When you have a team full of audiophiles, musicians, and car karaoke masters, how could you let a year end without a playlist? We’ve delivered with our Best Songs of 2018 list, a blurb on why that song made the list, and throw in a few honorable mentions as we go.
Go ahead and follow the playlist here, and we’ve included the embedded player if you want to listen while you skim the article.
Here’s InQua Magazine’s Best Songs of 2018!
“This is America” – Childish Gambino
When the music video for “This is America” directed by Hiro Murai dropped on May 5th of this year, it went viral instantly. Packed with visual metaphors and shocking images of gun violence, this music video became a cultural event spawning endless fan theories as to their meaning. But under all the hidden messages in the video, “This is America” is simply an awesome song that shines a light on America’s use of entertainment to distract itself from violence. I put Childish Gambino’s “This is America” at the top of the list of best songs this year because of its massive cultural impact.
“Ketchum, ID” – boygenius
Oh, how I love this song. Boygenius is the supergroup comprised of Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus. Their all-too-brief collaboration was one of the greatest things to happen in the music scene this year. “Ketchum, ID” is the last song from their EP. It is a simple song these musical masters wrote about spending far too much of their young lives touring on the road. Interestingly, they share a dream of settling down in Ketchum, Idaho. Not the first place I would think of to set down roots, but why not?
“Heaven’s Only Wishful” – MorMor
I’ve been obsessed with this song ever since was released earlier this year. Seth Nyquist takes on the stage name MorMor; a brand new artist from Toronto. He’s quickly becoming my favorite new voice of the Indie Pop genre. This song holds the raw core elements I love about Rock and Roll: a guitar, a beat, and a yell. But deeper than this, “Heaven’s Only Wishful” is about struggling against hopelessness; the search for meaning amid horrors and chaos. This track satisfies the yearning for a sad song.
“Nice For What” – Drake
This year’s anthem for women’s empowerment came from none other than Drake, everyone’s favorite lovable Canadian rapper. Drake samples Ms. Lauryn Hill’s “Ex-factor” from 1998, a fantastic song in its own right. Throughout the song, Hill’s chorus pleads for empathy. Over the sampling, Drake invites women to “cut loose” and “show off.” From Hill to Drake the message is clear: let’s honor the hard-working women in our lives and give them the respect they deserve.
“In a River” – Rostam
I’ve got a man-crush on Rostam if I ever had one. He’s got the Midas touch of songwriting. Everything he’s done from multi-instrumentalist and backup vocals for Vampire Weekend, to his collaboration album with Hamilton Leithauser in 2016, to his solo album Half-Light released last year has the symmetry and ethos unique to him. “In a River” is a beautiful mix of acoustic and electric sounds. Lyrically, Rostam romantically sings about skinny dipping at night with someone special. I defy anyone to listen to this song and not be swept off their feet.
Tyler’s Honorable Mentions:
“Geyser” – Mitski
“Nearer My God” – Foxing
“Hunnybee – Unknown Mortal Orchestra
“I Like That – Janelle Monae
“Bubblin’ – Anderson .Paak
“OKRA – Tyler, the Creator
“Mah’s Joint (feat. Quincy Jones)” – Jon Bellion
“Mah’s Joint” is the outro track to Jon Bellion’s newest Album Glory Sound Prep. We’ve already written about how plain amazing this album is. But, this song represents, I think, what makes Bellion just so damn good. It’s an extended 3-part song: the first part is a lyrical piece about the relationship between his mom and grandmother as defined be aging dementia (a theme on the album). The second and third parts are instrumental celebrations for the mother’s that are with us physically and the mother’s that are with us spiritually. It starts off with a jazzy-brass sound that transforms into and finishes on Jon’s own choral singing and a rising violin. This song is drenched with musical symbols and representations making it my favorite song of the year. Plus it was produced with the legendary Quincy Jones, so, duh.
“Taking Me Back” – LANY
LANY was the background music for my whole year. LANY’s music captures the feeling of driving on backroads with the windows down during a summer’s evening with a fiery-pink sunset lighting up the horizon. The cover for their latest album, Malibu Nights, captures this perfectly. “Taking Me Back” is the stand out track. It’s got a severely catchy beat that mixes the chillest of vibes with sick drums and an heart-achingly beautiful synthesizer solo. In many ways, I feel this track is the spiritual successor to “It Was Love” from their 2017 album LANY. Love it.
“Graffiti” – Chvrches
Being a person who is constantly weighed down with anxieties of growing up, Chvrches’ “Graffiti” is like a refreshing splash of water. The song is a musical celebration of youthfulness. It is full of energy and dynamism. And I am so taken by the synth-pop genre as it’s the new bubblegum-pop that just feels so good to listen to beyond any technical understanding of the music itself. Chvrches is similar to Jon Bellion, for me, in that they are able to make amazing music about deeply human anxieties. Love is Dead, their 2018 album, spoke to me on many levels.
“Take You Down” – Illenium
Illenium might be one of the best hit-making EDM artists out there. What set’s Illenium apart is that his songs feel like more than songs. They are fully conceptualized and emotive experiences. “Take You Down” is my favorite track he made all year. It combines ethereal sounds with earthy vocals and a centering bass. And, dammit, I’ll say it again. Illenium’s lyrics are able to capture a slice of the human experience that I think is missing from a lot of what is on the radio these days. I guess I have a thing for songs that have some emotional complexity.
“Wakanda (feat. Baaba Maal)” – Ludwig Göransson
Black Panther was a cultural phenomenon for many reasons. That a Marvel movie is rumored to eve by nominated for Best Picture is semi-ridiculous but indicative of how powerful this film was to our world. And on top of all that, it was the first Marvel movie that actually made its score a priority. Ludwig Göransson has come a long way from scoring TV sitcoms. The primary theme for the film is “Wakanda.” It is able to synthesize a distinctly African sound with contemporary film scoring flawlessly. I highly recommend watching this interview of Göransson breaking down how he breathed life into the score. Simply phenomenal.
Madison’s Honorable Mentions:
“Find Our Way (klei)” – Midnight Kids
“Eastside” – Benny Blanco
“This Feeling (feat. Kelsea Ballerini)” – The Chainsmokers (sorrynotsorry)
“Just For A Moment (feat. Islenin)” – Gryffin (an absolute hit-machine)
“Singing In the Rain” – Simple Plan (technically released on 2016 but I didn’t know Simple Plan was still making music til last month so I love them again)
“Shotgun” – George Ezra
Now look, I don’t wanna get all Hipster on you…but I’m going to anyway. I remember seeing George Ezra back in April, 2015 at The Depot in Salt Lake City. I paid $14 for a ticket and was maybe 10 feet from the stage. George Ezra has exploded in popularity in the past few years, playing stadiums and festivals galore. This year’s hit track off his Staying at Tamara’s album is “Shotgun,” and for good reason! Great effects on the amplifiers, catchy lyrics, a killer bass line that makes you wanna move. It charted up to #10 for Billboard, but who cares about that anyhow? George might, but for me, good music is good music. “Shotgun” is good music.
“If You Wanna Love Somebody (Acoustic)” – Tom Odell
What’s that? You’re not familiar with Tom Odell? Lawdy, lawdy, have you got some listenin’ to do. While the single version of this song has drums, electronic elements, and a quicker tempo, the acoustic version speaks to me. The music video, which I’ll put below, lets you feel the full effect. It’s Tom, in a little pub, just playin’ and singing his heart out. His voice and vibrato take the lyrics from your ears straight to your heart. “If you wanna love somebody, I’m your man.” Someone get Tom a wife. The choir of friends joining him in the pub add a gospel-like harmony to the chorus. Listen to it, love it.
“The Feeling” – Tor Miller
Tor Miller wrote the album I needed this year. I had to move from my college town to my hometown and wallowed in joblessness. I was no longer surrounded by 80,000 students and my favorite local venues, spots, and friends. I was back in the suburbs. The land of Applebees and Neighborhood Wal-Marts, minivans and school busses. I was lonely, depressed, and feeling mighty hopeless. Things finally hit a breaking point so I packed up my car and drove over 2400 miles Los Angeles. No job prospects, two weeks of friends couches to crash on, and only the money I’d got from a few side jobs and selling what I could. Things have worked enough to keep me out here, but it’s still hard. Tor Miller wrote and recorded the album that encapsulated what I went through in Surviving the Suburbs. I’m working on getting an interview with him for a full article, but for now, enjoy the final track off the album. The quick beat of the snare sets the tone that is then made funky with the guitar, echoed backing vocals, and it becomes a full-bodied Americana anthem. “When my mind starts a reelin, try to push past the feeling.” Push past the feeling. Get into Tor Miller.
“Woman” – Mumford and Sons
I’m a fan of a little banjo here and there. In the case of Mumford and Sons’ new album, I’m glad they set the banjo down and picked up whatever godly instruments and effects they used to compose “Woman.” Mumford and Sons rose to prominence with an upbeat style all their own. Part Gaelic, part folk, all good. Delta as an album is a knock-out. I can’t stop listening to it. You can tell they’ve molded their style from 2015’s Wilder Mind and it’s electric guitar riffs, 2016’s Johannesburg EP, and touring for years to bring you Delta. “Woman” is the perfect signifier of those influences. It’s got a sound unlike anything else…because it’s got the first of it’s kind in it. Marcus Mumford went on record stating that they made a 5-string banjo cello for the song. Yeah. New instrument. Listen and check out their invention made great with “Woman”!
“I’ll Never Love Again” – Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper
Shut up. I know, I know. One of us had to do it to you. Grab a tissue, take a deep breath, and let’s relive this moment from A Star is Born. If you haven’t read the article Tyler and I wrote on it, open that in a separate tab for later. I loved this movie, and this song was the one to give me one of those single tear moments. Oh yeah, I said it. Fragile Mascu-let-me-set-the-record-straight. If you didn’t shed a tear when our girl Lady Gaga took belted out “Don’t wanna give my heart away/To another stranger/Or let another day begin/Won’t even let the sunlight in/No, I’ll never love again/I’ll never love again.” When Bradley Cooper joins her in that piano-recital flashback…I’ve said enough. You get it.
Tristan’s Honorable Mentions:
“Everybody’s Lonely” – Jukebox the Ghost
If you haven’t listened to Jukebox the Ghost, I’ll have an article on the band’s albums to date soon. For our audience, which is mostly Millennials, this song will ring true. Loneliness is talked about in major publications, like NPR, The Atlantic, Forbes, and The Guardian (to name a few). Jukebox the Ghost gives you a fun, albeit painfully true, song about the current state of affairs. Why are all the songs about love or drinking too much? Everybody’s lonely.
“Forgive You” – Leon Bridges
Let me clue you in on something: I absolutely love Leon Bridges’ Good Thing. One of my favorite albums of the past few years, and I wrote up a piece on it earlier this year. “Forgive You” is not the most played track off the album, but it is the star in my eyes. I love the tempo, the lyrics, and the vocals. Enjoy a great track off a fantastic album from Leon Bridges.
“Crack the Case” – Dawes
Dawes may not be a household name just yet, but you oughta know em. This track off their latest album is a slower and melodic anthem of forgiveness. The chorus varies in its three refrains, but each time it ends with a resolution to make amends. Call off the cavalry, don’t hate anyone whose shoes you haven’t walked in, and sit down with your enemies. Maybe that will crack the case.
“Skipping Stones” – Dan Reynolds and Hans Zimmmer
Watching HBO’s documentary Believer left quite an impression on me this year. The stories, the cause that Dan Reynolds has joined in, and the efforts of so many to bring understanding and acceptance for the LGBT community moved me. The final minutes of the documentary feature a collaboration as unexpected as it is powerful. Hans Zimmer and Dan Reynolds knocked it out of the park. “I’m just skippin’ stones, hoping things will change but they just stay the same.” Dan, I feel that.
“We’re Only People (And There’s Not Much Anyone Can Do About That)” – Father John Misty
Yes, we have a full article on God’s Favorite Customer. Father John Misty isn’t for everyone, but I feel like this song is just normal enough for most folks to enjoy. “We’re Only People” (with the longest song title I’ve seen in a long time) is the last song on the album, and finishes so perfectly the musings of a cynic in 2018. The lyrics that close the track out have painted a picture so clearly in my mind, I have to share. “I think the end of it all may look a lot like the beginning. We’re passed around from hand to hand, screaming for no particular reason. The company gets pretty thin as we start to shed all our distinction. Why not me? why not you? Why not now?” Give it a listen. Feel a little cynical. Father John Misty makes the bleakness of it all seem okay.
“Hearts Beat Loud” – Keegan DeWitt and Kiersey Clemons
Hearts Beat Loud was a movie that I really liked when I first saw it, then loved the more I thought about it. Keegan DeWitt is a composer whose work and abilities far exceed his years. Just looking over his website you can see how many Indie and festival winning films his music has accompanied. In fact, he composed the music for a documentary we reviewed last year, unbenounced to me until now. This song is the first of the film, and Keegan’s composition allows Kiersey Clemons’ voice to shine. Love the music, love the film.
“No Roots” – Alice Merton
This was an alternative headbanger and a well-written song. It represents a new significant trend within the alternative genre. This new trend implements elements of soul and dubstep to create a new type of punk. Bishop Briggs and Rag’n’Bones Man have both released albums in this genre. But, Alice Merton shows a fuller method of application in a beautiful way.
“Psycho” – Post Malone
“Psycho” may be the catchiest song on the catchiest album released this year. Posty references video games, a party lifestyle, and wealth with the type of carefree ease that makes his way of living somehow seem down to earth. The production is minimalistic and echoes the post-apocalyptic world displayed in the music video. A ranking of top music from 2018 is not complete without including a Post Malone song. The man has redefined pop music and broken records previously held by The Beatles and Michael Jackson. It could be said that his Action Points are indeed going Psycho.
“Fake Love” – BTS
“Fake Love” has helped cement the group’s reputation as one of the greatest boy bands of all time. The irony is that the K Pop machine’s biggest home run is a group which speaks out so much against the K Pop industry. The song itself is incredibly catchy with brilliant production and vocals. But, I didn’t truly fall in love with the Korean artistry which seamlessly mixes hip-hop, 80’s music, and EDM until I watched the sheer power of the fans in their live performances. I felt a visceral primal call against the fake love that I’ve experienced. That sort of connection is the pursuit of great music.
“Ladders” – Mac Miller
Mac Miller’s untimely death was an absolute tragedy. But, because of his death, I more deeply explored his music. “Ladders” connected with me on a deep level. In the lyrics of the song, he fights against negative pressures in order to live his life freely. Something in the music connects with the part of my soul that fights against my personal darkness. I’m confident that others have felt that connection.
“New Light” – John Mayer
“New Light” may be my absolute favorite song of 2018. The song is flawless. The production is unique to anything John Mayer has released and sounds like nothing that anyone has released in a long time. It’s easy going, yet encouraging. It’s a song you could chill out to, or it’s a song you could dance to in a corny fashion. In my humble opinion the music video for “New Light” is the only music video that rivals “This is America” in impact. It’s ironic, funny and down to earth. The music video restore John Mayer’s image. He’s long been labeled as music’s egotistical douchebag. But, in this song he asks us to reconsider all of our preconceived notions about him to help us realize that he’s just a guy trying to make it in this world. He opens himself to all of the mockery and memery of the internet. No other star has dared to release such a low quality music video. He somehow manages to looks awkward and out of place in every single green screen location in which he is placed. The first time I watched the video I was surprised, delighted and couldn’t stop laughing. Even now, the music video brings me exceeding joy as I observe all of the silly antics that I missed the first time. Cheers John Mayer, thanks for blowing my mind.
Kevin’s Honorable Mentions:
“Delicate” by Taylor Swift
“Nico and The Niners” by Twenty One Pilots
“Over and Over and Over” by Jack White
“Gold Rush” by Death Cab For Cutie
“We’ve Got Time” by Kevin Bessey ‘cough’ ‘cough’
Go ahead and follow the playlist here, and we’ve included the embedded player again if you want to listen now that you finished the article.