Friday, December 28, 2018

My Top 30 Songs of 2018

Hello there! I've had a few people ask me if this year was the end of my annual "best of" list, but alas, it's not. I spent the last week trying to turn off my brain for a hot minute and — gasp! — not think much about music. But that never lasts long around these parts, so, here are my favourite 30 songs of the year — all of which I think vocally, technically, lyrically are also some of the best around. It wasn't an easy list to make, mainly because 2018 wasn't wildly memorable when it came to music. But, there were more than a few high points, comebacks, newcomers, collaborations and excellent full-lengths that made it possible. You'll see below that 2018 is definitely the year that pop music won, and I think that's reflective of what we all needed to feel this year. So, crank it loud and let it help you feel as good as possible going into 2019.

See you in 2019!

30. "Psycho" – Post Malone (feat. Ty Dolla $ign)

Say what you will about Posty, but anyone who can carve a space in mainstream pop, rap, trap and R&B — a space that didn't exist prior — is a pretty fascinating artist. He's unlikely in every meaning of the word, but relentless in his goofy pursuit of pop kingdom. "Psycho" is a perfect example of his peculiar prowess – sonically, it's pretty, while lyrically it's totally unchallenging; making it an easy choice for the dark horse earworm of the year.

29. "Music On My Teeth" – DJ Koze (feat. José González)

Part of one of the year's quirkiest releases, this José González collaboration is sunshine in a song, or, that moment in between sleep and consciousness where nothing really exists. Don't let "DJ" fool you; the song is beatless and instead, a tender, lo-fi González ballad with soothing embellishments from the praised German producer.

28. "OKRA" – Tyler, The Creator

This song knocks harder every time I hear it. It's got the same caliber of nasty bass heard throughout Goblin, without the questionable subject matter and auxiliary production. "Okra" is one big flex from Tyler; it's further proof he doesn't need anything decorative to work with, and he's got big ideas brewing.

27. "In My Blood" – Shawn Mendes

Shawn Mendes opening up about his struggle with anxiety is one of the most important things to have happened in pop culture this year. A kid with his influence, communicating the all-encompassing feelings of panic, has only done good for his gigantic following by simply telling the truth. And for that, he's a new fave of mine. Plus he lives across the street from me, and including him in his list feels like the neighbourly thing to do.

26. "Lemon Glow" – Beach House

Beach House at their finest, man. "Lemon Glow" will still cloak you in that same intimate trance that Bloom did, but not without new, added edge – namely some delicious electric slides and prominent bass.

25. "Like I Used To" – Tinashe 

Kehlani, SZA, Tinashe — all of thes
e R&B queens know how to turn a break-up jam into something wistful-sounding, even when they’re, in fact, super pissed off. If you only paid attention to the clean production and Tinashe’s sweet hook, you might not pick up on her ruthlessly airing out an ex — which she skillfully is (over a gorgeous melody, no less).

 24. "Pirouette" – Dizzy 

Canadian indie-pop group Dizzy meekly stepped out with their debut album Baby Teeth this year — an impressive collection of airy synth-pop and melancholic ballads like this one, all which breathe imagination into the suburban streets that raised them. Not much makes me want to be a teenager again, but the innocence baked into this LP almost does.

 23. "Sister" – Ben Howard

In a very Simon and Garfunkel way, Ben Howard managed to achieve that special kind of stillness on his untitled three-song EP this year. “Hot Heavy Summer,” the second song off the EP, sounds exactly like its title — summers filled with nothingness — while the undulating “Sister" achieves that sparse, Bon Iver-level introspection.

 22. "New Birth in New England" – Phosphorescent

Staying on that Paul Simon note, Phosphorescent’s long-awaited return to music (following a near-deathly bout of Meningitis) possesses the same simple, euphoric ingredients that Simon’s Graceland did. The underrated Americana gem has his happiest tune here, likely because it quite literally describes meeting the mother of his children, and while his gloomy Spaghetti Western touches were nice in 2013 — I hope this adorable flavour sticks around.


21. "Ooh Wee" – Your Smith

I remember back in the Songza days (RIP), when community playlist curation was just budding, and there was a channel called “Downtown Romantic.” It was my favourite, and to this day, I can pinpoint a song that would have made it on there. This would have. Sounding like a neon-lit stroll through the big city, Your Smith (Caroline Smith’s newest project) captures those lusty early days of a relationship via effortlessly soulful trip-hop.

20. "Heat Wave" – Snail Mail

If this song doesn’t sound like being a teen, lying in the park grass, literally nothing else does. Blending some 90s Cat Power angst with Car Seat Headrest-esque commentary, “Heat Wave” is sun-kissed strums one minute, electric shreds the next — which isn't too unlike being a teen, really.


19. "Just The Way I Am" – Emma Louise

Emma Louise is a celebrated pop staple in her native Australia, but on this year’s Lilac Everything, she emerged singing as "Joseph.” Electronically pitching her vocals down a few octaves, the entire Tobias Jesso Jr.-produced album is sung as the masculine alter-ego — ditching her naturally ethereal vocals for something deeper (in more ways than one). “Just The Way I Am,” which movingly captures the feeling of being really, really loved, is a precious high-point on an all-round great record.


18. "1950" – King Princess

The first single from 2018’s most exciting new queer pop star, “1950” signaled something really special is in store for the next generation of pop consumers. The raspy, Mark Ronson-signed singer, who first turned down a record deal when she was 11, parades vulnerability and fearlessness on “1950” — proclaiming her sexual orientation off the bat, but holding out hope for requited love throughout.


17. "High" – Young Thug (feat. Elton John)

Three years after Elton John rightfully expressed admiration for Young Thug, the sampling of my dreams was finally born as “High” — 2018’s prettiest rap song and most unexpected bromance. Featuring John’s 1972 classic “Rocket Man,” this melodic cut is optimistic and ridiculously well-produced — i.e. the perfect answer to anyone who’s ever dare doubted Thugger.


16. "A Rose in Harlem" – Teyana Taylor

One of the five Kanye-produced Wyoming albums in 2018, Teyana Taylor’s long overdue K.T.S.E. solidified her as one of the year’s fiercest new voices. This bold anthem, symbolic of her New York upbringing, has some of Ye’s best, oldest production tricks lined in — but it’s Taylor’s effortless voice and personality that win the spotlight. Keep an eye on her.


15. "All The Stars" – Kendrick Lamar & SZA

This song is straightforwardly great — accessible for the blockbuster audience who’d be buying the Black Panther soundtrack, as well as TDE super fans thirsty to hear rap and R&B’s best back on a cut together. Neither Kendy nor SZA need much to lift up their powerhouse voices, but this glittery soundscape is a fine canvas.


14. "Party for One" – Carly Rae Jepsen

Leave it to Canadian pop darling Carly Rae to write a single girl’s liberation anthem encouraging masturbation, dancing alone and everything else nice. I really don't think you'll find a catchier, more feel-good jam out of this year – which can only mean good things for her forthcoming album in 2019.


13. "Ultestakon" – Jeremy Dutcher

This is the kind of song that's hard to hear and forget. While Dutcher didn't make it on to my Polaris juror's ballot this year (but went on to win!), "Ultestakon" stands out the kind of arrangement that would have made me push through lines of people at HMV in the '90s to ask a salesperson what was playing. It really does stop me in my tracks every time I listen to it.


12. "Love is a Wild Thing" – Kacey Musgraves

I’ve been a longtime Kacey Musgraves devotee — since she ushered me into a new (yet, nostalgic) era of country appreciation in 2013. Musgraves isn’t afraid to wax existential or lonely on Golden Hour, and she does so with honesty and grace, but the romance of songs like “Love is a Wild Thing” and “Butterflies" (reflective of her recent nuptials) pull on the heartstrings hard.


11. "Something New" – SiR (feat. Etta Bond)

Top Dawg Entertainment newcomer SiR, with an assist from British soul singer Etta Bond, secured the title for sexiest song of 2018 with this one — a gooey, horn-filled ballad that somehow achieves big sexuality while remaining delicate. Painted in that kind of Los Angeles sepia tone, this neo-soul duet will make you feel sticky hot, like you have the sun in your eyes, no matter where you listen to it.


10. "Never Be The Same" – Camila Cabello

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this is a perfect pop song. These days I'm showing my age by always remarking at any music that mirrors my musical upbringing, but with “Never Be The Same,” ex-Fifth Harmony ringleader Cabello (and genius TO producer Frank Dukes) has blessed us with that expansive pop balladry that Mariah, Britney or Christina would have cut their teeth with in their early days. That druggy hook! 


9. "Di Mi Nombre (Cap.8: Éxtasis)" – Rosalía

25-year-old Spanish sensation Rosalía is resurrecting in 2018 what Selena did in the early 90s: an expert marriage of contemporary production with traditional Latin music. Spoken in Spanish, El Mal Querer blends the folklore and drama of Catalan flamenco with forward-thinking beats, autotune and the young singer’s own glossy presentation. Accompanied by a very dope video, “Di Mi Nombre” paints Rosalía as vulnerable and love-struck, without sacrificing an ounce of her empowerment.


8. "Doesn’t Matter" – Christine and the Queens

French visionary Hélöise Letissier released her first album as "Chris" this year, adding yet another layer of complexity to her already unique approach. Chris packed even more confident, disco-laden pop into one album, all in an attempt to challenge the opportunities and mystery she says are reserved for men. Under the gender-binary guise of Chris, she’s seductive and heroic, as heard on bangers like “Doesn’t Matter,” which is actually impossible not to move to.


7. "Ghost Town" – Kanye West (ft. Kid Cudi and 070 Shake)

I debated putting any Kanye on this list, as I'm not sure I can go on separating his problematic politics from his music. But, in the end, this song was too much a part of my life this year to ignore, and included a number of other players worth shouting out. Part of Ye, the rapper’s relatively lackluster release that preceded many of his shitty 2018 antics, “Ghost Town” was the bright peak of his short record — featuring exciting up-and-comer 070 Shake and much-needed doses of humility and tenderness at the other end of the album’s dark arc. Turning numbness into feeling, specifically by way of Shake’s poignant revelation (“We’re still the kids we used to be”), "Ghost Town" might be a reminder of who Kanye used to be, and why he hasn’t completely lost us all just yet. 


6. "Blue Rose" – Amen Dunes

Damon McMahon (AKA Amen Dunes) is no stranger to the scene, but on this year’s Freedom, he appeared to have really found his stride, and himself. Made for the kind of coming-of-age roadtrip that starts at dawn, takes you along sprawling highways and into dive bars before ending you at the doorstep of your American dream, Freedom is packed with powerful but subtle anthems like “Blue Rose.” The song is about McMahon’s strained relationship with his father, but still feels triumphant.

Freedom was my favourite album of 2018.


5. "R.E.M." – Ariana Grande

Produced by Pharrell, this stream-of-consciousness nugget of doo-wop-pop gold is my favourite track off Grande's outstanding album Sweetener. The song was actually turned down by Beyoncé, which is fine; I'm convinced it needed Grande's ponytail-flicking sass to live its best life. “‘Scuse me, um, I love you,” is the best and most adorable segue into my favourite pop verse of the year.


4. "Sicko Mode" – Travis Scott (feat. Drake)

Travis Scott has always been a hybrid of hip-hop’s millennial tricks and fads – something that has either confused or excited anyone who’s tried to understand the Houston artist’s M.O. He’s an ambitious scientist of sorts, mixing songs that are weird rides, much like those in the defunct Houston amusement park Astroworld is named after. Easily the album's standout, “Sicko Mode” might have the biggest change-up and beat drop this year — shifting from Drake’s lighthearted intro to the thick bounce that backs Scott's bars. Like it or not, “Who put this shit together? I’m the glue,” isn't a cocky thing for Kylie's man to say in 2018.


3. "Love It If We Made It" – The 1975

The 1975 continued to be pleasantly unexpected this year with their all-encompassing blend of atmospheric Brit-pop and blunt political commentary. Charged with passion and a tongue-in-cheek honesty about the dumpster fire that was 2018, “Love It If We Made It” shows that while The 1975 are a pop band, no doubt – they won't shy away from topics heavier than their music, and that’s their allure. There's an urgency to frontman Matthew Healy's vocals on this track, which couldn't better reflect the urgency to fix everything 2018 screwed up.


2. "Missing You" – Robyn

Robyn’s shiny heartbreak anthems are so timeless that, by the time her album Honey was announced, I think it took a minute for me to realize that the queen of dance-pop hadn’t released a new album in eight years. Enter “Missing You,” the musical equivalent of disco lights flashing across a bar lime, broken glass and tear-covered dance floor. Home to the most mesmerizing 15 seconds in music this year (1:56 to 2:11— run, don’t walk), “Missing You” is the comeback single dreams are made of.


1. "If You Know You Know" – Pusha T

If you needed any reassurance that Pusha T is one of the top five most important rap moguls alive, 2018 probably took care of that. The G.O.O.D. Music president's quick-tongued album DAYTONA (can we collectively pop a bottle for a seven-song record in 2018?) was masterful proof that, twenty years into your career, you can still boast your best work yet. “If You Know You Know,” the album’s fiery lead single, is easily the year’s most memorable non-beat-drop-beat-drop, and undeniable indication that cunning rap lyricism is alive and well in an oversaturated landscape of uninventive rap. He's King Push.


And in case you'd like a Spotify playlist, here she is:

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