2018 in review

2018 was a bad year for music, potentially the worst this decade. Like any other year, there was plenty of good music, but there was a real shortage of truly great music. In a better year, plenty of the music on these lists would not have made the cut, especially in the album section. 
Still, there's always some great music, so here's me celebrating it with my usual hyperbolic and clumsy writing. I apologise in advance.
 
 
Top 25 Songs of 2018
 
25. Radio Zydeco - 'La. Beat (Breakdown)' featuring C.C. Adcock
This song could have very easily slipped me by, as it seems to have done for almost everyone. I know absolutely nothing about Radio Zydeco, and simply stumbled over this song because it features C.C. Adcock, possibly the greatest musician that almost no one has heard of. It's a fun song.
 
24. Ghost - 'Dance Macabre'
The catchiest song they've ever done. A sound-alike word play as lame as "be with you/bewitch you" is a lot easier to overlook when the song around it is great.
 
23. Pinegrove - 'Intrepid'
If Pinegrove manage to get back on track after the trouble they've gone through in the last year or so, they have the potential to become one of the best indie bands working today. In the meantime. 'Intrepid' is a glorious song.
 
22. IDLES - 'Colossus'
Two songs for the prize of one: epic post-punk with distorted bass and booming drums, then a faster, shoutier 'Lust for Life'-style outro. Both are great. 
 
21. Pusha T - 'The Games We Play'
Typically confrontational, shit-talking Pusha over an amazing instrumental. 
 
20. Hop Along - 'How Simple'
Frances Quinlan is a vocal powerhouse.
 
19. Shannon Shaw - 'Golden Frames'
Retro torch singing somewhere between Janis Joplin and Duffy. Gorgeous.
 
18. Iceage - 'Broken Hours'
Iceage's best song of 2018 was a bonus track on the Japanese edition of the album. And yet they kept 'Plead the Fifth'. What. 
 
17. Father John Misty - 'The Palace'
Unusually naked, bare songwriting even by Josh Tillman's standards. There's something about his wheezy falsetto on the chorus that really works. Josh has called God's Favorite Customer his Tonight's the Night, which I guess makes this his 'Borrowed Tune', except he actually wrote the tune. Also: "Last night I wrote a poem/Man, I must've been in the poem zone". 
 
16. Mitski - 'Geyser'
Mitski is a very versatile songwriter, and 'Geyser' is the best showcase of everything she does best. A heart-on-sleeve, dancing-with-eyes-closed kind of song. 
 
15. Low - 'Disarray'
Low changed up their sound after 25 years, but kept everything that made them great in the first place. The vocal harmonies on this track are stunning.   
 
14. Phosphorescent - 'Christmas Down Under'
You can't go wrong with vocoder backing vocals and a distorted, emotional guitar solo. Don't quote me on that. This song is gorgeous.
 
13. Glen Hansard - 'Movin' On'
The best song Glen's done in years, showing off his still kind of underutilised guitar skills, as well as his still powerful and wonderful voice.
 
12. Tropical Fuck Storm - 'You Let My Tyres Down'
Australian "supergroup" with the best band name of the year, Tropical Fuck Storm are made up of half of The Drones. It sounds quite a lot like a Drones song, meaning it creeps and then explodes with noisy guitar squall and somersaulting vocals. Works for me. 
 
11. Daughters - 'Daughter'
This being one of the more reserved cuts on Daughters' new album in no way makes it easy, pleasant listening, but it's pretty damn awesome.
 
 
10. Janelle Monáe - 'Make Me Feel'
If you want to make the sexiest song of the year, make it sound like Prince's 'Kiss'. Getting an official seal of approval from The Purple One himself doesn't hurt.
 
9. Titus Andronicus - 'Above the Bodega (Local Business)'
A laid-back rock song in the vein of Exile on Main St. about how you can keep your day-drinking from everyone but the guy at the store. I get this song. 
 
8. Childish Gambino - 'This Is America'
One of the weirdest songs to ever top the Billboard Hot 100. The music video is one of the greatest things ever, but it'd be a crime to sell the song itself short. Even after many listens, the jarring, jumbled transitions between afrobeat and trap still get to me. It's a hilarious and unsettling song, like the entirety of Get Out in less than 4 minutes. 
 
7. The Voidz - 'AlieNNatioN'
I couldn't possibly top The Needle Drop's description of this song: "Very sad, sanitised, futuristic elevator music, like I'm riding up the elevator at my desk job in the year 2048, and I know that once I reach the top floor, I'm gonna get fired." Julian Casablancas needs to stay this weird. 
 
6. Young Fathers - 'In My View'
Not necessary the classic, fist-pumping anthem that Young Fathers do so well, but nonetheless an expertly built song that serves to showcase everything that makes Young Fathers one of the greatest bands of the century.
 
5. Car Seat Headrest - 'Beach Life-in-Death'
A multi-part, 13-minute, ambitious monster of an indie rock song. It's chock-full of lines equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking: "I pretended I was drunk when I came out to my friends/I never came out to my friends/We were all on Skype/And I laughed and I changed the subject". Will Toledo is my age, which naturally makes me resent him. He wrote this song when he was 19, which makes me want to go live in the sewers. 
 
4. Ought - 'Desire'
For some reason, Tim Darcy decided to give up his David Byrne/Tom Verlaine sneer for a warbling, slurred vocal affectation, like Elvis Presley on quaaludes. The result is Ought's best song yet, an open-hearted, blue-eyed soul masterpiece. 
 
3. Jeff Tweedy - 'Having Been Is No Way to Be'
Jeff Tweedy calls out fans who wish he'd go back to abusing painkillers so he'd make the kind of music they want him to be making. That's a hell of a thing to put in a song. The result is one of his best songs, in a 25 year career of great songs. 
 
2. The 1975 - 'Love It If We Made It'
The fact that this song is repeatedly compared to 'We Didn't Start the Fire' is frustrating and unfair. First, the inspiration was Prince's 'Sign 'O' the Times', which isn't nearly as shameful. Second, the music and lyrics are actually, y'know, good. I love it when singers say "fuck my limitations" and basically just beat their vocal chords into submission in order to pull off a performance that should be beyond them (see also Japandroids' 'The House That Heaven Built'). And apparently, I love when quoting the leader of the free world (a phrase that sounds very sarcastic lately) elevates bullshit into poetry: "Thank you Kanye, very cool!" may be the best lyric of 2018, somehow. 
 
1. Mister Ferrari - 'Good Times at the Museum'
I've been following this band for years, and watching their growth has been truly incredible. I had heard this song performed live, but even so, the recording caught me off guard. The first time I heard it, I barely had time to register one amazing thing about it before something else knocked me on my ass. Jonathan comes out swinging, sounding better than he ever has. Markus' backing vocals are great, then he comes in on lead vocals for a verse and sounds incredible. The overdriven guitar solo rips. The structure is great, the lyrics are hilarious, and the song is catchy as hell. Then it was over, and I was left muttering "holy shit" to myself before hitting replay. It's like a great lost Clash song. It's fast and fun and funny and catchy and awesome. I needed this song in 2018, and I cannot fucking wait for their debut album in 2019.
 
 
 
Top 10 Albums of 2018
 
10. Iceage - Beyondless
 
Iceage singer Elias Bender Rønnenfelt has spent the last few years making up for English being his second language by digging up words that no modern English speaker has even heard up. It's a little much sometimes, but it works with the vibe Iceage is going for, which increasingly seems to be Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. If you know anything about me, you know I approve. Beyondless isn't as watertight as their last album (and sole masterpiece) Plowing into the Field of Love - for one, the production is a little flat, and they decided to leave the most ferocious song off the album (see song list above), but even when they're not at their best, Iceage are still pretty damn good. 
 
 
9. Low - Double Negative
 
Low are one of the original "slow-core" bands, a designation that always sounded like a not-so-subtle insult to me. What it really means is they tend to keep to downtempo songs with a lot of atmosphere and a strong focus on sound and melody. Double Negative is them saying, "yeah, but what if we did that, but, like, kicked the shit out of it?" Songs like 'Tempest' and 'Rome (Always in the Dark)' are so drowned in fuzz and other effects it's like vaguely hearing a radio transmission through a concrete wall. It's a beautiful, exhausting listen.
 
 
8. Ghost - Prequelle
 
Ghost is a completely ridiculous band. Now that Tobias Forge has been officially unmasked as the only real member of the band, it appears he's decided to lean into the camp even more, which makes the look-how-metal-we-are album cover kind of hilarious. It's the right call to make, though. Ghost has always been a heavy metal band in the same way Kiss is a heavy metal band, meaning it's really a pop band with heavy guitars. Tobias has great pop instincts. He writes great riffs, great melodies and slathers the album in amazing vocal harmonies.  
 
 
7. Pusha T - DAYTONA
 
Fucking Kanye. After going off the rails more than ever, he released 5 albums in 5 weeks, including a solo album that's the worst thing he's ever done by a country mile (he calls referring to himself in the third person as "my bipolar shit", says he's a superhero, then shrieks like a goddamn lunatic... it's the worst moment in music of 2018), and a collaboration with Kid Cudi that's actually very good, but not good enough for me to look past the fact that I'm listening to Kanye West. He's still a great producer, though, and Pusha T is a great rapper, so DAYTONA is actually worth returning to. When 90-minute albums are apparently becoming a mainstream norm, releasing a 7 song album that's just over 20 minutes is inspired and very welcome. The beats are fantastic, there are no weak spots (save maybe Kanye's one verse on the album - you can't escape him even if you try) and Pusha shit-talking Drake turned into the most amusing feud in years (in which Drake got absolutely destroyed). 
 
 
6. Father John Misty - God's Favorite Customer
 
It was obvious that Josh Tillman put everything he had into 2017s Pure Comedy, so the last thing I expected him to do was come out with a new album barely a year later. But he had some demons to exorcise, and he's a stellar songwriter, so who's complaining? The production is a little hit-or-miss, but he gets to show off his unfairly amazing voice, and his lyrics are either hilarious or heartbreaking or both. You kind of worry about his mental state, though. I hope he's okay.  
 
 
5. Young Fathers - Cocoa Sugar
 
Young Fathers weren't going to top White Men Are Black Men Too. Very few bands could reach those heights to begin with, never mind transcend them. Instead, they've gone slightly more hi-fi and a bit darker. But as I stated above (and will continue to shout from the rooftops forever), they are one of the greatest bands of the century, and a step down for them is like going from Mount Everest to K2. They can still look down on just about everyone else, is what I'm saying. Their vocal interplay remains stunning - they are three distinct and fantastic singers, yet so versatile that it can still be difficult to tell who's singing. And their songs are still impossibly catchy and incredibly idiosyncratic.  
 
 
4. The 1975 - A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships
 
I kind of wrote off The 1975 without hearing them: their name sounds like they're trying too hard to be something (though I'm not sure what), and their last album was called I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it. Seriously. And yet. After 'Love It If We Made It', I had to actually check them out. Turns out, they're actually a very good band. They have a severe case of trying to do every kind of music at once ("Oasis, but sad. No, Joy Division, but uplifting. No, Bon Iver. No, jazz!"), but I'm hardly the right person to complain about that, and anyway, most of their experiments turn out really well. It's the kind of musical ambition that cynics like to scoff at, but cynicism is for assholes, and this album is great.
 
 
3. Daughters - You Won't Get What You Want
 
Industrial, no wave, grindcore and noise rock aren't exactly my genres. If they were, this would be my favourite album of the year, because it's technically flawless. It accomplishes everything it sets out to do, and does it as well as it possibly could. It's a dark, dismal experience, with unsettling vocals and absolutely harrowing guitar sounds. It reminds me of the first time I heard Death Grips, which is somehow one of my favourite bands (not very on-brand for me, I know). It's all a bit overwhelming, and it's not exactly something I listen to for pleasure, but it's also something I can't help but return to.
 
 
2. Jeff Tweedy - WARM
 
Jeff Tweedy is low-key one of the greatest songwriters working today, and his first proper solo album is up there with his best work. He shows off his versatility while keeping everything grounded and cohesive and uncharacteristically direct. WARM is an apt title - it's the best way to describe the arrangements, the lyrics, the mood, and that voice, which only seems to be getting better with age. The lack of truly great music in 2018 was a bit disheartening, so to have both The 1975 and Jeff Tweedy drop their albums on November 30th was a huge relief. I'm especially grateful for WARM. It was just what I needed. 
 
 
1. Car Seat Headrest - Twin Fantasy
 
I'm basically beating a dead horse at this point, but what better way to signify what a musically lacklustre year 2018 was than the fact that the best album of the year was actually made in 2011? Back when Will Toledo was a big name only on Bandcamp and dropped something like 6 albums a year, Twin Fantasy was his low-fi magnum opus. I've tried listening to it, and it's tough. It's clear that the songs are incredible, but the lack of resources really shows in the recordings. They just can't live up to these songs. Will obviously felt the same, because he apparently stipulated in his record contract that he was to be allowed to remake it. It's hardly a hi-fi marvel now, but Twin Fantasy finally gets to sound like what it is, which is a kind-of-sort-of concept album about teenage heartbreak, told with total self awareness and brilliant songwriting. It's full of everything you need from a clever indie rock album, like quotable singalong lines ("Don't worry/You and me won't be alone no more"), amazing guitar riffs ('Nervous Young Inhumans') and some honest to god indie rock anthems of the sort that no one really makes anymore ('Bodys', 'Sober to Death', 'Beach Life-in-Death'). If any album this year has the potential to go down as a modern classic, it's Twin Fantasy
 

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