Twelve Tracks from 2018

A dozen favorite songs from 2018, in alphabetical order by artist; none of them are from my top ten albums of the year (which I will roll out, one by one, starting tomorrow.)

Chaka Khan, “Like Sugar”
With the loss the Aretha and the whole year an extended shitshow in general, Chaka Khan’s regally funky return is the most soothing of balms. I await kickass lip-syncs to this on RuPaul’s Drag Race.

The Decemberists, “Once In My Life”
The Decemberists going synth-pop on I’ll Be Your Girl isn’t as uneasy a fit as it sounds, but only on the opener does it fully come to, well, life. Colin Meloy is nothing if not an anthem-writer and this has an effective build, from an extended intro to swirling guitars and synths and one heck of a chorus (placed upfront, as it should be.)

Ezra Furman, “I Lost My Innocence”
A jaunty queer ode to losing one’s virginity, its chorus rhyming “Box of Girl Scout Thin Mints” with “A pack of Winstons”–what’s not to love?

Gruff Rhys, “Frontier Man”
The Super Furry Animals frontman continues to confound expectations as a solo artist, this time emulating a classic Countrypolitan sound recalling the likes Lee Hazelwood and Bobbie Gentry (love those female backing vocals, too.)

Kacey Musgraves, “High Horse”
Disco/Country is a hybrid Musgraves seems so suited for you wonder why it took her three albums to try it out. A highlight of Golden Hour (which just missed my top ten albums), sadly it wasn’t the crossover hit it so richly deserved to be, despite its charming, 9 To 5-inspired video above.

Lana Del Rey, “Mariners Apartment Complex”
She’s more a singles than albums artist but I have to admit, this September-released peak into next year’s insanely-titled Norman Fucking Rockwell has me stoked. It’s earthier and far more pastoral than she’s ever before dared to sound, and yet, still 100% pure, unfiltered Lana. What’s better: the harpsichord (!) on the intro or the no-nonsense way she sings, “I’m your man” on the chorus?

LUMP, “Curse of the Contemporary”
Instead of another Laura Marling album for 2018, we got this, a curious seven-track collaboration with Mike Lindsay from electro-folk outfit Tunng. It’s a bold stylistic leap that I’d love to see her take further; for now, this strange, beguilingly catchy song plays like a future lost gem.

Neko Case, “Bad Luck”
Her first album in five years features New Pornographers-worthy melodies while retaining the sense of space that defines her solo work. This one’s sort of a smart course-corrective to Alanis Morrissette’s “Ironic” (in that it actually makes sense), with a lyrical hook (“So I died and went to work”) commercial enough to sell furniture polish.

Roisin Murphy, “Jacuzzi Rollercoaster”
Murphy’s as much of an iconoclast as ever, releasing four 12-inch singles this year instead of a proper album. Producer Maurice Fulton (who did an excellent remix of her song “House of Glass” a few years back) might be her most innovative collaborator since Matthew Herbert. The third of those singles is a delirious rush of ’80s funk beats and ’90s ‘tude, with Murphy’s staccato-singing on the verses as irresistible as the lovably simple chorus

St. Vincent, “Fast Slow Disco”
Transforming “Slow Disco” (from last year’s MASSeduction) into the actual disco song it was always meant to be, Annie Clark reaffirms her divahood and cements her indie-dancepop stardom.

Troye Sivan, “Bloom”
An euphoric queer ode to losing one’s virginity, its chorus as catchy as a Wham! song and as blissfully serene as Steve McQueen-era Prefab Sprout–what’s not to love?

Twin Shadow, “Too Many Colors”
Caer would’ve made a top twenty albums list–it’s a little patchy but the highs are oh so high: “18 Years”, “Saturdays” (with Haim and better than anything from their last album) and this, probably my favorite single track of the year. It all comes down to the poignant melody and a sparkling clean arrangement–hallmarks of the best ’80s synth-pop in a timeless package.

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