It's still us against them
It's still us against them
It's still us against them
It's still us against them
And they're winning
And they're winning
It's still us against them
It's still us against them
It's still us against them
And they're winning
And they're winning
Titus Andronicus, “Four Score and Seven”
In 1870, Mississippi elected America’s first African-American senator, an ordained minister named Hiram Revels. Five years later, Mississippi elected a second African-American senator, a former slave who later received a handful of votes to be James Garfield’s running mate at the 1880 Republican National Convention. If America as a whole kept up the progressive pace of post-Civil War Mississippi, we would have elected thirty African-American senators by now.
We’ve elected ten. America’s second African-American senator was elected in 1875, and its third was elected … in 1966.
In 1958, Pan Am Airlines launched expanded service using Boeing’s brand new 707 jet airliner. The 707 quickly became the gold standard in commercial air travel. It was more than 100 MPH faster than its closest competitor, with an average cruising speed of 600 MPH. Those 707s are out of service now, replaced with newer, more advanced technology.
Today, commercial airlines in the US fly at an average cruising speed of … between 550 and 580 MPH.
In 1989, the world came together to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall. On that day, there were fifteen surviving border walls worldwide.
Today, there are … 77.
I want you to consider the possibility that progress is an illusion, a story we tell ourselves, a way to make sense of the world, one with a happy ending.
I want you to consider the possibility that it’s not the most accurate one.
I want you to consider the possibility that history is better understood as a long procession of ambitious sociopaths hellbent on securing power for themselves, and largely succeeding.
I want you to consider the possibility that the moral arc of the universe does not, in fact, bend toward justice.
You already understand that small-scale progress is uncertain. You already know that not every story has a happy ending. Civilizations rise and fall. Heroes meet ignominious ends. MLK’s personal arc didn’t bend toward justice, it bent toward a bullet in Memphis. What makes you think your future will be any different?
There’s a great scene in the movie Syriana where an American energy analyst (played by Matt Damon) travels to a fictitious Middle Eastern country and finds himself in a heated dispute in the desert with a young prince. Damon’s character gives a brutally honest assessment of rapid cultural advancement via newly-minted oil wealth:
You know what the business community thinks of you? They think that a hundred years ago you were living in tents out here in the desert chopping each other's heads off and that's where you'll be in another hundred years, so, yes, on behalf of my firm I accept your money.
When it’s someone else’s story, it makes sense: the rise and fall, the untenable speed of growth, the limits of supply, the precarious nature of wealth. It’s obvious. Of course it’s temporary, nothing lasts forever, of course it will end. Of course it would be foolish to take progress for granted.
But … what if the whole world is like that? What if civilization is one giant bubble?
That terrifying thought is the thesis of a 2012 paper by an American economist named Robert Gordon. I’ve been thinking about it a lot this year. It’s called “Is U.S. Economic Growth Over? Faltering Innovation Confronts the Six Headwinds,” and I am not an economist, so I can’t guarantee I understand it, but I can certainly quote it for you:
“The rapid progress made over the past 250 years could well be a unique episode in human history rather than a guarantee of endless future advancement at the same rate.”
“It is useful to think of the innovative process as a series of discrete inventions followed by incremental improvements which ultimately tap the full potential of the initial invention [...] many of these processes could happen only once.”
Unique episode in human history. Could only happen once. A bubble. Is Gordon right about all of this? I have no idea. Maybe his work has already been debunked. Maybe he is the laughingstock of the economic community. For me, though, it doesn’t matter. He has captured exactly what 2018 feels like. It feels like we are at the tail end of a unique episode in human history. It feels like something is almost over. The wave has broken and rolled back. It feels like everyone knows it, on some subconscious level, but most try not to think about it.
Consider two scenarios:
Scenario One is that human history is an endless march of invention and enlightenment. No matter what, things will always get better.
Scenario Two is that, a couple hundred years ago, we learned that we could take stuff out of the ground and light it on fire. Those of us in the faster-developing parts of the world learned that we could go to the slower-developing parts of the world and take the stuff they had in the ground. This allowed us to do a lot of cool stuff - it brought us electricity and factories and cities and trains and cars and airplanes and computers and a middle class and increased life expectancies and an abundance of everything we could ever want.
It also killed a lot of people and destroyed large parts of the planet.
Now we’re almost out of stuff in the ground that we can light on fire, and that’s good, because we’ve already lit way too much of it on fire already. There is no one else that we can go and take stuff from. That was a one-time thing. We don’t know what the future is going to be, but we know it’s going to be … something else.
The cracks have always been there. You just see them now. Maybe it’s better that way, more honest. It doesn’t feel better.
“a hundred years ago you were living in tents out here in the desert chopping each other's heads off and that's where you'll be in another hundred years”
How do you make music in a world like that?
What can music possibly accomplish in a world like that?
Tigers walk behind me
They are to remind me
That I'm lost
But I'm not afraid
David Byrne, “Life Is Long”
On June 8, Anthony Bourdain hanged himself in a small town in northeastern France. He was 61. I took it hard. Mourning a celebrity imposes a weird dislocation. I didn’t know him. I never met him. When he was alive, I watched him on television, and now that he’s gone … I still watch him on television. In every concrete sense, my relationship to him has not changed at all. So why did his death hurt so much?
I made it about me. I viewed Bourdain as a role model. I wanted to see the world the way he did. I knew that his philosophy contained its share of darkness, but it seemed like he gained strength from that, from identifying that darkness and charging headlong into it. And then he killed himself.
A couple weeks after Bourdain’s death, someone wrote in to Brandy Jensen’s excellent advice column “Ask a Fuck-Up” with a question that summarized my growing unease better than I ever could:
I’m in therapy and I guess it helps but when the news about Anthony Bourdain broke, it was the first time that I’ve thought to myself “well shit, maybe I’m not going to make it.” I realize that sounds silly because he was a celebrity and a stranger but it was the first time that particularly frightening thought popped into my brain and now I’m worried it won’t go away.
I was never suicidal. I don’t want to make this more dramatic than it is. Please don’t worry about me. That’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about a weight that got heavier after Bourdain’s death, an ominous portent like watching a world-class marathoner running up ahead suddenly drop out of the race. Well, if it’s too hard for him ...
I immersed myself in Bourdain tributes. It was a comfort to see my own feelings reflected back to me. We kept returning to his empathy, his singular ability to tell the stories of others in they way they would want them to be told. We were celebrating a great man but begging the same question over and over: If he possessed a uniquely enlightened philosophy, was it that philosophy that killed him?
Jason Concepcion from The Ringer had what I believe to be the most honest and insightful response in the immediate aftermath of Bourdain’s death:
But why wasn’t Bourdain suited to thrive in this world? What was it that was so heavy?
Look, I don’t know why Anthony Bourdain killed himself. The man lived a complicated life, and while we felt like we knew him, we didn’t. We saw the version of himself that he presented on television.
Still, that guy on television kept saying the same thing, over and over again, to anyone who would listen: DON’T BE AFRAID. If Bourdain’s body of work had a greater goal, it was his desire to present an example of how to live a life without fear.
Here’s a four-word summary of life in 2018: The fear is winning.
The most powerful men of our age are terrified.
Their power and their fear are perfectly correlated. The rich fear the poor, but the very rich cower in horror at the sight of the very poor. Small business owners might be nervous around their employees, but billionaire titans of industry are building impregnable bunkers on private compounds in remote locations to protect themselves from a mass uprising. Citizens of diverse cities might assume the worst about a loitering teenager on a street corner, but denizens of the whitest exurbs live in mortal terror of an invasion of sub-human animals, embracing more and more outlandish fears as they slowly detach from reality.
The men who control every single aspect of life on this slowly-boiling planet live in constant, crippling fear. It is a specific, pervasive strain of fear. For the most part, it’s an American fear. It’s a white fear. It’s a male fear. It’s their fear that the future won’t be as kind to them as the past was. It’s their fear that there won’t be as much to go around, and it’s their fear that they might have to share. It’s their fear that they won’t be able to get away with it for much longer. And I desperately want to distance myself from this, like I’m sure Bourdain did, but I never will, not completely. It isn’t “they” who inflict this epidemic of white male fear on the world. It’s we.
This fear is a black teenager shot in the back. It’s a drone strike at a wedding. It’s troops at the border. It’s a row of bodies covered in sheets outside a synagogue. It’s a unique kind of fear that has consequences for others. It’s a corrosive force that is actively destroying all life on the planet. It’s irrational, it’s based on lies, and it requires constant, intense effort to perpetuate. We could stop tomorrow. We could stop today. It would be easier. We would be happier. Anthony Bourdain tried to push us in that direction. He told us we didn’t have to be afraid, of other people, of other places, of other ideas. On some level, I guess he succeeded. It worked on me.
Let’s bury an important announcement in the third section of a long essay about pop music: Ilana and I are moving to Amsterdam next month. It’s scary, but it’s not, because here’s what I’m going to do when I’m there: I’m going to travel by myself. I’m going to walk around strage cities at night. I’m going to cross international borders, and I am never going to be viewed with suspicion (and, if I experience even the slightest inconvenience, it will probably turn out to be my fault). I will never be denied even the smallest opportunity or advantage because of my name, or my accent, or the way I look. That is the world I know.
That’s not everyone’s world, but it should be. If I ever run for office, my campaign slogan is going to be this: You Know All Of The Vital Stuff That Mediocre White Dudes Take For Granted? Everyone Gets That Now.
Anthony Bourdain could live without fear, just like I can, because we belong to the most privileged group of people who have ever existed. For me, and for him, and for white men everywhere, fear is purely optional, and the most frightening thing is just how many people who look just like me have enthusiastically opted in.
For most people, though, fear isn’t optional. It’s necessary. It’s a matter of survival. A black man’s fear of a racist cop. A working class family’s fear of a predatory landlord. An LGBT teen’s fear of a homophobic bully. Any brown person’s fear of any interaction near any border. A woman’s fear of … men. Just, like, all of them, all the time.
Those aren’t in your head. Those can’t be overcome through experience, or open-mindedness, or a week in East Africa with a CNN film crew meeting interesting locals and tasting native delicacies. Bourdain wouldn’t claim otherwise. To his credit, he was painfully honest about his limitations, as we all should be.
So I’m working on living without fear, because I can.
But what is everyone else supposed to do?
What kind of music do you like?
It’s such an innocent-sounding question, cocktail party small talk, but it cuts me to my core. It’s a psychological self-evaluation. It’s an invitation to a low-level panic attack. How could anyone answer that?
There’s no room for equivocation. Anyone who breezily answers, “I like all kinds of music,” doesn’t really like music at all, and should not be trusted.
Genre shorthand isolates more than it unifies. We try to draw lines around the music we love and we end up talking past each other. Little Mix are a British pop group, but they are not Britpop, because Britpop is a specific strain of rock music made in the mid-90’s.
I want to tell you about the music that I love, but I worry that we don’t speak the same language. I worry that no two people speak the same language.
I say all of that to preface this next statement: I listen to pop punk, but I do not listen to pop-punk.
If we could start with a clean slate, this would be so much easier. I listen to music with a pop sensibility and a punk aesthetic. Done. Take my favorite band in the world right now: Martha. They write catchy, upbeat songs in major keys that sound like they were recorded by kids who snuck into a studio. They are vegan anarchists. They dress like vegan anarchists. They are punks who make pop music. So they’re pop-punk, right?
Well, no. Pop-punk is already a very specific thing. It’s bright, shiny, heavily-produced music. It’s Green Day and Blink-182. It’s Warped Tour and Hot Topic and way more misogyny than you remember. Some of it is great. “I’d Do Anything” by Simple Plan is both the platonic ideal of pop-punk and also just a perfect song. That (or something very similar) is probably what you thought of when I first used the term.
I don’t know if there’s a pure pop-punk song on my 100 Songs list this year. Outside of a few workout playlists, I don’t really listen to that kind of music.
So what do I listen to? And how can I explain it to you?
At some point in 2017, a young LA producer/engineer named Sarah Tudzin decided to start her own band. I don’t know why she did it. Her behind-the-boards career was (and still is) going well. She did sound editing for the original cast recording of Hamilton. She’s worked with Lady Gaga, Coldplay, and Barbra Streisand. But I get it, it’s fun to be in a band.
She called her band Illuminati Hotties. They are wonderful.
I discovered Illuminati Hotties at the perfect time in my life. I was coming out of a dark period. I was getting on top of the stress. I was trusting therapy and antidepressants. I was ready for catchy, witty, fun. I was ready for music that was excited to exist. I was ready for music that sounded like you would really enjoy hanging out with the people who made it.
We saw Illuminati Hotties at the Hotel Utah in March. They were the first band of four on the bill. There were maybe twenty people there, and I’m pretty sure fifteen of them were the other three bands. It was magic. It was the smallest show I saw all year, and maybe the best. It was joyous. All I wanted in my life was music just like this, made by people just like this.
But what kind of music was it?
Here are a few artists Illuminati Hotties have been compared to by reputable critics: Courtney Barnett, Broken Social Scene, Los Campesinos!, The Replacements, “’60s girl-group pop,” “indie-pop lifer Rose Melberg’s many projects, as well as 1990s Vancouver punks Cub,” “a variety of influences from 90s indie, garage and punk, to lo-fi and straight up pop,” and “the 280 character version of Brian Wilson Presents Smile.”
In a single interview, Sarah Tudzin lists Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Green Day, Blink-182, The Clash, and Bright Eyes as influences.
So what kind of music does she make?
Tenderpunk. Sarah Tudzin makes tenderpunk music. She invented a genre and had the good sense never to explain it. It is a perfect world unto itself.
It’s a brand new genre, without definition or gatekeeper, but so many great bands personified it this year: Illuminati Hotties, of course, but also Worriers, Bad Moves, Thin Lips, Snail Mail, Petal, Camp Cope, Bloods, The Beths, Alien Boy, Muncie Girls, Spook School ... It’s a genre with open doors. It’s built from the wreckage, the remains of male-dominated music history, and it carves out spaces for new voices - female, LGBT, anyone previously other.
I want to say that it’s music anyone can make, but that sounds like a backhanded compliment, because every artist I just listed can do things that I never could. What I mean is that it’s music that can thrive outside of existing structures, without major labels and famous producers and worldwide marketing campaigns. It doesn’t need anyone’s permission. It’s music made knowing relatively few people will ever hear it, but approaching that from a place of freedom and possibility. It’s guitar and bass and drums and the same notes we’ve always had, but it’s a new story, told by different people, hopeful even with the understanding that there is so little to be hopeful about. It’s music for the end of progress, made by people who never took that progress for granted, because progress was never promised to them anyway. It’s anthems for entropy and decay.
Tenderpunk. I listen to tenderpunk music now.
My Song of the Year is “Me and My Dog” by boygenius. It is not a tenderpunk song, but at the same time it perfectly captures the tenderpunk ethos. It is the other half of Anthony Bourdain’s project. It represents a path forward, through the end of a unique episode in human history, through the time when it all started to fall apart.
Boygenius is the collective project of Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus, three solo artists coming off of critically acclaimed debuts in the last two years. 2018’s boygenius EP is twenty-two perfect minutes spread across six songs. The only possible criticism of it is that it’s much too short.
The boygenius creation myth was first outlined in a September profile in the New York Times:
The name they gave themselves was kind of a joke, but it was also a creative mantra—a practical way to get things done in the time they had together. “We were just talking about boys and men we know who’ve been told that they are geniuses since they could hear, basically, and what type of creative work comes out of that upbringing,” Dacus told the Times. “If one person was having a thought—I don’t know if this is good, it’s probably terrible—it was like, ‘No! Be the boy genius! Your every thought is worthwhile, just spit it out.’ It was a way to do things quickly and confidently. We only had four days to go from zero to something, so we couldn’t waste time self-deprecating.”
More than anything else, the boygenius EP is fearless. Fearless in its creation and fearless in its vulnerability. But it’s not fearless in the Anthony Bourdain sense. These three women did not come together and realize that their fears were purely imaginary, a product of closed-minded ignorance. They are not here to tell other people like them that they have nothing to fear. These are young women trying to survive, in the music industry, in America. They have very real things to fear. So many things. Their fears are not misplaced. Those defense mechanisms, that self-deprecation, adapted over years spent reacting to the worst our culture could throw at them, was a necessary survival tactic.
And yet they consciously put all of that aside, trusted each other, and made something perfectly fearless.
Here is the first paragraph of Madison Vain’s boygenius profile for Esquire:
The fear is there. The weariness, the exhaustion. It’s important that you don’t take my word for it. When I say “this is how women felt in 2018,” “this is how people of color felt in 2018,” I know that because I read what they wrote about it, and you should, too. Go read Jia Tolentino, and Jess Hopper, and Eve Ewing, and Hanif Abdurraqib, and Lindsay Zoladz, and Meaghan Garvey, and Jenn Pelly, and Liz Pelly, and Molly Lambert, and Ezekiel Kweku, and so many others. I am telling you what the world looks like, to me, but it’s their world. I know because they told me. They are tired. They are wrestling with very real fears.
Now here is the last paragraph of Madison Vain’s boygenius profile:
The best music made in 2018 created moments of fearlessness for people who absolutely do have something to fear, and who know it. (And I’m only highlighting a few very white examples here, but I believe almost all hip hop serves this purpose as well.) It’s not music made for me, but at the same time it is, because it’s music for everyone.
Anthony Bourdain spoke to me on my level: “There is nothing to be afraid of. Your fear of that which is different comes from your own small-mindedness. It’s a failure of imagination. Go out there and do new things, experience new places, meet new people. The only thing standing in your way is yourself. Do it.”
Boygenius, and Illuminati Hotties, and so many others, speak to more people on a deeper level: “There is so much to be afraid of. There are people out there who want to hurt you, who want to take advantage of you, who hate you just because of who you are. There are powerful people who know their world is crumbling and will do absolutely anything to hoard power, and resources, and status. They would gladly sacrifice you, and everyone like you, to serve their own ends. Your fear could be the driving force guiding your entire life. You could make every decision in service of this fear, in an all-consuming effort to protect yourself, and no one could blame you. The only thing standing in your way is entrenched, systemic power structures that have been in place for centuries. Do it anyway. Be the boygenius.”
Fragile. Honest. Fearless.
1. Boygenius - “Me and My Dog”
I thought this would be a fairly unique choice for Song of the Year, but the very first other year-end list I saw (at Uproxx) also had it in the top spot. That's cool with me, now I hope everyone chooses it at #1.
Also, while we're here, the boygenius album cover referencing Crosby, Still & Nash is perfect:
(And if you want to know wayyy too much trivia about the CSN album cover, check this out.)
2. Illuminati Hotties - “(You’re Better) Than Ever”
Are you following @SMALLALBUMS? You should be. It's a music blog without the blog, just a Twitter and an Instagram. They write short, completely inscrutable posts that somehow perfectly capture the essence of the music they review.
Anyway, they had "(You're Better) Than Ever" as their song of the year, so there is someone out there who loves Illuminati Hotties more than I do. That seems impossible.
Anyway, they had "(You're Better) Than Ever" as their song of the year, so there is someone out there who loves Illuminati Hotties more than I do. That seems impossible.
3. Bad Moves - “Spirit FM”
Somehow, within one year, Bad Moves opened for my current favorite band (Martha) and my all-time favorite band (The Hold Steady). In between, they put out one of my favorite albums of the year, highlighted by this incredible song, which seems to get faster with every transition.
4. Special Explosion - “Fire”
So many things to say about this song:
(a) It came out in 2017, but after I finished my 100 Songs for 2017 list, so I'm making an exception for it. Every great song gets to be eligible for one year.
(b) I saw Special Explosion at a Noise Pop show, and they were the first of four bands on the bill. When they started, there were literally four people in the audience. They still put on a great show. Someday, I will be able to say I was there when ...
(c) I don't know anything about music theory, but there's something about the structure of this song that reminds me of maybe my favorite song of all time, "Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl" by Broken Social Scene. Long, repeated phrases, no discernible rhyme scheme, slowly building instrumentation. It's like an incantation. Someday I'd love to hear an explanation of why these both have such an effect on me.
(d) This is so rare for me, but I can tell you exactly where I was when I heard this song for the first time. It was Saturday, December 16. It was the end of a brutal work year for me, and an even more damaging mental health year. I had started therapy, but I hadn't yet started antidepressants. I had been in LA for several intensely stressful days, and I had pulled a few strings to make it home for a party my friends were throwing that night. It was a time in my life when I was setting goals like "Do one thing you enjoy" or "Do one thing where you get to see people you like." My flight got in late, and my driver took a weird route back from the airport, up over Bernal Hill. I was exhausted. Ian Cohen had been hyping this album relentlessly on Twitter, so I put it on in the back of the car and closed my eyes.
I listened to this song, I think, six times in a row.
A little bit warmer than we were last year ...
5. Kacey Musgraves - “Space Cowboy”
Golden Hour was such a comfort in 2018. Whether I was happy or sad, alone or in a group, if there was an occasion to go put a record on, that record was almost always Golden Hour, it was always the right decision. "Space Cowboy" is the rare example of a sad song that is so perfectly, beautifully executed that it really doesn't make me sad at all.
6. Prince - “Nothing Compares 2 U”
I don't know what to do with this song. It came out in 2018, but of course it's decades old. Mostly, I just need to know you've all heard it, so I'm putting it here.
(Also, my favorite hot take that I don't actually believe is that Prince ("Nothing Compares 2 U"), David Bowie ("All The Young Dudes"), and Bruce Springsteen ("Because the Night") all gave away their best song.)
7. Hayley Kiyoko - “Curious”
My first great musical discovery of 2018, thanks in large part to this excellent Buzzfeed profile. And, as always, "discovery" here means "artist I heard for the first time who already had a massive fan base." It was a huge year for Lesbian Jesus, as she cemented her status as probably the best pop star who also had a recurring role on CSI: Cyber.
8. Janelle Monae - “Pynk”
There are a few other contenders (David Byrne, Illuminati Hotties, Sigrid), but Janelle Monae probably put on the best show I saw in 2018. She also released one of the best albums of the year, as well as several of the best videos of the year. And, maybe most importantly, she inspired Ilana and me to spend several hours listening to 1997 alt-rock singles last night. So, truly, thank you for everything Janelle.
9. The 1975 - “Give Yourself a Try”
Culture finally caught up with The 1975 in 2018. When Matt Healy and the band released i like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it in 2016, critics didn't know what to do with it. It got a 6.5 from Pitchfork and only three stars from Rolling Stone. Stereogum named it Album of the Week, and yet Tom Breihan felt it necessary to preface that review with two introductory paragraphs that included the following disclaimer:
If it seems like I’m writing this piece as a preemptive defense, that’s exactly what’s happening. It’s because I’ve seen what happens in the comments section everytime someone at Stereogum says something nice about the 1975. People act like we shitted directly into Jeff Mangum’s nostrils.
2018's A Brief History Into Online Relationships is an evolutionary leap forward for the band, but it's still The 1975 doing what The 1975 do best, in all their ridiculous, pretentious glory. Now, though, everyone loves it: 8.5 from Pitchfork and a perfect five stars from NME. It's deserved.
10. CHVRCHES - “Get Out”
Robin Murray of Clash magazine called it "a big, massive, enormous, stonking pop record, the sort of thing Chvrches have always threatened to make", and described Lauren Mayberry's vocal "a searing, terrifying beast".
I don't think I'll ever be a confident enough music writer to use the word "stonking" unironically, so I'm glad someone else did, because it's exactly right.
11. Snail Mail - “Pristine”
Subject of Aaron and Ilana's Biggest Musical Disagreement of 2018 and subject of an amazing Lindsay Zoladz profile. Both huge honors.
Same night / Same humility for those that love you / Anyways, anyways
12. Mitski - “Geyser”
There's a giant, implied "finally" in this next sentence, but here goes: 2018 was a great year for women writing about women at major music publications. Judy Berman on Mitski at NPR is one of many great examples.
Also, we saw Mitski at the Warfield, and it might have been the most enraptured crowd we saw all year. They were hanging on her every word. It's such a communal experience to be in a quiet crowd, waiting.
13. The Wonder Years - “Sister Cities”
One of my very favorite writers, Hanif Abdurraqib, wrote the bio for The Wonder Years' album, and I'm pasting the entire thing here because I think you should read it:
14. MewithoutYou - “Bethlehem, WV”
To which shepherd’s field did which angels descend?
And what’s this about eternal non-existence at the end?
There's something about MewithoutYou's songwriting that I'm struggling to put into words. I've settled on "respectful skepticism."
Frontman Aaron Weiss is obviously a deeply religious person (he and his brothers were raised in a Sufi Muslim household: their mother had converted from the Episcopal church, and their father from Judaism, so "religious" should be read as broadly as possible here), but faith in the traditional sense seems difficult for him. He interrogates these ideas. They make him uncomfortable. But, at the same time, he's not willing to give them up.
I see a lot of my own attitudes about religion in Weiss. The difference between us is that , despite his obvious doubts, he has managed to stay connected to some form of spirituality in a way that I never could (and, to be honest, don't really want to). I think it's admirable, even if that's where our two paths depart.
To which shepherd’s field did which angels descend?
Or is blessedness revealed to those of us who best pretend?
15. Petal - “Better Than You”
Kiley from Petal is just a wonderful, thoughtful person, and I hope every good thing in the world happens to her.
16. G Flip - “About You”
If there's one thing I want you to remember as you read these blurbs, it's that every single good song from 2018 was made by obscure young women in either Philadelphia or Australia. On "About You," it's Melbourne's Georgia Flipo, professional drummer turned solo act. Her skills behind the kit are evident here (the massive, "In The Air Tonight"-style drum fill toward the end really brings this one home), but it's the massive opening synth riff that deserves attention here.
17. Christine and the Queens - “Doesn’t Matter (Voleur de Soleil)”
They released this album in both English and French, and I do not speak French at all, but I'm here to tell you unequivocally that the French version is better.
18. Robyn - “Missing U”
I don't know what else there is to say about Robyn that Liz Pelly hasn't already said, or Lindsay Zoladz hasn't already said, or Jessica Hopper hasn't already said.
Here's the best recommendation I can give you for Robyn: We have tentative plans to see her three times in three different countries in 2019 (and I know Ilana would love to make it four if the timing worked out).
(Also, her very existence is a compelling argument for socialism, don't ever forget it.)
19. Pusha T - “If You Know You Know”
Look! Look at what Kanye can still do! This beat is huge. If Kanye tries even a little bit, the results are still undeniable. So now I'm sitting here getting angrier and angrier thinking about how he actually spent 2018.
20. Hatchie - “Sure”
Another fantastic new artist from (you guessed it) Australia, Hatchie released six synth-pop gems, each one as perfect as the last. We saw her in Brooklyn earlier this year, and it was interesting how different these songs sound in a live setting, with the guitars pushed to the front of the mix. I'd be really interested to see what would happen if she recorded like that.
21. Antarctigo Vespucci - “Breathless on DVD”
Love in the Time of E-Mail is awesome front to back, and it was hard to pick a favorite song. I settled on "Breathless on DVD," which wasn't a single, and I felt weirdly proud of unearthing a gem on my own. But, of course Tom Breihan at Stereogum also picked that one as his favorite, and in his Album of the Week review, describes it in exactly the way I was trying to:
My favorite song on Love In The Time Of E-Mail is “Breathless On DVD,” a song about the way we can have these frozen images of people in our pasts, the way we can think of them as unchained static images. On that song, Farren is singing about a relationship that’s been dead for almost a decade, but he’s still got an almost tactile sense of what was: “Are you still 27 and mad at me, watching Breathless on DVD in the dead of winter, 2009.” That was so long ago that people were still actually watching DVDs. (He doesn’t say whether she was watching the Godard Breathless or the Richard Gere one.) Maybe they didn’t even have the three dots on the phones then; I can’t remember. And yet it still stings. And while you almost certainly don’t have the same images stuck in your head that Farren does, maybe it’ll bring up something that still stings for you, too.
22. Thin Lips - “A Song for Those Who Miss You All The Time”
23. Camp Cope - “How to Socialize & Make Friends”
(Also, Australia, of course.)
24. Arctic Monkeys - “Four Out of Five”
It's a good thing I wasn't at the Arctic Monkeys band meeting where someone said, "Let's write a concept album about a casino on the moon, then perform it like a lounge version of David Bowie," because I'm pretty sure I would have vetoed that.
We lucked into last minute tickets to see Arctic Monkeys at Bill Graham, and I wondered how the new songs would sound next to their older, straight-ahead rock stuff. Nothing to worry about. They opened with "Four Out Of Five" and, two hours and twenty-plus songs later, this is still the tune we were humming as we walked out.
25. Pale Waves - “Noises”
I realize I don't actually know the members of Pale Waves, but we saw them perform three times this year, so it really feels like I do. Heather introduces "Noises" as "the best song on the record," and who am I to disagree.
(Note: I would, in fact, disagree. "There's a Honey" is better, but it was on the list last year.)
26. ScHoolBoy Q - “X” (f/ 2 Chainz and Saudi)
Without really realizing I was doing it, I developed a ritual where every time I went to the gym, I would queue up "X" for my walk from the locker room to the treadmill. It was my personal walk-up song. It sounds completely ridiculous as I type it out, but I'm here to tell you it works.
27. The Spook School - “Best of Intentions”
Pitchfork called this one "tangy," which wasn't a word I would have used before I heard it but ... yeah, I get that.
28. Bad Moves - “Cool Generator”
A lightweight tenderpunk gem packaged with a searing social critique:
We’ve often introduced this song as being about how the art and fashion produced by marginalized people, people of color and queer people specifically, are the source material most often appropriated by the mainstream entertainment industry. And yet, those communities themselves are the most likely to be at risk — of poverty, police violence, mental illness, et cetera.
29. MewithoutYou - “Julia (Or, ‘Holy To The LORD’ On The Bells Of Horses)”
If you want to know what kind of band MewithoutYou is, I think the best explanation I can give you is that (a) there is a single Reddit comment annotating this song that is over six thousand words long, (b) it is one of several, all of similar length, and (c) it is actually fascinating.
30. Foxing - “Slapstick”
Sci-fi legend Arthur C. Clarke had what he called his three laws. The first was that "When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong."
I have a similar rule for long-term Pitchfork writers. If a long-term Pitchfork writer hates something, he's probably wrong, and more to the point it's probably safe to ignore him. But if a long-term Pitchfork writer loves something, he's probably right and you should probably look into that.
Ian Cohen spent the majority of 2018 hyping Foxing, and I'm so glad he did, because this song is awesome.
31. Jake Shears - “Big Bushy Mustache”
I have a friend who claims to have gone to a party at Jake Shears' house in New Orleans. When I asked him what it was like, he pretty much just described the "Creep City" video. So either my friend is really lazy when it comes to making up stories, or Jake Shears is an absolute legend. I'm choosing to believe it's the second one.
32. Superorganism - “Everybody Wants to Be Famous”
According to Wikipedia, "The term superorganism is used most often to describe a social unit of eusocial animals, where division of labour is highly specialised and where individuals are not able to survive by themselves for extended periods. Ants are the best-known example of such a superorganism." I don't know if that's super-relevant here, but I'm writing these blurbs out of order and this is one of the last ones and I am very tired.
33. Superchunk - “Erasure”
boygenius is the most celebrated supergroup of 2018 for good reason, but Superchunk got Katie Crutchfield (of Waxahatchee) and Stephin Merritt (of Magnetic Fields) to sing backing vocals on this perfect power pop gem, so ... maybe let's do a whole album of that and see what happens?
34. Free Cake for Every Creature - “Around You”
The way Katie Bennett phrases the word "I" at 1:25 is probably like my favorite musical syllable of 2018.
Philadelphia, but you already knew.
35. David Byrne - “Every Day is a Miracle”
Saw David Byrne at the Fox on my birthday, and his live show is indescribable. If you've watched Stop Making Sense and felt sorry for yourself because that concert happened when you were two years old and nothing that cool happens anymore ... find a way to see David Byrne now.
My original idea was to rank "every day" songs in this space, but it's way harder than you'd think. Off the top of my head:
(1) Morrissey - "Everyday Is Like Sunday"
(2) Elvis Costello - "Everyday I Write the Book"
(3) Sly and the Family Stone - "Everyday People"
(4) Sheryl Crow - "Everyday is a Winding Road"
(5) David Byrne - "Every Day is a Miracle"
(6) Alex Lahey - "Every Day's the Weekend"
(7) Dave Matthews Band - "Everyday"
36. Twin Shadow - “Saturdays” (f/ HAIM)
Ilana and I went to 37 concerts together in 2018. I went to another 4 or 5 by myself, and only one with Ginger: a Twin Shadow live in-store at Amoeba for Record Store Day. She hated it, but she doesn't have a blog so she can't contradict me when I tell you it was actually great.
37. Courtney Barnett - “Charity”
I'm a Courtney Barnett maximalist. I know we all fell in love with her as a solo acoustic singer-songwriter, but Full Band Courtney is incredible and I hope she records a full album of straight-ahead rock songs someday.
38. Sir Babygirl - “Flirting with Her”
From the Stereogum profile:
Sir Babygirl is the pride of Father/Daughter Records, an independent San Francisco record label, which ... how in the world can you afford to run an indie label out of San Francisco?!? Father/Daughter's very existence is one of the most inspiring things I discovered this year.
39. EASYFUN - “Be Your USA”
Chiptune has been the future for like ten years now, and I'm not sure if it will ever fully break through with me, but every couple years it throws off an undeniable pop gem like this one. (or "Hey QT" back in 2015).
40. The Beths - “Future Me Hates Me”
This list is supposed to represent my favorite songs of the year, but every year there is one song that is my favorite song of right now, and it is always impossible to accurate rank that song. This year, that song is "Future Me Hates Me."
(Also, I spent the year saying that all good music is now made by obscure young women from either Philadelphia or Australia, but The Beths are from New Zealand, so maybe amend that to Philadelphia or Oceania?)
41. Weller - “Point of Personal Privilege”
I was going to call this song "minimalist," but that's not quite right, because quite a bit happens in it. It's more that it's precise. Everything happens exactly as it should, with no wasted motion.
42. Wild Pink - “Jewels Drossed in the Runoff”
I need to mention it somewhere, so might as well do it here: Tiny Engines, a small indie label from North Carolina, put out just about every good record of 2018:
That is an impressive run.
43. Bloods - “Feelings”
Another great new discovery from (surprise) Australia, with the added bonus of a great Rihanna/Nirvana mashup shirt in the video:
As I've previously made clear, parody should only be a fair use defense to copyright infringement if I personally think it's clever, so Bloods are in the clear here.
44. Restorations - “Nonbeliever”
Said you've found the trick, just be bad at your job
If you burn all the fries, they're gonna make you the king
From dead-end jobs to gentrification, no one writes about modern dislocation better than Restorations.
45. Foxing - “Nearer My God”
They released this as a single in five languages, which is a massively impressive feat. If you've ever wanted to know how to say "I'd sell my soul to be America's pool boy" in Japanese, today is your lucky day.
46. CHVRCHES - “Out of My Head”
I doubt they're waiting for my permission, but just in case they are: CHVRCHES, I am fine with you going full J-Pop on your next album.
(Singles Jukebox agrees!)
47. Drake - “Nice for What”
Of all the songs on the list, this is the only one I feel like I have to admit that I like. I need you to know that I still don't like Drake's music. I don't know why that's important to me.
48. Sigrid - “High Five”
For reasons that are still unclear to me, we made friends with a group of Norwegian women before the Sigrid show at The Independent. Among the questions they asked us:
"How do all of these people know who Sigrid is?"
"Why is she singing in English?"
"Why are there so many gay guys here?"
Listen ... if I could answer any of those questions, this would be a much better blog.
49. Maggie Rogers - “Light On”
It's easy to be cynical about pop music. Maggie Rogers looks like a HAIM sister, and she makes very HAIM-sounding music, and based on that it's easy to conclude that she was created in a lab somewhere to fill a very specific market niche. But we saw Maggie Rogers at The Fillmore this year and she comes across as entirely genuine. When she announced that she had just booked Saturday Night Live, it was the unscripted excitement of a real person, someone who's career is taking off in ways she never could have dreamed. I was sold.
50. Kero Kero Bonito - “Only Acting” (Radio Edit)
It was a big year for the concept of decay in songcraft. Both Mitski and The 1975 built deliberate glitches into the introductions of lead singles. Kero Kero Bonito took that idea at least three steps further, taking a perfectly good Britpop song and tearing it apart to the point where it’s unrecognizable as music by the end. (This is the radio edit. For more sonic destruction, check out the full version.)
51. Janelle Monae - “Make Me Feel”
I don't have time to transcribe the entire Switched On Pop episode where Lizzo just talks about how awesome this song is for an hour, but promise me you'll go listen to it as soon as you're done reading this.
(Also, this was so close to being Song of the Year on Singles Jukebox, and I doubt Janelle is aware of that, but I'm outraged on her behalf.)
52. Lizzo - “Boys”
Promise me you'll do whatever you can to see a Lizzo live show in 2019. (Like, for example, Primavera Sound 2019 in Barcelona.) You will not be disappointed.
(One of the reviewers on Singles Jukebox called this "a feature-length version of the 'Boys, boys, all type of boys/Black, White, Puerto Rican, Chinese boys' line from 'Work It' by Missy Elliott" and there's really no better possible summary.)
53. Jeff Rosenstock - “9/10”
Post- came out on January 1, 2018, and as such it feels about twenty-five years old.
There's something about this song, though, and especially this guitar solo, that feels fresh every time I hear it. I don't know if this is true or not, but this feels like a first take, and I mean that as a huge compliment.
54. Spiritualized - “A Perfect Miracle”
I don't want to sound glib in discussing a drug that I have never done, will never do, and in fact am completely terrified of but man, I bet heroin is awesome the first time you do it. When most people think of heroin music, I think their first thought is twitchy withdrawal soundtracks like "Sister Ray" by the Velvet Underground (or, if they're super-basic, "Heroin" by the Velvet Underground) but, for me, the perfect depiction of how I imagine a heroin high is "Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space," the title track from Spiritualized's 1997 classic. Spiritualized frontman Jason Pierce came to that knowledge honestly - he battled heroin addiction for years. Today, though, Pierce is clean and making music that still possesses a deep, swirling calm. It makes me incredibly happy to think that maybe he's found a way to capture that feeling without the drugs.
55. Worriers - “No More Bad News”
One of two new Worriers songs in 2018 (the other being the similarly-excellent "The Saddest Little Waffle House in Eastern Pennsylvania"), building on the success of 2017's Survival Pop.
We saw Worriers open for The Wonder Years in Berkeley, which is to say that we saw Worriers, then went next door to play trivia at a pizza place because there were two bands between Worriers and The Wonder Years, then never went back because we were winning. This isn't an insult to The Wonder Years, we're just really competitive.
56. Phoebe Bridgers - “Christmas Song”
So many fascinating things about this song.
One, everything Phoebe Bridgers touches turns to gold.
Two, by my rankings this is already the second best Christmas song of all time (recent controversy aside, "Fairytale of New York" is still untouchable).
Three, this is a cover of a band called McCarthy Trenching. According to Bridgers, "[t]hey named the band after the trenching company owned by Dan’s uncle so they could sell those t-shirts instead of having to make their own." That is genius.
Four, Jackson Browne sings backing vocals on this. After Browne heard this song for the first time, he paid $50 for the album on Bandcamp, left a nice note, signed it "Jackson Browne" ... and everyone in the band thought it was a prank.
57. Illuminati Hotties - “Cuff”
I know this list isn't Sarah Tudzin's demo tape, but I'm including "Cuff" here because I want to highlight Illuminati Hotties' versatility. This spot could have gone to "Paying Off The Happiness" or "Shape Of My Hands," but those songs are at least in the same vein as "(You're Better) Than Ever." "Cuff," though, is a different beast entirely. As Stereogum described it, it "simmers and wallows, and then bursts into flame. It begins woozy and slow, an extended ambient intro pinging and popping into life. [...] Whatever was bubbling underneath suddenly bursts forth in a tower of noise that sounds like an impenetrable wall."
Still tenderpunk, though.
58. The Essex Green - “Sloane Ranger”
Elephant Six revival! "Slone Ranger" gets the nod over "Don't Leave It In Our Hands," which is also great.
59. The Carters - “APESHIT”
Let's all take a second to pay tribute to the hottest music take of all time, which turned fifteen this year:
60. Alien Boy - “Somewhere Without Me”
Self-described "Loud gay band from Portland" make loud gay homage to The Stone Roses, which ... yeah, that checks all the boxes for me.
61. Hatchie - “Sleep”
We saw Hatchie open for Snail Mail and Alvvays, which was great, but next year she's opening for Jake Shears and Kylie Minogue, which is one of those weird dream concerts where you wake up thinking "no, that can't be right, that would never happen."
62. Snail Mail - “Heat Wave”
When we saw Snail Mail play Swedish American Hall earlier this year, frontwoman Lindsey Jordan was also playing bass in the opening band, Bonny Doon. Lindsey Jordan is not in Bonny Doon, she was just sitting in on bass. That is the kind of random cool thing that keeps me going to shows.
63. Brian Fallon - “My Name Is The Night (Color Me Black)”
Brian Fallon is a dad now. I know it's unfair to expect rock stars to remain rock stars forever, but, come on man, does your Rolling Stone interview have to start like this:
If, instead of a parenting manual, you'd rather read thousands of words about Gaslight Anthem, I recommend this incredible oral history from The Ringer. I love it because it was written by Robert Mays, who is a football writer. I think this might be the only time he's ever written about music for them. This was just really important to him, so he did it. As someone in the process of writing more than ten thousand words that literally dozens of people will ever read, I get it, man.
64. Dragon Inn 3 - “Backstabber”
Side project of the guys from Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, so if we're ranking Synth-Pop Side Projects of Influential Late-00's Indie Bands (and it's amazing that we can do this), Dragon Inn 3 slots in behind Discovery (featuring members of Vampire Weekend and Ra Ra Riot) but ahead of POP ETC (the late-career rebrand of Morning Benders). Do I want more bands to do this? Of course.
65. Camila Cabello - “Inside Out”
I was in college during the Wild West days of music piracy, and there was truly no limit to the scams and misinformation on Napster (or SoulSeek, or AudioGalaxy, or LimeWire, or KaZaa ...) One time, I downloaded what I thought was an advance copy of No Doubt's Rock Steady. We had a copy of the track list, and the song lengths matched, which was a helpful trick for checking authenticity. I listened to it a couple times, thought it was pretty good, if repetitive.
It turns out that someone had taken the thirty-second advance snippets of every song and just repeated them over and over until it matched the official track length. And even then, I thought "Underneath It All" sounded pretty good!
Anyway, "Inside Out" is basically that. If you listen to the first thirty seconds, you've heard the entire song, and yet I still really like it.
66. Ex-Void - “Boyfriend”
Great song in its own right (somehow it's two minutes long but still includes a minute-long instrumental intro), but I'm most interested in the fact that the guy who wrote it described it as "kind of a companion song to one I wrote called 'My Baby Is A Communist,' which has been vetoed from release by the group."
(Also the best under-your-breath "fuck it" ad-lib of 2018.)
67. St. Vincent - “Fast Slow Disco”
It's like catching lightning in a bottle to write even one good song, and St. Vincent has just casually rewritten this song three times now and each version is its own, unique great song. Seems unfair.
68. Robyn - “Honey”
I hope you heard one song this year that made you feel the way Jia Tolentino felt about "Honey":
When “Honey,” the title track from Robyn’s long-awaited new album, was released, at the end of September, I found myself taking hour-long walks around Brooklyn at midnight just so that I could listen to it over and over. On weeknights, I’d come home exhausted and put “Honey” on in the shower, and then the inside of my body would flood with confetti and warmth and electricity, and I’d stay up until three in the morning.
69. Silk City - “Electricity” (f/ Dua Lipa)
I think I would have bet against Dua Lipa ever having another hit, and I'm happy to be wrong.
70. The Voidz - “Leave It In My Dreams”
I really enjoyed this video explaining why the original iPod was the perfect music device and, when I think of my personal iPod memories, I immediately think of The Strokes, walking to class in sub-zero weather listening to Room on Fire (weirdly it's Room on Fire that immediately comes to mind, even though I agree with every single critic in the world that it's not nearly as good as Is This It). Now, fifteen years later, Julian is back with a new band and a very Strokes-y lead single, and I listen to it mostly on my phone, which is a device that pretty much only exists to give me instantaneous, 24/7 access to bad news.
71. Muncie Girls - “Picture of Health”
72. Ariana Grande - “No Tears Left to Cry”
If you want to read a great Ariana profile, I recommend Fader.
If you want a completely pointless take on this song, here's mine:
In 2016, a Max Martin production credit on an Ariana Grande single was a huge win for Ariana Grande.
In 2018, a Max Martin production credit on an Ariana Grande single is a huge win for Max Martin.
73. The Hold Steady - “Confusion in the Marketplace”
Every new Hold Steady song comes with a hint of novelty now ("What if THS had horns?" "What if THS had surf-pop harmonies?"), but let's be honest, I have asked myself those questions, and I'm happy to hear them answered.
74. Soccer Mommy - “Cool”
Jenn Pelly's Pitchfork review is an excellent introduction to Sophie Allison's world, but I'm here to talk about the fact that the first album Allison ever owned was Avril Lavigne's Under My Skin. First of all, that makes me feel very, very old. Second of all, though, I am legitimately, unironically excited for more new artists with an overt Avril influence. Bring it on.
75. Jeremy Messersmith - “Purple Hearts”
Can't say I'm generally a fan of songs that the artist himself describes as "a generous layer of 1960s orchestral schmaltz," but for whatever reason I'll make an exception for this one.
76. The Coup - “Whatthegirlmuthafuckinwannado” (f/ Janelle Monae)
I don't see that many movies, but Sorry to Bother You was far and away my favorite of 2018 (and one of my favorites of all time). Boots Riley wrote the screenplay, directed, and still had time to put together a killer soundtrack. The mellow funk and handclaps on this one harken back to the best of 2001's Party Music (specifically "Heven Tonite").
77. Okkervil River - “Famous Tracheotomies”
This song takes awhile. It starts out small, and it's weird that Will Sheff is singing about tracheotomies. I assumed it was going to be a metaphor for something but no, it's just descriptions of famous tracheotomies, first Will's own, then Gary Coleman, Mary Wells, Dylan Thomas. The backing track continues to build, adding layer after layer of vocals, but ... why are we doing this? Then Ray Davies, sure, the guy from the Kinks. Talking about nurses wheeling him out onto the balcony to watch the sunset, that's nice.
Waterloo lit up for one sick kid
And, at twenty-three, he recorded a song about it
And then it snaps into focus ... that song was "Waterloo Sunset," one of the greatest songs of all time. And then, at the exact second you have that realization, the band launches into the riff from "Waterloo Sunset" and it feels like you caused it to happen with your mind.
Anyway, your mileage may vary, but this song is as close to telepathy as I came in 2018.
78. Anderson .Paak - “Til Its Over”
It makes me itchy all over to say that the best thing about a particular song is its placement in a high-concept Apple ad, but ... the best thing about this song is its placement in a high-concept Apple ad. Capitalism is still a death cult. You can't just win me over with Spike Jonze weirdness.
79. Hurry - “Jamie”
First heard about this one via Gold Flake Paint, a great blog that actually pivoted to being a real, printed-on-paper magazine earlier this year, which ... I did not see that one coming.
Philadelphia, like everything else.
80. Poppy - “Time Is Up” (f/ Diplo)
In a year when every artist wanted to be a robot from the future, no one did it better than ... well, Janelle Monae. But, apart from her, no one did it better than Poppy. Like Idolator, I am also here for an "apocalyptic electropop anthem about the end of the human race."
81. Kim Petras - “Heart to Break”
I do not understand Kim Petras at all. I don't understand how she can be one of the most visible trans people in the world and yet remain entirely apolitical. I don't understand how she (or anyone) can continue to work with Dr. Luke. And I don't understand why she (or anyone) would want to make an entire Halloween-themed album.
But, on the other hand, she has a bunch of undeniable pop singles. I do understand that.
82. Childish Gambino - “This Is America”
It gives me hope that a song this weird could debut at #1 on the Billboard charts. My prediction is that this is going to be Song of the Year on a lot of influential lists, and I'm fine with that.
83. Antarctigo Vespucci - “White Noise”
Trying not to crib too much from @SMALLALBUMS here but yes, this is a perfectly accurate review of this song:
84. Now, Now - “AZ”
By my count, the fifth Minnesotans on this list: Prince, Lizzo, The Hold Steady, Jeremy Messersmith. Just holding out for that Soul Asylum reunion ...
85. Joyce Manor - “Million Dollars to Kill Me”
I would read an entire book of bands explaining how they came up with their album titles and what other possibilities they considered. From Ian Cohen's exhaustive Joyce Manor feature for Stereogum:
86. Troye Sivan - “My My My!”
Troye Sivan is on his way to being a huge star, and he probably doesn't need any advice from me but Troye, buddy ... I saw your show at Masonic. It was good! You had that stripped-down, acoustic ballad section in the middle, like a lot of artists do. But ... was it really necessary to bring out an entire living room set and sit down on a sofa while you sang those songs? Because I'll be honest ... it just made me jealous. I was standing, smashed up against like five different sweaty dudes, and all I could think was "yeah, relaxing on a sofa sounds pretty good right now." That is not what you want at your live shows.
87. Carly Rae Jepsen - “Party for One”
Look, I don't believe in The Secret, or vision boards, or the power of positive thinking, or any of that, but as soon as CRJ was announced for Outside Lands, Ilana and I just started telling everyone we knew that of course she was going to play an OSL Night Show at The Independent and then it happened, so it turns out that we do have the power to bend the world to our will, but only for the most inconsequential things imaginable.
88. Jade Bird - “Lottery”
Started doing some quick research to figure out why she named herself Jade Bird and it turns out that Jade Bird is her actual name.
89. Let’s Eat Grandma - “It’s Not Just Me”
Fun song from two super-talented British teenagers but, after listening to it dozens of times, I still get hung up on the reference to "peanut bagels." Is that ... is that a thing? I don't think that's a thing.
90. Wet - “You’re Not Wrong”
The best Amy Winehouse song in quite some time. If you Google it, the first three search hits describe it as "jovial," "jaunty," and "smoky," which ... I haven't seen the Amy Winehouse documentary, but that sounds about right.
91. SOPHIE - “Immaterial”
A friend of mine went to a music festival in France this summer. She was there for Yelle, but got there early for Sophie. It was a very polite crowd, and after every song they would yell, "Merci, Sophie! Merci!" So now that's all I can think about when I hear a SOPHIE song. I do not have any deep, original thoughts about how she is the future of music.
92. Trust Fund - “Carson McCullers”
So twee it makes your teeth hurt, which means I love it and a lot of you probably won't.
93. Super American - “Hands Down Olivia”
Household debate about whether this sounds more like "Teenage Dirtbag" or "Flavor of the Weak," but either way I'm excited that we're embracing nostalgia for a very specific sub-genre of early-00s nerd-punk.
94. Terror Jr - “Heaven Wasn’t Made For Me”
Pascal's Wager has two sides:
Either God exists or he doesn't. If he does exist, you should believe in him so you can go to heaven. If he doesn't exist, you should believe in him anyway, because what's the downside.
There's a third option, though, which is that God does exist, but he is a fundamentally evil being who must be opposed, even if God is all-powerful and any opposition will ultimately be futile.
Despite growing up in a deeply religious household, I had never considered this as a possibility until recently. Terror Jr, a somewhat novelty pop group with ties to Kylie Jenner (to the point where she had to go on Instagram and deny that she was the lead singer) apparently figured this out immediately and wrote a compelling song about it.
95. Spielbergs - “Distant Star”
Winners of 2018's "Japandroids of the Year" Award. Past winners include:
2013: So So Glos
2017: White Reaper (surprising win over Japandroids themselves)
96. World’s Greatest Dad - “A Song for Mogis”
Tough break for World's Greatest Dad, as normally the competition for "Best Song About A Dog" isn't as fierce as it was in 2018. Even if we omit songs about metaphorical dogs (like Soccer Mommy's "Your Dog") and stick to songs about actual dogs, who else is in the all-time top five? "Sometimes I Don't Mind" by The Suicide Machines for sure, probably "Martha My Dear" by The Beatles, and then ... "What I Got" by Sublime?
97. Barely March - “Nervous As I’ll Ever Be”
As he explains on his Bandcamp page, "This album was made mostly over a roughly 2 week period in the winter of 2018, using my mom's laptop." Which, like, it feels like it has taken me longer than that to write these blurbs.
98. The Dirty Nil - “Bathed in Light”
One of the many great bands who opened for the Hold Steady this year, including Bad Moves, Weakened Friends, Jeff Rosenstock, Pkew Pkew Pkew, Japandroids, Ted Leo, and probably others I'm forgetting. Nice work by Craig and the guys lining up interesting bills from start to finish.
I do have questions about the lyrics to this one, specifically the second verse where they say:
I tell you what
Let's make a deal
If I take the gas then you'll take the wheel
And I'll put on the second side of Hunky Dory
And I'll put on the second side of Hunky Dory
The first song on the second side of Hunky Dory is "Fill Your Heart," which is really not the ideal soundtrack for trick driving, but maybe they know something I don't.
99. Mallrat - “Groceries”
Grace Shaw, stage name Mallrat, is twenty years old. She is from Australia, because of course she is. She took her name from an Orwells song that came out in 2012, and not the Kevin Smith movie, which came out three years before she was born. I saw her open for Maggie Rogers at the Fillmore, and she's a classic example of the horseshoe theory where someone can be so deeply, fundamentally uncool that she becomes cooler than you could ever hope to be.
100. Sidney Gish - “Sophisticated Space”
Sidney Gish is twenty-one years old. When I saw her open for Petal and Camp Cope at Rickshaw Stop, it was her first time in California. Not her first time touring in California ... her first time in California. She was alone on stage, setting up an intricate series of loops for each of her fragile, whimsical songs. I would bet she doesn't want a thirty-seven year old dude with a blog to call her "adorable," but ... she was adorable. Every song on No Dogs Allowed is interesting in its own way, and her set, like so many others I saw in 2018, gave me hope, comfort in knowing that so many talented and empathetic people are out there making new music, staving off hopelessness, looking to the future. If we get more of that in 2019, it might be enough.