The top songs of 2018: All the singles that made this year a musical feast
Our 90-minute curated playlist of some of the most noteworthy singles of 2018 features Arctic Monkeys, St. Vincent, Eminem, Kamasi Washington, Muse, Kendrick Lamar, and more
2018 has been, to put it mildly, a strange year: the world witnessed devastating wildfires, massive hurricanes, one of the largest immigrant crises ever seen in history as fascists took to the streets with torches and pitchforks, The Blue Whale challenge outdid the Tide Pod challenge as the most shocking online trend, and Kanye West somehow landed in the Oval Office.
Thankfully, the one good thing that served as an oasis in the desert is this year's musical output. A massive wave of comebacks from '90s artists emerged this year, bringing protest music back to the forefront as a reaction to the fractured politcal landscape. The Breeders, Smashing Pumpkins, Superchunk an the likes all returned with emphatic statements. Rising newcomers made the musical world stop and notice them with amazing debuts, and blistering rap beefs kept us hooked as veterans went toe to toe with diss tracks. Artsists new and old, indie and mainstream, and across all genres delivered a barrage of releases, leaving fans spoilt for choice.
Even when some albums polarized fans and left them confused at times (here's looking at you Arctic Monkeys), there's no denying that the singles saved the day. So in order to save you the trouble of sifting through the hundreds of exciting releases, we at Meaww have curated a playlist of some of the most noteworthy tunes of the year. From defeaning stadium anthems to club bangers, to spitfire bars and the occassional instrumental jazz track, this is our 90-minute review of the year that was in music. To keep things fresh, we've excluded some of the more well known tracks that just stole the top spot and charts and refused to budge for most of the year.
Check out the full playlist below via Apple Music, followed by a track-by-track breakdown of the 20 tracks that feature on the playlist.
Something for Your M.I.N.D. — Superorganism
Early in the year, global indie pop octet Superorganism came together to unleash their self-titled debut effort. Out of the many standout singles from the album, the maximalist pop goodness of 'Something for Your M.I.ND.', accompanied by its lo-fi '90s styled cutout animation music video announced the arrival of the young group on the global pop scene. There's a little something for your mind to mull over in the infinite sonic layers of the song, and definitely a lot for your ears too.
Love It If We Made It — The 1975
A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships
The much-teased and highly anticipated sophomore album by The 1975 finally arrives this year and album highlight 'Love It If We Made It' stands out as one of the band's most impressive singles till date. With a steady, thumping beat, twinkling synths and an extremely catchy and infectious hook, and is packed with pop culture references. Referencing Trump, Lil Peep, Kanye West and the MAGA hat, the track is a desperate pop-anthem of hope in these bleak times — one that summarizes the bizarre year that has been with a smack of sugary pop.
Dark Window — Mass Gothic
I've Tortured You Long Enough
Multi-instrumentalist Noel Heroux reinvented himself with the eerie pop sensibilities of Mass Gothic after partnering with Jessica Zambri and signing on to Sub Pop in 2015. 'Dark Window' finds Mass Gothic complete as a duo, with both members sharing songwriting and vocal duties. The track also marks the band’s first new recorded material since the release of their self-titled debut and Sup Goth EP. Zambri said of the song: “It was late at night, I started dancing around the studio singing the melody with “la la la’s” and Noel began throwing the chords together on guitar. It happened pretty quickly. There was wine, dancing, then a song.” That's the exact mood the single sets up.
Heart Afire — Prophets of Rage
Let's face it - 2018 has had its fair share of politically charged music and for good reason. The intertwining of art and politics is as significant today as it was in the protest music era of the 70s. Leading the charge with one of the most charged-up anthems of the year is rock-rap supergroup Prophets of Rage. 'Heart Afire' flaunts some intricate guitar work by Morello, mixing up outright furious distortion-heavy riffs with his signature tremolo and wah-wah sounds. Meanwhile, Chuck D and B-Real accentuate the seething riffs with a heavily constrained, clinical spit-fire verse chorus assault. It's hopefully a sign of better things to come following their lukewarm debut effort from last year.
Sinking Ship — Cake
Yet another politically charged number from 2018 comes from an unlikely contender. '90s alt-rock veterans Cake have been slowly edging towards their comeback for a good part of the year. 'Sinking Ship' is the band's first original number in seven years and comes 17 years after 'Short Skirt, Long Jacket' gave Cake global recognition. The single showcases more of the non-conformist band's genre-blending sound. It's grounded by a grimy distorted guitar riff, which builds to incorporate winding synths, carnivalesque organs and Vince DiFiore's signature trumpets. Frontman Mike McCrea abandons his usual deadpan spoken-word style singing, choosing instead to croon the tragicomic tune that introspects the bleakness of today's times.
The Rover — Interpol
Post-punk icons Interpol made a soft comeback this year with the fairly positively receive album 'Marauder'. However, fans might feel about the new album, there's no doubt that lead single 'The Rover' captures the essence of the NYC rockers under a new layer of psychedelic fuzz. 'The Rover' launches into a single-string power-pop flavored guitar riff that forms an instantly pleasurable hook, seemingly on infinite loop. Intertwined around it are Paul Banks' fuzzy vocals with barely discernable lyrics. It sounds like a callback to their earlier material and is a relief when compared to their stuff on 'El Pintor'.
Say Amen (Saturday Night) — Panic! At The Disco
Pray For The Wicked
Who would have thought that the poster child of the '90s emo phase would make of the most emphatic returns this year? Brendon Urie returned with Panic! At The Disco in 2018 with their 6th studio album 'Pray For The Wicked'. With his newly Broadway-polished vocal chops, Urie returned with a flourish of orchestral arrangements, electronic samples and addictive hooks, best exemplified on the album highlight 'Say Amen (Saturday Night)'. It's one of the most 'big-sounding' tracks of the year, with near flawless production and a chorus that is built to get arenas screaming.
Pray For Me — The Weeknd, Kendrick Lamar
Black Panther: The Album
It wouldn't be fair to do a run through of this year without mentioning the Black Panther OST. The Kendrick Lamar-curated effort ensured that movie soundtracks made a comeback on the Billboard charts and set off an entire trend of high profile OST's (think 'A Star Is Born', 'Bohemian Rhapsody', 'Suspiria' and the likes). One of the best offerings from the hip-hop A-list filled album is album closer 'Pray For Me', a collaborative effort between The Weeknd and Kendrick. Just the bass heavy groove in the first few seconds is enough to make the best parts of Marvel's most acclaimed film flash before your eyes.
Thought Contagion — Muse
After a trilogy of three dark-themed albums, Muse returned this year with the refreshing 'Simulation Theory', an album that is the very embodiment of the '80s synth wave nostalgia that has become so popular these days. Evoking images of Tron, Stranger Things and Back to the Future, Muse comment on the strangeness of the times by wondering if we're all algorithms in a giant simulation. The rumination is best reflected on the stadium anthem 'Thought Contagion', which makes a reference to Richard Dawkins on the hook and chorus. Our playlist features the live version from the Super Deluxe version of the album simply because the deafening roar of the crowd's singalong makes the track arguably the best rock anthem of the year.
Four out of Five — Arctic Monkeys
Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino
Let's face it. Arctic Monkeys took a huge gamble with their 2018 album 'Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino'. Making a hard left turn, they abandoned their guitar driven garage rock as Alex Turner hunkered down around a grand piano. Although most of the album was hit or miss, or lukewarm to say the best, the single 'Four Out Of Five' is one instance where their experiment paid off. It's become a crowd favorite during their live gigs, gathered massive radio play and is the Monkeys' sneaky way of rating their latest effort before the critics got a chance to. Four stars out of five!
Savior (Piano Version) — St. Vincent
The only single on our playlist that is not wholly an original work from this year come from NYC's leading lady of rock St. Vincent. This minimalist version of 'Savior' comes from her 2018 record 'MassEducation', a stripped-back reimagination of her 2017 magnum ops 'MASSEDUCTION'. Peeling back all the layers from the original and putting her vocals under the spotlight, the song is supported by a sparse piano courtesy of Thomas "Doveman" Bartlett. The track is a breathing break on the playlist after a barrage of all that intense alt rock.
Bassackwards — Kurt Vile
Bottle It In
Ex-War On Drugs guitarist Kurt Vile unveiled what could arguably be his best solo work so far in the form of 'Bottle It In'. Nestled in the middle of the album is the curiously titled 'Bassackwards', a 9-minute woozy meditation on coming out of a drinking binge, filled with wit and infinite jest. Appropriately, every time Vile sings the title in the chorus, there is a whooshing reverse tape effects of psychedelic guitars that is simply too well put together to ignore.
This Is America — Childish Gambino
Is there anything that Donald Glover cannot do? The most gripping take on the political landscape of 2018 comes in the form of his musical alter ego Childish Gambino's breakthrough satirical singe 'This Is America'. Although best experienced with the tightly choreographed music video (which you can watch above), the single by itself also has plenty to offer. Featuring background vocals from a star-studded cast including Young Thug, 21 Savage, Quavo, Rae Sremmurd’s Slim Jxmmi, and BlocBoy JB, 'This Is America' paints a surreal picture that reaches straight into the listener's gut and gives it a squeeze.
Killshot — Eminem
The culmination of the most intense rap feud of the year (sorry Pusha/Drake) is Eminem's 'Killshot'. The diss track was a response to Machine Gun Kelly's 'Rap Devil', which in turn was a retort at Em's first strike on the 'Kamikaze' highlight 'Not Alike'. The back and forth between the two gave us some of the finest burns of the year, ultimatley ending with Eminem tearing MGK into pieces across the four minutes of 'Killshot' with spitfire double entendres and outright knock out punches. You can't help but feel a little sorry for MGK, who ultimately conceded to his one time guru.
Freaky Friday — Lil Dicky ft. Chris Brown
In case things were getting too heated on the playlist, here's something to take your mind off the dumpster fire that was 2018. Something to just mindlessly lose yourself into to have a good laugh or two. And who better to deliver the most number of laughs per bar than Lil Dicky! On 'Freaky Friday', Lil Dicky swaps bodies with Chris Brown (who drops a few guest verses) in a reference to the Lindsey Lohan flick. The comedy rap witticism combined with an easy-listening beat makes the single a pure delight. There's a bonus towards the end of the track as Dicky swaps bodies with DJ Khaled, Ed Sheeran and Kendall Jenner (of all people), all of whom contribute some hilarious lines.
Hollywood — Gorillaz ft. Snoop Dogg & Jamie Principle
Just a year after the collab-heavy 'Humanz', Gorillaz made a speedy return this year with 'The Now Now', a much trimmer, groovier and more focused than last time around. The album features some great singles like 'Tranz', 'Fireflies', 'Humility', and of course, the Snoop Dogg and Jamie Principle assisted 'Hollywood'. The track is the perfect example of how Damon Albarn keeps pushing his versatility with its perfect blend of electronica and hip-hop sensibilities. It's a slick club banger to keep the vibe going mid way through a party set and Snoop's brief cameo adds some zing to it all.
Feel the Love — Kanye West, Kid Cudi ft. Pusha-T
Kids See Ghosts
Out of the several gems that emerged out of Kanye West's Wyoming Sessions, the album opener from 'Kids See Ghosts' — the collaboration between Kid Cudi and Kanye — is perhaps one of the most impressive. Pusha delivers the song’s sole rap verse. Kid Cudi feels the love that is surrounding him, despite the fact that audible gun sounds can be heard throughout the song —courtesy of Kanye West — who yet again pushes the many ways in which the human voice can be used as a musical device. It's one of the few precious moments of clarity to emerge from Kanye's recently foggy brain and is an absolute staple on all hip-hop/rap playlists of the year.
God Break Down the Door — Nine Inch Nails
Nine Inch Nails returned this year with their haunting, eerie EP (sorry, LP!) 'Bad Witch'. On frontman Trent Reznor's 52nd birthday, NIN previewed the record with the lead single 'God Break Down The Door'. Reznor croons menacing lines over a dizzying mix of synths, a moaning saxophone solo and drums. “God break down the door/ You won’t find the answers here – not the ones you came looking for,” he warns over the electro-jazz onslaught. Like any standout NIN track, it crawls under your skin and gestates there, the haunting atmospheric menace lingering long after the track is done.
Tints — Anderson .Paak ft. Kendrick Lamar
We know Kendrick's featured on this playlist already, but this time around, he plays second fiddle on Anderson .Paak's latest single 'Tints'. The duo show off their undeniable chemistry by complementing each other organically. Paak glows with his trademark jazzy, raspy voice, while Lamar slides in smoother than ever with his notorious razor-sharp flow. The funky bass line is both sultry and full of energy — signatures of their individual works. Both from California, .Paak and Lamar share more than a home state — they both approach music from their heart, oozing passion and ambition through their craft with thoughtful lyrics and mesmerizing beats that make them two of the most prominent hip-hop artists of their generation. And it clearly shows on 'Tints'. PS: Anderson .Paak's new album 'Oxnard', which features the single, arrives November 16 via Aftermath.
Street Fighter Mas — Kamasi Washington
Heaven and Earth
We end our 2018 playlist with frequent Kendrick collaborator and one of the most promising stalwarts of today's jazz scene, Kamasi Washington, who unleashed his sprawling double album 'Heaven and Earth' earlier this year. The album's B-side opens with an absolute stunner called 'Street Fighter Mas', a groovy jazz epic full of expansive horns and choirs, with heavy synths interspersed around Washington’s inimitable saxophone. The track holds a special meaning to Kamasi, who revealed that it was composed with fond childhood memories at the local arcade kept in mind. “When I was young, I was obsessed with Street Fighter!” Washington said about the song. “I thought I would be a professional gamer, so I made a theme song.” It's the only instrumental track on our playlist and hopefully, it'll have the same effect on you as this writer — providing a momentary escape by transporting you back to a simpler time that was devoid of the hairsplitting madness of the times that has been slowly normalized by society.