It seems such a cliche to write an end of year list, but if I’m honest I’ve always wanted to do one. The thing is that I’ve always wanted lots of people to be interested in it as well, which is a problem I haven’t really solved yet, but I’ve never let lack of readers bother me before so I may as well keep going now. I suspect that if you’ve been reading this at all this year (and there are a few hardy souls, I’ve seen the evidence with my own eyes), little of this will be a genuine surprise as I tend not to stray outside my comfort zone too much. As such, I make no great claims about these records for the most part, they’re just generally my favourites from the ones I could be bothered to listen to. There are a few exceptions, some songs that I think are probably amongst the best released this year, but I’ll leave it to the readers to try and figure out what they are. So, my twenty favourite songs of 2018! I’m not going to rank them, it’s too much pressure…
Bas Jan – Wilderness
Following last year’s excellent “No Sign” single, Serafina Steer’s shape-shifting post-punk project delivered again with this urgent ode to getting out on the road. It owes something to early Raincoats but has a feel all of its own, and the idiosyncratic worldview here is all Serafina’s.
The Beths – You Wouldn’t Like Me
My favourite song on the “Future Me Hates Me’ LP seems to change constantly, but this piece of uncomfortable self confession set to a fierce power pop riff will do just fine as today’s choice. Any one of half a dozen equally good tunes could easily take its place tomorrow.
Birdie – Tomorrow/Bowling Green
A double A-sided 7” rather than a song, but I can’t separate these two in my mind and I don’t want to use up two spots either (I’ve made a rule for myself of one song per artist that I’m using this to get around). Few bands are making their best records after 20 years, let alone 20 years away, but Birdie’s gentle sixties pop is at its finest on this masterpiece of a single.
The Breeders – All Nerve
“All Nerve” the album wasn’t the unqualified triumph that I hoped it would be, there was too much filler and too little energy for that. But the title track was a glorious high point, the light, playful verse lifting off into the most blistering of choruses on a track that easily holds its own amongst their best work. Kim’s voice is at its most terrifying as she howls “I will run you down!”, you certainly wouldn’t put it past her.
Anna Burch – Tea Soaked Letter
Another cheat, this was outside the time limit by a few days, but I’ll make a further exception (my rules!). The first single from ‘Quit The Curse’ was snappy, vulnerable and impassioned, a fine piece of guitar pop that was unashamed to wear its heart on its sleeve.
Comet Gain – I Was More Of A Mess Then
Comet Gain records tend to be games of two halves these days. ‘If Not Tomorrow’ provides this 7” with its dose of autumnal melancholy, leaving “I Was More Of A Mess Then” as the designated garage pop masterpiece. Another fine record from a band who never disappoint.
Frankie Cosmos – Jesse
There was stiff competition on the rest of the ‘Vessel’ LP, but this might just be Greta Kline’s finest song yet. An anthem to introversion, the joy with which she sings ‘oh to be / a part of the scenery’ is the key to much of her shy charm. Her extraordinary talent provides the rest.
The Goon Sax – Strange Light
The apex of “We’re Not Talking”, Riley Jones’ extraordinary moment in the spotlight would have been one of the best songs of any year. This tale of a first love break up was almost unbearably vulnerable in its execution, but perfect in its simplicity.
Justus Proffit and Jay Som – Nothing’s Changed
There was something desperately melancholy about the title track of the debut EP by Melina Durterte and her new musical partner. However, the intertwining harmonies and Duterte’s studio magic managed to make their endearing, bleary-eyed slacker rock sound uplifting anyway. A song that can still warm me up on short, cold days like this.
Melody’s Echo Chamber – Breathe In Breathe Out
The return of Melody Prochet was one of the musical highlights of this year and ‘Breathe In, Breathe Out” was the moment it all came into focus. Snappy, experimental and fun, it’s been on the radio almost daily for months now and it still blows me away.
The Middle Ones – OMC
Another cheat: this was the B side of a 2013 single, but its re-recording for the new LP renders it eligible under the ever changing rules of this blog (don’t ask for a copy). A balancing act of intertwining vocals, a simple but highly effective arrangement and a heartrending expression of devotion and friendship, this was perhaps The Middle Ones at their most perfect.
The Ophelias – General Electric
“Fun always comes at a cost…” Spencer Peppet sings here, and fittingly enough ‘General Electric’s easy, rolling groove acts as a blind for an awkward tale of masochism and self doubt. One of the most deceptively tuneful singles of the year, on a closer view it’s full of nasty discords and static shocks which don’t lose their power on repeated listens.
The Orielles – Blue Suitcase (Disco Wrist)
Way back in January, The Orielles continued a stunning run of singles with their glittering play on Factory funk. Esme’s lyrics are at their most oddball here, but it’s the early eighties groove that really captures the attention. Marking a further step out of their jangly comfort zone, “Blue Suitcase” was the first truly great single of 2018.
Soccer Mommy – Your Dog
Opening with one of the most memorable lines of the year, “I don’t wanna be your fucking dog”, Sophie Allison’s exploration of getting out from under the thumb in relationships was another early highlight this year. It’s a fierce, defiant song from an artist who’s at her best when exploring the less comfortable elements of romance.
Fred Thomas – Good Times Are Gone Again
From the ominous introduction, through the unendingly pessimistic lyrics, all the way to where the guitars urgently grind and slash as it moves towards the coda, the lead single from “Aftering” is Fred Thomas at his most breathtaking. The feverish, out of place euphoria that permeates the song is really just the icing on the cake. Like everything else he released this year, this truly is unmissable.
Tigercats – Planet Thanet T.R.A.
The most unequivocally cheerful moment from the brooding “Pig City” album, “Planet Thanet”s rousing brass and communal “I can see higher!” chorus made it impossible not to sing along to on daily treks across my local village. The funny looks were worth it.
Trust Fund – Abundant
I don’t know if I’m being sentimental because there won’t be any more now, but this feels like their best single as well as their last. A perfect marriage of music and lyrics. Ellis’s elegy to a dead relationship is among his very finest songs. They will be missed and missed sorely.
U.S. Girls – Rosebud
U.S. Girls did many remarkable things on their ‘A Poem Unlimited’ LP, but perhaps the greatest trick they pulled was this most gorgeous of pop singles, reminiscent of Madonna at her shimmering best. “It’ll hurt, I promise you” coos Meg Remy at the end, but it’s a bluff; no song felt such a joy to listen to this year.
Virginia Wing – Relativity
Pulling away from the ‘sounds like Broadcast’ ghetto, Virginia Wing found their own voice this year and ‘Relativity’ was perhaps the best expression of that. A musing on the nature of time and experience set to a calming synthetic throb, it channeled Japan and managed to feel both cerebral and joyous at the same time. A record that often left me feeling a bit simple minded (though without sounding like Simple Fucking Minds).
Vital Idles – Waxes Colder
“It rings in your ears!” shouts Jessica Higgins as the guitar finally lets rip at the end and you have to say she has a point. Vital Idles were perhaps the most underrated band of this year and “Waxes Colder” was the best showcase of their fiercely intelligent lyrics and bare bones, post punk sound.
So that’s that. Much is made about the death of pop music these days but to my mind some of the greatest songs I’ve ever heard were released this year and I’ve no reason to believe that next year won’t be the same. I’ll do my favourite LPs next week and then have a think about which older records I’ve discovered and enjoyed over the last year as well. After that, I’ll carry on looking for more records that make me happy and keep writing stuff about them. There are worse things to do. Thanks for reading.