I hate music. Ask anyone who knows me, and they will tell you this is my consistent position. Listening to music is a waste of time, and no way do you get enough out of it to make up for the time you sink slack-jawed and glassy eyed, slowly dying. When I’ve finished describing my relationship with music over the past year, my introduction may read sarcastically. It is not. I am a victim like everyone else, but way more self-aware. That being said, if I HAVE to listen to music—gun to my head—and it HAS to be from 2018, here are the ten songs I would pick, but not recommend.
10. Noname – Don’t Forget About Me (Room 25)
Not immediately catchy, but it gets stuck in my head. The album’s arrangements are elegant, and Noname’s quiet, articulate verses flow through instead of competing with the music. The natural instrumentation add to the honesty of the verses. I feel this is really what you want to see from emerging rap artists: heavily autobiographical content conveyed with confident vulnerability. Even listening to this one song gives shape to Noname as a character and personality. The clever wordplay definitely warrants repeat listens. I don’t yet fully appreciate why this album has such lofty reviews—maybe the best reviewed album of 2018—but I suspect it has enough complexity to demand focused attention. A lot of people like ‘Blaxploitation‘.
9. Beach House – Drunk in LA (7)
Never having listened to Beach House before, I can’t say how this compares to the rest of their dream pop duo’s catalogue, but I dig the eerie vocals and blissful harmonies. The percussion sets a soft tension with Victoria Legrand’s lyrics, a sort of abstract poetry strung together for ideophonic musicality over substance. Good use of accordion. No other song on the album captured my attention like ‘Drunk in LA’, but the lead single off 7 is ‘Lemon Glow‘.
8. Kanye West – Ghost Town feat. 070 Shake, John Legend & Kid Cudi (ye)
This is the type of creativity and production Kanye fans have been missing. Reminiscent of his strongest moments without rehashing, Kanye is a little stranger than usual, but I choose to interpret this boldness as depth(?). To be honest, I have a very weak grasp of Kanye over the past five years—the post-Kim era—but this year was definitely the time to check-in with Yeezy. The Kids See Ghosts partnership with Kid Cudi buoys ye‘s mediocrity and hints at a new period of innovation. This year, the duo also produced great work like ‘Reborn‘ and ‘Feel The Love‘. My mother the doctor has pointed out how it’s a terrible idea to touch a stove to see if you still bleed because the wound will cauterize.
7. Florence + The Machine – No Choir (High As Hope)
The inclusion of this particular album outro as one of my favourite songs of 2018 suggests that sometimes the best music is actually no music at all. But seriously, bringing the vocals forward and stripping down the accompaniment works to create a bigger sound throughout most of High As Hope. In many ways this is typical Florence + The Machine in how they lean into the presence of their frontwoman. I enjoy listening to this release in its entirety, but no real run-away singles separate from the track list. Deeply introspective of the singer’s life, the lyrics are a prayer of atonement, supplication, and thanksgiving. Breaking the fourth wall in ‘No Choir’ characterized the sincerity I found reflective of the album. ‘Hunger‘ and ‘Grace‘ are the only others I add to playlists, but there’s no consensus on the strongest single.
6. 6LACK – Pretty Little Fears ft. J. Cole (East Atlanta Love Letter)
True to the album’s name, ‘Pretty Little Fears’ is a love song, sweet and slow. The crooning first-half describes the throws and passion of new love. 6LACK’s unambitious vocals seem appropriate for the soft affections he spoons out over some rheumy keyboard notes. This works, but the song is better for J. Cole’s verse, which builds the second-half intensity and expands 6LACK’s opening adoration to a mature reverence of love and partnership. This is a touching song, and so sweet; the sentimentality connected with me.
5. Kacey Musgraves – Butterflies (Golden Hour)
It’s hard for me to choose one song off the Kacey Musgraves LP. It is tremendous. This was my favourite album of 2018. For so long, Kacey Musgraves has been a borderline mainstream success with her thoughtful brand of flower-child country. She gets tapped for musical guest on SNL, and has impressive Grammy nods. She isn’t lacking exposure, or acclaim, yet her album should be selling better, and her singles should be getting more time. Especially when compared to the derivative offerings by contemporary genre icons, like her entire slate of Best Country Album opposition, Kacey Musgraves has shown tangible growth since she introduced herself with ‘Follow Your Arrow‘ circa 2013. ‘Butterflies’ is a representative for the whole body, which reveals an uncharacteristic sophistication among country chart toppers, particularly in the vocals and lyrics. If you won’t listen to the whole album, listen to ‘Slow Burn‘, ‘Space Cowboy‘, ‘High Horse‘, ‘Lonely Weekend‘, and this cover of ‘Something Only We Know‘.
4. laye – goldfinger
Shout-out to the Ontario Media Development Corporation for investing in this Montreal artist. That may seem odd, but it is typical for Quebec to take money from Ontario and repay us in “culture”. I found the traditional pop and polished production unusual for an unknown Canadian artist. The ear-splitting chorus might be grating to some, but I dig it. While I’m not too attached to the other two singles she’s released since my ‘goldfinger’ obsession started, I’m really into the Frank Walker remix of this debut single.
3. Kali Uchis – After The Storm ft. Tyler, The Creator, Bootsy Collins (Isolation)
Great vibes off this funky track from the Kali Uchis debut album. Her sleepy vocals float above an engaging bass and percussion medley. There’s a lot going on here, including an inspired verse from Tyler, the Creator. I am hearing a lot of good things for the whole album. It’s very well received, but for me, nothing comes close to Uchis rhyming “hero” with “mirror” on this track. The video is also an amazing 50s pastel cartoon of a suburban dreamscape, which deserves a watch on its own merits.
2. Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper – Shallow (A Star is Born soundtrack)
Lady Gaga carries this appropriately dramatic duet from A Star is Born, which has already clinched the Best Original Song Oscar—bad news for the SZA track, ‘All The Stars‘, from the Kendrick Lamar curated ‘Black Panther’ OST. Bradley Cooper exceeds modest expectations and hit-maker Mark Ronson works his magic as always. Nothing wins American hearts like a pop-country ballad for the American heartland. The power of Lady Gaga’s vocal run knocks you off your feet. This song represents the success of her current iteration as an experimenting country artist. I’ve recently been cherry-picking her older genre-anomalies between the Go-Go classics, like ‘Eh, Eh‘, ‘Speechless‘, and ‘Yoü And I‘. For more hat-and-spurs Gaga, see Joanne (2016).
1. Drake – Nice For What (Scorpion)
Scorpion has a weaker critical reception than More Life, but a number of engaging singles resonate broadly. Last year, it really seemed like the Toronto rapper “could give two fucks ’bout where the Grammys go”, but Drake has not shown that to be the case this season by his consistently safe choices in the production and release of Scorpion. ‘Nice For What’ is not innovative, or a particularly fresh iteration of Drake, and it relies principally on a sped-up sample of Lauryn Hill’s ‘Ex-Factor’. Yet, it has steadily been my favourite song of 2018, and includes one of my favourite videos. At the end of the day, my number one song is the addictive jam I keep on repeat. Besides the other Scorpion tracks that get played, ‘Summer Games’ is worth a listen (sorry, no YouTube link).
The HU – Yuve Yuve Yu — Doubly the result of Eric G’s recommendation and Eric C’s commentary that my list was “quite feminine”, I really considered bumping this up to a numbered slot. I never thought I would enjoy Monogolian folk metal this much. The deep vibrating throat singing over the traditional string instruments is not the cacophony you might think.
Arctic Monkeys – Four Stars Out Of Five — While stalwart Arctic Monkeys were disappointed by the experimental deviation of the new album, having no allegiance to their previous work, I thought the hotel-themed release was very interesting, particularly the lead single’s catchy, yet unconventional, melodies.
Dr. Dog – Under The Wheels — Could have made the list with a bit more polish. Besides the more contemporary vocals, there’s a classic rock flavour here I really appreciate. Thanks Andy for introducing me to a solid album from this mid-sized Philly band.
Khruangbin – Cómo Me Quieres — I like surf music, and I think that’s what this is. I don’t know. It’s the hanging guitar riffs on a single coil pickup, the psychedelic instrumentation floating through the background, and the absent vocals. It’s good though, really. Credit to Julien.
Cardi B — One of the best reviewed albums this year was Invasion of Privacy. While we were hooked on Cardi’s brash charisma and awkward syntax as soon as ‘Bojack Yellow‘ came out in Summer 2017, ‘Be Careful‘ is my current favourite. I could care less for ‘I Like It‘ past Cardi’s early finish at 1:25.
Mac Miller — R.I.P. Mac Miller. I never listened to your music when you were alive, but I had to this year when scouring the musical crop. I would disagree that his greatest contribution of 2018 was a tribute line in his ex’s overblown viral single. ‘Come Back To Earth‘ and ‘2009‘ could have made the list.
This Is America — Originally this list was supposed to be about the best dance videos of 2018, but I was quite disappointed with my options, so I’m going to give this accolade to the Childish Gambino video featuring a song I can’t stand.
Frank Ocean’s ‘Moon River‘ and Taylor Swift’s ‘September‘ — Two very interesting covers of classics, which had two juxtaposing effects on this year’s musical landscape. On one hand we have Frank Ocean’s only 2018 release, a reworking of the Breakfast at Tiffany’s original song with D’Angelo-style layered vocals. It injected complexity and life into a stale favourite to the point where you don’t even have to know or like the Audrey Hepburn rendition. On the other hand, we have Taylor Swift’s only 2018 release, a stripped down Earth Wind and Fire cover, where she sucked out the song’s soul like Shang Tsung and replaced it with a banjo. She inadvertently promoted a newfound appreciation for the original and highlighted all the reasons why it was a good song by abandoning them all. Charlamagne Tha God aptly labelled it an “unseasoned boneless chicken breast ballad“.