The Best Things We Heard In 2018

Illustration for article titled The Best Things We Heard In 2018

Everything King Princess Did

King Princess has exactly six real songs out and every single one of them is good as hell. “1950” is a perfect pop song that you better like or else you’re the cops, and it’s not even the best song on her debut EP. Friendship ended with Lorde; now King Princess is new best friend. - Patrick Redford


“Nobody,” by Mitski

“My god, I’m so lonely” is an atypical way to start your album’s danciest banger, but Mitski Miyawaki’s songs have always been atypical. What’s a chorus, what’s a verse, how many times are you supposed to break off into new melodies? Those are questions without answers on Be the Cowboy, her highly-acclaimed fifth album. Instead, Mitski zeroes in on the mundane melancholy of being alive in 2018; being ghosted, trying to win a breakup, and, on “Nobody”, the horribly normalized sadness of being alone.

And yet! The music is so fucking good. Before Be The Cowboy, you could be forgiven for thinking that the only dancing you would do to Mitski would be slow dancing. Hell, the last song on the record is a slow dance ballad called, appropriately, “Two Slow Dancers.” But on “Nobody,” Mitski goes disco as hell, masking her acceptance as a choice, rather than the result of being big and small, and still having no one to give her one good movie kiss. By the time the song reaches its pinnacle, with Mitski just repeating “nobody nobody nobody” some 13 times over a flourish of funky riffs, it’s gone from a diary entry to a battle cry. - Luis Paez-Pumar

“Bodys,” by Car Seat Headrest

A fun fact about me is that I’m pretty much always in a constant low-level state of hating my body, except for when I’m dancing. I’m really proud of all of the healthy choices I’ve made to manage dysphoria in the past couple of years, but even earlier, when it was really bad, music would help make it go away. I don’t claim to be a good dancer, but when the right beat hits my ears, it’s like I’m set free. I let my body move in the way it wants to move (usually up and down), and I feel at home in myself for a brief moment in time.

I saw Car Seat Headrest at a humid Brooklyn club in September and gave myself over to them entirely, staggering out of the show a hot sweaty mess whose feet could barely carry her to the subway. It was heaven, and the early song in the set that completely exploded my preconceived notions of what the show might be—aloof Williamsburg couples in their 30s watching with their arms folded—was “Bodys,” which I first heard in rerecorded form on 2018’s Twin Fantasy (Face to Face). “Bodys” is a song about breaking through the awkwardness and the limitations and the pain of our physical selves to still make a connection with someone, through dancing and then through more-than-dancing. “Don’t you realize our bodies could fall apart at any second?” Will Toledo worries in the chorus, putting a question around how dumb and arbitrary everything tangible about ourselves can feel at times. But, for once, I wasn’t thinking about that choking notion. I was pogoing and screaming my lungs out with hundreds of other unknown, confused, joyful bodies. - Lauren Theisen

MEN and The Dream

Stories about women—you know, that group that makes up 51 percent of the planet’s population—haven’t always been put front-and-center. But these two podcasts both do that.


MEN, by Scene On The Radio, is a 12-part series that tries to answer the questions of where the patriarchy came from and why it is so hard to undo. There are episodes on how the patriarchy began, how it managed to survive the Enlightenment (which said all men—except, really, it just meant some men—were created equal), and how many of America’s early feminist leaders were also racist, giving American feminism a focus on whiteness that it still struggles to overcome. But the podcast is more than just a history lesson; it also explores the #MeToo movement, gender identity, and if it is true that men are more violent than women. Wisely, MEN doesn’t strive to answer every question, because how could it? There are no easy answers, no one clear explanation, and throughout the pieces it becomes clear that patriarchy hurts men even as it, in insidious ways, empowers them. It does not deliver a magic bullet to end patriarchy, but it does leave listeners better prepared to chip away at it in our own lives.

Chipping away at the patriarchy is, in a way, exactly what the podcast The Dream managed to do this year, even if that isn’t in the tagline. Season one was an 11-part series on “multi-level marketing” companies like Amway, Mary Kay, and Herbalife and how they sure sound like pyramid schemes, but the podcast can’t say that because of decisions made by some of the most powerful people in America to protect these businesses from substantive regulation. The show tracks down how powerful MLM billionaires like the DeVos family, who used its wealth and access to the White House to protect itself while people at the bottom of their business lost money, and it’s hard to not wonder how this hasn’t been a bigger story before. It is perhaps not a coincidence that MLMs, as the show explores, often are marketed at women. - Diana Moskovitz


Boygenius Coverting The Killers and Dixie Chicks

New music is great and all, but sometimes you need the comfort that can only come from the shit you listened to somewhere roughly between middle school and sophomore year of college, when you were far less scared of feelings. I don’t know what we did to deserve boygenius in 2018, but bless them for not making me have to choose between these options.


I do not intend to take anything away from the immense songwriting capabilities of Lucy Dacus, Phoebe Bridgers, and Julien Baker by saying that the boygenius songs I play over and over are both covers: The Killers’ “Read My Mind”and Dixie Chicks’ “Cowboy Take Me Away.” I didn’t even particularly like The Killers when they were big, so it’s easy for me to prefer the transcendent harmonies of boygenius’s version while feeling a faint nostalgia for the original. “Cowboy Take Me Away,” though, meant everything to me when I was 14 and too dorky to be emo. So watching my favorite band of 2018 modernize a classic, without fucking up what made the original great, has meant a lot to me. Feeling things isn’t always so bad. - Megan Greenwell


I’m not sure if I can say the new Metric album was the best music I heard all year, but it was certainly the most comforting. Art Of Doubt is the band’s seventh full-length album, and it sounds like exactly what it is: a solid Metric album.


That’s no small feat given how long this band has been making music, and I find something incredibly comforting in a band that can just go on churning out solid songs and albums year after year. Pick any Metric song from 2003 or 2006 or 2018 and you’re guaranteed to get a perfectly measured dose of poppy synth-rock. Nothing more, nothing less.

Maybe you’re the type who likes to see musicians take daring creative leaps forward with every album cycle. That can lead to some exciting places, but it can also lead to whatever the fuck this is. The world needs its share of artists that can always be relied upon to just be exactly who they are. - Tom Ley


“Let It Die,” by Feist

I did not go through any messy breakups in 2018. But I will be damned if I let that stop me from enjoying Feist’s 2004 song “Let It Die,” the greatest breakup song of all time.


All songwriting is an exercise in crafting fiction. The most effective songs are not the ones that reflect the things you feel inside, but the ones that get you to buy fully into their world. I will cry at “Casimir Pulaski Day” despite never having been in love with someone dying of cancer. I will jam to “Juicy” despite not having experienced the same rags-to-riches journey that Biggie did. I can appreciate “thank u, next” despite never having dated Pete Davidson. Similarly, “Let It Die” makes me feel like I am casting off the great, turgid weight of a dead relationship.

At the core of the greatness of this song is its deceptively simple lyrics, epitomized in the centerpiece phrase “the saddest part of a broken heart / isn’t the ending so much as the start” and imbued with spades of life by Leslie Feist’s trademark croon. As someone who occasionally writes songs to varying degrees of success, these lyrics fucking blow my mind because of how dumb they look when you write them down. If I wrote something as superficially hokey as “we don’t see eye to eye / or hear ear to ear,” you better believe it would be staying in my voice memos where it belongs. Yet Feist doesn’t just redeem these lyrics with her vocal performance, she brings out the genius that was hiding inside them all along. Lyrics don’t always have to be florid masterpieces of meter and metaphor. Sometimes they just need to make you shake your head and say, “Ain’t that the truth.”


Apart from the lyrics, every other production choice on this song is exactly the right one. The slow, swung, 1960s ballad feel. The peaceful desolation in the reverb and the minimal instrumentation. The tiny synth flourishes, the vibraphone. The way Feist’s voice floats dreamily over the long organ notes. The mournful horns that only appear at the very end of the song. The “in love” and “away, away, away” vocal stabs in the second verse, adding some much needed levity to what could easily be a straight-up downer of a track. Everything colludes to create an atmosphere that is at once of tranquil acceptance and deep lamentation, evocative of heartbreaks past and yet to come. I buy into this 110 percent.

It’s really a shame that Feist is mostly regarded as a one-hit wonder outside of her native Canada, since she has been delivering some of music’s most compelling freak-pop vocal performances for the better part of two decades. At least she can take some solace in the fact that this one song cut to the core of my being. - Anders Kapur


“Too Pure,” by Sebadoh

Best thing I heard in 2018 was “Too Pure” by Sebadoh. The song’s old as hell. It was released in 1996, and, along with pretty much everything done by any band that had Lou Barlow in it (Dinosaur Jr., the Folk Implosion), I loved it from the start. I fell for “Too Pure” all over again, and hard, while going through piles of old tube amps in the basement, a process that’s been going on for several months now and is ongoing. (I got hoarding issues for tube hifi and guitar shit. Send me what you got. Then sell it to me.) The production and soft/hard musical mix made it a fine tune to test out old gear. I listened to “Too Pure” hundreds of times on the year, and Barlow’s ode to hard drugs or whatever got me going every damn time and still gets me. I’ve been bothering friends and co-workers with YoutTube links for months, and begging them to listen. Now I’m bugging Deadspin readers. The year’s almost over, but I’m nowhere near done with “Too Pure.” God, I love this song. - Dave McKenna



The metal scene could use more fun. There have always been bands making the attempt, like Children of Bodom, who set their songs about massacres to happy, dancing keyboards, and Kvelertak, who pair death growls with upbeat music you’d put on at a house party. But it’s rare. And maybe unsurprising, in a genre whose aesthetic relies on corpse paint and lyrics about death and despair. But... it doesn’t have to be this way! Unless you are truly into burning down Norwegian churches, or are Varg Vikernes—and the odds are good on both counts that you are not—we’re all just here to have a good time, right?


Enter Ghost, out of Sweden. Through three albums, Ghost gradually built a following for its gloriously self-aware, self-parodic stage shows: Nearly every song is about how much they really like Satan; the “Nameless Ghoul” band members wear masks and robes; frontman Tobias Forge wears full corpsepaint as a kind of Satanic anti-Pope. (He’s an anti-Cardinal now, though. Each incarnation has been getting younger and moving backward through time. I think. It’s a convoluted and vague mythology that honestly doesn’t matter at all.)

Now upon the clearing-up of messy—and hilarious—internecine legal battles, and the release of fourth album Prequelle, Ghost has been revealed as basically Forge’s solo project, and fully his vision. And that vision is just downright charming: All of the trappings of black metal, presenting some of the catchiest rock music anyone is making right now. The music is rock, mind you (this is downright Top 40; this has a saxophone solo), rather than metal, but there’s enough over-the-top theatricality here to satisfy fans of both. After all, what the hell’s the point of either if not to put on a show? - Barry Petchesky



Thematically, Shame’s Songs of Praise isn’t too different from any other record that a group of young white dudes writing post-punk music would create. Angst, loneliness, and isolated bits of horniness persist from song to song. But what separates the stuff that Shame have put out into the world from your local, horrendously uncreative college band is how they deliver those messages. If the first track punches you in the face with a dark energy that kids from most punk scenes tend to have, the second one immediately drags you and your bloodied face onto the dance floor in an attempt to maintain the vibe of an already-strange night out. Just like in that scenario, you can’t help but go along with it.


The third track was where I personally became sold on the album. When the charging guitars and rushing drums of “Concrete” finally slow down, in enters the upbeat dance pop stylings of “One Rizla,” where lead singer Charlie Steen sing-talks through self-deprecating verses about the stuff that sucks about growing up in general: being broke, drowning feelings of sadness with whatever vices you can find, and constantly thinking you look like shit. It takes a feel-good sound that you might hear on a track by Arctic Monkeys or The 1975, and crushes it into a glib introduction of what the band is like on a more personal level—which feels right since it’s oldest written song on the album. It almost makes you want to go back to the beginning of the album and re-listen to the opening tracks now that you supposedly have a better understanding of who these guys are.

But, just like when talking to angsty youths in real life, or internally dealing with it yourself, the brief moment of humanity gets interrupted almost immediately. After the song ends, Steen announces, “This is how it starts” before the feet-dragging baseline of the next track, “The Lick,” kicks in. From there, the album returns to its more punk-sounding roots with “Tasteless,” “Donk,” and “Lampoon,” gets some more horniness out of the way with “Gold Hole,” asks questions about society with “Friction,” and becomes just sad as shit with “Angie.”


What stands out the most to me about this album is how each song has a different approach to getting shitty emotions out of the way, something that’s been helpful throughout this whirlwind of a year that’s provided me with more change than I could have ever imagined. Loneliness gets a lot of attention in particular with each song having repeated lyrics that make it seem as though Steen is desperately trying to be heard by someone, anyone, and it was personally reassuring to know others are going through similar concerns in the vein. But on top of everything else, the music just kicks ass and there wasn’t any other record (to me) that matched up with Songs of Praise thematically or sonically. - Gabe Fernandez


Each episode of this podcast features a woman with a medical mystery: A sex worker who struggles to function due to what she thinks is anxiety; a doctor who can’t get her newborn baby eat; a woman who grows hair on her face and must redefine her sexuality. For the podcast’s host, Allison Behringer, the mystery was why sex became painful for her. In the first episode of the six-episode season, Behringer describes what she felt during sex, her conversations with her boyfriend at the time, and her frustrations with her doctors. It’s an exceedingly personal topic but Behringer handles it and herself with care and humor, setting the tone for the rest of the season. Each well-produced episode is an intimate and empathetic look at womanhood and the human body, and I recommend them to everyone. - Laura Wagner



This Tiny Desk covers a lot of bases in its short 12 minutes: it’s baby-making music, it’s break-up music, it’s good ol’ classic body rolling music (this last one might just be me). Daniel Daley (sans Nineteen85) sings an impressive live set of some of DVSN’s hits from their debut studio album Sept. 5th and their sophomore effort Morning After. In all honesty, when this video first dropped I did two things I never, ever usually do: 1) tweet at the producer of the video telling her how much I loved her for this and 2) cried because I was so happy. Tune in and turn up Daley’s sweet, sweet falsetto. - Shaina Travis


Tierra Whack

2018 was the year my washedness set in. New music, and the pursuit of it, no longer affords me the same pioneer thrill it used to; it’s just exhausting. A lot of what I did hear left me cold, especially the popular rap as it veered towards Soundcloudier pastures. Meanwhile, my old reliables either changed up their approach or forgot it. My favorite artisan of bars, Earl Sweatshirt, took his sound in a much murkier, understated direction. The only transcendent thing my main shaman Young Thug put out was a years-old Elton John collaboration; all the rest was paint-by-numbers. Even Drake burped up a bloated double-album that was too overwrought to mine for bops.


Amid all that, Tierra Whack was alpine spring water to the face, quenching a thirst for words, pure vocal play, and hooks all in one convenient place. Her debut, Whack World, is a transporting sequence of one-minute tunes. At a fatless 15 minutes, there isn’t even enough time on this record for a single uninspired moment. It’s the perfect balm for someone losing their attention span, but who still craves those pure musical doodles, little daydreams and half-arguments and anecdotes put to melody. It’s wild how many discrete ideas she stuffs into these 15 minutes, and even wilder how many of them land. Stir in her insanely fresh visual sense and it’s far and away the coolest thing a tired young old came across this year. - Giri Nathan


I could just tell you that I am old by saying “I am old,” but instead I will do it like this: I like listening to albums, and listen to basically all the music I listen to that way. This was a habit I picked up before I was old, when that was one of a few ways in which a person could even listen to music. I still buy records—friends, I have bought compact discs in the last few months—and have the dust-bearing clutter to prove it. There are surely some other Low records strewn about that broader strew, but they were the kind of records I purchased out of habit or on a recommendation back when that was more or less my hobby. I wouldn’t have added Double Negative to the pile if I hadn’t heard—and read, and heard and read again—that the band had improbably made possibly the best and certainly the most singular record of its long career in 2018, 24 years after their first album was released. If I am being honest, the fact that anyone—in 2018, 24 years after their first album was released—cared enough about a Low record to talk about it at all was intriguing enough.


I have already told you, in two different ways, that I am old and getting older. As such, I have something invested in the possibility of artists doing their best work later in the game, and with that bias acknowledged I can tell you that I do enjoy this a lot more than I enjoyed other Low records, which are moody and pretty but were always a little slow for me. But also it just seems like something different: complete in the way that very few albums are, but also cumulative. The songs spill and echo into each other, and songs emerge from and retreat into a haunted and constant underlying drone. Not every album needs to be listened to all the way through, or front to back, but Double Negative gets its power from the way it progresses and recedes. I like to listen to it and see where it stops me, but sometimes it doesn’t stop me at all and I am just carried from one end of it to the other, a trip as coherent and as strange as any other dream. - David Roth