Songs hold our interest more than albums these days, but only because our attention spans have become slender and pockmarked with dings and buzzes from other devices attached to parts that have more tangible interactions with the world. Music is an abstract idea to us at this point in our lives, especially when so much around us is bright and shiny and absurd and outrageous.
Yet -we shout in an ignorant and optimistic way- all of that external distraction makes an amazing song (found in an amazing way), all the more special. In a year where purposeful music-listening took herculean focus, we found 50 (50!) such songs that we loved in all sorts and varieties of ways and mindsets.
Auckland car-bay rockers The Beths have made their chorus, a confession of a heart made weak when faced with a crushing love, into an anthem you’ll want to shout out at your ceiling every time.
“Riding Skating Rolling Painting”
Nothing has been chiller and smoother this year than Lil B’s fluttering sax-ladden omage to his daily schedule.
St. Paul & The Broken Bones
When vocalist Paul Janeway and company gain momentum, there’s no stopping their institution of soul-powered riffs. St. Paul & The Broken Bones could pied-piper a crowd to hell and back.
In the midst of all the holiday music of the season that starts aiming for your ears starting before even Thanksgiving, Brooklynn’s two word definition of a universal feeling felt like a cleansing wave. There’s enough time in “Blissed Out” to age two lifetimes in reclusive peace and return to your coffee with time to spare.
You can hear so many raindrops tracing down so many windows in Faye Webster’s only single of 2018; released to celebrate her signing to the fabled Secretly Canadian label. It positively drips with sax ease and slide-guitar flourishes, and intimate touches thanks to how close to the microphone Webster records her vocals.
This song has saved us from the woes of rush hour traffic five-minutes at a time. There’s so much to uncover and study on in “El Espanto” or “The Amazement”, that it’s like panning for gold with your ears.
Tyler, The Creator (ft. Kali Uchis)
“See You Again”
Tyler, The Creator can be anything he wants; sometimes deep and reflective, other times loud and raucous. But he always delivers a sound that baffles, if only because of sheer variety and the talent it’s made with. Here, with a Pop-sweetness aided by Kali Uchis’ baby-doll delivery, “See You Again” becomes an ode to a reluctant love.
“More of the Same”
It’s the quiet people you need to watch out for. The threshold for exhaustion during the particular nuances of social niceties is much lower for wallflowers; sometimes they simply just don’t have the energy to ask about what you do for a living. Caroline Rose understands this, and makes music that satirizes the understood norm. “More of the Same” is a secret anthem for the unenfranchised.
Quick and dirty, Hanne Hukkelberg’s tribal jaunt under the stars showcases everything she’s mastered; vocal manipulation, layered intros and expos, and a catchy hook underneath it all. “Figure Father” leaves an impression because Norway’s Hukkelberg sounds like she’s just been set loose.
Lil Xan (ft. Charli XCX)
Auto-tune and rappers who sound like they’re sleep-talking don’t usually grab and keep our attention for very long, but “Moonlight” manages to reflect the light from the backing track and Charli XCX’s harmonic moans just right. Lil Xan’s breakup song muses just enough for us to get past all the swagger that ruins most of the message Rap artists try to deliver.
(nsfw clip above)
If there was anything that simultaneously oozed sex and acceptance on our list this year, it would of course be from Forrest Kline’s Hellogoodbye, returning with his first new album in thirteen years. “S’only Natural” is a beckoning finger towards a place to dance and release your cares and finally become who you were always meant to be.
Lyon, France garage-rock band, Oakman checks off all the boxes when it comes to a successful sound; great vocals, rhythmic bass-guitar chords that lift you right up with the chorus, and percussion that drives the hook into the center of your brain. “Clear Enough” excels at all three of these things, but has an extra layer of polish that allows it to be infinitely repeatable.
“When I’m With Him”
Lorely Rodriguez has been embracing her roots, releasing a bevy of bilingual singles that all portray a character sure of what she wants, but not sure of who she is; a combination due to the benefit of hindsight put into prose and lyric. Empress Of has become well-practiced at making rooftop Pop ponderings.
You can almost see the parabolas, slopes and rises in the vocal dips of Kenny Vasoli (of Starting Line fame) and hear the axis where the vertices meet. Vacationer lives on tropical islands so you don’t have to.
When we get to be slightly older, we’d like to be the kind of Father that has the time, patience, and energy to sit down next to our kid’s bed and reads bedtime stories every night. The kind complete with character voices, wild hand gestures and believable answers if little Lazy Flame has questions. Eighteen year-old Atlanta native Adam Alexander already has that trait; look no further than “Winter Soon”.
“We Are The New VR”
Because when we listen to “We Are The New VR”, we can’t help but feel like we’re flying the back of Falcor from Neverending Story, eyeballs deep in 80’s grainy nostalgia. The song likely claimed its genesis from a hummed melody in a grocery store, but by the end of it you’re soaring through Kate Bush inspired clouds. Brave Shores continues to make some of the happiest electronica.
“In Your Hands”
English guitarist, song-writer Nick Mulvey just had his first kid. And we’re told during this process, when you have removed your heart from your chest and it becomes another living thing over which you have no control, you begin to see the world differently. “In Your Hands” began as a pick-pattern first, became a seven-minute meditation on the human potential for peace, and in 2018, became a bite-sized piece of wisdom from a father hoping to make the world a better place for his child.
If Holy Fuck member Brian Borcherdt can switch genres, rhyme ritual with kill, and create a giant lo-fi middle finger towards all the figurative people who can go fall on their swords elsewhere, out of view, then we can give it a nod and a brief howdoyoudoo.
“Trick of the Light” (Bibio Remix)
Stephen Wilkinson, aka Bibio, is the type of artist who might take buzzing wasps or fir cones rolling over tables, blend it with Motown grooves, and make something your ears can never do without again. In fact, he did exactly that on “Mineral Love”. Here, Bibio takes Villagers’ bright twinkling “A Trick of the Light” and dips it so far into such black ink it becomes a distant, distorted song playing on a phone in your winter jacket pocket.
We have no idea why we love this song so much. It has dissonant harmonies, standard rhythmic guitar, four chords, and a small piece sound that stretches as far as a closed door. So why then is it so bloody catchy?
“This Time Around”
The voice of Jessica Pratt is a faerie in a bottle. But if you on accident, perfectly sync up “This Time Around” playing from two different sources like we did on our first listen, her voice echoes and rings in an empty church; timeless and ancient.
We’ve always referred to Pogo’s work as alchemy, in that it takes loads of time and editing to make, and it’s infused with far-flung ingredients that create something unbelievable. Australian Nick Bertke (who we should note has met with controversy for recent outrageous homophobic statements) takes samples from popular film and movies and blends words and sounds into new and magical phylacteries. “Grow Fonder” flips Disney’s Robin Hood, allowing King Richard to perhaps finally get the recognition he deserves.
Wye Oak is so absurdly good, both live and on record. The sound Andy Stack and Jenn Wasner produce together exceeds the sum total of any parts they should feasibly be able to, but their words and craft seem to always blow us away. “Lifer” is a defiant position on a hill, arms akimbo, staring down all fools who dare approach.
Even though it came out four years ago, we still love Rocket League. It’s this video game where play soccer but in rocket-propelled cars and the football is gigantic and you can drive on the walls and ceiling and you can blow other cars up and it’s really hard to master but so easy to get into and…and it’s just all of the bee’s knees in the world. But one of greatest things about Rocket League is listening to the music while you play; a mixture of electronica, chillwave, and lo-fi Pop, the game has one of the best ever-growing soundtracks out there. This summer, Canadian Stephen Walking had the honor of being signed to Rocket Leagues label, Monster Cat, and subsequently had his song “Glide” featured on the title screen. So whenever we booted up the game in the summer of 2018, the sexy sax and steel drums of “Glide” were there to greet us, and it was perfect every time.
You can find this high-waisted jean wearing kickboxing Norwegian bouncing and hopping her way through most of her music videos and live shows, and after you’re done dancing with her, you’ll be hard pressed to remember what it was that got you going in the first place. Sigrid’s music is like so much Velcro; full of a million tiny little hooks and rhythmic loops. “High Five” is gospel on this topic, blending piano asides with car blinker beats. And it’ll be overjoyed to hand you as many pairs of dancing shoes as you can wear out.