10. “EveryBody’s Coming to My House” // David Byrne
Let’s not pretend otherwise — a lot of artists put out dreadful stuff in their autumn years. And that’s to say nothing of those who put out dross at the peak of their powers. David Byrne picks and chooses his moments, and it showed in American Utopia‘s lead single. “Everybody’s Coming to My House” springs along with a pep beyond many musicians half Byrne’s age. Immaculately produced, this for me was one of the standout feel-good singles of the year.
The rattling percussion, soaring horn arrangements, and near delirious delivery of the vocals are reminiscent of Talking Head’s Remain in Light, but this track is very much its own animal. This bares out in its live performances. The song went out into the world and took on a life of its own. In a time where acrimony is king, it’s more important than ever to make time for music that dares to be joyful.
9. “The Reason They Hate Me” // Daughters
You can always trust a noise-rock band to provide one of the catchiest songs of the year. At least, that was the proverb that Daughters were abiding by with “The Reason They Hate Me”: a fiercely contagious cut from a record that has taken the scene by storm. It’s pretty much the only track on You Won’t Get What You Want that follows a conventional song structure, and it’s thoroughly rewarding as a result. If those damn guitars weren’t so utterly harrowing, the song could have even been featured on daytime radio. Longtime fans of Daughters would seldom admit it, but it’s an absolute dance-punk anthem. Alexis Marshall’s provocative taunts are ephemeral and shrewd: ‘they got a name for people like you/but I didn’t take the time to write it down’. “Reason” openly shares the same frustration and despair that the other cuts on the record convey, though there’s a degree of cynical humour that sets it apart from the rest. Marshall himself stated that it was ‘a lot of fun to compose, as well as play’, and you can surely tell. ‘It’s simply a gratifying listen’, he adds. Who’s to argue?
8. “Diamond” // All Them Witches
“Diamond” was released as ATW’s second single in September this year, hot of the heels of “Fishbelly 86 Onions”. Though unfortunately underrepresented in the rock charts, “Diamond” has all the makings of a classic All Them Witches single. It is progressive, darkly ethereal, and smokey. It fills that special place that the best ATW songs often occupy. It manages to build an uneasy tension continuously through its 6 minute run time, with only short bursts for a rest bite. The production also happens to be sublime, resulting in a true classic. If you’re looking for a place to start with ATW then “Diamond” is it.
7. “I’ll Make You Sorry” // Screaming Females
Screaming Females’ 2018 record All at Once isn’t just one of the finest rock releases of the year; it’s also produced one of the most irresistibly catchy pop-punk tunes of the past decade. “I’ll Make You Sorry” sports a killer riff, a gripping rhythm section, and a superb, riveting chorus (not overlooking a plethora of golden overdubs from guitar goddess Marissa Paternoster). The result is simply delightful. Screaming Females have been a great band for well over a decade now, blending multiple guitar-genres with each passing album. Somewhat surprisingly, however, the level of polish given to “Sorry”, as well as many other songs on the record, escalates their music to new heights. Paternoster’s trademark vibrato vocals thrive in the platonic power-pop setup, as if there was any ever doubting the extent of her capabilities. Nor do they overpower the overall arrangement, which is equally impressive. The shrewd use of simplicity is immensely satisfying, a similar sensation to that of early Weezer. A song with a straightforward structure, executed with a strong sense of purpose. “Sorry” was released way back in February, but it’s proved to be my regular earworm through the entire year. What a jam.
6. “Potato Salad” // Tyler, The Creator
In a year bereft of a studio album from Tyler, The Creator, I’ve been glad of the drip feed of new material across 2018. “Potato Salad” has been my go to from the year and exemplifies a lot of what we’ve seen from him of recent. Light-hearted, laidback and loose, the track is free of manufactured-controversy and made up of freestyles over a borrowed beat, and it’s that simplicity and playfulness that’s been dragging me back for more.
With both Tyler and A$AP Rocky delivering some great lines, self-deprecation, wordplay and all, the track goes down smoothly. The Kanye instrumental sets the tone perfectly and feels more at home here than in its original track.
Pair all of that with a video of the two larking about in France with some understated visual flourish, and it makes for one of my feel-good tracks of the year and one I’ll undoubtedly be sliding into playlists during the holidays.
5. “God Break Down the Door” // Nine Inch Nails
This was the standout track on Bad Witch, one of the murkier albums of the year. “God Break Down the Door” hits a balance of finesse and filth that has seldom been bettered in Trent Reznor’s decidedly fine and filthy career. The track dives headlong into the murky jazz underworld of David Bowie’s swansong, Blackstar, and there finds all manner of shadowy gems.
The breathless muddle of horns and thumping percussion that undercuts the song is juxtapositioned beautifully with an eerie, alien ambience. It’s decidedly creepy. Reznor sits growling in the middle, naturally. It all amounts to a track that’s as elegant as it is disconcerting, and a touching NIN tribute to Bowie. The starman couldn’t have done it better himself.
4. “Honey” // Robyn
Great albums need great flagship songs, and Honey certainly got it with “Honey”. The single’s lush, enveloping sound wasn’t just gorgeous in its own right —it teased what was to come from the whole album. Anthemic in tone, sensuous rather than sexy, this was atypical pop from an artist who always seems a couple of steps ahead of the curve.
Robyn’s reflectiveness is beautifully framed by the mix. In purely aesthetic terms the song is a treat, something that gushes through the speakers and round your head. Throw Robyn’s gentle, probing vocals and one does well not to be swept along by the current. The song’s no classic, but it is perfectly representative of one of 2018’s finest albums. ‘Come get your Honey.’ Who could resist?
3. “Make Me Feel” // Janelle Monae
Janelle Monáe had a great year this year, seeing her album met with a highly positive reception. But the lead single, “Make Me Feel”, is what made it onto my list of earworms this year.
Reeking of influence from Prince, who collaborated with Monáe on the track, “Make Me Feel” is equal parts funky and understated. Tight guitar stabs, flourishing synths and minimal rhythm lines make the meat of the instrumental, all of which compliment the vocal line perfectly. Addressing her previous privateness about her sexuality, Monáe winds through the three-minute playtime, playfully dancing around the subject to great effect.
It’s a thoroughly enjoyable pop track that set a standard for the rest of the genre in 2018, and while the lingering feeling of Prince’s “Kiss” makes it hard not to compare them, “Make Me Feel” is a fantastic pop track that stands tall by itself.
2. “Colossus” // IDLES
Joy as an Act of Resistance introduced a subtlety to IDLES’ sociopolitical lyricism that managed to remove the on-the-nose nature of Brutalism without abandoning the thoughtfulness behind the snarled vocals. “Colossus” is a remarkable introduction to this new order, with a series of refrains that drive at certain targets whilst throughout maintaining a vague universality and relevance to the times. The album’s themes — toxic masculinity, chemical dependency, mental health, remorse, defiance — are clearly defined over the top of grungy, dingy, and intensely satisfying riffs whose tempos accelerate through to the sudden shift in the fourth minute. In itself the sudden burst of energy and abandon, the joy resisting the darkness that preceded it, earmarks what the song, album, and band are all about. If the single was released to offer a crash course in what IDLES are offering, it fulfils the task with a total lack of compromise.
1. “This is America” // Childish Gambino
No song has had a bigger cultural impact this year than “This is America”. Its release in May took the entertainment industry by storm, with its poignant political statements and powerful imagery. More specifically, the way in which black culture is represented, and how this exploitative industry inexplicably benefits from black trauma. Of course, the music is only half of it. This is America is immensely enhanced by its incredible video. Beautiful, violent, terrifying. Utterly breathless. It’s a phenomenal piece of art. Though I’ve enjoyed Childish Gambino throughout the years, I’ve always been slightly put off by the gimmicky humour that has been carried over from his work as a comedy actor. 2016’s Awaken, My Love! made some strides, but was let down once again by the ludicrously bad “California”. With This is America, Donald Glover has never exuded such confidence as an authentic musical artist. This song bridges the two Worlds of Glover and Gambino to considerable success. Finally.
Appearing seemingly out of nowhere, Childish Gambino dropped a track in May that threaded the needle of political commentary, viral comedy, and back-to-back replayability. “This Is America” spawned memes across the Internet while creating genuine debate around the themes of gun violence and inequality in the country, to top it off, both track and its accompanying, visceral music video were received with glowing praise.
Combining a light, gospel-drenched, interlude with a sinister, droning instrumental on the verse makes for an engaging track of two halves and shows a range Childish Gambino has been able to demonstrate over his musical career.
There’s a lot left for the listener to explore here, across both the track and video, as Gambino laces the entirety with direct and indirect references to the strong themes at play. In doing so, it’s continued to pique my interest and pull me back to it, thoroughly enjoy myself with it each time. Alongside the other material we’ve seen from him this year, “This Is America” makes me very hopeful of more output of this quality from Donald Glover in 2019.
I won’t say anything that hasn’t already been said by dissecting the track (and video, of course) that cemented Donald Glover’s genius amongst common knowledge. It’s fortunate, then, that I can talk about a personal connection to it that transcends its contents; its ability to transport me back to a certain time in the year, returning me to the beginning of a summer that I enjoyed for no end of reasons. The guttural whirring, the choral vocals, the unusually heavy cadence of Gambino’s delivery, and the damning precision of its attacks on systemic racism and American gun control feel like a bookmark for a specific period of music and specific period of politics. Perhaps that uncommon sense of presence is what made it the most enduring single of the year, in addition to being an extremely well-composed piece of music that is always fun and thought-provoking to listen to.