Here at last is another post I’ve been putting off for far too long, my annual Top Twelve of my favorite songs of the previous year. I’m always notoriously behind on catching up with movies, so a list of my top 2018 films will have to wait a bit, but songs are shorter and easier to rank (for me at least).
And boy, has 2018 been a banner year for music! And that’s despite songs that seem to indicate the end of good music as we know it, like “This Is America” or the dreadful rise of Cardi B. It was harder than usual paring down last year’s musical offerings to a mere twelve, so please forgive the excessive length of the Honorable Mentions. Honestly, most of the honorable mentions could have knocked off songs from my 2017 list if they’d had to compete, so I’d say 2018 easily outclassed its predecessor, though perhaps I’m just being exposed to more music lately.
Beyond specific songs, 2018 helped me to pin down exactly what my preferred kind of music is, which had always been rather vague and definitionless for me. It seems that it includes adjectives like “progressive,” “chill”, “tropical,” and “house”; as a fan of Kygo and Avicii, I suppose I should have known that, but it’s nice to have a label for it now. Don’t be discouraged, though, if those genres aren’t your cup of tea, since I think my list below has a fairly well-rounded mix of styles to appreciate.
On top of that, 2018 introduced me to artists that have become new instant favorites. Previous years have sort of been defined for me by one great discovery, an artist I listen to and love nearly every track of theirs (Florence and the Machine in 2016, Kygo in 2017), but 2018 had a record four! These favorites are Chvrches, Aurora, Tom Odell, and Rufus Du Sol, all of which blew me away with every song, and thankfully, they all put out new music this year. For anyone who hasn’t heard of them, do yourself a favor and check them out (perhaps in the list below), and for anyone who already loves them and is thinking “Boy, he’s late to the party,” at least I’ve finally come around to become a fellow fan. 2019 has already introduced me to other instant favorites like Sigma and Kensington, so I can’t wait to see what other discoveries await.
Do be aware that this list is entirely my personal preference, which could easily change based on my tastes and what songs I might stumble upon. (For instance, if I’d known of it, the awesome adrenaline shot that is Royal Republic’s “Getting Along” would have easily topped my list last year.) Also, I’m not including covers or rereleased songs, so my apologies to Morgxn’s “Home,” Lumidelic’s “Magic Garden,” and Bad Wolves’ version of “Zombie.” I’m aware too that this is only my personal slice of last year’s music; for a different top music list, check out Chris’s top 10 songs of 2018 at Movies and Songs 365. Lastly, if anyone has a personal favorite of their own, please share in the comments and widen my horizons further!
Thus and therefore, I present my Top Twelve Songs of 2018!
- “Paradise” by George Ezra
This infectious pop tune was one of the first new songs I heard in 2018, and it’s still on this list a year later. I’ve been a bit overexposed to George Ezra, thanks to my workplace seemingly playing his entire discography on repeat, but, while “Shotgun” might have become more famous, “Paradise” is his irresistible best.
- “Back Down” by Bob Moses (also “Don’t Hold Back”)
It took quite a few listens for me to fully appreciate “Back Down,” but now that I do, I can’t see why its inclusion on this list wasn’t an instant no-brainer. With vocals reminiscent of the Alan Parsons Project, it resides in a strange sweet spot between head-bopping catchiness and soothing coolness. This is the first song I’ve heard of theirs on the radio, so I hope it’s helping them reach a wider audience.
- “Something Strange” by Vicetone, feat. Haley Reinhart
Oh, how I do love a heavy-handed piano! Reminiscent of Vicetone’s 2015 favorite “No Way Out,” “Something Strange” delivers an iconic piano riff that would be just as at home in an Avicii song, and it gets my head pumping every single time. Special mention also to Vicetone’s “Way Back” featuring Cozi Zuehlsdorff and “Walk Thru Fire” featuring Meron Ryan.
- “Ride or Die” by The Knocks (feat. Foster the People)
It didn’t get nearly enough airplay on the radio, but “Ride or Die” is the essence of a summer hit IMO, easy to sing along to while cruising down the road. I’m still not entirely sure what the phrase “Ride or die” means, but it’s so cool that I don’t even care. (Plus, movie lovers will appreciate the music video.)
- “Lucid Dream” by Owl City
Ethereal and dreamy in the best way, “Lucid Dream” is a return to the best of Owl City, conjuring imaginative mental images and a heavenly synth beat.
- “Soul Train” by Just Loud, feat. Debbie Harry of Blondie (as well as “Electrified,” “Ghost,” and “Angels and Demons”)
Just Loud was yet another great discovery this year, and while it might be too soon with just one EP out, I’m tempted to label the Afro-wearing singer the new incarnation of Prince. “Electrified,” “Angels and Demons,” and “Ghost” are also solid tunes, but “Soul Train” has a uniquely funky and classic sound and jams like few rock songs have since the 1970s.
- “Handyman” by AWOLNation
A subtly emotional anthem, “Handyman” was yet another early 2018 release with a memorable pensiveness that kept it popular on my playlist throughout the year. There’s something rich and satisfying about the lyrics, like “I’m not brittle; I’m just a riddle born of white, blue, and red,” but maybe that’s just the poet in me.
- “Forgotten Love” by AURORA (and “Gentle Earthquakes”)
Here at last is the first member of the big four that became instant favorites this year, and despite this one coming in at #5, Norwegian singer Aurora Aksnes may be my favorite of the four. Her ballads are unlike any other music I’ve heard, and “Forgotten Love” is a prime example of the primal beauty her voice can summon, complete with a bridge in a supposedly made-up language that sounds like an ancient lost tongue. I could listen to this and all her songs on repeat . . . and often have.
- TIE: “Lost in My Mind” and “Underwater” by RÜFÜS DU SOL
And here’s another discovery of mine, the Australian alternative dance band RÜFÜS DU SOL, formerly known as Rufus. Whereas other times that I mention more than one song by the same artist, anything but the main song are secondary recommendations, but this one is an outright tie, because I just couldn’t decide between the pounding, hypnotic electronica of “Lost in My Mind” and the mesmerizing, swelling beat and chant of “Underwater.” Put simply, this is my kind of music.
- “Remind Me to Forget” by Kygo (and “Happy Now”)
At this point, I love these songs so much that the top 5 might as well be one massive tie, but I must give Kygo his due, as the one artist to make last year’s list and this year’s. He’s quickly become my favorite DJ, and “Remind Me to Forget” is a brilliant contribution to the genre of break-up songs. The happily bouncy “Happy Now” is also practically an undeclared tie for this spot.
- “Body Talks” by The Struts
There are some songs that feel like instant rock ‘n’ roll classics, and “Body Talks” deserves a place alongside the work of artists like Queen and Joan Jett. This is energetic modern rock at its finest and has led to many a head-banging jam session in my car. The version with Kesha is good too, but I think I prefer the one with just The Struts, likely because I heard it first.
- “Miracle” by Chvrches (as well as “Heaven/Hell,” “Graves,” and “Get Out”)
Chvrches was the first band I stumbled upon this year that made me wonder “Why have I not heard of this group yet?” Their synthpop style quickly captured my ears, and “Miracle” was my introduction. I’ve repeatedly second-guessed whether it should be #1 or not, but when I’m actually listening to it, the doubt disappears. The forceful drop, the chorus of “whoas,” the metaphorical single-take video – everything comes together into a luminous earworm I was glad to discover.
Now that the main list is through, here is the list of Runners-Up, listed in descending order as if the list were continuing (#13, #14, #15, etc.), and yes, I know there are a lot of them. All I can say is that this list could have been much longer; I just couldn’t post a best songs list without giving these lesser favorites a plug. Many of these are vastly underappreciated, so check them out if you’re looking for a potential new favorite.
“High Hopes” by Panic! At the Disco
“Just Got Paid” by Sigala, Ella Eyre, Meghan Trainor, feat. French Montana
“I’ll Be Gone” by Avicii, feat. Jocke Berg
“Lullaby” by Sigala, feat. Paloma Faith
“Something Human” by Muse
“Lash Out” by Alice Merton
“Gold Rush” and “Northern Lights” by Death Cab for Cutie
“Make Way” by Aloe Blacc
“It Might Get Dark” and “Sky Beaming” by White Denim
“She’s Kerosene” by The Interruptors
“If You Wanna Love Somebody” by Tom Odell
“High on Life” by Martin Garrix, feat. Bonn and “Burn Out” by Martin Garrix & Justin Mylo, feat. Dewain Whitmore
“Uh Huh” by Jade Bird
“The One” by Michael Christian & AMB (especially the Maratone Dub Remix)
“Celebration” by Lumidelic
“Quarter Past Midnight” by Bastille
“All Your Love” by Flight Facilities, featuring Dustin Tebbutt
“Electricity” by Silk City & Dua Lipa, featuring Diplo & Mark Ronson
“Promises” by Calvin Harris and Sam Smith
“Saturday Sun” by Vance Joy
“Open Doors” by Awolk
“One Thing Left to Try” by MGMT
“Shallow” and “Black Eyes” from the A Star Is Born soundtrack
“Get Up” by Shinedown
“Hunger” and “Sky Full of Song” by Florence and the Machine
“Blackout” by Frank Turner
“IJskoud” and “Diamant” by Nielson
“Guiding Light” by Mumford and Sons
“Head Above Water” by Avril Lavigne
“My Blood” by Twenty-One Pilots
“More Than I Am” by Mountain Heart
“POP/STARS” by K/DA
“Far Away Truths” by Albert Hammond, Jr.
“Without Me” by Halsey
“Ran Away” by Hollow Coves
“Somebody’s Daughter” by Tenille Townes
“Give a Little” by Maggie Rogers
“Rescue Me” by Thirty Seconds to Mars
“99” by Barns Courtney
“White Flag” by Bishop Briggs
“Missing U” by Robyn
“joy.” by for KING & COUNTRY
“I Know You Can Dance” by Chris James
“Your Side of the Bed” by Loote
“Right of Passage” and “Setting Sail” by Eastern Odyssey
“New Birth in New England” by Phosphorescent
“Last Lion of Albion” by Neko Case
“Bit Logic” by The Bottle Rockets
“Tangerines and Daffodils” by The Voodoo Children
“Apollo” by St. Paul and the Broken Bones
“A Trick of the Light” by Villagers
“Come Tomorrow” by Dave Matthews Band
“New Compassion” by Haerts
“The Somnambulist” by Echo and the Bunnymen
“In Betweenin’” by Austin Brown
“Girls” by AJ Mitchell
And as with the last two years, I wanted to end this post with a short tribute to the musical artists we lost in 2018, including Betty Willis, Ray Thomas, Dolores O’Riordan, Lari White, Leah LaBelle, Dennis Edwards, Johann Johannsson, Avicii, Bob Dorough, Yvonne Staples, Matt “Guitar” Murphy, Aretha Franklin, Ed King, Charles Aznavour, Tony Joe White, Marty Balin, Hugh McDowell, and Roy Clark. All of them will be sadly missed, but may they live on in the music they shared with the world.
Here’s to finding even more great music in the year to come!