This year gave us a Post Malone song we wish we didn’t like so much, a bunch of Kanye music we wish we liked more, the triumph of Ariana Grande, the rise of Valee, the near-downfall of Drake. As always, there was lots to explore. These are our 101 favorite songs of 2018.
The 101 Best Songs of 2018
101. Deafheaven, "Worthless Animal"101. Deafheaven, “Worthless Animal”
101. Deafheaven, "Worthless Animal"
Black metal bands have been exploring mellower avenues for some time now, and Deafheaven would be the first to admit that they didn’t invent the distinctly shoegaze-y take on the genre for which they’ve become known. But there’s still something to be said for frontman George Clarke shrieking full-on during the most sedate passages of “Worthless Animal,” a tune whose peaks and valleys unfold over 10 minutes. “Worthless Animal” captures the band at its most epic and, perhaps more importantly, at its most patient as well. — SABY REYES-KULKARNI
100. Panic! at the Disco, "High Hopes"100. Panic! at the Disco, “High Hopes”
100. Panic! at the Disco, "High Hopes"
All it took for P!ATD to notch a second top-ten hit was a dozen years and the departure of every member of the band save for Brendon Urie. So if this strivers anthem leans heavily on the first-person singular, maybe it’s warranted. The string accents recall the retro-psychedelia of 2008’s Pretty. Odd., the trap snares riffle like a marked deck, and the horns are ripped from a straight-to-DVD training montage. But the capper is the megalomaniacal cast of Urie’s lyrics: it’s got to be the first pop hit in ages to drop the phrase “manifest destiny.” Even with the concept of meritocracy taking a deserved beating these last couple years, there’s still a peculiar power in hearing Urie declare “I was gonna be that one in a million” and pretending the odds are ordained. — BRAD SHOUP
99. Tamia, "Leave It Smokin'"99. Tamia, “Leave It Smokin'”
99. Tamia, "Leave It Smokin'"
A callout but not a throwback to Poppy Bush Interzone-era R&B, Tamia’s biggest hit since “Stranger in My House” skitters like prime Caron Wheeler, and like Soul II Soul’s most famous adjunct, Tamia knows her points require no belting. Salaam Remi keeps the snares as crisp as Tamia’s performance. “I need passion like fire”—really? I didn’t notice. — ALFRED SOTO
98. Kids See Ghosts, "Freeee (Ghost Town Pt. 2)"98. Kids See Ghosts, “Freeee (Ghost Town Pt. 2)”
98. Kids See Ghosts, "Freeee (Ghost Town Pt. 2)"
With a few notable exceptions (Usher’s “Confession, Pt. II,” David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes,” et cetera), the sequel song is typically regarded as an afterthought, or perhaps a bit of nostalgic fan service. Not so with “Freeee (Ghost Town, Pt. 2),” Kanye West and Kid Cudi’s follow-up to the former’s Ye single, “Ghost Town,” released just a week in the wake of its predecessor. Following a booming opening proclamation by the black activist Marcus Garvey, who lays the track’s liberating themes bare from beyond the grave (“When man becomes possessor of the knowledge of himself, he becomes the master of his environment!”), the two rappers embark on an ego-filled acid-trip for the ages, built around a sinister sample of Napoleon XIV’s 1966 psych-pop novelty “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!,” and underscored by Ty Dolla $ign and Anthony Hamilton’s layered, gospel guest vocals. The end result is a banger that’s half delusional, half devotional, and totally self-affirming—even if you stop short of, as West suggests, quitting your job to it. — ZOE CAMP
97. Power Trip, "Hornet's Nest"97. Power Trip, “Hornet’s Nest”
97. Power Trip, "Hornet's Nest"
Power Trip didn’t release a record this year, but with a near constant presence on the road (and a Post Malone cosign) you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise. Their only new material was “Hornet’s Nest,” which came out in June through the Adult Swim Singles Series. It’s everything you want from a Power Trip song: ripping crossover thrash with a message of unity. Here, vocalist Riley Gale encourages us to become like hornets, swarming in masses against anyone foolish and/or evil enough to take a swing. At Power Trip’s 10th anniversary show in Dallas last month, Gale said he wrote the song about when he realized that he’ll never be in the 1 percent. As with their entire existence, it’s a testament to the power of many, a metal protest anthem from a band leading that charge. — ANDY O’CONNOR
96. Lucy Dacus, "Night Shift"96. Lucy Dacus, “Night Shift”
96. Lucy Dacus, "Night Shift"
Breakups are always heavy. The loss of a familiar embrace may leave you in limbo, with no words to guide yourself toward closure. “Night Shift” would be a good start. Over a delicate build-up of guitar, Dacus narrates the aftermath of her relationship, fighting through both love and hatred for a past lover before reaching a climax of fuzz and forgiveness. Poignant, vivid, and timely, “Night Shift” is a breakup song that only she could write. — ISABELLA CASTRO-COTA
95. Mount Eerie, "Now Only"95. Mount Eerie, “Now Only”
95. Mount Eerie, "Now Only"
This year, I found myself singing the chorus of Mount Eerie’s “Now Only” under my breath in public, a bit too often: “People get cancer and die / People get hit by trucks and die.” It should feel a little wrong that an outpouring about the loss of a partner and its wrenching aftermath could be fodder to hum while out getting tortillas, but Phil Elverum stresses that his plight is a common one, and death becomes a breezy chorus. Survivor’s guilt isn’t a new thing either, and “Now Only” deals with that too, with lyrics about how “to still be alive felt so absurd” after hanging out with Father John Misty and Weyes Blood at a music festival, with Skrillex playing in the distance. Therein lies the conflict: he wants the festival kids on drugs to listen to his songs about losing one of the most important people in his life, to get them to pay attention to his reality, but he also acknowledges that his reality is not unique. “Now Only,” like the record of the same name, is about the ways the aftermath of death can be even harder than the immediate shock. No one else has been through Elverum’s life, but plenty of people can relate. — ANDY O’CONNOR
94. Empress Of, "When I'm With Him"94. Empress Of, “When I’m With Him”
94. Empress Of, "When I'm With Him"
“When I’m With Him” sounds like it could be a love song, and not only because of its title. Lorely Rodriguez warmed up her sound significantly on Us, her second full-length album as Empress Of, and nowhere more masterfully than here, where she combines nostalgic boombox sonics with a vocal as wistful and inviting as any romantic confession. But listen again and you’ll find her in the midst of a brewing identity crisis and the waking realization of “sleepwalking” through an ill-fitting relationship. She tucks some of her most vulnerable sentiments into Spanish, an inner monologue that breaks the surface just as “all of the signs telling me that I’m not fine” become too obvious to ignore. Are hollow beats and bent guitar notes a little shaky then, too? There’s the sound of 20/20 hindsight. — ANNA GACA
93. Let's Eat Grandma, "Falling Into Me"93. Let’s Eat Grandma, “Falling Into Me”
93. Let's Eat Grandma, "Falling Into Me"
“Falling Into Me” is a highlight on Let’s Eat Grandma’s I’m All Ears, as escapist and liberating as a six-minute pop song can aspire to be. Though the initial transition from programmed, muddy drums to the lightly stuttering chorus can feel jarring, there’s nothing much actually chaotic about the song’s structure. Working with producer David Wrench, who’s helped ground records by FKA Twigs and Sampha, Let’s Eat Grandma create a mini-epic that doesn’t feel like one. Refusing to sprawl, Jenny Hollingsworth and Rosa Walton are fully in control throughout. When the two of them (in unison, as usual) say “We got this,” the whole song clicks into place, a low but menacing synth portraying the fear and possibility that come with a new relationship, platonic or otherwise. The lyrics expand the scope more than the runtime even does, with noir-ish energy radiating from lines like, “I pave the backstreet with the mist of my brain / My thoughts were pouring down with the rain.” Another highlight almost gets swallowed in the tension of the bridge, where running a red light is justified because “it’s just the necessary price you pay / if you listen to your instincts.” Only a last-minute saxophone solo releases the tension, going towards security and past the point that the relationship could fall apart at any minute. Not only do all the individual part make sense, but it’s also easy to imagine this song running even longer. However they choose to structure their songs, it’s best to just trust the duo’s instincts: they got this. — JOSHUA COPPERMAN
92. Yob, "Beauty in Falling Leaves"92. Yob, “Beauty in Falling Leaves”
92. Yob, "Beauty in Falling Leaves"
Metal has given life to Mike Scheidt, leader of the Oregon trio Yob. Last year, that proved to be literally as well a figuratively true: Scheidt barely survived diverticulitis, and the metal community raised nearly $30,000 to help with his medical bills. “Beauty of Falling Leaves,” the longest track from Our Raw Heart, is the biggest “thank you” Scheidt gave to the people and music that saved him. At 16 minutes, it begins as a somber reflection, with a couple of raging surges, and ends with psychedelic doom metal as open communion. Scheidt’s voice sounds embattled yet victorious, the warlock becoming the loving preacher. However serene it may be, though, “Beauty of Falling Leaves” is still heavy as fuck. — ANDY O’CONNOR
91. Kane Brown, "Weekend"91. Kane Brown, “Weekend”
91. Kane Brown, "Weekend"
Critics focused on Kacey Musgraves, but the year’s most commercially successful country crossover belonged to Kane Brown, who landed a No. 1 album, the cover of Billboard, and a big push from Apple Music, which plastered his face across its app and produced a short documentary on the creation of his new music. Brown is a witty writer with a deliciously smoky voice, but his album, Experiment, offers little to the listener who doesn’t already have an appetite for modern country. The exception is “Weekend,” which announces itself with big blasts of chromed-out synths, its twang sprayed-coated with the lusciousness of R&B. Still, this is no huge diversion for Brown, who easily brings his countrified cleverness into the bedroom: “Up all night and then were sleeping, sleeping / But we were never sleeping, sleeping / Tangled up in the sheets and, sheets and…” he sings, letting the ellipsis do the work. “Weekend” easily surfs this wave, its pristine production acting as mood lighting for Brown’s vivid scenery: “We can watch a whole season of Seinfeld or Friends / While I watch that afternoon sun shining in / Right through the blinds and onto your skin.” Close your eyes, and you can picture the lake just outside. — JORDAN SARGENT
90. Tracey Thorn, "Queen"90. Tracey Thorn, “Queen”
90. Tracey Thorn, "Queen"
After backing away from nineties pop stardom with Everything but the Girl, a person named Tracey Thorn created a character called Tracey Thorn. The first Tracey is fairly private, but the other one will tell you anything—about her environs and habits, her loves and losses, her hopes and insecurities, her insights and complaints. Tracey gets one life and lives it straight through, while Tracey tries on experiences like costumes. But their perspectives evolve at the same pace, they’re both really smart and funny, and the voice they share is almost frighteningly beautiful, a caress with an adamantine core. Tracey uses Tracey to create wise, vivacious, heartfelt-but-wry songs for every stage of a woman’s life. On “Queen,” an iridescent electro-pop anthem from her third solo LP (I enjoy calling it her Merge Records record Record), Tracey calls on Tracey to examine a third Tracey, one invented by the listeners, more or less. Tracey is never that easy to pin down. She’s always slipping away behind the dark glass of her songs, like a window rolling up over the “back seat of a blacked-out car,” as we find her on “Queen.” So we just end up seeing ourselves, instead. — BRIAN HOWE
89. Leroy Francis, "Going Steady"89. Leroy Francis, “Going Steady”
89. Leroy Francis, "Going Steady"
Australia’s Leroy Francis begins the first track from his debut EP with a deep, audible breath, as if inhaling the contents of a helium balloon. He does sound like he might’ve, but then all of “Going Steady” is about a similar feeling: the dizzy, lightheaded anticipation of new love, and especially love not yet found. A gleefully unhinged garage-pop song with a heart of gold, it feels unencumbered by facts or expectations or any kind of certainty at all. “I’ve been dreaming of your legs and arms / where they go and when we’re gonna meet,” he sings, with a starry-eyed lust that feels romantic and guitar fuzz like an afternoon in the sunshine. A tip: If you set this track as your Tinder anthem, the lyrics will sync up just how you’d want them. — ANNA GACA
88. John Carpenter, "The Shape Returns"88. John Carpenter, “The Shape Returns”
88. John Carpenter, "The Shape Returns"
When it came time to give the Halloween franchise the reboot it deserved, filmmaker-composer John Carpenter wasn’t content to recycle the chilling theme from the 1978 original (listed in the film’s credits as “The Shape”), even if fans would eat it up. He was never quite happy with how it turned out, given that it was a rush job, recorded out of necessity because he couldn’t afford to hire someone else to do it. A new film meant an opportunity to fine tune music that for 40 years has been synonymous with the dread of a boogeyman with insatiable bloodlust. Carpenter isn’t working alone these days: his music is generally a family affair, with son Cody Carpenter and godson Daniel Davies, son of The Kinks’s Dave Davies, co-writing and co-producing new tracks. Perhaps it’s because of Cody and Daniel’s input that the instantly recognizable theme sounds sharper and crisper, without sacrificing any of the chilly unease of the original synth tones. Or perhaps the streamlining is just the result of Carpenter having four decades to think about what he’d do differently. — MAGGIE SEROTA
87. Róisín Murphy, "All My Dreams"87. Róisín Murphy, “All My Dreams”
87. Róisín Murphy, "All My Dreams"
Róisín Murphy is a master at the playful-but-not, the moment where the light and flirtatious suddenly get real. Part of a yearlong and uniformly brilliant series of singles with house legend Maurice Fulton, “All My Dreams” was the first, the best, and definitely the most ridiculous—as in, she sings “this is ridiculously sexy / it’s just ridiculous.” Ridiculous it is, at least its components: vocals full of tremolo and shudder and frisson; percussion hits crisp and timed just so, as if designed for Fosse choreography; slap bass verging on pornographic; gasped backing vocals that sound an awful lot like “suicide”; ample heavy panting. It sets a mood of desire at its most high-pitched and all-encompassing, and despite all of the above, it’s deadly serious—the kind of exquisite storm churned up in someone’s absence: “This wait is driving me crazy.” Earlier this year, Murphy lamented the industry’s indifference to daring, surprising records like hers; in a year when she made this and several other marvels, that’s just ridiculous. — KATHERINE ST. ASAPH
86. Laura Jean, "Girls on the TV"86. Laura Jean, “Girls on the TV”
86. Laura Jean, "Girls on the TV"
On first listen “Girls on the TV” recalls The B-52’s “Ain’t It a Shame,” a woman’s devastating confession that her man loves his color television more than her. Laura Jean’s story is no less painful: her narrator falls in love with a schoolmate who was a better dancer than the girls on the TV, but couldn’t stop herself from a drug-fueled descent. The mood is serene, a Christmas morning after newfallen snow. A synthesizer line bursts, unnaturally loud. A guitar carves a simple rhythmic pattern. Laura Jean’s abashed murmur acquires force every minute. “Girls on the TV” also mourns the person that the narrator could have become, and laments an adolescence of humiliation no less horrifying for being universal. — ALFRED SOTO
85. Thom Yorke, "Suspirium"85. Thom Yorke, “Suspirium”
85. Thom Yorke, "Suspirium"
In the soundtrack for Luca Guadagnino’s 80s horror remake Suspiria, Thom Yorke has crafted a set of textures as lush and compelling as the film itself. In the vast, 80-minute runtime of this score, “Suspirium” stands alone. It’s one of just a few proper “songs” on a largely instrumental soundtrack album, and feels like a stripped-down take on a post-King of Limbs Radiohead track. Building on a single, sparse piano loop, “Suspirium” retains every bit of A Moon Shaped Pool’s epiphanic lucidity. Yorke opens the song with a statement of purpose: “This is a waltz thinking / about our bodies.” This being literally the case, it’s indicative of the Yorke’s newfound focus on directness. Gone are Jonny Greenwood’s intricate orchestral arrangements and Phil Selway’s anxious percussion. Without his bandmates, Yorke is the architect of his own musical cosmos; in the aqueous rumblings of “Suspirium,” he’s found something subtler, and ultimately more free. — WILL GOTTSEGEN
84. Wizkid, "Fever"84. Wizkid, “Fever”
84. Wizkid, "Fever"
The best Wizkid song of the year, at least under his own name (“Soco” is every bit its equal), “Fever” staggers lopsided from room to room, yet also seems to never truly touch the ground. Its synth quakes in and out of focus, and piano and saxophone stir occasionally through a massing fog. Wizkid’s voice carves through these atmospheres like the wing of a plane, shepherding fragments of melody into verses and choruses that stick in the mind long after the smoke surrounding them evaporates. But the pleasure of “Fever” is as much in its delay and decay as its hook. It makes everything in its reach feel softened and slowed. — BRAD NELSON
83. Meg Myers, "Numb"83. Meg Myers, “Numb”
83. Meg Myers, "Numb"
They don’t make them like this any more. Meg Myers’ “Numb” is a capital-P Pop-rock song; it’s really into the Pixies but its favorite album in high school was Avril Lavigne’s Under the Skin. The thick black cloud formed by the guitars and drums is slow and textured and frankly somewhat goth, drifting like a black cape across a marble floor. Myers’ voice is a bright murmur in the song’s heavy atmosphere, a flashlight submerged in fog. The chorus crashes in and Myers’ singing thickens with frustration, but her voice abruptly recedes when she gets to the title, resized to a sigh. This is how “Numb” conveys the feeling of being numb, the inexplicable slip into dissociation even as the world seems to rush and push itself all around you. It’s a scream trapped in a whisper. — BRAD NELSON
82. Lady Gaga, "Hair Body Face"82. Lady Gaga, “Hair Body Face”
82. Lady Gaga, "Hair Body Face"
Forget “Why Did You Do That?” For all the chin-scratching that song provoked over whether it was supposed to be bad or was just… bad, the real center of Lady Gaga’s A Star is Born-inspired career-within-a-career is “Hair Body Face.” It’s basically Spotifycore, complete with a crisp, trap-lite rhythm and a brassy synth that Bebe Rexha would kill for, but that doesn’t mean it’s not indelible, too. “Wasn’t the it girl at school / No, I wasn’t queen at the prom / But don’t take me for a fool / Now I know I got my own charm” is the key couplet here, delivered in a bracing, character-driven whisper that shows Gaga’s acting chops are seeping back into her songwriting. The chorus is host to a classic slight subversion, the type that pop is built off of: “I’ve got the hair, body, face,” she sings. “For you.” By focusing on the anxiety of one’s confidence when it’s derived from the validation of others, “Hair Body Face” ends up smuggling the mission statement of A Star Is Born itself into its wig-flipping trop-pop. — AUSTIN BROWN
81. Yves Tumor, "Noid"81. Yves Tumor, “Noid”
81. Yves Tumor, "Noid"
For all discussion of the project in electronic circles, it’s hard to pin down just what kind of music Yves Tumor actually makes. From beginnings in deconstructed club music and kitschy art-rock collage to more recent association with ambient, R&B, and brit-pop, Sean Bowie has never made it easy to classify his sound, moving effortlessly from harsh noise and industrial music to heartbreaking piano lines. “Noid” stands alone as the producer’s most radio-friendly recording to date, combining the bittersweet synth-strings of The Verve with full-voiced lyrics about police brutality in America. “Have you looked outside? I’m scared for my life,” Bowie sings, gasping for breath as a colossal wave of noise sweeps over the track. As satisfying as it is to hear Bowie make outright pop, it wouldn’t be Yves Tumor without some larger conceptual gesture, and it’s on “Noid” that both the sonic and political aspirations of the project feel fully realized. — ROB ARCAND
80. Adrianne Lenker, "symbol"80. Adrianne Lenker, “symbol”
80. Adrianne Lenker, "symbol"
Adrianne Lenker’s “symbol” emerges from a run of chords and fingerpicking patterns in the ageless tradition of Nick Drake or Bert Jansch. A Yorke-like one-note verse of monosyllables, it blossoms into a beautiful, pirouetting release in the Big Thief singer-songwriter’s upper range. “Symbol” begins as a bittersweet nursery rhyme; at its end, it unfolds into a celebration of insuppressible attraction. As much as the soaring, arcane clincher line (“The symbol of your love is time”), it is the melody’s circuitous path that makes this song emblematic of everything that places Lenker among the greatest and, increasingly, influential singers and songwriters in indie rock. — WINSTON COOK-WILSON
79. Red Velvet, "Bad Boy"79. Red Velvet, “Bad Boy”
79. Red Velvet, "Bad Boy"
Several Korean girl groups strive for a sexy image, but fewer could claim they have sexy songs. “Bad Boy” is a masterful K-pop single precisely because it does something that’s rarely seen in the genre: it exudes palpable sensuality. Much credit must be given to The Stereotypes, a multiethnic production team with a knack for matching artists with songs and arrangements that match their strengths. While they rightfully leaned into maximalist bombast for Bruno Mars’s “Finesse” and “That’s What I Like,” they aim for tasteful restraint here. The synth pads of “Bad Boy” press up against tactile eighth note melodies, and their interaction captures the tension and confidence underlying the lyrics. “You know it: these days, I’m hot,” sings Wendy, and the chorus finds the girls dictating how quickly this boy should be chasing after them. They’re making the rules here, and they summarize this notion in the coyest manner possible: a cutesy “way-o way-o” melody, brought to life with an accompanying police siren. — JOSHUA MINSOO KIM
78. Kali Uchis ft. BIA, "Miami"78. Kali Uchis ft. BIA, “Miami”
78. Kali Uchis ft. BIA, "Miami"
Miami’s sunset is often juxtaposed with the hard living that happens underneath it across the city. There’s no tension between the two on the opening song of Kali Uchis’ Isolation—in fact, she straight-up luxuriates in the dynamic. The clean guitar stabs and the twinkling keys evoke a typical American paradise, but “Miami” works because Uchis makes it clear that the dream is hers. Anchored by an equally confident verse from the rapper BIA (“New vice now I need a blunt with my Mimosa / Never get it twisted, ain’t too bougie for Corona”), Kali’s presence is a cool and distant one: you lean in and quickly realize that of the many things she is, passive isn’t one of them: “He said he’d want me in his video like Bound 1 / But why would I be Kim? I could be Kanye,” she sings. Kali says she’s on the run and admits she doesn’t know where from—still, it feels stupid not to follow along. — BRIAN JOSEPHS
77. Ohmme, "Sentient Beings"77. Ohmme, “Sentient Beings”
77. Ohmme, "Sentient Beings"
By the final third of Ohmme’s debut album Parts, the Chicago art-punk duo has already offered antic political critique, baroquely ornamented melody, blistering free noise, an earnest tribute to an elderly relative, and a song about a liquor cabinet—all unified by Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart’s distinctively blended voices, conveying a kind of sisterly wisdom through it all. How could they possibly surprise you at this point? With “Sentient Beings,” the most beguiling song on an album full of them. Backgrounding the pair’s fiery guitar work behind a collage of modernist scrapes and squiggles from woodwinds and strings, “Sentient Beings” is an ode to simple, predictable “things” in a world so awry that you’ve lost faith in any conscious lifeform, including yourself. The song doesn’t have a chorus so much as a point at which it begins to hover in the air, levitating on an updraft of consonant harmony and oscillating cello. If sentience can produce moments of ineffable beauty like these, maybe it’s not so bad after all. — ANDY CUSH
76. Christine & The Queens, "Doesn't Matter"76. Christine & The Queens, “Doesn’t Matter”
76. Christine & The Queens, "Doesn't Matter"
It’s the pronunciation. Christine and the Queens’ Chris single “Doesn’t Matter” faithfully revives the skeletal machine funk of ‘80s Janet, as well as her sensory writing, which atomizes the prickling minutiae of male gaze: “Their hands are numb and empty / Their dull silence soothes me / Loud whispers in my back as if I couldn’t hear.” But the unexpected emphases throughout her English translations revise meaning in ways that stun. The chorus here, a disregarding of the fuck shit— “It doesn’t matter, does it/ I f I know any exit / If I believe in God and if God does exist”—becomes more than external salvation by the accent on the first syllable of “believe.” It doesn’t matter as long as I be. Héloïse Letissier was, and that was more than enough. — TOSTEN BURKS
75. Jpegmafia, "Baby I'm Bleeding"75. Jpegmafia, “Baby I’m Bleeding”
75. Jpegmafia, "Baby I'm Bleeding"
Halfway through this song, JPEGMAFIA declares, “I’m the new Beyoncé.” He may not be wrong, exactly. The Baltimore-bred rapper/producer had a huge breakthrough this year in Veteran, which capitalized on generational discontent through a grotesque amalgam of punk rock and post-internet aesthetics. There’s no one else making beats with this degree of both mosh pit intensity and dancefloor accessibility. At the heart of “Baby I’m Bleeding” is a rhythmic bounce between two unarticulated syllables, refracted through what sounds like the inside of a washing machine. It’s hard-edged experimentation with a danceable energy that’s fun for the whole family—you know, just like Beyoncé. — WILL GOTTSEGEN
74. Foxing, "Nearer My God"74. Foxing, “Nearer My God”
74. Foxing, "Nearer My God"
In their lowest moments, every indie rock band must be tempted to write a song like “Nearer My God”: watching relationships crumble and important life milestones passing by, scraping together Spotify’s pennies, taking inventory of the financial, physical, and emotional tolls of touring, and finally asking, as Foxing’s Conor Murphy did, “Can we please make some money doing this?” But indie rock bands aren’t supposed to talk about something as gauche as being able to pay bills, and Foxing was about to resign “Nearer My God” to the scrap heap before producer Chris Walla intervened. The melody was too strong, the message too relatable, the white-knuckled final surge too familiar to anyone working in the freelance economy without a net, feeling both the courage to want it all and the fear that they might have to settle for scraps. The bootstraps mentality and valorization of poverty in DIY culture is not so different from the life of any creative who has to work within the boundaries of capitalism, having their idealism constantly used against them: aspiring academics sleeping in cars while administrators pull six figures; ground operatives doing the thankless work of making incremental progress in rigged electoral states; humble Midwestern cities whoring themselves out for a shot at Amazon HQ2; anyone who’s ever been exploited as an unpaid intern or compensated in “exposure” and, duh, all the internet writers purged in “pivot to video” boondoggles that were little more than excuses to cut payroll. Maybe you can consider yourself lucky if you don’t relate to this song, but you should still be grateful if you do. “Nearer My God” only seems like it’s about selling out, but it’s really about integrity: soldiering on and doing the right thing when no one else cares. — IAN COHEN
73. DJ Koze, "Pick Up"73. DJ Koze, “Pick Up”
73. DJ Koze, "Pick Up"
Stefan Kozalla isn’t one for hard-line categories. As DJ Koze, the Spain-based Hamburg-native blurs genres beyond distinction, pairing his irreverence for today’s techno formalism with an endless affinity for collaboration. One of the few actual solo cuts on his standout record Knock Knock, “Pick Up” finds Koze diving head-first into the world of filter house, playfully riding out an extended Melba Moore sample as he cycles through an endless series of effects. Things get interesting with a bit of added commentary in the track’s music video, but the song itself mainly serves as proof that even on one of the most exciting experimental albums of the year, DJ Koze never strays too far from his roots. — ROB ARCAND
72. Wild Pink, "Burger Hill"72. Wild Pink, “Burger Hill”
72. Wild Pink, "Burger Hill"
“Burger Hill” is evidently named for a peak in New York’s Hudson Valley, one that promises “a very short hike to a big fat view” and prime conditions for sledding, according to a website called Hike the Hudson. The unyieldingly gorgeous slow-motion opener of Wild Pink’s Yolk in the Fur offers the same sort of frictionless and fanciful release. Half-woken from a dream, John Ross takes a look at the surrounding Catskills, and sees “a world untouched and set free, the way it was meant to be,” which is to say that the real world is actually something else. The car wrecks, social anxieties, and economic depressions that define Wild Pink’s origins in western New York await at the bottom of the hill, but for five minutes, that big fat view allows Ross to get away from it all by taking it all in. — IAN COHEN
71. Boygenius, "Bite The Hand"71. Boygenius, “Bite The Hand”
71. Boygenius, "Bite The Hand"
The trio of singer-songwriters Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus, and Julian Baker being called a “supergroup” might seem misguided when, on their own, despite their obvious talents, they’re still burgeoning stars aiming to establish themselves in the indie scene. But on “Bite The Hand,” the lead track off their EP as Boygenius, they come off as a quiet, dynamic, and masterful combo. The way the three sing the words “I can’t love you how you want me to” in differing octaves but in the same perfect melody encapsulates both the beauty of the song and their union at its best. “Bite the Hand” starts soft but builds louder and louder without losing any of its tenderness, the music getting raucous but the performance remaining steady and calm. In the context of #MeToo and the continued tribulations of women seeking equality in rock, a song that invokes the phrase “bite the hand that feeds you” feels purposeful; that it was also their introductory song isn’t an accident either. While Boygenius are never aggressive vocally, they are always brutally honest and intentioned. “Bite The Hand” was their mark of arrival but also a call of action. — ISRAEL DARAMOLA
70. FBG Duck, "Slide"70. FBG Duck, “Slide”
70. FBG Duck, "Slide"
Rap videos in the 2010s follow a straightforward formula: Grab a rapper, get 20 of their closest friends, put a camera right in front of their faces, and press record. It’s a music video style pioneered at the the top of the decade in Atlanta, officially codified by the then-teenaged rapper Chief Keef, and eventually stretched across the entire globe. FBG Duck and the director Rickee Arts used that exact formula for his breakthrough hit “Slide,” but that isn’t why the song found viral success and an endless number of remixes. Instead, the appeal is all in Duck’s flow, which oscillates between a hush-whisper and sudden energetic bursts. The “Slide” video might recall a dozen others, but FBG Duck’s performance on the track is one of one. — DAVID TURNER
69. The Internet, "Roll (Burbank Funk)"69. The Internet, “Roll (Burbank Funk)”
69. The Internet, "Roll (Burbank Funk)"
An earlier iteration of The Internet might have squirmed out of this four-on-the-floor funk groove after a minute, changed the key, double-timed the drums, and cleared the way for a squiggly synth solo. But the band’s fourth album, its most refined yet, lets the simple roller rink jam ride. Steve Lacy takes lead vocals while Syd saunters in support, both finding pockets in each other’s melodies that skew this closer to a duet than its billing suggests. The track has a disco fetish, but Patrick Paige’s bass line would slap in any decade and could loop for three times as long without getting old. Besides, disco deserves the love. — TOSTEN BURKS
68. Playboi Carti ft. Chief Keef, "Mileage"68. Playboi Carti ft. Chief Keef, “Mileage”
68. Playboi Carti ft. Chief Keef, "Mileage"
If fans and critics couldn’t reach a consensus about the best song on Playboy Carti’s Die Lit, you can chalk it up to the young rapper’s preternatural ability for writing hooks. One noteworthy contender was the short but heavenly “Mileage.” Cardi’s go-to producer Pi’erre Bourne provides variations on a thumping bassline, with synth pads that imbue surprising tenderness. Carti effortlessly finds the pocket, turning every phrase he spews out into a miniature earworm. He begins by proclaiming that his lover’s sexual history doesn’t faze him, then plays a round of word association (“Wayne’s World / Kylie, Kylie / Calabasas / Kendall, Kylie / Adidas deal / Shoutout Kanye”) to equally charming effect. Look no further than “Mileage” for proof that Carti is on a truly different wavelength than any of his peers. — JOSHUA MINSOO KIM
67. Burna Boy, "Ye"67. Burna Boy, “Ye”
67. Burna Boy, "Ye"
“Ye” rises slowly like steam from the sidewalk, its supple guitar lines curling up and around the Nigerian superstar Burna Boy as he calmly mutters about his gilded life, his boasts and threats carrying almost no emotion. “My n***a, what’s it gon be? G-Wagon or di Bentley?” goes the chorus. “Di gyaldem riding with me.” The song conjures imperiality that is unbothered but not untouchable. Partly quoting Fela Kuti, Burna Boy sings about how his listeners yearn for simple pleasures—“I want chop life / I want buy motor / I want build house”—but he ends that stanza at the point where everyone’s concerns converge: “I still want turn up.” This is the work of a ruler—“If you be commissioner, I be head of state,” he sings at one point—but in its relaxed state and silken production, a benevolent one. — JORDAN SARGENT
66. Noname, "Don't Forget About Me"66. Noname, “Don’t Forget About Me”
66. Noname, "Don't Forget About Me"
On this highlight from Noname’s sublime Room 25, she can’t help repeating the phrase, “I heard it saves lives.” Whether it’s her own music, some Vicodin pills she takes one night, or the view of the ocean on an L.A. beach, she puts faith in the idea that her life means something more than perfunctory existence. At one point, she muses, “I think I need D’Angelo on this one”. Yes, this organic soul-with-strings arrangement by Phoelix and Matt Jones may remind you of Voodoo. But the latter is funky and full of noises. Here, a softly murmuring groove enhances Noname’s quietly insistent flow, pushing us to listen closely. She’s telling us about growing into her own as a woman and evolving from a promising Chicago rapper to a globally acclaimed artist. It’s a story you’ll want to remember. — MOSI REEVES
65. Sons of Kemet, "My Queen Is Harriet Tubman"65. Sons of Kemet, “My Queen Is Harriet Tubman”
65. Sons of Kemet, "My Queen Is Harriet Tubman"
British jazz quartet Sons of Kemet’s music is invested with an energy closer to hard rock or hip-hop than the traditional Afrobeat music it may initially recall. Through their mixture of Carribean, African and New-Orleans-based gestures, they create new and unfamiliar stylistic amalgams on an almost moment-to-moment basis. The band is a tireless rhythmic dynamo. The non-traditional instrumentation, without chords to speak of, gives the band’s jittery melodies a haunting, elemental quality. “My Queen is Harriet Tubman,” a standout from their queen-filled third album Your Queen is a Reptile, is an onslaught of multi-drumset polyrhythms, sax, and tuba stutters. Its rudimentary opening theme gets lost in an increasingly demented sparring match between the horns, before they abandon melody entirely and become just another part of the predominant wall of percussion. As the music’s initial frustration builds to fury to a call to arms, one begins to take tubas deadly seriously. — WINSTON COOK-WILSON
64. Peggy Gou, "It Makes You Forget (Itgehane)"64. Peggy Gou, “It Makes You Forget (Itgehane)”
64. Peggy Gou, "It Makes You Forget (Itgehane)"
Peggy Gou’s “It Makes You Forget (Itgehane)” is a a tightly organized system of bells, blinks, and whirrs—house music built with the integrity of a pinball machine. And in the rich tradition of house music commenting on itself, Gou makes “It Makes You Forget” a song about its own release. “It makes you forget the chaotic world,” Gou sings in Korean, her voice wading drowsily through a riverbed of synths, the sleepiness of her vocal making the melody feel extracted from an imaginary Sade song overheard in a dream. (It wouldn’t sound unnatural in a DJ set flowering out of the final seconds of “The Sweetest Taboo.”) What’s truly impressive about “It Makes You Forget” is the way Gou makes something so strictly constructed feel so casually and naturally arranged, as if the bell pattern that runs through the length of the song had been stirred into life by a light breeze. — BRAD NELSON
63. Kanye West & Lil Pump, "I Love It"63. Kanye West & Lil Pump, “I Love It”
63. Kanye West & Lil Pump, "I Love It"
What could possibly redeem Kanye West’s pathetic year? Certainly not a clout-chasing collaboration with a pink-haired 18-year-old, sounding like a couple of horny pubescents falling over themselves to convince you that they’ve had sex before, with a patently insane video, whose most striking detail, despite huge funny suits, is a conspicuously Freudian close-up of a pendant, dangling from Kanye’s big shoulders as he drools over new tits and quick fucks, that bears the name of his deceased mother, Donda. And yet. Didn’t it work? Despite Kanye’s embarrassing lyrics, his blatant attempt to position himself as weird uncle to the Soundcloud generation, and even his accursed necklace, “I Love It” is a delight, far more enjoyable than anything else he did in 2018. Watch the video and it’s easy to see why. When Lil Pump compares someone’s boyfriend to McLovin, and Kanye swivels toward the camera, his face lighting up to deliver an ad lib for the ages—“Dork!”—there are no delusions about world-changing insight in that moment, no pretense toward high art. He’s just having fun. — ANDY CUSH
62. SOPHIE, "Is It Cold in the Water?"62. SOPHIE, “Is It Cold in the Water?”
62. SOPHIE, "Is It Cold in the Water?"
Like Sophie’s best songs, “Is It Cold In The Water” brims with anticipation. Synthesizers race endlessly towards a towering peak, hovering maddeningly close to the climax. The song’s refusal to let the beat drop lends the track a propellant buoyancy, as on her 2013 track “Bipp.” Paired with Caila Thompson-Hannant’s ethereal vocals, “Is It Cold in the Water?” feels utterly weightless. If there is one theme that unites the carrot-and-stick album that is Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides, it is the primacy of touch. “Is It Cold in the Water,” accordingly, opens with bodily extremes: ”I’m freezing, I’m burning,” Thompson-Hannant coos. But just before the song’s glittering, icy chorus, she goes numb. Sophie’s album addresses a world without a body, and the operatic query of the song’s title comes off as more of an existential quandary than a literal one. In Sophie’s fairytale, love is longing, personality is pretend, and the physical is a daydream. The temperature of the water seems impossibly far away. — ARIELLE GORDON
61. Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper, "Shallow"61. Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper, “Shallow”
61. Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper, "Shallow"
Here’s a story: At my screening for A Star Is Born, a woman seated in front of me remarked to her friend, “I can’t wait for the haaAaaaAaaaaa part.” She was referring to “Shallow” and the scene in the film (and, importantly, the film’s trailer) in which Lady Gaga jumps on stage alongside Bradley Cooper’s unkempt cowboy country singer and belts the sound that helped launch a thousand memes. It’s a hilarious moment that’s easy to mock. However, in that darkened theater, what should be an embarrassing moment in a bad vanity project instead becomes an incredibly emotional payoff during one of best films of the year. Also, it is a good fucking song, Cooper’s grizzled twang and Lady Gaga’s grandiose majesty making for a deeply engrossing ballad. It might not really work without knowing the movie, but it is a deeply rewarding listen for those who do. Just as long as you’re ready to dive off the deep end. — ISRAEL DARAMOLA
60. Ciara, "Level Up"60. Ciara, “Level Up”
60. Ciara, "Level Up"
No one but Ciara would or even could attempt to mainstream the frenetic sparseness of Jersey club music—or rhyme “yummy” with “tummy” while keeping a straight face. But she did both and more on the ebullient “Level Up,” a 153 BPM torrent of tastefully placed chords, slapstick interjections, and beats that plunk like a basketball on hardwood. The track is based on DJ Telly Tellz’s “Fuck It Up Challenge,” and the lyrics are based on a widely criticized tweet of Ciara’s about marriage. Here, instead of seemingly shaming unmarried women, her “level up” message is about general life improvement. “Level Up” is the umpteenth indication that we should never count Ciara out, that she is as inevitable as extreme weather: it’s only a matter of time before she returns to blow the roof off. — RICH JUZWIAK
59. Nine Inch Nails, "Over and Out"59. Nine Inch Nails, “Over and Out”
59. Nine Inch Nails, "Over and Out"
Between 1989 and 1999, Nine Inch Nails mastermind Trent Reznor stood at the forefront of the industrial-metal movement, jolting us into music’s future via an arsenal of novel sounds and a filmmaker’s attention to detail in the studio. Reznor was such a natural at delivering his once-underground vision to the mainstream’s doorstep that he made it easy for listeners to take his unique aggro-pop vocabulary for granted. “Over and Out” is the ultimate case study in Reznor’s ability to put a fresh twist on things he’s tried before. Here, Reznor re-imagines Nine Inch Nails as skeletal, late-’70s hip-hop echoing across a graffiti-covered subway platform—that is, until chamber-esque marimbas float in as if straight from the band’s ’99 double-disc opus The Fragile. Reznor then channels Bowie’s impression of a lounge singer over smoky saxophone before the song vaporizes into two minutes-plus of sonic mist that expand on Reznor’s previous forays into ambient music. — SABY REYES-KULKARNI
58. SOB x RBE, "Anti Social"58. SOB x RBE, “Anti Social”
58. SOB x RBE, "Anti Social"
SOB x RBE, the biggest act to recently emerge from the Bay Area, shows on “Anti Social” that there can be great fun had in keeping to yourself. Yhung T.O., who earlier this fall announced his intended departure from the group, opens the song saying: “Don’t wake me up / I don’t wanna dance / I don’t wanna shake yo hand,” asking anyone who may want to cozy up to him to keep two steps back. After scoring a hit, rappers often stress keeping their inner circle tight. That sentiment could be alienating, but there’s nothing in the handbook of life that says success must breed happiness. — DAVID TURNER
57. Nio Garcia, Casper Mágico & Bad Bunny ft. Nicky Jam, Ozuna, & Darell, "Te Boté" (Remix)57. Nio Garcia, Casper Mágico & Bad Bunny ft. Nicky Jam, Ozuna, & Darell, “Te Boté” (Remix)
57. Nio Garcia, Casper Mágico & Bad Bunny ft. Nicky Jam, Ozuna, & Darell, "Te Boté" (Remix)
We can’t all be as forgiving as Ariana Grande, and that’s why we have “Te Boté”—a seven minute stream of fuck yous over sultry keys and a steady dembow drumbeat—to remind us that some people are exes for a reason. On one end you have Casper, Darell, and Bad Bunny with unrelenting bars against their past lovers. “Lo nuestro iba en un Bugatti y te quedaste a pie” the latter raps menacingly: “What we had was in a Bugatti and you ended up walking.” Resident romantics Ozuna, Nio, and Nicky Jam cushion the resentment with explanations for their pain “Yo te di confianza y me fallaste / Te burlaste de mí y me humillaste” Nio explains. “I trusted you and you failed me / You made fun of me and humiliated me.” Regardless of the reasons, the message stays the same. You were toxic, so te boté, because grudges need anthems, too. — ISABELLA CASTRO-COTA
56. John Mayer, "New Light"56. John Mayer, “New Light”
56. John Mayer, "New Light"
John Mayer has been a guitar hero, a dewy balladeer, an honorary member of the Grateful Dead, an amazing Esquire columnist, Katy Perry’s arm candy, and a key part of one of the 10 or 15 best Chappelle’s Show skits. On “New Light, with the aid of producer No I.D., he fully commits—for a few spotlit moments, anyway—to cosplaying a mid-1980s adult contemporary pop star. The drums are pilsner-crisp; the compression is as vertigo-inducing as a mist of activator fluid. Mayer’s guitar-playing catwalks a thin, indelible line between soulfulness and soullessness when it isn’t being warped to suggest an quilted inquisition of synthesizer presets. If his no-shit sincerity sells this cheesy side piece’s plea for promotion, the green-screen video elevates the song into a deeply surreal place. “New Light” itself is oddly nourishing, low-calorie comfort food. — RAYMOND CUMMINGS
55. Marie Davidson, "Work It"55. Marie Davidson, “Work It”
55. Marie Davidson, "Work It"
Marie Davidson might as well be the Wolf of Wall Street on “Work It,” a workaholic anthem delivered from the perspective of a sex-hungry drill sergeant. Her album art, which featured a powersuit-clad Davidson atop a large metal briefcase, seemed to simultaneously mock and glamorize the capitalist culture that serves as the music’s backdrop. As with many of her songs, her deadpan demands mask whatever ideology lies beneath: “Work to be a winner,” she says, the TR-707 thumping behind her like an arrhythmic heartbeat trying to keep up. But in the song’s final verse, she twists the narrative from corporate greed to self-care: “When I say work, I mean work for yourself,” she explains. It’s a heady mix of cultural critique and self-help, but Davidson’s locomotive synths keep it all moving at a breakneck pace. “Sweat!” she implores. The beat demands it. — ARIELLE GORDON
54. James Blake, "If The Car Beside You Moves Ahead"54. James Blake, “If The Car Beside You Moves Ahead”
54. James Blake, "If The Car Beside You Moves Ahead"
Chopped up human voices, served to listeners in a series of disconnected and pitch-shifted rhythmic syllables, have been an unremarkable part of the pop-music wallpaper for the last several years. The technique, at least as old as ‘90s dancehall reggae, once felt genuinely novel, but lost whatever luster it once had around the time of Kiiara’s insipid 2016 hit “Gold.” Leave it to James Blake, whose early EPs full of sliced and diced melodies probably helped usher along the current vogue, to make the sound genuinely radical again. “If the Car Beside You Moves Ahead,” released as a standalone single, has the outward arc of a conventional pop song, but its inner workings are mystifying. Blake treats his own voice as raw material, like he’s a Chainsmoker manipulating his latest guest vocalist, but rather than shaping it into a predictably satisfying melody, he fixates on breaths and offhanded gestures, letting them stretch across barlines, pattering stray phonemes like raindrops on the slick surface of the beat. His lyrics, what little of we can hear of them, seem to address an existential crisis on a nighttime highway drive. The music mimics the view of the nocturnal world from inside the comfort of your car: everything awash in headlight glow, meeting your senses in a series of fragments through the windshield. String them all together, and you’ll get a sense of where you’re going. — ANDY CUSH
53. Silk City ft. Dua Lipa, "Electricity"53. Silk City ft. Dua Lipa, “Electricity”
53. Silk City ft. Dua Lipa, "Electricity"
Mark Ronson and Diplo’s Silk City were always going to produce hits—or at least songs that racked up 8-figure YouTube views—but it was harder to predict the late-night, windows-down brilliance of “Electricity.” Continuing Ronson’s impressive record of soul-inflected production with help from a guy who, if you can say anything for him, clearly knows his dance music history, “Electricity” stays true to house’s funk and disco roots, pairing gorgeous Paradise Garage piano chords with artful flourishes of EDM production. A kind of spiritual successor to her collab with Calvin Harris, the track continues Dua Lipa’s streak as one of the strongest pop crossover stars of the moment, leaning into the song’s driving four-on-the-floor beat with a soulful vocal line. It’s the kind of silky-smooth single that finally makes good on the group’s name, giving new life to the classics in a way that feels completely new. — ROB ARCAND
52. Nao, "Another Lifetime"52. Nao, “Another Lifetime”
52. Nao, "Another Lifetime"
As the first single (and first song on the tracklist), “Another Lifetime” launched Nao’s excellent, cosmically tinged second album, Saturn. It’s thematically sound, then, that there’s a feeling of thrust as the track shifts from its spare verses to its robust hook. Nao serenely mourns and then straight up howls over lost love. “How I wish perfect was enough for my own heart,” she sings. Some people believe that you shouldn’t hold onto regrets, that they’ll only keep you from progressing in life. But without regrets, we wouldn’t get songs that are as lovely as this. It’s okay to wallow sometimes. — RICH JUZWIAK
51. Kim Petras, "Heart To Break"51. Kim Petras, “Heart To Break”
51. Kim Petras, "Heart To Break"
What better way to write a pop song about a crush than construct it as a grid of overlapping heartbeats? When you really think you like someone, and it feels as if your pulse is tripping over itself: that’s the feeling that Kim Petras’ “Heart to Break” embodies, with synths pulsing so hard they’re on the verge of breaking through the song’s skin. Petras’ vocal moves from deadpan to slippery to ecstatic, not caring then caring a little then caring way too much—a perfect three-dimensional hologram of infatuation. After the singularity occurs and our personalities are woven into a vast matrix, we’ll have crushes on pockets of data, and they’ll sound exactly like this. — BRAD NELSON
50. Drake, "In My Feelings"50. Drake, “In My Feelings”
50. Drake, "In My Feelings"
Drake’s superpower is his ability to constantly refine and reduce his persona—to become not more and more Drake, but more and more “Drake.” “In My Feelings,” then, is “Drake” as the Incredible Hulk, a pillow-soft homage to New Orleans bounce that ropes in legends like Lil Wayne, Magnolia Shorty, and the producer BlaqNmilD all in the service of… well, what else but Drake showing his bleeding heart to some girls whose status he aims to level up? What made “In My Feelings” all the more incredible, of course, was that it rescued Drake from the most perilous moment of his career, when, having avoided losses at the hands of many a challenger, he was de-pantsed in front of the world by Pusha T. The full-on embrace of this song in all its “Drake”-ness proved that Drake can’t lose simply because that same world refuses to let him. “In My Feelings” is Drake as a tautology, and we were more than happy to let that be a winning argument. — JORDAN SARGENT
49. Jon Hopkins, "Emerald Rush"49. Jon Hopkins, “Emerald Rush”
49. Jon Hopkins, "Emerald Rush"
“Emerald Rush” is a bionic crowd-pleaser that manages to streak across the cosmos like Lindstrøm while shaking the stadium like Skrillex. Jon Hopkins doesn’t serve up Big Beat, but his beat here is fucking huge: a rude, swaggering Cubist stomp that should soundtrack a world double-dutch championship. Lisa Elle’s wordless vocals and Emma Smith’s strings mildly soften the blows, while and electronic drones and swells confer a disorienting weightlessness. Maybe that’s the real appeal: “Emerald Rush” is refreshingly confusing, a rollercoaster ride of the mind that rejects physics, offering a way out of reality for six magical minutes. — RAYMOND CUMMINGS
48. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, "Difficulties - Let Them Eat Vowels"48. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, “Difficulties – Let Them Eat Vowels”
48. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, "Difficulties - Let Them Eat Vowels"
According to Stephen Malkmus, Matador demurred on releasing a solo synthpop record he recorded recently. But apparently the label was willing to meet the indie elder statesman halfway, letting him close out Sparkle Hard, his more traditionally guitar-y new album, with a wonderfully unhinged seven-minute freak-out that feels like two different songs stitched together. Malkmus begins “Let Them Eat Vowels” with a dreamy, ‘70s-style pop lullaby, but eventually unravels the track’s structure with a disco-adjacent beat and vocals that sound like they’ve been processed through a vocoder. Malkmus told NPR that he worried the song sounded too much like Roxy Music’s “A Very Good Time,” but it sounds more like a love letter to the band’s polished art-rock rather than outright theft. In any case, the ending sounds like a nice prelude for whenever the former Pavement frontman gets to finally unleash the grand synth experiment he jokingly titled Groove Denied. — MAGGIE SEROTA
47. Travis Scott ft. Drake & Swae Lee, "Sicko Mode"47. Travis Scott ft. Drake & Swae Lee, “Sicko Mode”
47. Travis Scott ft. Drake & Swae Lee, "Sicko Mode"
“Sicko Mode” is a literal Frankenstein, with scraps of differents songs fused together to make one powerful song like it’s the Power Rangers robot. Travis Scott has been criticized, and rightfully so, for making derivative versions of better music, whether it be of Houston rap, Three 6 Mafia, or Young Thug songs. So what was Scott’s workaround that issue? To take three potentially middling records and mesh them together into something unique, effective and not very middling at all. “Sicko Mode” is an aural roller coaster swinging from calm to thrills and back again. It’s fun to shout along to, even if the lyrics you’re shouting are pretty dumb, with Drake hilariously vouching for what amounts as more responsible prescription pill usage. Occasionally music can be the equivalent of a dumb action movie you watch to forget about the world, and “Sicko Mode” is the perfect embodiment of that. — ISRAEL DARAMOLA
46. Teyana Taylor, "Gonna Love Me"46. Teyana Taylor, “Gonna Love Me”
46. Teyana Taylor, "Gonna Love Me"
“Gonna Love Me” is the most modest song on Teyana Taylor’s K.T.S.E.: the vocalizing isn’t grandiloquent, and the production is relatively barebones, far from the triumphant ballroom house anthem of “WTP,” for instance. In a short three minutes, Taylor sings of relationship troubles and pines for reparations. For assistance, she has nothing more than a sample of The Delfonics’s “I Gave To You.” Randy Cain, the Philly soul group’s lead singer, channels the same longing: “And oh you’re gonna love me, you’re gonna wanna hug me, and squeeze me.” She repeatedly sings those lines herself at the song’s close, clearing her throat at one point to ensure you hear her clearly. She seems to want nothing less than for Cain’s words to be her own kismetic truth. — JOSHUA MINSOO KIM
45. U.S. Girls, "M.A.H."45. U.S. Girls, “M.A.H.”
45. U.S. Girls, "M.A.H."
Some of the most effective protest music balances the art of tapping into the audience’s outrage while also giving listeners a reason to celebrate the very act of being alive. Meghan Remy’s work under her moniker U.S. Girls is actually far too broad in the types of agitation it expresses to simply place it under the protest/activist-art umbrella, but one thing this music shares with exemplars of rebellion like The Clash and Bob Marley is that it makes you feel positively giddy while also elaborating on reasons to get deadly serious. On the aptly titled “M.A.H.”—an acronym for “mad as hell”—Remy and producer Slim Twig show us that anger is indeed a gift by wrapping it in a warm, inviting fuzz of disco and New Wave filtered through the glory days of orchestral girl-group pop. In a high-pitched squeal that nods to the empathetic phrasing of ’80s giant Cyndi Lauper, Remy sings as if she’s singing to a naughty-boy lover when in fact she’s directly addressing presidents past and present, putting an ingenious spin on pop’s tried and true what-have-you-done-for-me-lately formula. — SABY REYES-KULKARNI
44. Sada Baby ft. Drego, "Bloxk Party"44. Sada Baby ft. Drego, “Bloxk Party”
44. Sada Baby ft. Drego, "Bloxk Party"
Sada Baby has a magnificent beard and even more impressive dance moves, and he’s one of the year’s most charismatic breakout rap stars. His playful, NBA-reference-filled appeal is on display on plenty of other records, but “Bloxk Party,” his collaboration with like-minded Detroit talent Drego, is both his breakthrough and current masterpiece. One of those addictive hookless wonders of a rap record that come along once every year or two, “Bloxk Party” is an improvement on the short-form bar-trading that gave hometown hero Tee Grizzley a hit with his Lil Yachty duet “From the D to A,” and its replay value is in the class of Bobby Shmurda’s “Hot N*gga.” But Sada and Drego’s record is funnier and arguably more stylistically inventive than either of those. The short-form call-and-response in the song’s first half is its initial enticement, with transitional purrs, grunts, “weelll”s, and unified talking points turning it into a true conversation. Von Jose’s production is overtly service-oriented, made up of stylistic elements that are very familiar; somehow, they are virtuosically reassembled in a way that makes it sound like the platonic ideal of a pan-American 2010s street rap beat. But the track properly takes off when Sada grabs the reins entirely, changing the direction of the flow, making a unapologetic statement of purpose (“I will fuck the party up with my dance moves”), and subsequently delivering what should be considered one of the most evocative rap lines of the year: “I want to take me a trip out to Cancun / But I gotta sit still ’til this bag move.” There’s a bittersweet quality here. No word on whether he’s made it down there yet. — WINSTON COOK-WILSON
43. Ravyn Lenae, "Sticky"43. Ravyn Lenae, “Sticky”
43. Ravyn Lenae, "Sticky"
A dizzying pirouette of a neo-soul track, Ravyn Lenae’s breakout rebuffed the temptations of downtempo beat music and lascivious trap&B erotica alike, instead invoking Erykah Badu on a manic sugar high. The Chicago artist is singing about confusion, of course, as she sputters out lines like “you got me wondering where the spunk went / where the funk went.” But where other superficially similar artists might imbue those lines with resignation, Lenae embeds herself into Steve Lacy’s carnivalesque production by asserting [Janet Jackson voice] control. Lacy’s bass engorges the internal drama of the rhythm section, as his guitar and synth organ trace tense, intimate longings over their faux-rigidity, like a hookup that you wish against all evidence would become something more. But in the center of it all is Lenae, darting through the composition with the agility of a Gen Z dater who’s already been burned before and would really appreciate some fucking honesty, ok? Sure, she’s spinning round and round, no idea where she’ll end up next. But you better believe wherever it is, she’s gonna land on her feet. — AUSTIN BROWN
42. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, "Talking Straight"42. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, “Talking Straight”
42. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, "Talking Straight"
Hope Downs, the debut full-length from Melbourne, Australia five-piece Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, chimes and prickles with an acidic jangle descended from bands like the Go-Betweens and the Clean. You won’t find much shambolic drift here, though: Standout “Talking Straight” is emblematic of the satisfyingly clean-lined aesthetics and alt-pop momentum that set RBCF apart from scruffier, equally great contemporaries like The Beths or Scott & Charlene’s Wedding. And while much of the rest of Hope Downs is illuminated by descriptive lyrical asides, “Talking Straight” instead confronts the enormity of abstraction. “I want to know where the silence comes from,” singer Fran Keaney declares, a demand that feels all the more pressing as it builds into the album’s most incisive groove. — ANNA GACA
41. Lil Wayne ft. Swizz Beats, "Uproar"41. Lil Wayne ft. Swizz Beats, “Uproar”
41. Lil Wayne ft. Swizz Beats, "Uproar"
Lil Wayne has had a spotty relationship with New York over the past 11 years. He was a lowlight on Jay-Z’s late career gem American Gangster, clumsily juking through the Beastie Boys-sampling percussion on “Hello Brooklyn 2.0.” (Never mind that he’s a New Orleans native making a borough tribute—it would’ve been fine if the song was good). Of course, the offense is nowhere near as serious as his year-long sentence in Rikers for a weapon charge. And yet, New York is at the center of Weezy’s Tha Carter V comeback run.
“Uproar” glides on Swizz Beatz’s signature growling ad-libs and that easily recognizable sample of G. Dep’s uptown classic “Special Delivery.” It smells like leather Sean John jackets, sensational enough for a hit. But Lil Wayne knows the city: A big thing that’s sustained Fabolous’ career is New Yorkers’ love of punchlines, and Wayne throws a bevy of them with his trademark effortlessness (“You a roughneck, I’m a cutthroat”; “Put the gun inside, what the fuck for? / I sleep with the gun, and she don’t snore”). Even through the post-Carter IV years, there’s been that sense that vintage Weezy isn’t that far gone. That he’d comeback via Harlem Shakes still felt like a madlib, though. — BRIAN JOSEPHS
40. The 1975, "Love It If We Made It"40. The 1975, “Love It If We Made It”
40. The 1975, "Love It If We Made It"
Here’s the thing about this fucking song: Matty Healy can spew as many pithy statements as he wants about the nature of postmodernism; at the end of the day, “Love It If We Made It” is just a collection of buzzwords, shouted angrily into the void. Here are some of them: “Consultation, degradation, fossil fueling, masturbation, immigration, liberal kitsch, kneeling on a pitch / ‘I moved on her like a bitch.’” The 1975 are fed up, but they can’t really tell you why. Without a single target for their restless energy, the English pop-rockers unleash a screed against contemporary American values and their global impact. Not accidentally, the broad, unfocused criticism of “Love It If We Made It” encapsulates the same values it criticizes. Don’t approach it looking for a coherent political critique. Instead, accept it for the beautiful failure that it is: a concentrated shot of culture, high and low, hateful and hopeful, delivered swiftly through the breastplate—a gross carnival of human experience, and a monument to our best and worst selves. — WILL GOTTSEGEN
39. Oneohtrix Point Never, "Black Snow"39. Oneohtrix Point Never, “Black Snow”
39. Oneohtrix Point Never, "Black Snow"
For all its experimental flourishes, Oneohtrix Point Never’s “Black Snow” is a simple pop song at its core. Backed throughout by finger snapping and a slow, steady bass line that builds to a synth-fueled climax, Daniel Loptain’s heavily-distorted lyrics tell of a post-apocalyptic world where means of mass media communication have been disrupted, leaving only the black snow of static. The track was inspired by the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit, a since-disbanded futurist—and now somewhat controversial—academic collective from the 1990s that published a work called “Channel Zero,” the text of which Lopatin reworks into the song. (It also provides its title.) The distressed catchiness of the song and its surreal video, which includes, among other sights, women clad in swimsuits and cowboy hats performing a synchronized dance in front of nuclear waste barrels, provide appropriate packaging for the lyrics’ bleak message: “Blind vision, blind belief / Black snow is coming, saw it on TV / No information, no harmony / Yeah, a wave of black snow.” — TAYLOR BERMAN
38. Jacquees ft. T-Pain, "Rodeo"38. Jacquees ft. T-Pain, “Rodeo”
38. Jacquees ft. T-Pain, "Rodeo"
That Jacquees is not the current King of R&B (it’s Ty, duh) makes his claim as such no less charming. It’s refreshing that he cares. During a time when melodic hip-hop continues to encroach on R&B’s territory and creative progress, Jacquees’s viral Instagram post also serves as a defense of the genre as something worth ruling. His music makes this case, too, perhaps no more convincingly than on “Rodeo,” a permachill duet that unspools slowly like honey from a jar. Jacquees’ titular hook steams, screwed-down background vox elongate the effect, and then T-Pain’s double-time strikes, building into an outro that harmonizes two singers at their best. Rap music still can’t quite pull off this level of intimacy. — TOSTEN BURKS
37. Mitski, "Geyser"37. Mitski, “Geyser”
37. Mitski, "Geyser"
Mitski’s “Geyser” jolts you to its attention. The disruptive, rattling organ note that opens the record will catch you off guard even once you expect it. Sonically, “Geyser” constantly builds and erupts while Mitski’s soft voice acts as the sweeping aftershocks. While her vocals may be tender, Mitski is just as explosive and gnawing as the song’s pianos, guitars, and synths. Mitski’s songs are full of frustration, anxiety, and a deep, unwise love of things that will never love you back; reckoning with these emotions can feel noisy, anarchic, and bludgeoning, which “Geyser” encapsulates.
“You’re my number one / you’re the one I want / and I’ve turned down, every hand that has beckoned me to come,” she announces tenderly but with full command over the surging organ sound. The geyser symbology is obvious but a necessary reflection of turmoil and creative outbursts that are both violent, beautiful, and natural. Mitski has constantly described her music as being about her relationship to music itself and “Geyser” effectively shows the love and passion for as well as the chaos and destruction qualities. For Mitski, there is a sense of resignation to an uncertain fate at the core of her words, which is a pretty depressing thing to consider, but there’s so much life and ecstasy in the music that you can understand why she can’t quit this affair. — ISRAEL DARAMOLA
36. Young Thug ft. Elton John, "High"36. Young Thug ft. Elton John, “High”
36. Young Thug ft. Elton John, "High"
Young Thug is prismatic, shifting with the light or the angle you’re looking at him from: Is he tough, is he loving, is he scheming, is he sexing, is he fucked up? Is he true? Always. On the flawless, captivating, multivalent, and addictive one-off masterpiece “High,” we get every version of Jeffery at his absolute best. Thug has his priorities in order. Family sits at the top: He’s spending his savings on mom and dad, he’s gonna set his brother up somehow. But everything comes back to his love. Lines like, “She let me back in like she never cried / She let me back in like I never lied” transmit the intensity and guilt of wronging someone you love, while “I look like a cat with eleven lives / I really kick shit you can ask a fly” flexes beyond Shakespearean by the sheer audacity of its twisting idioms. And oh! the audacity of a parenthetical such as “(ft. Elton John)”! I don’t want to think too much about how this sample got cleared, but I would respect Lyor Cohen a lot more if I found out he paid out-of-pocket for it in a panic when Young Thug hit “post” on Soundcloud.
It’s easy to tag “High” as a mixed metaphor about getting lit and laid. But, as with Empress Of’s “I Don’t Even Smoke Weed,” the drugs are meant as a material benchmark, so that you might become lucky enough to edge toward some earthly semblance of what Thug feels when he’s with her. “High” paints a robust and tragic and honest portrait of the artist, telescoping between poetry and prose. There’s a redemption arc, there’s a love story—and there’s Elton Fucking John, sitting at a piano on a cloud, his sunglasses bigger than the biggest sunglasses on earth, wearing a Bedazzled Vetements tuxedo, grinning at you with a Lil Yachty grill on. Young Thug demonstrates that you can have your head in the clouds while thinking things through to the clarity of crystal. — DALE W. EISINGER
35. Rosalía, "Malamente"35. Rosalía, “Malamente”
35. Rosalía, "Malamente"
Like any genre with a rich history and cultural specificity, flamenco has its fair share of fans who are strict about what music gets labelled as such. Some purists were quick to deride Rosalía’s debut album Los ángeles as not being “true” flamenco, and such has been the fate of numerous works by nuevo flamenco and flamenco fusion artists for decades. With her sophomore album, El mal querer, she experimented even further with the Andalusian genre, marrying it to current R&B and hip-hop trends to make it feel both fresh and familiar within 2018’s musical landscape. Lead single and opening track “Malamente” announced this stylistic change with a seamless marriage of influences. The jaleo shouting functions similarly to rap ad-libs, while the palmas-style hand clapping gives the song its minimal, percussive backbone. As Rosalía sings, she draws upon a 13th century fable entitled The Romance of Flamenca, a story rife with jealousy. The eponymous Flamenca is imprisoned in a tower by her husband, an act meant to prevent her from falling in love with anyone else. “Malamente” consequently functions as an uneasy prologue to the whole ordeal, with the track’s thoughtful mixing and quiet synths creating a foreboding atmosphere. “I won’t waste a minute thinking about you again,” she sings, and “Malamente” ends up portraying Rosalía as fearless—a musician with a strong, unwavering artistic vision. — JOSHUA MINSOO KIM
34. Rico Nasty, "Countin' Up"34. Rico Nasty, “Countin’ Up”
34. Rico Nasty, "Countin' Up"
Rico Nasty pilfering N.O.R.E.’s savage “Superthug” riff is a good opportunity to remember that the Neptunes gave MC Lyte basically the same riff first. (She killed it.) Here, Kenny Beats adds kicks and claps that could crunch steel, plus money-counting FX for thematic clarity, while Rico leads a car chase with her top off, her cadence matching the sample. Rico’s pivots between pistol threats and schoolyard taunts (“Do you want a cookie?”), leaning into her singular brattiness. Her interpolation of Noreaga’s original “what, what, what, what” hook with the addendum “bitches on my dick, so what” is a star-making moment. — TOSTEN BURKS
33. Kacey Musgraves, "Space Cowboy"33. Kacey Musgraves, “Space Cowboy”
33. Kacey Musgraves, "Space Cowboy"
A highlight from the excellent Golden Hour, “Space Cowboy” is a clear-eyed ballad about coming to terms with the end of a doomed relationship. Kacey Musgraves invokes boots by a door, Chevy trucks, fenced-in horses, and empty roads as symbols of freedom (or the lack thereof), refashioning such country and western clichés into a story that’s sharp and all her own. She writes from the perspective of someone who knows her partner wants to leave and is resigned to let them, and like any great breakup song, there’s a palpable sadness as well as regret. “Shoulda learned from the movies that good guys don’t run away,” she sings. But above all, “Space Cowboy” reveals the strength and wisdom of accepting the end of something that never could have lasted. To quote Musgraves’ Instagram post from the day of the song’s release: “Make peace with what doesn’t belong.” — TAYLOR BERMAN
32. Swae Lee ft. Young Thug, "Offshore"32. Swae Lee ft. Young Thug, “Offshore”
32. Swae Lee ft. Young Thug, "Offshore"
The thing that Swaecation—Swae Lee’s solo portion of the massive Rae Sremmurd album SR3MM—has going for it is that it sounds like Miami Vice. The music is atmospheric and sleazy, evoking sweaty afternoons hungover from the cool, breezy, late-into-the-hour night before with gorgeous women and numbing drugs. The song that best captures this mood is “Offshore” with Young Thug, which sounds like it was made specifically to be blared out of a speedboat as the sun rises. For as elegant as Swae Lee’s singing voice can be, he smartly turns the crooning over to Thug, who perfectly captures longing and effervescence with his ethereal warbles and whimpers even as he sing-raps incredible rhymes like “I’ll slap the shit out Donald Trump any day.” “Offshore” is the fully realized dream of Swaecation, with its Jan Hammer-esque production garnering images of neon lights, dark shades, ocean views. Swae Lee kept it real all along. — ISRAEL DARAMOLA
31. Pusha T, "If You Know You Know"31. Pusha T, “If You Know You Know”
31. Pusha T, "If You Know You Know"
There are few cooler phrases than “If you know you know.” Who’s the best rapper? Who’s the best producer? The swaggiest NBA player? There’s no need to answer, because it’s not even a question: If you know, you know. It’s easy and reductive to say that Pusha T raps with “venom,” or with “ferocity”, or “through gritted teeth.” His guttural approach to performing is what’s fueled his solo career. But what separates “If You Know You Know” from the chaff is how relatively subdued it is. The nearly a cappella opening bars wring tension from the sheer number of times Pusha can say “boy.” The tension exhales with Pusha’s emphatic titular statement, and Kanye brings in a percussive pitched-up sample that surely ranks as his single best idea of 2018. As an opening salvo for Kanye’s five-albums-in-five-weeks gambit, pitched at the start of Pusha’s self-declared “surgical summer,” the first cut was the deepest. “If You Know You Know” is an instant signature song, the kickoff to everything that came after it, including Pusha taking on the biggest rapper on the planet. Don’t bother asking who won that battle, of course: If you know, you know. — MATTHEW RAMIREZ
30. Post Malone ft. Ty Dolla $ign, "Psycho"30. Post Malone ft. Ty Dolla $ign, “Psycho”
30. Post Malone ft. Ty Dolla $ign, "Psycho"
“Psycho” is the first Post Malone song to live up to the promise of “White Iverson,” a patently insane breakout single that dared you to dismiss it on the grounds of its clumsy central basketball metaphor and the unbelievable character singing it, but which nonetheless wormed its way into your psyche through hooky ingenuity and sheer smoked-out atmosphere. The Beerbongs and Bentleys update swaps out A.I. for former Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, repeatedly rhymed with “bozos,” as if Post were auditioning for a headline-writing job at the tabloidy New York newspaper with which he shares his name. As always, he delivers these lines with absurdly heightened emotion, like Robert Johnson begging for his soul back from the devil he sold it to. Against all odds, he sells it again. “Psycho” is straight-up gorgeous, gliding like like a warm breeze through an open window. Surely we can thank Ty Dolla $ign, who shows up with a typically ace guest appearance in the second verse, for some of this easy melodic grace. Whoever’s responsible for its idiotic genius, “Psycho” is nonsense of the highest order, almost enough to justify the absurd premise of Post Malone himself on its own. — ANDY CUSH
29. Blood Orange, "Charcoal Baby"29. Blood Orange, “Charcoal Baby”
29. Blood Orange, "Charcoal Baby"
One of the best things about Blood Orange’s phenomenal Negro Swan is that the pop songs are fully realized and perfectly constructed in a way that has eluded much of Dev Hynes’ career up to this point. The best of them is the album’s first single “Charcoal Baby,” a groovy and poetic ode to struggling with “representing your race” as a black person, and all the politics that entails. “No one wants to be the negro swan / Can you break sometimes?” Hynes pleads in his delicate singing voice. The flutes and saxophones that accompany the track evoke the same soul and desire as Hynes’ voice, a tender song full of righteous frustration and complex themes. The music of Blood Orange could previously be described as charmingly unfinished, but “Charcoal Baby” feels fully crafted, resembling nothing short of a modern day Marvin Gaye record. — ISRAEL DARAMOLA
28. Lil Baby & Gunna, "Drip Too Hard"28. Lil Baby & Gunna, “Drip Too Hard”
28. Lil Baby & Gunna, "Drip Too Hard"
Rap often is viewed through a lens of competition, as if fans would rather see their favorite artists scrap than collaborate. Atlanta rappers Lil Baby and Gunna never bought into that narrative; in fact their collaborative album Drip Harder felt created entirely to appease fan daydreams. “Drip Too Hard,” the initial single from the duo, hit all the checkmarks of their most successful collaborations, with Lil Baby holding the song’s melodic foundation and Gunna showing up to champion his latest purchases (“Designer to the ground, I can barely spell the name”). Both rappers offered more emotional depth and dazzling displays of lyricism across the handful of mixtapes released between them, but it’s the casual swagger of “Drip Too Hard” that has made it the pair’s best work. — DAVID TURNER
27. Jessie Ware, "Overtime"27. Jessie Ware, “Overtime”
27. Jessie Ware, "Overtime"
Just when it seemed Jessie Ware had realized her career ambitions as an embalmed and polite chanteuse, this banger hurled her back onto the dance floor. A collaboration with Bicep’s Andy Ferguson and Matt McBriar, “Overtime” smolders like the extra tracks she’s keen to omit from the regular sequence of her albums, such as 2012’s indelible “Imagine It Was Us.” It also calls to mind “Aaliyah,” the Katy B duet she dropped late in fall 2012. Over a synth line reminiscent of Madonna’s “Deeper and Deeper,” Ware gets herself into a delicious froth over a guy whom she insists must dance with her after hours. “Meet me at the bar and don’t be late / I could drink you up like summer lemonade.” Mmmm, yes. Because only when we’re dancing do we feel this free. — ALFRED SOTO
26. Valee, "Vlone"26. Valee, “Vlone”
26. Valee, "Vlone"
Valee broke out this year by being cooler, quieter, more cosmically unbothered than anyone else, and he took these qualities to their furthest extremes on the singular “Vlone,” a series of mantras offered at the altar of fast cars and luxury streetwear. Producer Tay Creations provides an appropriately devotional backdrop, with lazily tinkling mallets and tempestuous low end, emphasizing the yawning negative space between them over any individual element. Valee himself is barely there, dropping whispered lines like pebbles into the abyss. He spends most of the song positing various concepts—vintage jeans, Gucci shoes, knock-off lean—and solemnly signaling his approval or disapproval of each. The whole thing is over in less than three minutes, but the stretches of quasi-silence between these judgements can feel eternal. Have you ever spent hours contemplating the semantic worlds contained within a single “mhm”? “Vlone” will make you consider it. — ANDY CUSH
25. Mariah Carey ft. Ty Dolla $ign, "The Distance"25. Mariah Carey ft. Ty Dolla $ign, “The Distance”
25. Mariah Carey ft. Ty Dolla $ign, "The Distance"
The only place Mariah Carey sounds more at home than a midtempo, bass-heavy love song is a Tribeca penthouse with a walk-in closet bigger than most New York apartments. The highlight of her critically acclaimed 15th album, Caution, “The Distance” implores her object of desire (in all likelihood her choreographer, backup dancer, and probable boyfriend Bryan Tanaka) to ignore the haters who said it wouldn’t last. The production team of Skrillex, Lido, and Poo Bear help outfit Carey with one of those jams that knocks so hard, it’s like quiet storm for a planet on the brink of climate apocalypse. (The juicy bass line, torn right out of the ’80s electronic R&B playbook, is the whipped cream on top.) Ty Dolla $ign effortlessly integrates into Mariah’s style sounding sweeter than ever, and Mariah’s signatures are otherwise abundant—the change in flow from first to second verse, the oozing emotion, the vocab (“diminish”), the unabashed joy she takes in being so feminine. La-dee-da, indeed. In another time and place, this would have been a giant hit. It’s not you, Mariah; it’s them. — RICH JUZWIAK
24. Parquet Courts, "Freebird II"24. Parquet Courts, “Freebird II”
24. Parquet Courts, "Freebird II"
In an interview prior to the release of Parquet Courts’ excellent new album Wide Awake, Andrew Savage, one of the band’s two principal songwriters and vocalists, told NPR that “Freebird II” was originally titled “Credits For a Film About the Vietnam War.” The New York-based foursome are goofballs at heart, and so you can see why they thought the latter might have been a bit too on the nose: the hilarious if audacious name change belies a song about the generational trauma of addiction. “Before you started using, before I started choosing / To do the same thing for the same reasons,” Savage speak-sings to what reads as one of his parents. “The first name I called you, is not a name at all / More of a duty than a function.” We are, of course, currently living through a period of social turmoil not seen since the pressure-cooked ‘60s, with opioid addictions wrecking families and communities in forgotten Rust Belt and coal towns, the exact sorts of places that were hit especially hard by the realities of Vietnam, be it in raw terms or per capita. Still, “Freebird II” is a song of perseverance, even if it’s of a solemn sort; of not so much shedding one’s inherited baggage but acknowledging and probing its forms. “Free, I feel free, like you promised I’d be,” Savage shouts as the song concludes, his bandmates joining along. It’s a moment of catharsis as well-earned as any this year. — JORDAN SARGENT
23. Rich the Kid, "Plug Walk"23. Rich the Kid, “Plug Walk”
23. Rich the Kid, "Plug Walk"
Rich the Kid makes a hilarious admission a few seconds into “Plug Walk,” and again several more times after that: “I don’t even understand how the fuck my plug talk.” Maybe the plug is coming up from south of the border, maybe he’s the kind of paranoid dealer who speaks exclusively in arcane code words, maybe Rich the Kid is already zonked out past the point of comprehension. Maybe it’s all of the above. Regardless, the line sets the tone for a song that succeeds on goofy charisma and intoxicating sonics, making high-volume purchases of various illegal substances sound like something Rich does on a whim between rounds of Xbox. He tiptoes across frothy production, his high-pitched rasp just one more element in an ensemble of overlapping melodies and elongated tones. “Plug Walk” is as soft and tactile as a down comforter, or a good body high. Its auditory pleasures should be easy for anyone to understand. — ANDY CUSH
22. Cardi B ft. J Balvin & Bad Bunny, "I Like It"22. Cardi B ft. J Balvin & Bad Bunny, “I Like It”
22. Cardi B ft. J Balvin & Bad Bunny, "I Like It"
“I Like It” took an arduous seven months to produce, but when you consider how it blew all the other summer jam contenders out of the water, and carved Cardi B’s place in history as the first female rappers to score two No. 1 singles, the grueling production paid dividends. The track was bound to be huge, thanks to collaborations with Latin trap powerhouses J. Balvin and Bad Bunny, and a well-placed sample from Pete Rodriguez’s enduring 1967 boogaloo hit “I Like It Like That.” Those ingredients combined make an ideal vessel for Cardi’s boundless charisma and breezy humor, showcased in an opening verse that outlines her ideal shopping spree, casually describing a $750 pair of designer sneakers as “the ones that look like socks.” The bilingual “I Like It” serves both as a celebration of Cardi’s Dominican heritage and of a year in which the Bronx rapper truly dominated. — MAGGIE SEROTA
21. Ariana Grande, "No Tears Left To Cry"21. Ariana Grande, “No Tears Left To Cry”
21. Ariana Grande, "No Tears Left To Cry"
The first sound on Sweetener’s first single is an intake of breath: an elemental pause within a long stretch of triumph and tragedy. It is not surprising, then, that “No Tears Left to Cry” would make a show of chasing sorrow. Instead, the surprise was in how cleverly Grande, along with producers Max Martin and Ilya, pulled it off. Solemn trance-pop yields to nimble 2-step, and the two threads meet for a languid chorus, in which Grande holds her joy until it’s large enough to share. Her reading of the lyrics, both playful and pensive, makes lovin’, livin’ and pickin’ it up sound like the lifelong work it really is. — BRAD SHOUP
20. The 1975, "Give Yourself A Try"20. The 1975, “Give Yourself A Try”
20. The 1975, "Give Yourself A Try"
Can you relax for one second? No? Try a late-blooming try-hard‘s guide to redirecting disaffection into self-improvement, which conveniently enough is the only kind it’s really possible to hope for these days. Behind a hyperactive and staticky Joy Division-referencing riff that buzzes like a dental appliance, the 1975’s verbose and painfully earnest frontman Matt Healy pillories himself for turning out just like his parents warned him: savvy but dissolute, gifted but idle. His brand of tragicomedy writes itself: “I found a gray hair in one of my zoots / Like context in a modern debate, I just took it out.” Nothing compares to “Love It If We Made It” for sheer insanity, but fortunately this one qualifies as inspirational. — ANNA GACA
19. Sheck Wes, "Mo Bamba"19. Sheck Wes, “Mo Bamba”
19. Sheck Wes, "Mo Bamba"
The power of “Mo Bamba” lies in a serendipitous match between the walloping bass of producers Take a Daytrip and 16yrold and the drawling boasts of Sheck Wes himself. More than anything he says about “I got hoes” or “I be ballin’,” it’s his raucously deep voice that turns “Mo Bamba” into the kind of gut-punching track that makes the club lose its shit. Time will tell if he’s an NBA-caliber rap star or the new Desiigner, the kind of one-season wonder who confirms that, though New York has long since escaped the shadow of its boom-bap golden years, it still has a hard time capitalizing on that newfound energy. Regardless of what happens, Sheck Wes made a fuckin’ monster. — MOSI REEVES
18. Simmy ft. Sun-EL Musician, "Ubala"18. Simmy ft. Sun-EL Musician, “Ubala”
18. Simmy ft. Sun-EL Musician, "Ubala"
Sun-El Musician produces a form of Afro-house so deep it’s a body of water; his 2017 hit “Akanamali,” for all its shimmering surface beauty, was pulled along by dark invisible undertows. On “Ubala,” the first solo single by his frequent collaborator Simmy, Sun-EL provides piano chords that sparkle and roll as if they were the glitter of light on a wave. The track builds itself over drum loops and percussive shouts until they sound like the various understated murmurs of a stream. But the element that always rises to the surface of “Ubala” is Simmy’s voice, a vehicle for totally effortless-seeming effervescence, dipping confidently in and out of the thick mists of the track, wreathed in ghostly echoes of herself. In this body of water, she easily swims. — BRAD NELSON
17. Snail Mail, "Pristine"17. Snail Mail, “Pristine”
17. Snail Mail, "Pristine"
Unrequited love isn’t an anomaly, but hearing Lindsey Jordan tell it feels like learning about it for the first time. Doe-eyed and resilient, she’s trying to piece together her broken heart, wrapping it in ringing guitar, heavy reverb, and vocals that crack with each sentence. “Don’t you like me for me?” she asks. But she’s not plagued by bitterness—instead, she invites the love to seep in as she falls apart, regardless of whether it’s reciprocated or not. But instead of being plagued by bitterness and crippling self-doubt she ends up letting herself fall apart, simultaneously inviting all the love to seep in, regardless of it being reciprocated or not. “It doesn’t have to be this hard” she wails “I’ll still love you the same.” Closing yourself off may feel like liberation, but Jordan knows loving is the only thing keeping us afloat. — ISABELLA CASTRO-COTA
16. Doja Cat, "Mooo!"16. Doja Cat, “Mooo!”
16. Doja Cat, "Mooo!"
“Mooo!” is a joke, obviously, but also it isn’t. Initially recorded in one night on Instagram Live, the song—known colloquially as “Bitch, I’m a Cow,” owing to the nagging refrain that made it go viral—is as texturally rich as anything released this year. Ostensibly about, well, being a cow, “Mooo!” seamlessly fuses its slapstick concept to the lingua franca of modern rap. “You a calf, bitch / You my daughter / I ain’t bothered, get slaughtered,” Doja Cat raps, bars about bovine superiority that could also slide seamlessly into any Nicki Minaj verse. Over the course of the song, Doja Cat keeps pushing until the absurd sounds normal. She opens by rapping, “Got milk, bitch? Got beef? / Got steak, ho? Got cheese? / Grade A, ho, not lean / Got me A1 / Sauce, please,” erecting a tower of food-product rap imagery like she’s guesting on a Gunna track. If you’re surprised by the fact that “Mooo!” was embraced by serious people instead of dismissed, consider that, above all, it advertises a love and appreciation of hip-hop. Doja Cat weaves in references to Wu-Tang, Ludacris, and Kelis, and even the song’s most literal element—the “moooooo!” of the chorus—echoes the iconic “yooooou!” of Soulja Boy’s “Crank That.” Doja Cat is not an interloper, regurgitating rap slang for YouTube views; she is instead adding to a long-established canon of comedy rap made for rap fans.
But perhaps the most surprising thing about “Mooo!” is the relatability beneath the artifice. The re-recorded and cleaned-up version that eventually appeared on streaming services emphasizes the supremely chilled-out production, with guitar licks that float down and settle calmly atop wispy backing vocals and pianos. And slipped between all the dairy puns are lines that speak to the contemporary human experience. “I’m not in the mooood / I’m tryna make mooooves,” she sings, and then later: “I’m just tryna turn up in the country / I ain’t in the city cuz they ain’t got lawns.” In a year that begged for it, “Mooo!” is the ultimate escapist fantasy. — JORDAN SARGENT
15. Mitski, "Nobody"15. Mitski, “Nobody”
15. Mitski, "Nobody"
No one writes about loneliness like Mitski. Her fifth studio album Be the Cowboy is packed with the sort of tender observations that only come from a lifetime of self-reflection, and on “Nobody,” the songwriter pours years of heartbreak and solitude into a lush disco concoction overflowing with restless energy. “And I know no one will save me, I’m just asking for a kiss / Give me one good movie kiss and I’ll be alright,” she sings, pining for some girlish sense of optimism at even her darkest moments. As the song fades out with increasingly thin chants of its one-word title, it’s hard not to feel some impending sense of a breakdown. But the track itself never strays far from its stomping mid-tempo groove. Equal parts danceable and emotional catharsis, “Nobody” reveals new melodic terrain without sacrificing what’s made Mitski’s writing so essential. — ROB ARCAND
14. Tyga ft. Offset, "Taste"14. Tyga ft. Offset, “Taste”
14. Tyga ft. Offset, "Taste"
Tyga’s unexpectedly rewarding commercial comeback “Taste” is organized around production from D.A. Doman based on a serpentine wisp of a vocal sample. After it cracked the Top 10 on the pop charts, Harry Fraud, a producer who deals in similar currency, would have been remiss if he didn’t feel jealous. Either despite or because of Tyga rhyming “claim” with itself three times in a row and assuring you that in the future he’ll be “suck[ed]…like a fucking Hi-C,” its every moment is a pleasure. If Tyga’s tenuous charm here is lost on you, Offset’s guest verse is one of the year’s vital throwaway features, assuring the song’s serial listenability and making a strong argument for his unequivocal status as the most crucial solo Migo. — WINSTON COOK-WILSON
13. Amen Dunes, "Miki Dora"13. Amen Dunes, “Miki Dora”
13. Amen Dunes, "Miki Dora"
While twenty million Dick Dale and Surfaris ripoffs have captured the reckless spirit of surfing, I can’t quite recall a band that tackles the topic of watersports thematically. (Also: The Pee Tape is real.) You can’t convince me there’s a song that captures the peace and kinetic energy and solitude and excitement of bouncing on an ocean wave—at least none so elegantly as “Miki Dora.” On a recently released “Live in Prague” bonus track version that closes the deluxe edition of Freedom, the already-lengthy cut edges past six minutes. But it displays the deceptively simple exactitude Damon McMahon and his Amen Dunes project have been building toward since the release of his long-overdue 2018 breakout album in March and, in a way, across his 10-year career. In the tradition of Talking Heads’ “Naive Melody,” with its circular bassline and expansive riffing potential, as well as the reverse-engineered crescendo of something like Animal Collective’s “On a Highway,” “Miki Dora” manages to make the most out of space under the compacted mantle of New York City—even if McMahon has been indulging his wanderlust more in recent years. Is it post-punk, is it rock, is it psych? I don’t care what you call it; “Miki Dora” guides me to peace. This music directs the listener through meditation subliminally, letting the linear through-line of the composition build to the crest of that perfect and most delicious wave. On the Prague recording, we hear the ecstasy of spirit that’s made McMahon a magnet for someone like scene-and-session-stalwart Delicate Steve (who played across Freedom and toured with McMahon and crew) throughout his tenure with NYC label Sacred Bones. I have no idea what McMahon is saying, but I know exactly what he’s telling me—and I believe him. You mean to say that one of the most engrossing songs of the year is a set piece starring a hate-mongering Malibu lughead surfer? I think the lesson here, amid the explosive punch into the refrain of “ROLL AROUND WITH ME” (x ∞), is that when the tides roll in—and we always know they’re coming—we must confront the forces conspiring against us, head on. Sit and pick your wave, but know you gotta make it back to shore. — DALE W. EISINGER
12. Robyn, "Honey"12. Robyn, “Honey”
12. Robyn, "Honey"
“No you’re not gonna get what you need / But baby, I have what you want / Come get your honey.” These lyrics—sober, sensual, and frank—repeat throughout the entirety of Robyn’s “Honey.” A version of the song first appeared on an episode of HBO’s Girls, but the final product was more intimate: less angular, more supple, fully immersive. Robyn’s best-known songs narrate tales of dancefloor heartbreak and ecstacy. Here, there is no resolve, and her voice is pure evocation, buried deep in the mix. These five minutes of throbbing house promise no solutions, but they do offer momentary bliss. — JOSHUA MINSOO KIM
11. Shawn Mendes, "Lost in Japan"11. Shawn Mendes, “Lost in Japan”
11. Shawn Mendes, "Lost in Japan"
Don’t let the title, the dreamy falsetto, or the lush keys fool you: “Lost in Japan” is a booty call. It takes a minute to realize Shawn Mendes’s intentions, because up until then, the 20-year-old Canadian had churned out easily digestible PG pop ballads, mostly concerned with teasing or waiting from afar. But once the instrumental picks up, you figure out what’s going on. “Do you got plans tonight?” he asks coyly, “I was thinking I could fly to your hotel tonight.” He continues the narrative as an upbeat, R&B-tinged rhythm whisks you along, reminiscent of Justified-era Justin Timberlake, to which Mendes gives heavy credit. “Do I gotta convince you? / That you shouldn’t fall asleep?” he asks again. No, you don’t, Shawn. Just text us when you’re outside. — ISABELLA CASTRO-COTA
10. Jay Rock ft. Kendrick Lamar, Future, & James Blake, "King's Dead"10. Jay Rock ft. Kendrick Lamar, Future, & James Blake, “King’s Dead”
10. Jay Rock ft. Kendrick Lamar, Future, & James Blake, "King's Dead"
For someone with a reserved public persona, Kendrick Lamar is gifted at making war cries. The latest in a tradition that includes “Backseat Freestyle” and “DNA” is Black Panther’s “King’s Dead,” an amorphous collage that’s far less of a mess than it should be. Jay Rock channels his workmanlike energy into a series of spry internal rhymes, then Future pulls out that falsetto to interpolate “Slob on My Knob.” But before you decide if that’s an act of genius or insanity, James Blake arrives sounding like he’s singing for Olympiads’ ghosts instead of a blockbuster soundtrack.
But this thing lives for Kendrick. Beckoned by a Mike WiLL Made-It beat switch so vicious you want to fistfight it, Kendrick’s bloodletting sprint comes complete with its own hook and barrage of flows. Lest you forget this is a Marvel tie-in, his perspective here belongs to Erik Killmonger, the antagonist who goes from being a violent megalomaniac in the comics to a megalomaniac who wrongheadedly uses violence for the sake of liberating African-Americans in the film. In a way, the link situates “King’s Dead” within Kendrick’s own canon. It’s the immolating b-side to the uplift of “DNA.” — BRIAN JOSEPHS
9. Kacey Musgraves, "Slow Burn"9. Kacey Musgraves, “Slow Burn”
9. Kacey Musgraves, "Slow Burn"
The secret of Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour is that it’s not good just “for a country album,” but specifically because of its roots. The production, by Ian Fitchuk and Daniel Tashian, finds a balance between Dave Cobb’s simplicity and Daniel Lanois’ ethereality, and that’s largely due to Musgraves herself. The song originally had a more psychedelic approach, but as a brief but charming video from the New York Times reveals, Musgraves stripped away most of the extraneous instrumentation because she felt like it was “trying too hard.” It’s not that less is more, but negative space fits better with lines like, “taking my time let the world turn.” Some elements of psychedelia remain—such as the reverb tail extending into the ether as she delivers her lines—but they feel more organic. Anything bigger or trippier than necessary would obscure the song’s highlight, when Musgraves indirectly but seemingly deliberately invokes Neil Young’s “Old Man” to make a point about her own youth: “Old soul, waiting my turn / I know a few things but I still got a lot to learn.” Here, she tips her hat as she makes her own way into the songwriting pantheon, but the whole point of “Slow Burn” is that she’s fine if it takes a while. Few things felt more rewarding this year than this prioritizing of patience over instant gratification. — JOSHUA COPPERMAN
8. Drake, "Nice For What"8. Drake, “Nice For What”
8. Drake, "Nice For What"
“Nice For What,” an undeniable banger, owes almost everything to Big Freedia and a Lauryn Hill sample. The rare moment of joy on the interminable Scorpion begins by flipping Hill’s heartache ballad into New Orleans bounce, but pulls it off by embracing both the genre’s ass-shaking form and its empowering function. If the Drake of “Hotline Bling” sounded a little bitter watching ex-flames wearing less and going out more, you could even say he’s developed some grudging respect: The women of “Nice For What” have demanding jobs, fire selfies, and no time for slow songs. Little wonder Karena Evans’ video is full of superstars—except, somehow, Big Freedia or Lauryn Hill—and when Instagram introduced in-app music this summer, this track went straight to the top. Yeah, it’s a Drake song about basics turning up to a Drake song. See you at millennial throwback night. — ANNA GACA
7. Ariana Grande, "thank u, next"7. Ariana Grande, “thank u, next”
7. Ariana Grande, "thank u, next"
Ariana Grande’s first No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song that a million and one thinkpieces and millions more tweets couldn’t suck the fun out of. An endless bearer of memes. The new standard for personal pop. By any measure, “thank u, next” is indeed a smash, and more than a month after it entered the world in heavy rotation, it still sounds great. This could end up as Grande’s signature song, which is funny because she’s never been more Mariah-like than when waving her hand at “confessional” songwriting. (Carey will have you know that she is a songwriter first.) But finally the comparisons make sense. There’s something humorous in Grande’s ability to sound frank while not saying very much—the age of mass internet oversharing hasn’t quite rubbed off on contemporary pop, so even an oblique discussion of exes and life lessons feels uncommonly candid. You could choose to see this as a sign of how bleak mainstream pop expression is, but Grande makes it much easier to focus on the good. At 25, this young woman already knows love, patience, and pain, and she’s savvy enough to maximize playability by framing the anguish of breakups (and the complication of having them play out in public) as positive experiences. What a genius. — RICH JUZWIAK
6. Khalid ft. 6LACK & Ty Dolla $ign, "OTW"6. Khalid ft. 6LACK & Ty Dolla $ign, “OTW”
6. Khalid ft. 6LACK & Ty Dolla $ign, "OTW"
Few of 2018’s pop productions were as flawless and undersung as “OTW,” an unexpected tour de force from Khalid, an artist whose utility seemed unclear prior to the song’s release. His dubious previous claims to fame included the cloying, genreless musical torture device “Young, Dumb, and Broke” and tinkertoy trap’n’B sleep aid “Location.” With Ty Dolla $ign and producer Nineteen85 helping define the terms of this musical agreement, there was little room for outright failure and plenty of possibility for pillowy pop transcendence. Still, this song, which languished on the bottom half of the pop charts, feels like it has no right to be as perfectly crafted and comprehensively serene as it is. The production is a cross-stitching of well-placed backfiring percussion and reverb-drenched shadows of synths and adlibs. The three very similar singers seamlessly take over from one another; you’re likely to lose track of who’s who. For a blissful four minutes, they unite to become the smoothest singing group of the year—the millennial Chi-Lites we don’t deserve. — WINSTON COOK-WILSON
5. Rae Sremmurd ft. Juicy J, "Powerglide"5. Rae Sremmurd ft. Juicy J, “Powerglide”
5. Rae Sremmurd ft. Juicy J, "Powerglide"
Rae Sremmurd are the ideal muses for Mike Will Made It. He can get as weird and maximal as he wants, and the brothers Sremm have so much chemistry and pure charm that they can always navigate it. On “Powerglide,” Mike Will sets a scene that recalls the big, swaying, valley-like depths of “Black Beatles” but with more acceleration, like if you took that 2016 smash and gave it rims and a spoiler. The beat is cribbed from “Side 2 Side,” a Three 6 Mafia song about refusing to dance, but “Powerglide” subverts that refusal, likening it to the smooth swerves of a Lamborghini—converting an analog fav into a digital classic, updating the hooptie to a sportscar. Swae Lee raps and croons confidently on the same song, a never-better Slim Jxmmi shouts out new mayor of Atlanta Keisha Bottoms, and Juicy J drops by to unite all generations with a passing reference to Lil Peep. “Powerglide” is a sneaky, subversive song. In its length and bizarre twists, it mirrors the unpredictability of the three-sided full-length album from which it sprung. — MATTHEW RAMIREZ
4. Ella Mai, "Boo'd Up"4. Ella Mai, “Boo’d Up”
4. Ella Mai, "Boo'd Up"
Even as sleepers go, “Boo’d Up” seemed an unlikely hit: a track repeatedly shelved since 2014, finally given to a former downballot X Factor contestant, helmed by a producer (DJ Mustard) who seemed to have peaked years ago, seemingly passed over even by Ella’s own team, in a year chilly toward R&B women. Unlikely, that is, until you listened to it, and knew you were hearing something special. “Boo’d Up” is R&B at its most sumptuous: an ornate crystal chandelier of an arrangement, with synth cowbell, waterfall glissando and enveloping chords. The melody recalls DeBarge’s “Stay With Me” (the source for Ashanti’s “Foolish“) in the way it ascends and falls gently down the scale, as if pulled taut and let go. That’s exactly the subject matter, too: finally giving way to a crush, then slipping into new love like you would a warm bath. The last exquisite throwback comes at the end, an interlude of besotten (and suddenly very British) spoken-word: “I don’t want to get too attached, but I feel like I already am,” Mai says. Who wouldn’t be? — KATHERINE ST. ASAPH
3. Lana Del Rey, "Venice Bitch"3. Lana Del Rey, “Venice Bitch”
3. Lana Del Rey, "Venice Bitch"
Rarely does an artist capture the unconscious experience of place as well as Lana Del Rey. In the subtle musings of “Venice Bitch,” Lana turns pastiche into poetry, documenting her own psychic relationship with her adopted city: “Back in the garden / We’re getting high now, because we’re older / Me, myself, I like diamonds / My baby, crimson and clover.” Lana’s Los Angeles is like Patti Smith’s New York, or Springsteen’s New Jersey, in that it’s both real and unreal—the half-remembered dream of a city that’s somehow more vivid than the real thing. Musically, “Venice Bitch” is unlike anything she’s ever released. Running almost ten minutes, it takes as many cues from the meandering epics of bands like Can and King Crimson as it does from Lana’s previous pop efforts. With instrumental palettes ranging from arena rock percussion to retro synth melodies to sun-soaked fingerpicked guitar, it’s the quintessential Lana Del Rey song in both scope and substance. The music doesn’t belong to Los Angeles, or to any other city. “Venice Bitch” lives in its own post-nostalgic haze of diamonds, perfect love, and the “American-made.” A dream of the ideal, for the young and the bored. — WILL GOTTSEGEN
2. Westerman, "Confirmation"2. Westerman, “Confirmation”
2. Westerman, "Confirmation"
For a song about insecurity, “Confirmation” is remarkably confident. Plenty of songs this year dealt with anxiety through a pop lens (there’s a Post Malone/Swae Lee collaboration with the chorus, “Baby I’m a wreck”), but few achieved this level of polish. On “Confirmation,” Westerman guides listeners through a thorny emotional landscape of apprehension and self-doubt. While the lyrics track a sort of overarching ennui, the instrumentation pulls in the opposite direction: couched in a simple, breezy arrangement, it’s a perfectly soothing take on sophistipop. Westerman’s musical influences are far-reaching, but the minimal aesthetic is entirely his own. “Don’t you wonder why / confirmation’s easier / When you don’t think too much about it?” he sings, over a smooth synth lead. The magic of “Confirmation” is in the infectious rhythms and soft, buoyant instrumentals behind that culminating cry for simplicity. Don’t think too much about it. — WILL GOTTSEGEN
1. Valee ft. Jeremih, "Womp Womp"1. Valee ft. Jeremih, “Womp Womp”
1. Valee ft. Jeremih, "Womp Womp"
At least half a dozen rappers this year used Valee collaborations as an opportunity to engage in the apparently very fun act of impersonating Valee, helping trademark his mellow drawl, off-handed wit, and fading cadence, which is like Slick Rick crossed with Gucci Mane. But none donned the disguise as memorably as Jeremih. Over the slinky toy bass line of “Womp Womp,” the Chicagoans trade verses in the same flow, matching stoned wits and horndog pursuits in a canny descending melody. Jeremih samples a woman who tastes like peach cobbler, agrees to “never ever take her to meet mama,” and later tells another girl in Pumas to boot up. Valee talks shit “kinda” while his left wrist tries to “blind ya.” Moments earlier, apropos of nothing, he mentions he chipped his tooth. They recognize their raunchy visions are silly, and self-deprecate accordingly. “Womp Womp” wasn’t the song that most maximized Valee’s patient, feather-soft tones, but it was the strongest proof yet that Kanye’s investment was wise, and certainly the most fun to hear at a party.
In a perverse validation of concept, the upwardly mobile Soundcloud-ers Smokepurpp and Lil Pump stole the flow for their own single, “Nephew,” which was released two months later and has since racked up 10 times the YouTube views. One wish for 2019: Valee becomes massively popular on his own. — TOSTEN BURKS