I’m sure you’ve already read, and reread, my take on the Top 20 Albums of 2018. “Wow, what an excellent use of my time,” you mused. “I need more end-of-the-year lists from this random critic who can’t seem to get published anywhere but his own blog!”
Well, my friends, sometimes dreams do come true. Here are my 25 favorite songs of the year that was.
25. Rico Nasty – “Countin’ Up”
Hearing this Brooklyn rapper carving her name in a 20-year-old Neptunes beat, you’d swear it – and everything else on earth – has been hers all along: “You can’t even handle a bitch like me / Make my own money and I buy my own weed.”
24. Against All Logic – “Know You”
This effusive, crate-diving house jam from electro-experimentalist Nicolas Jaar uses a vintage soul sample to push us thrillingly, inexorably forward.
23. Lucy Dacus – “Yours & Mine”
Lucy Dacus was touring in Europe when tragedy hit Ferguson, MO. So she poured her empathy for the protestors into this sweeping triumph of a song: “For those of you who told me I should stay indoors / Take care of you and yours.”
22. Khruangbin – “Maria También”
Timeless strutting music from a trio of globetrotting surf-lounge-funk instrumentalists. What, you were just gonna walk?
21. Teyana Taylor – “WTP”
A ballroom-inspired dance tour de force, complete with clips from Paris Is Burning, “WTP” is a deliriously satisfying blast of self-confidence. “Save your tears honey,” advises guest emcee Mykki Blanco. “You’re a motherfucking diva!”
20. Young Fathers – “Lord”
A falsetto gospel chorus greets us, and then falls away. By the time it comes back, buoyed by atmospheric piano and booming synth bass, we’re believers.
19. Neko Case – “Curse of the I-5 Corridor”
Nostalgia has been weaponized by assholes, so it’s a joy to hear Neko Case make it great again with this spine-tingling, 7-minute epic about her early days on the road.
18. Mariah Carey – “With You”
Our greatest pop-R&B singer casually defends her crown on this fantastic ballad – yet another timeless, hook-laden, slow-dance classic to add to the pile.
17. Swamp Dogg – “I’m Coming with Lovin’ On My Mind”
Absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder. It makes life harder, full stop. And over some gorgeous ’80s R&B synths, Swamp Dogg makes us feel that pain of separation, as he pleads with his love to be there when he returns. Never before has a song with multiple references to “69” made me cry.
16. Esperanza Spalding – “To Tide Us Over”
Picks scrape on strings as a singer struggles to form words, until they finally flow: “Mmmmmmaybe your tongue’s a ruddy seafloor / Silent in its night.” And then, we’re floating – in the strange, therapeutic waters of Esperanza Spalding’s mind.
15. Robyn – “Between the Lines”
When you love somebody, mundane text messages feel like firework emojis. Even when you’re not saying anything together, you’re saying everything. Over a pulsing, rapturous ’90s club beat, Robyn captures this feeling to a tee: “When we get silent / We’re making diamonds.”
14. Kero Kero Bonito – “Dear Future Self”
By pairing a stunning sunshine pop chord progression with melancholy lyrics about getting older, this eclectic London trio proves they’re very much in tune with their inner Brian Wilson.
13. Vince Staples – “Fun!”
Here is Vince Staples at his slipperiest, his powerful, charismatic flow making stark street stories flow like Top 40 candy. And producer Kenny Beats gives him a beat to match, synth congas bending up and down like zero-gravity raindrops.
12. Rhye – “Taste”
Canadian singer Milosh explores the eroticism of trust on his latest triumph of serpentine Sade-worship. “I feel your love / I feel your faithful ways,” he revels, plucking our heart strings in pizzicato.
11. Natalie Prass – “Short Court Style”
This Virginia singer/songwriter is inspired as much by Karen Carpenter as Janet Jackson on this easy-breezy jaunt of a single, her soft-rock croon fitting the ’80s R&B groove like a glove.
10. Joey Purp – “Elastic”
All Joey Purp needed to make a stellar Chicago house rumpshaker was a couple bass notes, some synth hand claps and the occasional front desk bell. And he raps like he knows it – loose, confident, and electric.
9. Brockhampton – “1997 Diana”
Last May, the exuberant hip-hop collective Brockhampton fired rapper Ameer Vahn in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations. And then they put out a single that proved they’re better without that asshole – a raucous, infectious, baritone sax-driven bop.
8. CupcakKe – “Cartoons”
When it comes to straight-up rapping, CupcakKe is on another level. On “Cartoons,” she challenges herself to cram as many animation references as possible into eight bars. It’s incredible: “I don’t look for n****s so fuck Waldo / Bitch I’m cocky like Johnny Bravo!”
7. Kacey Musgraves – “High Horse”
“Oh I bet you think you’re John Wayne,” goes this effervescent disco track from a country singer on an absolute roll. Defenders of the way things used to be have never been eviscerated so neatly, or joyfully.
6. Cardi B – “I Like It”
“They call me Cardi B / I run this shit like cardio.” After hearing the most satisfying bass drop of the year, how could we argue?
5. Frank Ocean – “Moon River”
I used to think “Moon River” was a trifle of a song, propped up by a legendary actor in a hit movie. The lyrics are meaningless! Then Frank Ocean sang it, harmonizing like a motherfucker over gentle, ringing guitar chords. I can’t stop crying.
4. Sophie – “Immaterial”
Both hand-clap-driven dance-pop reverie and uplifting metaphysical thesis, “Immaterial” is a pure expression of freedom: “Just leave me alone now / I can’t be held down.”
3. Noname – “Self”
This recording makes the Fender Rhodes sound like good news, like a long kiss, like maple syrup on your oatmeal. And Noname drops the verse of the year over it: “And y’all still thought a bitch couldn’t rap, huh?”
2. Caroline Rose – “Money”
The rock song of the year – a snarling, chugging, invigorating screed about greed. Wouldn’t you know it, we’re left wanting more.
1. Janelle Monaé – “Make Me Feel”
When Prince died, it felt impossible to do justice to his memory. Until Janelle Monaé fused funk and pop and lust and love into this interplanetary cocktail of truth.
Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order): 2 Chainz – “Proud”; At the Gates – “To Drink from the Night Itself”; Courtney Barnett – “Crippling Self Doubt and a General Lack of Self Confidence”; CupcakKe – “Crayons”; Denzel Curry – “Super Saiyan Superman”; Lucy Dacus – “Night Shift”; Drake – “Nice for What”; Flatbush Zombies (feat. Portugal. The Man) – “Crown”; Future – “Racks Blue”; Jonny Greenwood – “House of Woodcock”; Jeremih & Ty Dolla $ign – “The Light”; Juice WRLD – “Lucid Dreams”; Khalid & Swae Lee – “The Ways”; Daniel Knox – “Cut from the Belly”; Lil Wayne – “Uproar”; Kacey Musgraves – “Slow Burn”; Kacey Musgraves – “Rainbow”; Ness Nite – “Flex On Me”; Open Mike Eagle – “Relatable (peak OME)”; Parquet Courts – “Tenderness”; Kim Petras – “Heart to Break”; Pusha-T – “If You Know You Know”; Robyn – “Beach2k20”; Caroline Rose – “Bikini”; Caroline Rose – “Soul No. 5”; Screaming Females – “Fantasy Lens”; Sofi Tukker – “Batshit”; Waxahatchee – “Singer’s No Star”; Young Thug (feat. Elton John) – “High”