STAFF LIST: Eli’s Top 10 Songs of 2018
Posted: by The Editor
Over the next couple weeks, The Alternative will be publishing numerous EOTY staff lists leading up to our site-wide ‘Top 50 Albums of the Year’ article. Why so many lists? Well, we believe in giving as many bands/artists exposure as possible, and with so many great releases in 2018, more lists will cover more ground. Our goal is to help you find something new. Thank you for reading.
From hardcore-turned-grunge, to enigmatic mumble rap, to poignantly political hip-hop, to horizon-sized indie-rock, these are Editor Eli Enis’ 10 favorite songs of 2018.
There’s always been a dreariness to the fantastical hedonism Future raps and croons about. His syrupy vocal effects emulate the substance that fuels him; a drug that’s as euphoric as it is numbing. Beast Mode 2, the sequel to his 2016 mixtape of the same name, ends with the most afflicted version of Future we’ve ever heard on recording. “I’m tryna get high as I can,” is the entire hook of “HATE THE REAL ME,” and he sings it over and over until his voice peters out. “My mama stressing out, she thinks these drugs got me,” he says during the first verse, without ever denying her concerns. Instead, he mentions self-hatred, the embarrassment of “pouring up” in public, and the stinging regrets surrounding a former love interest. It’s a genuinely tough song to read along to. But the straightforward subject matter offers a new perspective into the mind of one of our generation’s most distinctive prophets.
The only peep geoff gordon made in 2018 was a lasting one. The cryptic Albany, NY collective nonchalantly dropped “faith” in late August, but its jingly key lead sound best with snow on the ground. Between this and their mini-album from last year, everything the band does just sounds so pressingly dramatic. “faith” is like a grand romantic gesture put to song. Its smacking snare, majestic organ strokes, and the last line of its pleading hook, “I still need your love,” are delivered in such a cinematic fashion. By the time the pressure bubbles and bursts into the ripping, Prince-inspired guitar solo, something in the movie should be getting hurled off of a skyscraper. However, geoff gordon’s trick is that despite the theatrical presentation of a song like “faith,” the obvious DIY recording quality helps the track retain and express the intimacy of its narrative. Like a filtered lens, geoff gordon make reality appear magical.
The intro of Cardi B’s lauded, though skeptically anticipated, debut album cemented her value in not just trap, but hip-hop as a whole. It’s an absolute stomper that lays her destitute origins on the table and then dares you to question her success in overcoming them. “Look, they gave a bitch two options: strippin’ or lose / I used to dance in a club right across from my school / I said ‘dance’ not ‘fuck’, don’t get it confused / had to set the record straight cause bitches love to assume.” Hearing her deliver those opening lines with adept swiftness was, and remains, a stunning clap-back to those who doubted her rapping abilities beyond the club-crushing “Bodak Yellow.” The track interpolates and shares energy with Meek Mill’s legendary “Dreams and Nightmares (Intro).” Not only did she take on such a bold challenge, she crushed it with one of the most lyrically and technically captivating verses of the year.
Speaking of Meek Mill, the title track of his incredible Championships record is one of the year’s most heart-wrenching moments in hip-hop. It sees the 31-year-old rapper reflecting on his adolescent years on the streets, the whirlwind legal proceedings that led to his re-incarceration earlier this year, and his righteous fury toward the prison industrial complex. The track is a fine exhibition of Meek’s charismatic flow, but its most memorable aspects are in the little details. “I’m on a visit posin’ for the picture / Like I’m going to my prom or somethin’ / Like I ain’t facing time or somethin,’” speaks to the surreal space that a celebrity facing criminal charges has to navigate. “I know a young’un that got murked, aint’ get to drive no Wraith / but he in the hearse on the way to church, I know his mom gon’ faint / when she smell like embalming fluid, cologne all on her baby,” is the track’s most sobering set of lines. He packages the futility of chasing wealth via violence and the vivid smell of death into three bars, signaling his understanding that even though he made it out, the odds aren’t favorable.
LVL Up broke up this year. That’s still sad to think about. Fortunately, the guitarists of the ever-tight NY quartet haven’t left us with too much time to mourn. Dave Benton (the low voice guy) released his proper debut as Trace Mountains earlier this year, and last month Mike Caridi (the higher voice guy) dropped the first single from his solo project, The Glow. “Beamer” is a two-minute slice of pristine power-pop with a melange of kickass guitar riffs. For LVL Up fans, think Hoodwink’d-style songwriting with Return To Love-esque guitar tones. Caridi has a unique playing style that’s both loose and precise. He’s really good at holding down a groove and then tearing it up in creative, unexpected ways. “Beamer” genuinely rivals everything he’s written previously, so the full-length that’s due out next year should be a doozy.
I’d like to think that the rascal flipping over (and flipping off) the crowd on Die Lit’s cover art took his leap during the bass drop in “Shoota.” That’s the sort of inertia this song calls for. Pure recklessness. Even now, six months and a disturbing amount of plays later, Playboi Carti’s delivery of the line, “woke up with my toolie, what it do?,” feels like he’s reaching over the wall to rob a homerun. The weird composition of “Shoota” is still its greatest asset. Uzi busts through an entire 16 without any bass, which makes the verse feel significantly longer than it actually is. The whole time we’re just left to guess when the drop will come, and when it finally does, Carti swoops in and snatches the hook, seemingly right out of Uzi’s mouth. If it’s not already in the works, their chemistry on this track is desirable enough to be carried out over an entire project. It’s rare that a feature is this perfect.
Gouge Away are a hardcore band. Their 2016 full-length, , Dies, was a scorching 20 minutes of vegan rage, and their 2018 outing, Burnt Sugar, is similarly furious despite leaning closer to their post-hardcore tendencies. Interestingly, Burnt Sugar’s best song isn’t a hardcore ripper, but a menacing grunge track. The engine of “Ghost” is a persistent, chugging bassline that’s nearly equalized in the mix with Christina Michelle’s vocals. During the mighty chorus, the noisy guitars blast forward, and when Michelle’s screams reach their peak, everything explodes even more violently. The track’s almost shoegazy outro riff is so wide, it could be mistaken for a climax in a Nothing song. It’s not the most mosh-worthy moment on the record, but it’s certainly the heaviest emotional point, the loudest this band’s ever sounded, and one of the most exciting breakdowns of 2018.
“Only Acting” ends with 45 seconds of irritating, screechy industrial noise. It’s not wrong to call it insufferable, there’s no way Kero Kero Bonito intended it to be anything less than grating. But even so, “Only Acting” is still the best power-pop song of 2018. The playful verses contain a funky bassline and glitchy little synth noises that sound like characters in a Mario game. The refrain is an earworm of the gummy variety, a candied melody soaring high above a swath of crunchy guitars and blaring drums. There’s a sneering guitar solo that pokes its head through a bridge of alien-like vocal manipulations. And then there’s a glorious key change that exists for all of five seconds during the final chorus. It’s interrupted by a skipping effect that simulates the awful noise a computer makes when it freezes in the middle of a song. Alas, it was all “only acting” like a perfect pop song.
Lucy Dacus began her sophomore album by telling listeners, “in five years I hope these songs feel like covers.” “Night Shift” is a searing breakup song, and that line is most likely referring to Dacus leaving the thematic content of this era behind her. However, it can also be interpreted as the young indie star setting a goal to outdo herself musically. Considering how far she’s progressed in the two years since her debut, there’s no telling what a Lucy Dacus album in 2023 might sound like. Especially since “Night Shift,” alone, has a more rewarding arc than most albums do It’s the sort of song that requires a breather upon finishing, a moment to collect yourself before moving on to the next of Historian’s 10 stunners. Beyond the extraordinary songwriting, “Night Shift” is one of the most massive sounding indie-rock songs of the decade. If every guitar-strapped musician sounded this confident in the booth, the genre’s “crisis” may be averted.
The only concern that matters leading up to a beloved artist’s comeback album is this: will it sound legit? Will it sound like the artist is invested in the music enough to justify its existence? Or will it sound obligatory, soulless, creatively bankrupt, etc. Lil Wayne fans had nearly half-a-decade to bite their nails over the prospect that Tha Carter V might suck. That the once-legendary series would be forever tainted by its weak late-career additions. And that it would sound like a desperate grasp at relevancy from an old dog in a litter of proteges. But Lil Wayne did it. Save for a couple hiccups, C5 is an hour-and-a-half of proof that he’s still one of the greatest rappers of all time. And despite credible speculation that “Mona Lisa,” the album’s “event track” featuring Weezy disciple Kendrick Lamar, had been virtually untouched since its 2014 recording, it’s a mind-melting display of uncontested talent.
The concept of the track is absurd. It’s a story song that’s essentially the hip-hop equivalent of a preposterous, though admittedly entertaining, thriller movie. Wayne enlists a band of women to seduce rich bachelors, earn their trust, and then act as cover for Wayne and his crew to subtly rob them blind of their expensive possessions. Kendrick’s verse is confusingly disconnected from Wayne’s, as he plays a hysterically jealous boyfriend who kills himself after suspecting his girlfriend of cheating. Again, it’s a ridiculous tale, and the song’s appeal is moreso in the craft of rapping than the vivid yet contextually silly storytelling. Wayne’s two verses are absolute marathons of fast-flow switch-ups, intricate wordplay, and masterful rhyme schemes. The sort of acrobatic spitting that Eminem wishes he could still muster, and a breed of technicality that only Kendrick could contend with. In his verse, he employs Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City flow and a variety of tones to accurately perform his manic character, while also dancing atop some truly impressive rhyme schemes.
“Mona Lisa” is a hip-hop homerun derby. The goofiness of where they’re swinging is moot. It’s all about watching the balls fucking soar.
Eli Enis | @eli_enis
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