musically, singer-songwriter John Ross mines much of the same territory as the WOD (aka Midwestern ennui with “Tunnel of Love” on the stereo), but he’s a much more effective writer, rarely reaching for ambiguous lyrical cop-outs or beige cliches. “Lake Erie” is a perfect example of this, as he tells a relatable coming-of-age story with precision and care.

22. Robyn
Honey (Konichiwa)
At some point in the last few years, Robyn became typecast as the torchbearer for lonely dirtyhairs in places like Bushwick, Echo Park, and Croydon to dance away their first-world problems. And though those experiences are valid (I’m sure I’ve been guilty of this), it is so reductive to one of the finest, most flexible songwriters of our generation. Yes, Robyn has written a few anthems about solitude, but so much of her best songs are about connection. And “Honey,” is precisely about moving past those neuroses and really putting your hands on somebody real (obv, another consenting adult). It is a beautiful, visceral, adult love song that I hope inspires us to get out of our heads and into the world. Fuck dancing on our own, let’s go dance with somebody.

21. Tomberlin
“I’m Not Scared”
At Weddings (Saddle Creek)
“To be a woman is to be in pain, and my body reminds me almost every day,” sighs Sarah Beth Tomberlin. And you can feel every ounce of that on this crushing piano ballad: the centerpiece to her ultra-impressive debut LP. Raised in a deeply religious household in Kentucky, this is the sound of a person pushing back against the things that are meant to fill in the holes in our lives: love, drugs, faith. Rather, she finds solace in progress, knowing the only way for her not to get sucked under is to keep pushing forward.

20. Jacques Greene
“Night Service”
Mixtape (out now)
I don’t get to night service much these days, but emotional house stalwart Jacques Greene captures the rapture of a great night out so well on this still-unreleased gem. Buried at the end of his sprawling, 52-minute mixtape, you can feel the sweat dripping off “Night Service,” as Canadian rapper Cadence Weapon’s hushed, devotional speak-rap conjures up all sorts of “Weak Become Heroes” vibes (the best kind). But the magic really hits when Jacques brings the beat back for the final refrain, perfectly capturing those fleeting moments when a packed room is all moving together in perfect unison. Can I get a witness?

19. Isabella Lovestory
“me gustas”
Juguete (self-released)
To be Hispanic and alive in 2018 is to be inundated with a unrelenting stream of information about impossible cruelty perpetrated by our government against people who share your blood (exhibit A: today’s news).

And when the news from El Paso and Tornillo and Long Island and Otay Mesa was too grim to bear, I found myself returning to the soothing sound of the talented, teenage Honduran. Though it isn’t on Spotify and only has 119 views on YouTube, “me gustas” is an absolute beauty of a love song that brings you back to the feeling of crushing as a kid, when the only thing that matters is your prospective boo. I might have used this song like a drug this year, but I’m glad it was there for me because I fuuucking needed it.

18. Ariana Grande
Sweetener (Republic)
The best part of Ariana’s excellent fourth album comes near the end of “everytime.” After two and a half minutes of a lovelorn Grande admitting that she can’t get out of a frustrating one-again-off-again relationship, she breaks and cracks up as the intoxicating beat plays out. It’s an impactful moment of levity for an artist who has dealt with an unimaginable year — a terrorist attack at her show in Manchester, the death of her ex Mac Miller, the end of an engagement — played out in front of a worldwide audience. It speaks to her resolve as a person and her superhuman ability to keep smiling, keep shining, and keep creating the best art of her career in the face of it all.

17. City Girls
“Where The Bag At”
Period (QC)
Though Young Miami’s recent dispiriting, homophobic remarks have taken much of the shine off what should have been a triumphant year, it’s hard to argue that any other new group is musically more exciting than the electric Miami duo. Their best song, “Where the Bag At,” highlights the telepathic rapport and undeniable star quality that the pair bring to just about every track they make. Free JT.

16. Saba
CARE FOR ME (Saba Pivot)
Violence in Chicago has basically become a dog-whistle for conservative (and some “liberal”) politicians to dehumanize the black and hispanic people struggling to survive in conditions that they didn’t create. “Prom/King” is the opposite — an affecting catalog of memories shared between two cousins, Saba and Walter “John Walt” Long Jr. — that reminds us that they are real people behind the faces we see on the internet. Ones that hook their awkward little cousins with prom dates, loan each other 30 bucks, and play pick-up hoops together. You know, all the shit that everyone does.

All those little stories are what make our little lives matter, and the rich colors that Saba paints these stories with make the abrupt, terrifying coda even more devastating. Most importantly, his words underline the urgent need to help the PEOPLE — not statistics, not talking points, not fucking PR opportunities — of our cities who deserve so much more than what they’re getting.

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

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