The Best Songs of the First Half of 2018

Hey everybody! We’re a week into the back half of 2018, and, as usual, here’s the stuff that made Our Hero (that’s me) the happiest in the last six months. As always, these are in alphabetical order. This time in addition to the download folder (here), there’s a Spotify playlist on the bottom, because it is 2018 and I should be better about these things. NB that the Spotify playlist does not include “1010 Wins”, “Soon All Cities”, “6am matinee”, “What What Have I Done (I Was Reeling In Something White and I Became Able To Do Anything) Pt. I” or “Sippy Cup”, because they aren’t on Spotify. 

Courtney Barnett, “Need a Little Time”

I’ve written before about the performative appreciation of young ladies laying bare their emotional state in a way that seems clearly to be aimed at dismantling them, instead of encouraging. Now Courtney Barnett has written a song about the same thing, and I find that vindicating.

Black Milk, “Laugh Now, Cry Later”

Black Milk slowed down and took a breath for Fever, giving his beats and his words equal room to breathe, to sink in slowly. He’s advising us to laugh here, but it doesn’t seem likely. It seems like by taking more time to let things happen musically, he’s making it seem even more intense, which is a neat trick.

Black Thought, “Dostoevsky” (f Rapsody)

A debut album after 30 years is an already-admirable level of restraint. A debut solo album that’s short, with not a moment of fat on it, is even more admirable. Black Thought continues to be a beacon.

The Body, “Nothing Stirs”

I Have Fought Against it But I Can’t Any Longer finds Earth’s greatest heavy band disassembling their previous material and reassembling it in new, harrowing reassemblages, and somehow it’s probably their best record yet. More impressive is that incredible “Nothing Stirs,” where they are abetted by noise conceptualist/singer Lingua Ignota to create a song that is both searing and cathartic, running you all the way into the dark place and then dragging you back out entirely of its own accord.

Carla Bozulich, “Emilia” (f Francesco Guerri & Marc Ribot)

Quieter is a vault-clearing record of previously-recorded collaborations, that somehow coheres pretty well as a straight-up album. Francesco Guerri is actually someone I know only from collaborating with Carla Bozulich in the first place, but I was pleasantly surprised by how well she went with Marc Ribot, who I mostly associate with Tom Waits.

The Carters, “Apeshit”

Sometimes Jay-Z appears on a song and stays out of the way because, one feels, he’s old and lazy and doesn’t want to bother to show up anymore. For once, on Everything is Love, he feels like he knows he just doesn’t have that much to add. It’s basically a Beyonce album with a Jay-Z feature on every song, and you can see it at its best on “Apeshit”.

Neko Case, “My Uncle’s Navy”

I don’t mean to break completely from from and talk about the lyrics for the second time in this writeup, but this multifaceted breakdown of an event of shocking violence is pretty great, and it’s set to a pretty wildly-catchy piece of singing. Good job all around, then.

DDENT, “Torse de Marbre”

Does the world need as many post-rock-styled heavy metal bands? Do we, in short, need a Russian Circles for every country? Maybe not. But we’ve got a bunch of them, and DDENT are among the best, and “Torse de Marbre” is everything I could want out of that sort of thing.

E, “Hollow”

As rewrites of Mission of Burma’s “Weatherbox” go, this is probably the best one. I mean, not to minimize the accomplishments of post-punk supergroup E, just that, y’know, “Weatherbox” is a great song. I can see why you’d want to rewrite it.

Elucid, “1010 Wins”

Elucid manages that rare quality of, no matter how much or how hard I listen to his music (and it’s a lot, honestly), I feel like I’m not listening to it enough, like there is so much going on inside of it that I could never take it all in. It’s music that’s very difficult to internalize, and that makes it endlessly alluring. “1010 Wins” is as accessible as it comes, and it’s still a densely-layered tortuous run through a very complicated mind.

The Ex, “Soon All Cities”

The Ex have been a going concern for as long as punk rock has existed, and they’ve managed to make great records along that entire stretch of time. What’s always amazing to me is that, in addition to always sounding like only themselves, they sound only like themselves in a way that implies that they are still a band from the future – ever record sounds more than current 1. “Soon All Cities” is up there with anything they’ve ever written, and I can’t praise it enough.

Fire!, “To Shave the Leaves. In Red. In Black.”

Fire! are here finally making another record as a trio, having spent some time as the convoluted and less-rewarding Fire Orchestra in more recent times. They’re either an incredible jazz combination that tries real hard to play post-metal, or an amazing heavy metal band that can’t help but play jazz. They only really stretch out once on The Hands, but the result (this song) is just mind-boggling.

Freddie Gibbs, “Death Row” (f 03 Greedo)

There’s probably something to be made of Freddie Gibbs (who just got out of prison) tapping 03 Greedo (who just went into prison) to help out on his surprise-record Freddie’s best track. I’m probably not going to be the person who makes something of it, but it’s almost certainly there to be made. You know. Such as it is.

Girlpool, “Picturesong” (f Dev Hynes)

I freely admit this is a strange, left-field choice here. I normally do not give even a single heck about Girlpool’s music. I’m not a fan. Such is the power of Dev Hynes, I guess, that this all came together so well; I think this is a great song.

Gnod, “Donovan’s Daughters”

It’s always at least worth it to hear what version Gnod shows up for any given Gnod record. Chapel Perilous seems like an extension of last year’s Just Say No…, insofar as any Gnod records seem related, but “Donovan’s Daughters” is a damn revelation. 15 minutes of crunching, crushing heaviness. I think we can call the first half of 2018 the year of the 15 minute heavy masterpiece generally, but even pitted against YOB and Sleep, as they are here, this is still a clear standout barnburner of a track.

Jean Grey & Quelle Chris, “Gold Purple Orange” (f Dane Orr)

Quelle Chris is an ONAT best-of mainstay – he’s one of the hands-down best producers currently operating, and has a way with delivery that is always intriguing. For Everything’s Fine he collaborates with his longtime partner/now-wife Jean Grae, also a remarkably-consistent rapper, and the two manage to outdo themselves in terms of making fantastic, interesting music that also works on the non-conscious parts of my music listening brain.

Grouper, “Parking Lot”

Grouper continues to inhabit her “solo piano” phase, and it is nothing short of astonishing that she manages to find ways to put this combination – her voice, which hasn’t changed in fifteen or so years, and a piano, without even nearly as many of the pedals and effects that marked her mid-period albums 2 – to new and impressive uses.

Keiji Haino & Sumac, “What What Have I Done (I Was Reeling In Something White and I Became Able To Do Anything) Pt. I”

Keiji Haino, at 66, made one of the best heavy albums of the year. That’s an impressive achievement in and of itself, but the fact that he did by continuing to be his weird, ear-destroying self, only this time with Sumac as his backing band, is nothing short of a singular accomplishment. What a great record.

Paddy Hanna, “Bad Boys”

Paddy Hanna is like a Scott Walker that doesn’t suck, or an Elvis Costello that isn’t boring, he’s really out there doing his thing by being unique and strange without giving it all over to freakish weirdness. I find this nice, despite how much of my time I spend specifically seeking out freakish weirdness.

Hinds, “Soberland”

I fell hard when I was a young lad for a certain kind of no-fidelity amateurish garage rock, and spent several years as a fanatical crate-digger and all that. What I’m saying is, this stuff runs pretty deep, and I’ve got a lot of time for it. I think I’d still love Hinds even if that wasn’t true, but since it is I’m pretty much without the free will to not list this song among my absolute favorites.

Mick Jenkins, “6am Matinee”

Usually writing songs about writing songs is a real effective way to get me to either fall asleep or throw your record out the window. Mick Jenkins, though, is always a nonstandard example, and he managed to write a whole record about writing songs, and have it be as compelling and fascinating as anything else he’s done. Fair play to you, Mick Jenkins.

JPEGMAFIA, “Real Nega”

Sometimes JPEGMAFIA tracks are better conceptually, or as a part of the various wholes that are his records. “Real Nega” is not one of those times: this shit goes. Also it’s built on what is probably the best ODB sampled in the history of sampling ODB.

Mary Lattimore, “Baltic Birch”

You know, it was in listening to her third record in three years that I realized that, while it’s true that I like Mary Lattimore, and play her music all the time, and really appreciate her compositional sense, I have literally zero ability to evaluate harp-playing as an instrumental pursuit. In an interview with Bandcamp, Lattimore mentioned a bunch of harpists who were way more experimental and noteworthy than here, which is, I suppose, somewhere to start. I bet they don’t make anything this good, though.

Mamuthones, “Show Me”

The title of Mamuthones Fear on the Corner comes from smashing together the titles of the Talking Heads’ Fear of Music and Miles Davis’s On the Corner. It’s tempting to say that their music sounds like that kind of fusion, but it actually sounds like a motorik-band who attempted to rewrite some Talking Heads records as jazz musicians. In short, this is a super-weird record that doesn’t sacrifice any immediacy to its oddness.

Marie/Lepanto, “Tenkiller”

I continue to be impressed by Will Johnson’s ability to just form new bands seemingly every time he feels like it. This time he’s with the dude from Water Liars, and the result is pretty incredible. “Tenkiller,” the best song on the record, sounds like a lot of other Will Johnson songs 3, but when you write songs that are this good, there’s no real sin in continuing to do what works.

H.C. McEntire, “Red Silo”

H.C. McEntire is the singer for Mount Moriah, has a great voice, and wrote some great country songs for Lionheart, the best of which is “Red Silo.” I am not sure that I have anything else to say here. Sometimes a good song is just a good song.

The Messthetics, “Inner Ocean”

It is true that this band, comprised of an Italian improvisational guitar player and the erstwhile rhythm section of the almighty Fugazi, sounds like a no-nonsense King Crimson, but come on, they sound like a no-nonsense King Crimson! The only real problem with King Crimson is all the dang nonsense!

Migos, “Stir Fry”

Culture II is (at least) an hour too long, with the good stuff feeling like too little butter scraped over too much bread 4, but the high points are absurdly high. Migos at their best are literally the best, and if their quality-control function is a little busted, well, at least we get stuff like “Stir-Fry” to get us through the boring stuff.

Mind Over Mirrors, “Oculate Beings”

Every once in awhile all I want is a robot hoedown. In this case, that’s exactly what I’ve got.

Meshell Ndegeocello, “Sometimes it Snows in April”

It’s hard to make an album of covers that really manages much of anything. Meshell Ndegeocello managed it by reworking – and recontextualizing – eighties and nineties R&B radio songs. This isn’t some crate-digger’s vision of R&B, these are songs you’d have a better than even shot of hearing on the radio right now. Especially “Sometimes it Snows in April,” a song Prince wrote about the death of his character in Rainbow Bridge 5, and which started popping up after Prince’s death (I wasn’t exactly aware of the state of R&B radio in 1986, but I’m given to understand it was not the chart-topping sensation that some other Prince singles have been). It appears here, then, partly as Prince elegy (I’m assuming) and partly as just sheer, incontrovertible evidence that Meshell Ndegeocello can sing the goddamn holy shit out of anything. If hearing it doesn’t convince you of the need for its existence, than nothing further I can see here will. Oh, and listen to the rest of the record. It’s awesome.

Oneohtrix Point Never, “The Station”

This song, surreally, was demoed and intended for Usher. It’s hard to call it a shame, because while I would happily live in a world where Usher sang about having sex in a research station in the South Pole while it burns down, The Thing-style, it’s much, much weirder than it probably would have been, and that’s absolutely to the song’s benefit.

Brigid Mae Power, “Don’t Shut Me Up (Politely)”

I have a lot of time for people that can channel being really aggressive into a mode that is also relatively quiet. Brigid Mae Power’s approach seems like it would lend itself to a much louder result, but rarely gathers much volume as it goes, and it’s mesmerizing.

R+R=NOW, “Reflect Reprise” (f Stalley)

Robert Glasper formed another jazz group with Terrace Martin, and I suppose the fact that the resulting music is great is a sort of “dog bites man” headline. While on other parts of the record you can experience the joys of hearing Bobby McFerrin’s son, Taylor, beatbox, my favorite actual track as a single, isolated track is this one, where Stalley (currently having his own hot streak with this Shame the Devil series) jumps on and grounds the music somewhat, creating a very satisfying groove.

Rae Sremmurd, “Brnxs Truck”

It’s hard to avoid continuing to think of Rae Sremmurd as “Migos Jr.” 6, but they made a better forever-long record this year. SR3MM is an awfully good triple-album, with one Rae Sremmurd record, and one record each for each member as a solo record. “Brnxs Truck” is from Slim Jxmmi’s solo disc, JXMTRO, and is at least ten times as entertaining as trying to pronounce those “x”s. It goes, is what I’m saying. It’s a go-er.


Saba is a Chicago story-telling rapper who lost his cousin in one of the most horrifying, senseless ways possible, and wrote an album about his loss, the centerpiece of which is the long, deeply touching “PROM/KING”. It’s worth being pretty shaken up listening to it, and it’s a clear high point for an already-exciting rapper.

Sarn, “Sippy Cup”

Deathbomb Arc continues to alternate between super-cool weirdo rap music (see also JPEGMAFIA, above) and hit-or-miss pop-noise stuff. Sarn is….kind of neither. He’s weird enough, certainly, but it’s without easy referents (like a rap Xiu Xiu? With a differently-channeled supply of aggression? I guess?), but HELLATRIPPIN manages to not only be entirely its own thing, but does it while also being a remarkably consistent listen. It makes sense, then, that this was the first release in Deathbomb Arc’s 20 year anniversary series. I’m pretty excited by this one, and I look forward to more from Sarn 7.

Scallops Hotel, “A Terror Way Beyond Falling”

This may have been from the first record that I heard in 2018 that was released in 2018, as it came out on New Years’ Day. milo (operating here as scallops hotel) announced on his Bandcamp page that this is part 2 of a trilogy, and I suppose like all things milo, that connection makes more sense to him than it ever would to me. Nevertheless, the record is brief and punchy, which is all conveyed through scallops hotel’s sparse, muttering style. It’s a nifty trick.

Screaming Females, “Glass House”

Great riffs, great singing, great chorus. Great song.

Sleep, “Antarcticans Thawed”

2018’s most unlikely-seeming comeback story is one that ended in a phenomenal record (as previously addressed). It seems…inappropriate or something that the best song on the record is one leftover from Dopesmoker, but it also happens to be the case. And the original didn’t have Jason Roeder on it, so this is a clear win for the world.

Snail Mail, “Stick”

I’m a firm believer in the power of well-constructed, passionately-executed rock music, even if it’s not breaking any ground in particular. Snail Mail is great, and “Stick” is a great song.

Sons of Kemet, “My Queen is Harriet Tubman”

While it will probably always be the case that Comet is Coming will remain my favorite of Shabaka Hutchings’s projects, it is true that Sons of Kemet’s “anything goes” approach yields fantastic results, and Your Queen is a Reptile is a variegated work of genuine actual genius, that puts a whole bunch of different things together but never really sounds like patchwork, or dilettantish. “My Queen is Harriet Tubman” is one of the cooler (in the temperature sense, not the, like, cool dude sense) songs on the record, and also the most effective.

Trampled by Turtles, “The Middle”

I listen to less country and country-derived music 8 than I used to, certainly, but there are some bands that create listening appointments just by continuing to exist. Trampled by Turtles are one of those bands. Their music manages to be the sort of forcefully joyful roller-coaster ride that I occasionally consume ravenously. “The Middle” is upbeat and joyful without being “fun” or (even worse) “happy”.

U.S. Girls, “Pearly Gates”

There’s maximalism and there’s maximalism, you know? U.S. Girls manages to pile on instruments and sounds and ideas and never stop having them intermesh and play off of each other – “Pearly Gates” builds and builds and builds until eventually it sorts of bursts like a bubble, everything quickly dissipating.

Uniform & The Body, “Come and See”

Is it because the times are truly, ineffably hideous that The Body has been able to make three great records in seven months 9? I don’t know. I know that it’s helping, I know that they’re doing incredible work, and I know that their assistance has made this hands-down my favorite Uniform record, and “Come and See”, by extension, my favorite Uniform track.

Kamasi Washington, “Will You See”

Heaven & Earth is a dense, tricky record full of things that require multiple listens to get through, that all comes to a head in the final track, the soaring, surging “Will You See”. A great song for letting it all out.

World’s End Girlfriend, “Meguri”

Often I can be found expounding on the virtues made specifically and intentionally, with thought only to the intention of the person making it. While it’s true that Meguri is made “for one person,” it is also true that it is a deeply-personal, deeply-emotional set of compositions, and as such seems to be a clear and direct communication of the thoughts and feelings of its composer, and thus could not actually be any better than it is, which is nothing short of amazing. The title track is here, but the entire composition is more than worth everyone’s time.

Wussy, “Gloria”

It’s always hard to write about very good songs from very good bands that are very consistent. This is a very good Wussy song, of the sort that they fill albums with, probably the best song on another very good Wussy album, which I am happy to listen to a whole bunch of times. Yay!

Xylouris White, “Only Love”

No other Xylouris White song whips itself into this kind of frenzy – even the other songs on Mother don’t reach this kind of whirlwind intensity – but maybe more of them should?

YOB, “Beauty in Falling Leaves”

Our nation’s heavy bands have really been stepping it up lately. How many bands can say that their eighth album is also their best album? 10 Anyway, “Beauty if Falling Leaves” is here, but it’s standing in for almost any song on the album, the whole thing is incredible.

03 Greedo, “Ballin’” (f Ketchy the Great)

Should numbers go at the beginning or the end of the alphabet, guys? I don’t know! Anyway, 03 Greedo unjustly got big when he also was a poster child for the ridiculous way that drug offenders are treated within the justice system, and is trying to fill the world with tracks before he goes to prison, which is abetted by the fact that he’s a fantastic rapper, and “Ballin” (one of 100 or so songs he’s put out in the last several months) is an absolutely terrific song.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Flatbush Zombies’ “Headstone” is fun, and as a series of references and in-jokes goes, is pretty satisfying, but it loses points for really just being that series of in-jokes, and also for the godawful “I smell pussy” liine toward the end. Kraus’s “Follow” is great bedroom shoegaze from Brooklyn, and thus is as special as it possibly can be, while also making me question my own taste for how much I enjoy it. Efrim Manuel Menuck’s “Pissing Stars” is everything one could reasonably expect from an Efrim Manuel Menuck album in 2018, and if it doesn’t rise above expectations, then it’s still nothing to shake a stick at. Natalie Prass’s “Sisters” is more terrific maximalist-pop. Daniel Romano’s “Wabash Wrecking Ball” is the real high point of his weird self-destructing albums stunt, and while it’s effective it’s also hard to get over the damn stunt in the first place. Childish Gambino’s “This is America” might be the best Childish Gambino song, or it might just have the best video. It’s hard to say.

  1.  There are bad The Ex records – or The Ex records that I don’t like, anyway – but they still sound like a reasonable outgrowth of the work The Ex are already doing. 
  2.  it seems strange to call something “mid-period” in this sense. Liz Harris is, like, my age. She will probably – hopefully – continue to make records for decades. But, with the beginning as one end and today as another, it seems sort of mid-periodish, y’know? 
  3.  I’m comfortable saying that the dude has a thing that he does best, even though he does a bunch of different stuff as a songwriter. 
  4.  it’s hard to tell if this has anything to do with them overreaching, or with one or more members featuring on seemingly every frigging record to come out in the last eighteen or so months, and using up material that way. 
  5.  it’s from Under the Cherry Moon, which is the soundtrack for the movie, but has a completely different name because Prince. 
  6.  guys, I’m old, ok? 
  7.  it’s worth pointing out that I was equally excited to discover a handful of other Sarn records back there, and they’re all pretty terrific. 
  8.  yeah I’m calling most 21st-century bluegrass country-derived. Come fight me. I’m not wrong.  
  9.  A Home on Earth came out last December and is the sort of “normal” one-off guitar/drums/noise thing that they made while they were making I Have Fought Against it But I Can’t Any Longer. 
  10.  although it’s also worth noting that Yob’s fifth album was their previous best, and that’s still pretty late, relatively speaking, to be topping oneself. 

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