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The 20 Best Singles of 2018

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2018 has been a really confusing year.

Nobody really knows which way is up. Kanye had a meltdown, Britain had a meltdown, we all had our own little meltdowns. But from within those meltdowns has risen some incredibly intelligent music.

From the politically adept to the self-loving, the sexually expressive to the stupidly joyful, we've only had time to revisit 20 of this year's single releases, but by god are they a beautifully whacky bunch. 

Image Credit: Pixabay / Edited by The National Student

1. Childish Gambino - This Is America

Donald Glover made his mark with 'This Is America'. No doubt, like me, you've watched the video five or six times in a row, trying to unpick every little detail, every intelligent cultural reference and political criticism. We could spend all week talking about the imagery and metaphors Glover, under his moniker Childish Gambino, employed in the accompanying visuals. Instead, let's just say this: 'This Is America' is a modern day art piece with political weight, it is a soulful and thought-provoking R&B cut, and ultimately, it is Donald Glover's defining moment. 

2. Soccer Mommy - Your Dog

Sophie Allison recorded the paralysing and heart-wrenching 'Your Dog' under the name Soccer Mommy. The first track from her debut album Clean, 'Your Dog' song tells the story of the pawn on the chessboard, being pushed from black to white tile by a giant hand with no clearly definable body attached to it. Then suddenly, the little pawn breaks character, taking the queen and its checkmate. It's a small, fleeting burst of strength amidst a long period of submission, but one that many of us can relate to on some level or another, be that in our relationships, work, or home. 

3. Idles - Danny Nedelko

"My blood brother is an immigrant / A beautiful immigrant / My blood brother's Freddie Mercury / A Nigerian mother of three" begins Joe Talbot's love letter to the song's namesake; Ukranian immigrant and Heavy Lungs frontman. Idles have done so much good this past year, and their brash, chaotic and lavishly pro-immigration punk track 'Danny Nedelko' was the icing on the proverbial cake. Beautifully diverse, colourful and soulful, this is an anthem of human goodness. 

4. Ariana Grande - thank u, next

After confirming that God is, in fact, a woman, Ariana hit us with the Mean Girls reunion we secretly wanted but thought would never be realised. After a social media sponsored breakup, Ariana didn't fall into the usual trope of writing a "well, fuck you" and instead opted for 'thank u, next'; a sweet, sweet pop hymn championing self-love, acceptance, and self-care. It's everything we can't come to terms with straight away after the end of a relationship but eventually reach in the end.

5. Robyn - Honey

Thank Robyn that Robyn came back this year. After wasting away precious hours listening to Mamma Mia 2's soundtrack in the hope of salvaging some of that sweet Swedish sagacity, our prodigal mother returned with 'Honey'. Dripping with sensuality with a house beat racing like her libido, Robyn takes full control of the room with breathy whispers, euphoric synthesisers and serene, poetic lyricism. It's an enthralling and complex single that fits beautifully in the midsection of her first solo album in eight long years.

6. Peggy Gou - It Makes You Forget (Itgehane)

The first time we've heard Peggy Gou's horse whispers, in her native Korean, really make 'It Makes You Forget (Itgehane) the crisp and clean house beat of the year. Retro-futuristic in its 90s-influenced house style and contemporary minimalism, this song is subtle and sleek in all the right places and wiry and synth-heavy in all the places you think it shouldn't be. Penned as a 'one to watch' in 2019, the Seoul-born artist is making her name as a hazy house aficionado. 

7. Kacey Musgraves - High Horse

Kacey Musgraves is making country cool again. A delicate hand has crafted 'High Horse' - a beautifully infused mixture of disco, pop, country and folk that caresses the senses and the soul. Smart country inflections are offset by a sweetly danceable beat and stellar stoner-pop guitars that strut through the song at the pace of her cowboy's trusty steed. Kacey is the country girl that's escaped through the turnstiles, bounding down the highway to reach universally pleasing pop music. 

8. Jade Bird - Uh Huh

'Uh Huh' is busy with raw, animated spirit from the 20-years-young Jade Bird. Dreaming of becoming the next Alanis Morisette, Bird's 'Uh Huh' weaves steadily between punk-inflected indie pop and Americana, finally arriving at a hooky, happy medium between the two. As with her previously released single 'Lottery', the song finds Bird singing to an ex but this time there's no nostalgia or remorse in her voice, only a snarky sense of content as she watches karma come full circle. Perfectly devious and devilishly delectable. 

9. Blood Orange - Charcoal Baby

A serene and sensual celebration of black skin, Dev Hynes manages to keep us all on tenterhooks with 'Charcoal Baby'. It's one of those tracks you always come back to - in the bath, at a house party, at hangover Sunday roast the next day - with a chameleon-like effect on the bass and wonky, out-of-tune guitars that somehow sit perfectly in the centre. Loose, liberated and unbound by any particular structure, 'Charcoal Baby' blankets the soul with silky, smooth cool. 

10. Let's Eat Grandma - Falling Into Me 

Something that starts out as rather sinister, slightly hazy, quickly breaks down into a crunching, fragmented dance-pop single with glimmering electronics, baroque guitar and a slippery solo sax section. The musical project of UK teens Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingsworth, Let's Eat Grandma always err on the side of experimentation, defying genre constraints to play around with universal and space-age sounds that somehow fit together like a really satisfying piece of flat-pack furniture. 'Falling Into Me' proved, this year, that while most of the galaxy has been explored by these two, there's still much, much more to find.

11. Mitski - Nobody

Cymbals streamline Mitski's sensational sonnet about loneliness. A long, sat-at-the-window-watching-the-rain memoir of a solitary girl is at the same time disarming and despondent, sultry yet slumbery, and Mitski has never made isolation feel so welcoming. Nostalgic piano chords, jangly guitar strums and a four-on-the-floor beat open to a simmering alt-dance track that acts as a wrapped embrace for the wandering soul. She topped Pitchfork's Albums of The Year with Cowboy for damn good reason.  

12. King Princess - Pussy Is God

Queer love has long been pushed into the shadows of heterosexual relationships, but King Princess' absorbing single 'Pussy Is God' brings the once private into the forefront of our thoughts. Unlike what you may expect from its title, 'Pussy Is God' is warm, soothing and its lyrics are caressed by swaggering drums that add punch and grit. Co-written with her girlfriend and actress Amandla Stenberg, King Princess celebrates sex so transfixing and intoxicating that you can't help but write evocative music about it. 

13. Leon Bridges - Beyond

Twinkly and bright like stars in a liquorice night sky, 'Beyond' shines brighter than any of Leon Bridges' releases before and creates that hearty and wholesome sense of storytelling by the fire on a cold winter's night. His ode to his one true love could turn the blackest of souls into a soft, gooey centre, using shimmery percussion and rich, rounded drums to carry one adornment after the other: "She shines me up like gold on my arm". 

14. Anderson .Paak - Bubblin

Anderson .Paak has been reflective up until recently; looking back on an upbringing shrouded in addiction, prison time and poverty through Malibu and Venice. 'Bubblin' is a single written and produced by a man who's finally made it. With accompanying visuals of an ATM spitting money out in the streets and into the pockets of the deserved, .Paak's flow is accomplished, deft and blisteringly quick, with lashings of quick-wit and dorky anecdotes over a bouncy trap beat. He's not taking himself too seriously and enjoys lavishing in a ludicrous lifestyle.

15. Kali Uchis - After The Storm

Kali Uchis' blossoming relationship with Bootsy Collins helped to bring 'After The Storm' to life. A soulful, funky cut full of swag and groove, this single put Uchis on the pedestal and raised the question "who is she?" The Colombian singer-songwriter has a penchant for the seventies, back when synths first began to penetrate R&B, and 'After The Storm' is the perfect kick-start to an undoubtedly illustrious career. 

16. Father John Misty - Just Dumb Enough To Try

Misty's familiarly soft palette has its edges roughed in 'Just Dumb Enough To Try'. Released jointly with 'Disappointing Diamonds Are the Rarest of Them All', it is sombre yet sobering with the tiniest specks of light peeping through the curtains to save it from total moody collapse. Tinkering piano chords and elegant harmonies give it the typical Elton-style ballad front, but the breakdown of scuzzed electronics turns Misty's sound into something a bit sinister. 

17. Emotional Oranges - Motion

The intrigue behind Emotional Oranges' identities has only added to the mysteriously sensual singles released this year. 'Motion' came first: a tantalising debut carried by an evocative back and forth between male and female vocals, disco-infused guitar strums and bouncy, rounded synths. It's a single drenched in cheeky sex appeal with a flirty soulful pop-cum-disco production and made for a sizzling summer tune suited only to the after-hours.

18. Christine and The Queens - Girlfriend (feat. Dâm-Funk)

Héloïse Letissier, better known as Christine and The Queens, came back in 2018 with big brass balls, challenging the concepts of femininity and masculinity and how they each influence, and are influenced by, sexuality. 'Girlfriend' is unapologetically erotic, liquid in the way it swims through golden funk sensibilities and is driven, ambitious and affirmative in its creative direction. It's a song that has been produced and sung with real conviction by a woman who is staunchly firm in her position as an interrogator of the status-quo. 

19. Arctic Monkeys - Four Out Of Five

'Four Out Of Five' is probably one of the least complicated tracks from the Arctic Monkeys' 2018 record Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. Crammed full of queer cultural references and a sporadic thudding of bass interspersed with a truly dysfunctional commentary on the redevelopment, and subsequent gentrification, of space, 'Four Out Of Five' is a strangely exciting single from a veteran performer battling with his twisted subconscious. 

20. Psychedelic Porn Crumpets - Social Candy

With one of the dumbest and greatest band names in the business, Psychedelic Porn Crumpets gave us a fuzzy, rocket-fuelled blast of acid trip excellence in 'Social Candy'. With visuals to give Spike Jonze a run for his money, 'Social Candy' is stuck in a dream-state; a rickety and fragmented psych-pop anthem that opens with one of the best lines we've heard all year: "What a colossal navigational problem / I seem to be a vegetable". 

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