Excellent singles dropped in 2018, but all the songs on this list featured something that made them stand above the rest. Whether it was a new direction for the artist, an especially catchy hook, a memorable beat or a truly standout performance, the artists on this list surpassed their contemporaries to make especially remarkable songs.
“Dark Spring” — Beach House (April 2)
The heavy drums that kick off “Dark Spring” perfectly foreshadow the track’s propulsive melody and momentous psychedelic vocals. Beach House has dabbled in the genre of shoegaze before, but usually stays within the realms of dream pop. However, this track’s reverb-soaked guitar tones sound as though they could easily appear on a Slowdive album. The shift in chord progressions at the beginning of the chorus is one of the most gorgeous melodic switches the duo has ever pulled off, making it the clear standout of all the excellent singles that Beach House’s 2018 album “7” had leading up to its release.
“This Is America” — Childish Gambino (May 5)
“This Is America’s” blend of intense rap verses and melodic, soulful refrains offsets the repetitive nature of its lyrics. This juxtaposition contributes to the song’s message of how some Americans are blissfully unaware of the problems that trouble their country. Despite the obviously serious nature of the song, the way Gambino’s voice bounces off the beat makes it surprisingly catchy. To top it off, this single has one of the most memorable music videos in years.
“Bubblin” — Anderson .Paak (May 17)
The addictive “Bubblin” is one of .Paak’s best bangers thanks to its repetitive but memorable beat and the rapper’s remarkable cadence. It deviates from .Paak’s typical style by being more energetic, with a faster tempo and a more frantic instrumental. Despite this tonal distinction, it’s still instantly recognizable as a .Paak song marked by the rapper’s distinctive voice.
“Colossus” — IDLES (May 30)
“Colossus” opens with sinister-sounding drum clicks and a brooding guitar lick that eventually erupt into a roaring, crescendoing instrumental sequence while lead singer Joe Talbot wails the chorus. However, the single’s most interesting aspect is the complete melodic shift that occurs about halfway through the song. The track’s tone remains the same, but the tempo, melody and instrumentation are completely different. It’s one the year’s best dynamic switch-ups, and it’s a blast to see Talbot explore nearly all of his register on one song.
“If You Know You Know” — Pusha T (June 13)
This single’s merit is equally attributable to Pusha T and Kanye West, who produced the track’s blistering instrumental. Pusha T’s lyrical witticisms are as inventive as ever, with references to Al Roker, Walmart and the Golden State Warriors. It doesn’t break any new ground for the Virginia rapper, but it proves that Push is still very much in his prime, despite having been a major player in the industry for nearly a decade.
“Nobody” — Mitski (June 26)
Mitski’s oddly upbeat ode to alienation and loneliness incorporates elements of disco and new wave to the Japanese singer’s usual indie pop sound, making it easy on the ears but heavy on the heart. The lyrics were inspired by a holiday the singer spent in Malaysia, where she felt incredibly isolated. The tonal mismatch between the song’s meaning and its sonic characteristics creates a dichotomy that is rarely this pervasive in pop music, making it one of Mitski’s most thoughtful releases yet.
“BLACK BALLOONS” — Denzel Curry (July 23)
Easily the catchiest song off of Denzel Curry’s latest album “TA13OO,” “BLACK BALLOONS” contrasts its lyrics about pain and suffering with one of the grooviest beats Curry has ever rapped over. It doesn’t deviate from traditional pop music structurally, but makes itself stand out with Curry and GoldLink’s exceptional flows and a bright, winding instrumental. Curry is well-known for making gritty trap music, but this single proves he’s capable of pulling off pop rap tracks as well.
“The Reason They Hate Me” — Daughters (August 17)
One of the more straightforward rock songs on Daughters’ vigorous masterstroke “You Won’t Get What You Want,” this single is defined by its chunky basslines, pounding drums and tumultuous guitar riffing. It all comes together impeccably, with every instrument just loud enough to blend into one unrestrained and clamorous melody. Lyrically, it’s a critique of critique, with the band bashing their detractors. Musicians have tackled this subject ad nauseum, but lead singer Alexis Marshall’s vocal delivery is so filled with loathing that the subject is newly engaging.
“Words I Heard” — Julia Holter (October 17)
“Words I Heard” has incredible instrumental detail thanks to the sheer variety of instruments included. Holter’s vocals gracefully soar over the track’s orchestral components — the lyrics are abstract, but they do evoke some beautiful, but slightly disturbing, imagery. Holter’s powerful voice essentially functions as another instrument in the mix, never overpowering the instrumental without getting lost in it either.
“Unmade” — Thom Yorke (October 25)
Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke provided the score for Luca Guadagnino’s remake of the horror film “Suspiria,” which produced this incredibly gorgeous teaser track. It was used in and intended for the movie, but stands perfectly well on its own thanks to transcendent vocals and plinking piano keys. The harmonies provided by the backing vocals add another layer of sheer beauty to the song, but also manage to make it even more unsettling. All of these components amount to one of the most strange and ominous tracks the singer has ever produced.