Man at His Best

The Best Songs of 2018 (So Far)

It's never too early to find good music.

BY Matt Miller | Apr 3, 2018 | Music

Congratulations, you've already taken the first step toward being ahead of the curve this year when it comes to new music. If you want to know the best new songs of 2018 before the year-end lists (or before all your friends are listening to them), then you've come to the right place. If you want to be the person saying, "Have you heard [insert good song here]?" then take a look at this ongoing list of our best songs of 2018. We'll be updating this all year, so keep checking back.


The proper first single for her upcoming Matador debut, Snail Mail's “Pristine” is much as intimate and wise as her early bedroom recordings but with the polish that a record label can provide. The band’s 18-year-old frontwoman Lindsey Jordan has been called a music prodigy. And on “Pristine,” she shows her masterful grasp of composition, crafting a charming and unforgettable ode to teen frustration and angst. It’s wise beyond its years both in terms of self-aware analysis and song construction.


While best known for her thoughtful slacker rock, Courtney Barnett often switches it up with a few more somber tracks on each album. She’s slowed down on highlights like “Anonymous Club” and “Depreston,” but “Need a Little Time” represents her most fully realized part of her catalog. Having evolved as one of our most promising new songwriters, “Need a Little Time” proves to be a mature and dynamic step for Barnett, one that will likely be the stepping point for her more mainstream success.


Paak had a breakout year in 2016 with his sophomore album, Malibu. It was a January release strong enough to stay on everyone’s minds through the next 12 months, and it landed near the top of every year-end list and earned him his first two Grammy nominations for Best New Artist and Best Urban Contemporary Album. He didn’t stop there, either, appearing on more than a dozen tracks since and releasing an album with his side-project NxWorries. Now, he returns with his first solo track since Malibu. “Til It’s Over” is a relaxed, trippy jam that contemplates mortality and originality. And while I hate to say that it debuted on an Apple commercial, the stunning video above was directed by Spike Jonze and stars FKA Twigs


For all his throwback vibes, Leon Bridges is anything but a nostalgia act. He’s rooted in the classics, but he’s capable of transporting that to present day. He reminds us of the R&B, jazz, and blues greats, while establishing himself as a modern voice—one who's not only in touch with his past, but listening to what’s happening right now. “Bad Bad News” is a lounge, big band number, with shouts, smooth guitar solos, and a message that if you have style and grace you can get through anything. That must mean Bridges is invincible.


If you played someone “High Horse,” it might take a few guesses before they identified it as a country song. That four-to-the-floor beat with the funky, Nile Rodgers guitar, that popping bass—none of these are elements of country that should be on a hit from one of the genre’s brightest stars. But the elements are all there: the middle-American lyrical imagery and references, the light slide guitar solo, the banjo, the background acoustic strings. It’s like a winking scrambling of genres that creates a sound entirely Musgraves’ own. Some often compare her to Taylor Swift as a country artist with major crossover potential. But less a brand than her uber-famous counterpart, Musgraves has more in common with the likes of Sturgill Simpson or Chris Stapleton, who are crossing over based on musical ability alone.


Janelle Monae can do anything she wants. She can act in a Best Picture-winning film. She can be a pop star. She can make Afrofuturist funk. She can make elastic electro '80s R&B like "Make Me Feel"—a song that embraces all the sexual energy of Prince that you can almost feel those mouth noises mixed into to the beat.


How many times have we heard this phrase over the last year? But certainly no song has summed up this specific time more succinctly—and without mentioning a certain world leader's name—better than Superchunk. The anthemic title track from the new album is a cathartic collective observation on the state in which we currently find ourselves: "To see the rot in no disguise / Oh what a time to be alive / The scum, the shame, the fucking lies."


There's a perfect balance at play on SOB X RBE tracks. Yhung T.O.'s seductive club choruses are the perfect packaging for forceful, dangerous verses. Take "Lifestyle" for example, where Yhung T.O. sings in the chorus, "I remember late nights all alone / I remember long talks with my cousin through her phone / RIP all of my niggas dead and gone / Give it all to bring you back and to bring my niggas home." It's followed by an opening verse from Slimmy B where he raps about people getting murdered at stoplights.


"What is your Rosebud, you've got to know," asks the chorus of U.S. Girls' "Rosebud." It may be a reference to Orson Welles's Citizen Kane, in which a sled named "Rosebud" represented the abandoned innocence and happiness of Charles Foster Kane. This song itself has a haunting vocal aspect to it, like half-forgotten memories are worming their way into your subconscious.


In one of his few interviews, Toronto producer/singer MorMor told Pigeons and Planes that in school, "I kept searching for kids like me, but it never happened. In the end it gave me some good perspective." You can hear that solitude, that self-searching in his debut song, "Heaven's Only Wishful."


I’ll be the first to admit that JPEGMAFIA might not be for everyone. He embodies the true punk aesthetic of SoundCloud hip-hop. He’s artistically hyperactive—he’s already released three albums this year of frenetic lo-fi rap. These albums have songs like “I Cannot Fucking Wait Until Morrissey Dies” and “Libtard Anthem.” But beneath that abrasive provocateur is a compelling lyricist, and when he tones it down a bit, like on "Macaulay Culkin," that writing truly shines. Over a lost, melancholy guitar, he raps Orange is the New Black references and admits, “I play my albums front to back and make it feel important.”


Nearly three years ago, Vulture asked the question: “Is This the Best Voice in Rock Music Today?” in regards to Philadelphia rock act Hop Along. The answer then was yes—and it's a title that Hop Along’s Frances Quinlan still holds. It’s at once baffling and nimble, switching between a twangy yodel, a scratchy shriek, a natural coo, and an intimate whisper. This is a sound that absolutely not be created with any vocal effect or studio magic. Just watch a video, or better yet see Hop Along live to really believe what Quinlan can do. On the band’s latest track, it seems that producers have finally found the perfect way to capture her voice on record. Every nuance can be heard amid the cleanest sound Hop Along has had yet, and with some extra touches like layered vocal tracks and a touching string outro, it’s a song that hits all the emotions that Quinlan can reach in one breath.


It’s truly amazing to see a pop star emerge from relatively humble beginnings independent from the machine. That’s how Troye Sivan came into 2018: an openly gay 22-year-old Australian singer who had already built a dedicated online following through LGBTQ communities before even releasing his first single. “My My My!” is the first single from his upcoming sophomore album, which hints at what could be his first mainstream success. It’s an ‘80s-inspired pop exclamation full of life and synths. This is a refreshingly positive and simple message, and it’s a song that kicked off this music year on an all-around high. Things are gonna be good. Just keep this track on repeat.


Migos didn’t hold anything back releasing Culture II on the anniversary of their groundbreaking major label debut. It’s a massive dump of 24 songs, which indicates that they could have maybe used some discretion while pairing down that final album. That’s precisely why there are a number of forgettable tracks, along with some truly great ones. Obvious standouts are the Pharrell-produced "Stir Fry" (which technically came out last year, so we can’t include it here) and “Made Men.” On the latter, the beat is a glittering and classy late-night boast. Taking the phrase from classic American mafia, Takeoff casually brags in his first verse, “Not Toby, but we slave for it / No Kunta Kinte, but we slave for it / I waited some days for it” in a brilliant Roots reference.


Since the mid-2010s, Colombian-American singer Kali Uchis has been a familiar voice alongside the likes of Tyler, the Creator, Snoop Dogg, Miguel, and Snoop Dogg. Though so far she only has a lengthy nine-track EP to her name, she began 2018 with "After the Storm," which hopefully is an indication of more Uchis tracks to come this year. It’s a silky R&B jam, assisted by Tyler, the Creator and Bootsy Collins. If there is a storm, hopefully we can emerge like this song—calm, wise, and optimistic.


Source: Esquire US