The chart-toppers for 2018.
Welcome back to the last part of this here countdown for My Top 50 Songs of 2018. On Friday, we kicked things off with numbers 50 to 31 – if you missed it, you can head here to get all caught up. On Saturday, we pushed through the middle of the chart with numbers 30 to 11 – if you missed that, then you can click here to get your fill. Today, we end our weekend’s festivities with the Top 10 and the Spotify playlist.
Joy as an Act of Resistance.
It’s sometime in early September. I’m in the middle of preparations for my trip down to London for this year’s London Film Festival, where I will also be taking time out to finally see Wolf Alice on their Visions of a Life tour (sort of) via their Q Awards Post-Show gig with UK punk rock outfit IDLES. Having never heard of the band before – extracts from Brutalism were conspicuous by their absence from last year’s list – and resolving to not be that guy at what sounded like a co-headlining show who stands near the front with his arms folded waiting for their preferred act to take the stage, I fired up the just-released sophomore record Joy as an Act of Resistance. with the intention of working whilst listening. Guess how long it took for me to cease work and focus solely on the album? When that bass started rupturing my spleen? When Joe Talbot first enters, before he even starts with his condemnation of toxic patriarchal masculinity, with one of the most instantly iconic voices I have heard in forever? When that build becomes undeniable, a Godzilla preparing to stomp cities into dust? When it tumbles and barrels and “it’s coming?” When it halts in its tracks at its peak and forces you to wait on tenterhooks for the drop? When that old-fashioned punk thrash-out kicks in? When Joe hilariously/brilliantly proclaims “[he’s] like Stone Cold Steve Austin/[he] put homophobes in coffins” and other such idiosyncratic boasts?
The answer to that question, dear reader, is all of the above and, yes, it fucking kills live.
09] The Beths
“Future Me Hates Me”
Future Me Hates Me
Especially in the higher-up entries, I’ve been talking a lot about my favourite individual seconds in music this year – “I wanna be emaciated” from “Me & My Dog,” the moment the chorus of “Mainland” snaps into place, that first drop in “Electricity,” almost any bit of “Colossus” – but here is where my favourite individual few seconds of music in 2018 can be found. “Future Me Hates Me” is a fantastic little power pop song by criminally overlooked New Zealand quartet The Beths, pretty much Charly Bliss but without a Powerpuff Girl on vocals, that would definitely have made the list without these 4/8 seconds, but those very seconds are what push the song over the top. At the end of each verse, there’s this little vulnerable reverb-drenched plucked-chord progression that comes in as a transition back into the main riff which is pretty great on its own. But when combined with Elizabeth Stokes’ delivery of “Oh, then the walls become thin and somebody gets in/I’m defenceless/But it won’t happen again,” I just get the warmest feeling deep inside me every single time I hear it. The way that the brief switch into a slight-minor key combines with Stokes’ piercing lyrics about reluctance and vulnerability when hit with a new crush or relationship gets me and I could listen a thousand times without ever once getting sick of it. Just sublime.
08] Calvin Harris
“One Kiss (with Dua Lipa)”
One Kiss – Single
Boy, am I ever glad for my rule technicalities because I don’t know how I was ever going to choose between the Dua Lipa collabs from this year when forced – hell, there was even a time where they were both going to come one after another on the list, but “One Kiss” just kept climbing ever higher. Harris is a guy who has a real nasty habit of coasting on his past successes and formulas for, in this fast-moving world of modern dance music, eons at a time, but every now and then he’ll hook up with the exact right collaborator and fire out something so damn good that I’ll remember why he’s still topping charts a full decade into his career whilst his former peers have faded away or imploded. Sam Smith and Jessie Reyez worked magic with Harris on “Promises” but before that he also ruled the British Summertime by tapping woman-of-the-moment Dua Lipa for “One Kiss.” A throwback to those halcyon days at the turn of the century where British pop radio was filled with dance songs which functioned just as well blaring out of cars with the roof down as they did in sweaty Ministry of Sound nightclubs you were too poor, too young, and too far away to attend. Much like with “Electricity,” everything about “One Kiss” bangs so just mentally copy-paste that track’s write-up here but inject those positive sentiments with steroids and add in a collection of towering hooks that are all as monstrously catchy as one another.
07] U.S. Girls
In a Poem Unlimited
The best Goldfrapp song Goldfrapp never made is one way to describe “Incidental Boogie” and it’s rather true on a musical front, resembling as it does a B-side from that duo’s electroclash heyday in works like Supernature and Black Cherry. But, dear God, Goldfrapp would never make a song as utterly harrowing as this. Meg Remy pulls off this kind of bait-and-switch a lot throughout her masterful In a Poem Unlimited, pairing up irresistible vintage pop songs with extremely bitter and furious lyrics about things like the potential female uprising and the failures of Barack Obama’s presidency in the face of his uncritical deification from the rest of the Left, but “Incidental Boogie” is the one time on the album where the music syncs up with the lyrics in terms of mood… and it turns out to still not be dark enough for what it’s backing. Over a swirling, churning, hypnotic beat, Remy takes on the character of a woman trapped in a physically abusive relationship rationalising to herself how the situation is perfectly fine because he “don’t hit that hard so I can still work at my job,” how “life was just too quiet with no-one screaming at me,” how being “brutalised means you don’t have to think.” It’s properly horrifying, especially with Remy’s Kylie-esque delivery and ESPECIALLY because it almost feels like a dare: are you going to resist dancing to this and do something about it, or surrender to the boogie and ignore the cry for help just like society does so many abuse victims?
“Dressed to Suppress”
Art of Doubt
“Hand in My Pocket” blown up for stadiums, the second single from Metric’s severely underrated Art of Doubt has clearly been adjusted based on the cult Canadians’ stint opening for Imagine Dragons in 2015 and Indie producer of the moment Justin Meldal-Johnsen’s experience working with bands like M83, Paramore, and Jimmy Eat World. For a song with such an irresistible melody that most other bands would trip over themselves in the dash to reach as soon as possible, Metric instead take their time, patiently building up with an “Artificial Nocturne”-style airy synth opening and a verse that stretches Emily Haines’ vocal range to its absolute limit – and which she can somehow consistently hit live, just when I thought I couldn’t admire her anymore. Then it drops into the true song as Haines lays out the seeming can’t-win contradictions inherent in life and making music with a mixture of mockery (in the vein of those determined to push others beneath them further down) and mild defeat (in the face of such difficulty). As we progress, the two halves of the track, that airy opening and the pulsing main, start bleeding into one another until, by the end, the song effectively reverses out the same way it came in. Sort of like life, starting out calm, plunging into turmoil, exiting less with rage and more with resignation – that was awful and corny please don’t fixate on it so we can all move on.
The Now Now
“Souk Eye” is the best song on The Now Now. Easily. A brilliant emotional ballad that’s one of the finest Damon Albarn has ever penned (which is saying something given that Albarn’s career post-Blur has largely been dominated by midtempo ballads) and also, FINALLY, works as something that the in-character Gorillaz would put together. 2D writing a lament to Murdoc whilst the band’s Satanist bassist was in prison for unpaid speeding fines – he was replaced for Phase 5 with Ace from The Powerpuff Girls and almost drowned in a river of shit; it’s been a weird year for Gorillaz. But my favourite song from The Now Now was this four-minute disco instrumental with no deeper meaning, no surprises, no unique musical tricks, and no reason for being on here other than “I am incapable of stopping listening to it.” Seriously, if I were ranking this list based on the songs I listened to the most, “Lake Zurich” would be #1 and several continents would separate it from whatever #2 would be. I’ve got no better explanation for this, no massive essay to pen or critical analysis to do. It’s just really funky, that main melody has followed me everywhere since June, and I have definitely listened to this song at least 200 times, including another 4 whilst writing this entry. Nobody else is going to get this, so just take my word on it, ok?
04] Snail Mail
Oh, God, I needed this! I needed it so friggin’ bad and I didn’t even know I needed it in the first place! This kind of indie rock, this specific kind of Hot Rock-era Sleater-Kinney-type indie rock is what I live for and so the moment that my ears locked onto “Heat Wave” I was gone. You could shut pretty much everything else from 2018 down because I had found THE song, the one that I was going to foist onto literally every single person in my circle of friends when I next saw them, yelling “HAVE YOU HEARD THIS? IT’S INCREDIBLE, OH MY GOD!” This kind of indie rock that’s melancholic but still cathartic, emotional but not depressive, rainy-day weather but with a warmth at its centre, feminine… this is my shit. You make even one song a fraction as good as “Heat Wave” and I will buy all your records for life, which is exactly what Lindsey Jordan did to me with this song. I’d heard Lush and was planning on buying the CD when I saw her live in Leeds post-LFF, but then I wandered into a shop in London that played this song so I stopped resisting and bought the CD right then and there because this song is my everything. “I’m feeling low/I’m not into ‘sometimes’” slays me with every single listen, and I’m not even smarting from a break-up or an unresolved crush! This song just speaks to me!
(Don’t worry, I still supported Snail Mail directly by buying the vinyl at said gig. Support your artists by going to shows and buying merch, folks!)
03] Confidence Man
“Out the Window”
Confident Music for Confident People
2018 has been a miserable fucking year. Increasingly, the world is reaching a point where you could apply that statement to any year so long as you update the number at the front of it accordingly, but here in Britain it has been especially gloomy as the long shadow of Brexit stretches ever further and our shambolic government keeps marching towards it out of sheer bloody-minded stubbornness despite resistance of varying kinds from all sides. In such times, one may need a ray of hope, a beam of light, something purely joyful that makes everything slightly better if just for a few minutes. “Out the Window” was the most purely joyous song of 2018 as Australian art/dance-pop group Confidence Man put all the songs from Primal Scream’s 1991 classic Screamadelica into a blender and then recorded the resultant confection. The introductory guitar shrieks of “Slip Inside This House,” the bad trips of both “Higher Than the Sun”s, the Acid House piano of “Don’t Fight It, Feel It,” the cathartic choir and guitar pings of “Movin’ on Up,” the horns of “Loaded” and the communal uplift of “Come Together.” Instead of just being blatant theft and empty facsimile, however, Confidence Man also replicate the groove, the ecstasy, the spirit, and the fun with gleeful abandon to create 2018’s best pop song and an instant classic “how on earth was THAT not a hit?!”
“I want more out of life than this.” If you want an indicator as to why the cult of BROCKHAMPTON has remained so devoted, so passionate, so obsessive throughout their tumultuous-then-triumphant 2018, that outro is why. Very few bands period would put such a grand, emotional, and borderline-cheesy outro on their songs, let alone rap groups even in our resurgent Emo Rap landscape. “SAN MARCOS” is a song to put lighters in the air to, it’s (to quote Kevin Abstract himself) the perfect going to a football game by yaself type song and it’s raining, it’s the song that rolls over the end credits of a John Hughes movie, it’s the best Britpop ballad no Britpop act ever had the vulnerability to actually write. It’s a song about admitting your fears, facing your discontent, being honest about your depression or suicidal tendencies because, even if you’re not going to attempt the latter, it’s important to admit those as JOBA does in his verse. Admission is the first step to finding the peace required to push through the darkest of times, to strive towards escaping your isolating dead-end town as the members of BROCKHAMPTON did. Or to reach the top, find fame is fleeting and hollow, arriving for all the wrong reasons, and resultantly confronting despair even briefly, hoping things can start again. “I want more out of life than this,” the choir sings over the single most beautiful section of the group’s discography; a section and refrain that, when it catches me at the right time, genuinely moves me to tears.
01] Florence + The Machine
High as Hope
The Now Now and High as Hope were released on the same day as each other, June 29th, both brand new albums from artists I adore to different degrees; Gorillaz are my favourite band of all-time, and Florence was someone I’d followed from as close to day one as I could manage so I’ve been personally invested in her journey. The Now Now got first listen, of course it did, in fact it got three listens back-to-back-to-back once I got home with both CDs because that’s how seriously I take my Gorillaz fandom. Only after those three listens did I finally put High as Hope on, an album that by such wildly unfair circumstances should have gone in one ear and right out the other to be constantly underrated by me over the years until I one day seriously listen and go “ACTUALLY, I think you’ll find it’s her BEST album!” to strangers online like the Arctic Monkeys fandom has done for Humbug. Instead, High as Hope not only instantly became the best album Florence Welch has yet made, its closer, “No Choir,” is the best song she has and likely will ever write.
I could pen an entire 3,000 word essay on this song, and in fact have spent the past six months erm-ing and ah-ing over doing so, examining how this song encapsulates and explores, in two-and-a-half perfect minutes: the bullshit myth of the tragic artist, society’s collective elevation of confessional songwriters, especially when those doing the confessing are women, the trivialisation of happiness as an emotion in works of art, teenaged romanticisation of misery, the ephemerality of true happiness and how that’s ok, the brutally affecting honesty of most happiness being modest and easily missed here represented by that utterly gorgeous subdued horn arrangement that comes in near the end, how everything may one day be lost and forgotten but at least it mattered in this moment here and now… Honestly, in the new year, maybe I should finally pen it. Squeezing all those sentiments into three paragraphs takes a better writer than I, which Florence Welch most assuredly is given how “No Choir,” again, is just 150 seconds and almost never raises its dynamics beyond that of a slightly-hushed speaking voice.
“No Choir” is where Welch’s newfound and for-real-this-time commitment to restraint across High as Hope unleashes its biggest gut-punch. That combination of directness and poetry forming in the perfect opening line: “And it’s hard to write about being happy/Cos the older I get/I find that happiness is an extremely uneventful subject.” And maybe, to some people, that scans as teenage and emotionally-stunted. But the more one reflects on it, the more it becomes clear that this is a remark brought upon by decades of experience, decades of popular songwriting, decades of somewhat toxic (and partly sexist to both genders) societal ideas about art, and just a kernel of legitimate truth. Unless you’re new here, you’ve definitely heard me talk about my issues with depression over the last six years, my seemingly Sisyphean efforts to find some measure of happiness, and my crippling anxiety over mine, your and all our collective eventual deaths someday. “No Choir,” therefore, resonates deep down inside of me. That acknowledgement of the difficulty in squaring the warped idea of what “happiness” is with its often-mundane and unremarked-upon reality. That fear of going through life never fully appreciating those moments until they’re gone and eventually passing away in similarly uneventful circumstances. And then the acceptance of all that and the peace which comes from swimming in those moments of uneventful calm around the tumult. “But for a moment we were able/To be still.”
“No Choir” did something to me that The Now Now definitely could not. It made me cry. I didn’t have to force it, I didn’t expect to, but I finished that first listen laid on my bed with tears streaming down my cheeks. And though I may not cry every time, each subsequent (and hopefully future) listen brings me to at least the borderline of doing so. Nothing else this year could hope to be my Song of the Year, not if I am being honest with myself. Florence took my inaugural countdown, I guess it’s fitting she’s now the first artist to become a repeat winner.
12,400+ goddamn words later and we are now done. I spent way too fucking long on this. Thanks for reading, everyone! Now, as promised, in reward for your due diligence – I’m gonna totally pretend you all read both prior articles and every entry in full rather than just blindly scrolling through to get the numbers – here’s a Spotify playlist of all the songs in the countdown from #50 to #1. In a change from the past two years, all 50 songs are in this one since there were no Tidal exclusives or other such bullshit! Yay!