So I’ve kind of grown to hate genre labels in music. They can be super useful, but also a way to sort of scoff and look down on some artists. So Instead of typical genre groupings, I have kind of weird feeling/subject matter groupings. I don’t know, mileage will vary.
Normally I would have a section on albums but almost every album I really was listening to straight through was something I’d heard before 2018, so they were all disqualified.
Also, unlike in the other lists I’ve done, this isn’t ALL of the new music I heard this year–or even all the new music I liked–as that would be an unknown number and over 200 tracks respectively, and I just don’t have the time, nor should a reader have the patience, to read through all of that.
Warning: The song “Non Dairy Creamer” references school shootings. Several songs reference drug and alcohol abuse and “I Wanna Get Better” references suicide and self-harm.
These are songs that are intended to pack an emotional punch–generally some sadness or catharsis.
Water Under The Bridge by Adele, 2016
‘Our love ain’t water under the bridge’. That refrain defines this piece by Adele, which boils down to a central point: the relationship she’s singing about isn’t a fling, isn’t something to be discarded. It’s real, and strong, and maybe that’s a little scary. Maybe it’s something to be embraced. Her strong vocal styling does her well here, and while it tends to be as repetitive as all of her works, it doesn’t grate on me over time the way that “Rolling in the Deep” or “Set Fire to The Rain” did.
The Ballad of Barry Allen by Jim’s Big Ego, 2003
I’m a sucker for well-written songs about things like superheroes or fantasy characters, or really any other established property. “The Ballad of Barry Allen” is of course about The Flash, referring to his civilian name, and about how isolated his speed makes him. He can’t form meaningful connections with other people as he simply moves to fast to deal with their emotions–a five-minute cry for us is basically an eternity for him. You can’t blame a speedster for not wanting an eternity of tears, and he in the end only blames himself and his speed.
Praying by Kesha, 2017
When I first saw the video for “Praying” I shied away from it and everything around it. It was kind of shocking to have what, from the five or so seconds I listened to, such a strong religious message coming from the party pop star. Then I learned what the song was about. Then I really listened to it. I don’t want or need to go into what kind of abuse I’ve encountered in the world–suffice to say, this song…this song has helped me to heal, if only a little bit.
Legally Blonde from Legally Blonde, 2007
Normally when I cling to a single track from a musical it’s one that I can use to describe myself in some way. “I Wish I Could Go Back to College” was certainly that, as was “Painting her Portrait”. “Legally Blonde” isn’t though. I’m not a smart yet attractive twenty-something law student. What I am is someone who’s wondered if I’m in over my head–if I need to withdraw and going back to the person I used to be. Times like those? I can sing “Legally Blonde.”
Car Radio by Twenty One Pilots, 2013
There are times in all of our lives when we just need to wallow in some dark, emo-y goodness. I listened to “Car Radio” for several days straight. It was a really good wallow.
Songs about Substance Abuse
I had a weird enough trend of songs about being an alcoholic in my list that I figured it was worth grouping some.
Sober Up by AJR feat. Rivers Cuomo, 2017
I’ve got really into a few AJR songs this year. They feel a little juvenile–not quite in subject matter, maybe they just sound young. “Sober Up” is basically about asking for help with not using alcohol to enjoy life, as the singer has hit the point where without drinking, he doesn’t feel like he is living. It’s an easy trap to fall in, and makes for a good song. Plus it has a fun string motif going on which is always fun.
St. Ides by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, 2016
“St. Ides” isn’t actually about alcoholism, though Macklemore does mention his issues with it–covered more fully in tracks like “Starting Over” and “Otherside”. Instead, what “St. Ides” gives us is a quiet track, reflecting on growing up, on making mistakes and on the world changing around him. I’ve always had a soft spot for the duo’s work, and it’s nice to have a newer track that resonates with me.
Drunk by Noon by The Measure [sa], 2008
Full of raw, punk sound, “Drunk by Noon” feels like it should be a takedown of people who are just that, but it’s a lot softer in reality. The driving guitar and sort of half-growled vocals mask the lines (as far as I can tell): “If you wanna be honest, confess about your habits, never one to judge, I’ll stand there unconditional”. The singer knows that the subject has a problem–and they want to help. Not to condemn, but to actually help. That’s not something we can all do, but maybe something we can all strive for.
Dance Music by The Mountain Goats, 2005
Every time I find a new Mountain Goats track I like I listen to it for like a week straight. It started with “No Children” a few years back, and currently has culminated in “Dance Music.” I love the way that they manage to just lay out a story, with bare emotions and easy to follow, if often depressing, plot points. In this case, escaping a cycle of abuse leads to drug addiction and some sort of run-in with the authorities, all to the cheerful sounds of a piano and acoustic guitar.
Sounds intended to make you laugh. Simple enough yeah?
Pork Chop Blues by The Alton Brown Trio, 2018
First off, yes, it is THE Alton Brown, star of Good Eats and all those other Food Network shows. He apparently has been playing in this blues-rock trio for a while, and they put out an album this year themed almost entirely around food, which makes sense. “Pork Chop Blues” is my favorite, but to be honest it’s on here more due to the novelty than the quality compared to the other songs of 2018.
The Gates by Da Vinci’s Notebook, 2002
A short, I wanna say hoppy a capella track about becoming so frustrated with your laptop crashing that you fly to Seattle to try to beat up Bill Gates. It’s super catchy and good for a laugh.
Bad Times by The Presidents of the United States, 2008
This is a song with the chorus of “Wish there were more bad times”. Now, the list of things they mention not happening is why it ends up in the humor category, including: “getting sick from leftover port”, “eating foil”, “losing all the air in your balloon”, etc. Then, you get to the rest of the chorus, and, spoilers. “You fell off a cliff so I buried you, I wish there were more bad times to see you through”.
It’s not a joke song–it’s a song about mourning. A happy sounding, catchy song about mourning a loved one.
Non Dairy Creamer by Third Eye Blind, 2008
This song feels like it was written by throwing darts at a dictionary on a dare. Just read the lyrics. I kind of love the absurdity, but also it seems to be really negative about breast implants in an odd way? It’s a weird song folks.
From Other Media
Songs that I first heard or that I most strongly associate with another type of media, like a movie, video, game, or TV series.
Hey Brother by Avicii, 2013
Sometimes a song wouldn’t really make a splash until you see it. The animatic above, putting “Hey Brother” to a series of often gorgeous still images about several important characters in the Adventure Zone, is such a sight. It’s not going to really matter much to people who don’t know what’s going on, but I almost cried rewatching it for this list.
Howling by FLOW, 2018
So I didn’t necessarily like The Seven Deadly Sins second season here, and I’m not even going to say that the opening animation is particularly interesting. The song is great though. FLOW is likely in my top 3 four-letter Japanese bands right now (with Coda and LITE). It’s, as the kids say, a banger. I also just appreciate how much more epic a lot of anime opening’s lyrics tend to be–something I’ve always chalked up to the lyrical flexibility of Japanese considering the rhythm and rhyme inherent in the language.
Sunflower by Post Malone, Swae Lee, 2018
So I closed out my movie post by basically just telling everyone to go see Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse. One thing I didn’t really go into in that writeup was just how great the soundtrack was–a soundtrack of songs largely if not completely written just for the movie. “Sunflower” is my favorite of them–I love it’s chill, nostalgic feel, and adored how human it helped make Miles in the film when he mumbled along and only sang the most discernable words in the song.
NAPAL BAJI by PSY, 2015
I was kind of stunned when I first saw the AMV for “NAPAL BAJI”. It’s only the second time I’ve seen such a heavily edited work, containing mixed characters and shots from so many shows. It isn’t quite as phenomenal as “Anime’s Got Talent“, but it’s still really, really good. Gosh I love action cooking.
The Five-Floor Goodbye by Ryan Ike, 2012
Somehow the only track NOT available on Spotify in America, “The Five-Floor Goodbye” is from the soundtrack to Gunpoint, a stealth game released in 2012. It’s a standout track from an album of just really great jazz and electronica, generally mixed, that stands on its own outside of knowing that it is from a game. One of the things I always struggle with instrumental jazz is how meandering it can be. This track also manages to feel like it’s moving forward–driving by the piano, vibraphone, drums, and bass that make up the rhythm section. I will say it is designed to loop, but just ignore the last like ten seconds and you’re golden.
Tell That Devil by Sarah Darling, 2017
Another TV show’s opening song, this time Wynonna Earp. A strong female vocalist and plenty of references to devils and hellfire make it suitable for that show, but what I really like are the lines “I gave you all I got to give, and no that ain’t no way to live”. One-way relationships are toxic, and she’s cutting them out–telling the devil to take them back.
It’s Over Isn’t It from Steven Universe, 2017
It would hardly be a stretch to say that Pearl is my favorite character in Steven Universe. She’s also quite likely the character in the most awkward position; while Garnet chose to leave for love and Amethyst was born on Earth, Pearl lost the love she had…to Greg Universe, who in many ways is her opposite. She gave everything to someone, emptying and transforming herself in an obsessive love for Rose Quartz and then she lost her, twice. It’s been over a decade and she’s still struggling to move one–partly I would think because she is reliant on other people to pour her emotions into, and without Rose Quartz, she doesn’t have such a person anymore. It’s poignant and sorrowful and just a really, really well-done moment in the show.
Want You Back by HAIM, 2017
It’s a fun, song, if a bit generic in it’s message. The video is kind of great though–I like the idea of the background moving while the central idea stays the same.
HAVE A NICE DAY by World Order, 2014
Another great video, this one one that I watched in Tokyo about people goofing off in Tokyo, so it’s mostly a personal connection and less a “this is the best song ever.” I do like the song though.
Songs that I didn’t want to slot into other categories with strong front women leading them.
DQ by Charly Bliss, 2017
I’m kind of super fond of really crunchy, kind of lo-fi rock music, and “DQ” (yes, Dairy Queen) fits the bill. I almost put it under humor instead, considering it has lyrics like “I’m four years above sixteen
I bounced so high, I peed the trampoline”. Like…what? It’s a good jam though, has great energy.
Harvard/Sixteen by Diet Cig, 2015/2017
So as a general rule for this list I tried to only pick one song per artist, but I ended up making an exception for Diet Cig. Another crunchy rock/pop group, they’re really good at pulling you into the moment they’re talking about in the lyrics, even if it’s rather mundane. I mean, “Sixteen” includes the lines “now I’m in the grocery store, wondering who I’m buying all of these hot dogs for” and manages to make that a moment. It’s good stuff.
Fuck and Run by Liz Phair, 1993
For someone who doesn’t typically sleep around, I have a weird fondness for one-night stand songs. “Fuck and Run” is one such, displacing my last favorite “9 AM” (by Midway). Probably because it’s a good singer/songwriter feel with a recurring line of “I want a boyfriend” and well, I am single.
Perfect, Dark by Sammus, 2017
Sammus as a rapper was introduced to me via her more game-centric pieces, like “Games and Cartoons” or “Power Up”, but “Perfect, Dark” quickly became my favorite. It’s a stubborn protest of the unbearable whiteness of popular media and the impact that that has on brown and black children. It’s a problem that has gotten a bit better over time, sure, but as she says:
“You prolly think I’m reaching/ But when I started sketching,-Sammus, from “Perfect Dark”
The first thing I could think of/ Was drawing yellow tresses,
Over pink-skinned faces/ Red cheeks, and painting,
Big tits in lace/ and I’m envious of her race”.
These things impact people. Representation matters, and yes, I’m not black, but that, that I can get.
Love and Heartbreak
Single Mother by Lemuria, 2010
It’s a song about being nervous about a relationship, which isn’t in itself unique, sure. But as the title suggests, it’s a song about falling in love with a single mother–and not saying ‘no, I won’t date people with children’ but ‘I love her and I’m scared that I don’t know how to date a parent’ which frankly is a pretty normal fear for people who have never been parents.
Midway by The Bad Bad Hats, 2015
I’m pretty sure I had listened to this bad in 2015 because I was super into an EP that Bad Bad Hats had put out a few years prior. It just didn’t click. Fast forward to this past April. I’m in the back of a Lyft or an Uber or some such, heading towards the airport when a song comes on the radio. Or rather the driver’s phone, and I know the voice. And we have a moment of like “You know this band?” “Yeah, I’m from Minnesota.” Or where ever it is the band is from. And so I relistened to the song. And the album. And the next album. It’s funny how moments help us to remember things more than simply hearing things in isolation.
When Did Your Heart Go Missing? By Rooney, 2007
I don’t really have a lot to say about this one. It’s just a good jam. That’s all a song really has to be.
Singing In My Sleep by Semisonic, 1998
Most people just know Semisonic as that band who wrote “Closing Time”, and I was among that number. One day I watched Todd in the Shadows one-hit wonder video on them though, and that changed. “Singing in my Sleep” is a song about connecting to a distant love through her mixtape that she gave him. It’s the sort of song you cling to when in a long distance relationship or traveling. I’m I have it in my library now.
Coloring Outside the Lines by MisterWives, 2017
Just a good, full-bodied track about being in love, the kind that’s long-lasting and helps you to face the morning. We all hope to grow old–it’s good that the singer has someone to grow old with.
BRASS BRASS BRASS
Songs with prominent brass sections that don’t fit in another category.
Ghost of Stephen Foster by Squirrel Nut Zippers, 1998
I’ve described this as is Walter Sicket and the Army of Broken Toys teamed up with Speaker for the Dead to make jazz music, but that’s way too specific for most people. It’s like a carnival fed through New Orleans played only through slashed amps. Lo-fi, full of energy and mischief. It’s absurd and powerful and I love it.
Warriors by Too Many Zooz, 2016
Too Many Zooz is like the epitomy of a really good band of buskers. It’s music you’re unlikely to hear outside of a subway, all brass and drums, often clashing, often loud and proud. I’m a sucker for a good brass section, so I’m a sucker for a good Too Many Zooz track.
Army by Ben Folds Five, 1999
I like Ben Folds for a lot of the same reason I like The Mountain Goats–kind of rambling stream-of-thought feeling lyrics set to fun yet kind of repetitive instrumentals. “Army” has some fun brass and piano work to help it stand out, but it certainly fits that mold.
Miscellaneous (Mostly Rock & Pop)
Laid by Better Than Ezra, 2005
This song is like, super generic nineties rock, but I kind of love Better Than Ezra for that. “Laid” is a good example, with the kind of spitting in the face of societal norms with lyrics like “the neighbor’s complain about the noises above/ but she only cums when she’s on top”. And, to be fair, I’m kind of immature and get a kick out of lines like that.
Thief by The Fratellis, 2015
The Fratellis are just really good at making solid jams. I loved “Baby Don’t You Lie to Me” but this past year I jammed out to “Thief.” Again, it isn’t super game-changing in terms of lyrics, but they pack a ton of punch into their instrumentals, which carries the day.
Hard Times by Paramore, 2017
I like new Paramore. They’ve become a bit more mainstream, a bit dancier perhaps, but it’s still great to listen to. “Hard Times” is just a good listen, again, not too much too interesting to say here.
Do The Panic by Phantom Planet, 2008
One of my favorite things in songs in the slow addition of each instrument in a band coming back out of a breakdown, and “Do The Panic” does that. I also just have to respect a sound that tells you to panic which sounding manic.
Room by Shamir, 2018
Shamir is an odd artist, in that I either really like or absolutely can’t stand his songs. I have the vinyl of this single and I couldn’t even make it through the B-Side. This track is great though, kind of musing on trying to deal with the depression that keeps you trapped in your room, in bed.
After Hours by We Are Scientists, 2008
There’s a mood that’s hard to capture in music. That specific contentment of being out in public, insulated by friends, maybe a drink or two in and just, content. It isn’t partying, it isn’t revel. It’s that simple feeling that you’re in the right place, with the right people, even if that isn’t home. Time stops meaning anything, at least for a few hours. “After Hours” is that feeling.
I Wanna Get Better by Bleachers, 2014
This is quite possibly my song of the year. It’s got driving piano, group vocals, huge energy and a message about being in a bad place, facing it and trying to reach for the next day, a better day. It’s a message I sorely needed early in 2018. It was a long, hard year, and yeah, I wanted to get better. Maybe I have.
Stay the Night by Jukebox the Ghost, 2017
Speaking of driving piano, this is a goddamn bop. It’s also basically a song about being “hey babe, we’re young, we’re hot, why don’t I stay the night”. And sure, why not, I’ve got room in my bed for someone with pipes like those.
(Fuck A) Silver Lining by Panic! At The Disco, 2018
I was extremely surprised by Panic! At The Disco’s newest album. I haven’t really followed their development over the years, so hearing this track in a car on the way to a LARP event was like being splashed with a bucket of cold water. Is every track they made a winner? No. But “(Fuck a) Silver Lining” was certainly a silver lining on that day.
I Ran (So Far Away) By Bowling for Soup, 2000
So everyone seems to know the Flock of Seagulls classic of “I Ran.” Bowling for Soup is a little less remembered–mostly for their version of “1985”, itself a cover. But every now and then I find a new cover (well, old cover) that reminds me how much I liked their sound from the first album of theirs I listened to. It’s just good poppunky rock.
Shiki No Uta by The Brotet, 2018
Mostly known as a theme song for Samurai Champloo, this is a jazz rendition of “Shiki No Uta.” It wanders through the theme, always coming back before it drifts too far, with some chill segments and some memorable solos and flair. It’s the kind of jazz cover I can get behind, and I want more from the quartet that made it.
Come On Eileen by Save Ferris, 1997
I don’t like the original “Come On Eileen”. It’s kind of boring to me, and I don’t really see why it’s a classic. Save Ferris’s edition injects adrenaline, guitars and horns and just rocks Eileen’s socks right off.
Cotton Eye Joe by The Sweeplings, 2016
You cannot dance to this rendition. It is mournful, almost haunting in tone, with the dominant quality just being a woman’s voice, clearly singing the words generally drowned out by the pounding of feet in a line dance.