The 50 Best Songs of 2018

2018, you were something. These are the songs that got us through the year.

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30. Flasher, “Skim Milk”
Picking a standout track from the stellar debut from D.C. trio Flasher is a steep task, but “Skim Milk” is a solid representation of the band’s strengths on Constant Image. Contrary to what you might think, the song doesn’t foreshadow an empty future (“No future / No fate”). It reminds us that even fantasizing about the future is a right only afforded by those who aren’t living hand to mouth, so why not try to transcend the late capitalist, cog-in-the-machine life that’s laid out for you? The song’s bridge has a rapturous vocal interplay (“As though / But yet / And so”) while the rest of the track is marked by spring-loaded drums and mischievous guitar riffs. —Lizzie Manno

Read Paste’s list of 15 Washington D.C. Bands You Need To Know in 2018

29. Lonnie Holley, “I Woke Up in a Fucked-Up America”
It’s a pretty dire commentary on Our American Moment to realize that Lonnie Holley was born in Jim Crow-era Alabama and yet waited until 2018 to record a song called “I Woke Up in a Fucked-Up America.” Holley, a 68-year-old black man who has spent much of his creative career building sculptures from junkyard debris (his work has been exhibited in places like The Met), sings songs, largely improvised, with the same dreamlike, free-associate energy that animates his visual art. On “Fucked-Up America,” his voice is a disturbed rumble as he surveys a rotten country full of walls, greed and “all the vampires.” Holley has expanded his backing group with avant-garde multi-instrumentalists like Shahzad Ismaily, and here Holley’s musical backing is a discordant, warped symphony of blown-out synths and piano—aural representative of a country crumbling into chaos. —Zach Schonfeld

28. Arctic Monkeys, “The Ultracheese”
Arctic Monkeys sure know how to end an album. Some of their best songs to date—“A Certain Romance,” “505,” and “That’s Where You’re Wrong”—all come at the tail end of Side B, a testament to Alex Turner & co.’s brilliant songwriting and sequencing. It’s time to add another to that esteemed list, the smooth, sleazy, and heartfelt “The Ultracheese,” a track that sees Turner turn in perhaps the best vocal take of his career. Though Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is a tough listen at first, getting to “The Ultracheese,” the record’s crown jewel, is the ultimate prize, a sing-along for the ages (with no chorus or refrain, no less) that pulls the complex and musically peculiar album together in astonishing fashion. Chock full of purposely self-deprecating, (ultra)cheesy lyrics—alongside some of Turner’s most profound to date—he ends on a simple yet endearing line that pulls back the curtain on the twists and turns of the bizarre sci-fi influenced concept album, “But I haven’t stopped loving you once,” before giving way to a closing howl that’s sure to be a fan favorite live moment for years to come. —Steven Edelstone

Read Paste’s 2013 interview with Arctic Monkeys

27. Kacey Musgraves, “Lonely Weekend”
The latest album from Kacey Musgraves is a throwback, but it’s one that looks to a time in the ’70s when country artists were, as they are now, trying to keep up with the sounds of the pop charts. And no song from Golden Hour represents that better than this little gem, a tune that skirts the edge of disco schmaltz without spilling over into a jumble of sequins and overwrought production. It holds steady, riding a perfect groove and even more perfect vocal hook that celebrates and bemoans those days when you’re on your own with not a lot to do. —Robert Ham

Read Paste’s 2015 interview with Kacey Musgraves

26. The Beths, “Future Me Hates Me”
Elizabeth Stokes named her band after herself, or, rather, her nickname. So it should come as no surprise, then, that the debut album from New Zealand-based rockers The Beths, Future Me Hates Me, is sharply self-aware. One of those self-assured (or, rather, self-doubting) rock tunes is the toe-tap-inducing examination of overthinking, “Future Me Hates Me.” “Sometimes I think I’m doing fine / I think I’m pretty smart,” Stokes sings on the title track before, later, completing the thought: “Oh then the walls become thin / And somebody gets in / I’m defenseless.” “Future Hates Me,” like many of the songs on its namesake record, is nothing short of an indie rock anthem. —Ellen Johnson

25. Tune-Yards, “Colonizer”
2018 was the year of the “white voice.” Moviegoers will recognize the phrase from Boots Riley’s afro-surrealist hit Sorry to Bother You, in which a black telemarketer finds success employing a cartoonishly caucasian-sounding voice when calling customers. Tune-Yards (who scored that film) explored a similar concept six months earlier on “Colonizer,” a surprising and raucously arranged anthem of self-interrogation. Like much of its surrounding album, the song is an examination of white privilege, with Merrill Garbus grappling with the “white woman’s voice” she uses while telling “stories of travels with African men.” It’s not satire, or at least not the outward-facing kind. “A lot of people assume I’m commenting on another white woman or that it’s ironic or sarcastic, but it’s actually just true,” Garbus told me in January. Strangely, it does not sound like a graduate dissertation. It sounds like a thrilling industrial-funk cacophony. —Zach Schonfeld

Listen to Tune-Yards’ “Colonizer” on Spotify

Read Paste’s 2015 interview with Merrill Garbus

24. Camp Cope, “The Opener”
Melbourne-based trio Camp Cope’s biting punk track “The Opener,” from their 2018 album How to Socialise & Make Friends, starts like a typical breakup song: “Tell me you never wanna see me again / And then keep showing up at my house.” But as the track progresses, it morphs into an intense, overt call for gender equality in the music industry. Lead vocalist Georgia “Maq” McDonald has a guttural reaction to the sexism her band has faced as she yells, as loud as she can, “Yeah, tell me again how there just aren’t that many girls in the music scene.” —Ellen Johnson

23. Amen Dunes, “Miki Dora”
Named after the famous ‘60s California surfer of the same name, Amen Dunes’ “Miki Dora” is slinky and level-headed with Damon McMahon’s telltale drawl. McMahon’s vocals emit gristly wisdom and spry energy, and this track, like many others on his latest album Freedom, pour with a profound level of spirituality. He sings, “Pride destroyed me man / Til it took a hold of me / I feel it when I cry / I can feel it in my dreams,” and you can’t help but picture him sitting cross-legged on the peak of a mountain, shelling out cryptic advice from past life experiences. —Lizzie Manno

Read Paste’s review of Amen Dunes’ Freedom

22. Courtney Barnett, “Nameless, Faceless”
Probably one of the most talked-about #MeToo anthems this year, Courtney Barnett’s “Nameless, Faceless” vocalizes so well every woman’s fear: “I wanna walk through the park in the dark,” she sings, then citing a tactic many of us have, unfortunately, utilized before: “I hold my keys / Between my fingers.” She also quotes The Handmaid’s Tale author Margaret Atwood in her three-minute diss track of both a nasty internet troll and the patriarchy: “Men are scared that women will laugh at them / Women are scared that men will kill them.” —Ellen Johnson

Watch Courtney Barnett play for Paste at South by Southwest circa 2015

21. Hop Along, “Prior Things”
“Prior Things” is the closer on Hop Along’s Bark Your Head Off, Dog, and it features a spontaneous, slightly off-kilter wash of violins (think Alex G’s “Poison Root”) as Frances Quinlan’s exquisite lead vocals sing of escaping the memories of past relationships (“You were on vacation / Vacation means leave / Means obliterate all prior things”). By the end, Quinlan comes to a sobering yet enlivening realization about past failed romance (“I’m still soft / I’m still in my prime / I’m still soft / It’s still my time”). —Lizzie Manno

Read Paste’s 2015 interview with Hop Along

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