2018: Favorite 50 Songs Jams and non-jams for EVERYONE in EVERY COUNTRY on EARTH

We celebrate the end of the year the only way we know how: through lists, essays, and mixes. Join us as we explore the music that helped define the year. More from this series


GYM · VOID · CLIFF · ALLEY · COUPE

The CLIFF mix is designed to bring you right up to the edge… and maybe a step beyond it. Songs from Marissa Nadler, Jenny Hval, Amen Dunes, and others took us past that point of no return this year, whether we were ready for it or not. Just be careful: after you hit play on this mix, there’s no going back to the way things were.

PART 3: “CLIFF” mixed by Colin Fitzgerald


Julia Holter

“I Shall Love 2”

[00:00]

[Domino]

“You will fall in love.” Has that ever been used as a threat? A mandate? To the extent that falling in love entails the fading-out of the individual, one can posit essential reasons to resist it. Indeed, love is subject to the bargaining Julia Holter suggests here, with the refrain “Why do you squander?/ Why do you hoard?” But can one compel oneself into falling in love? “I Shall Love 2” circles that idea, moving from confusion, the chill that clouds one’s eyes, to the ecstatic, the overwhelming sensual experience. And that is a beautiful enough reading of a song that doubles as a plea for empathy, to acknowledge the other in their uniqueness. To move away from love described in hunting and war metaphors, from ravishment and desire to compassion and care. A pledge to partake in the communion of love as a fundamental part of human nature.


Young Jesus

“Fourth Zone of Gaits”

[05:18]

[Saddle Creek]

Yeah, fine, it’s 2018, and I still judge all indie rock based on how much it sounds like the first two Pavement albums. And by that criteria, Young Jesus’ “Fourth Zone of Gaits” was a fucking masterpiece. These Los Angeles rockers can be (understandably) self-indulgent when they find a perfect groove, but between the sublime guitar tones and John Rossiter’s coolheaded delivery of his pensive lyrics, they distilled all the power they have in order to capture the elusive spirit of classic indie rock. But let’s be clear: it’s a seriously beautiful song in its own right.


Amen Dunes

“Miki Dora”

[09:08]

[Sacred Bones]

Miki Dora was a surfing legend with a subversive streak, legendary for his grace on the waves and his lack thereof on solid ground. Listening to Damon McMahon’s inimitable voice on the track that bears his name, you’re there with him in Malibu skulling beers in 1963, intimidating rival surf gangs off your turf, standing your ground between the world that so clearly has it out for you and the ocean whose restless energy so mirrors your own. As McMahon pleaded with his listener to “roll around with me,” all of life was reduced to human and wave, the holiest of moments. Accepting his offer was an easy call.


Jeff Witscher

“Nice Sunny Day”

[14:05]

[Salon]


Uhhh… country music? Some might argue that it’s a genre in desperate need of saving from its generally hackneyed state, but recruiting Jeff Witscher (a.k.a. Rene Hell) for the task is apparently the equivalent of calling in the Kool-Aid Man to perform your home renovations. The relevant album was capsizing, and despite the twangy refrain that tended to lend an easy smile to your face, the weirdness of “Nice Sunny Day” prevailed thanks to curious humming and bot-transcribed poetry. Anticipate a Texan double-take if you secretly insert it between your pal’s fav Blake Shelton hits.


Marissa Nadler

“Blue Vapor”

[15:09]

[Sacred Bones/Bella Union]

Marissa Nadler’s music has crossed my path at the right time several times in the past. I am a fan, and although there are many great songs on For My Crimes, nothing rattled my sacred bones like “Blue Vapor” did this year. Nadler’s songwriting is a rare, extreme form of musical intimacy; her style is so unique, so personal that she draws the listener into her world and creates a beautiful feeling of kinship, whether writing from her own perspective or snaking someone else’s. “Blue Vapor” is such a HEAVY song too — you can feel the despair clawing at heartstrings and proves that she is truly in a gothic soul class of her own.


Jenny Hval

“Spells”

[18:27]

[Sacred Bones]

Sensorily fecund, Jenny Hval’s “Spells” was both fixed pressing and a fine, flyin’ free spit of ocean mist. It was the squinted-out course-correct off cross winds as they cut, caressed, and wapped your face. It was more than a cautioning, or restorative, space, more than those vaporous horn swells and every time Hval says “you” in that gloriously discomfiting way. Despite lyrics deeming the activity “futile,” this could’ve been your (post-workout cooldown) dance track of 2018. It was a toe tapper. But — watch your step — there’s more there. These six minutes were as moreish as this ridge line path is winding.


Beach House

“Dive”

[24:23]

[Sub Pop]

Part of what made “Dive” such an emotionally rewarding song was its placement within Beach House’s newest album, 7. Immediately following fellow standout track “Drunk in LA,” it built on that song’s slow-burn until finally offering a cathartic release. Thematically, “Dive” inverted “Drunk in LA’s” introspection and resignation for a questing finality, as if to say that, face to face with a precipice of uncertainty, the only way to move on is to take a risk and jump. And if you angle your body in such a way, you can control where you land.


Haley Heynderickx

“Oom Sha La La”

[28:43]

[Mama Bird]

Ever worry about things? Same. While writing this very sentence, actually. Haley Heynderickx has worries and doubts too, and on “Oom Sha La La” — a highlight off her stellar debut album — they were collecting and spreading around her brain like mold. Heynderickx repeated her concerns throughout the song, each time with a growing sense of urgency and hysteria. There was a refrain to all her self-doubt however, and it went, “Oom sha la la, oom oom sha la la.” Among the mental mildew, it felt comforting and familiar. When the screaming — internal and external — was over, Heynderickx was determined to not let the specter of self-doubt weigh her down. Doing nothing equates to experiencing nothing, and it’s worth it to experience something, even if it is ultimately embarrassing or negative. So, she’ll make up a song, she’ll start a garden, whatever — they’re equally as hard. Que será, será. So it goes. Oom sha la la.


serpentwithfeet

“bless ur heart”

[31:34]

[Secretly Canadian]

Adoration and sincerity are in scarce supply in this social economy that demands unconditional allegiance. There are few, if any, idols in this crumbling cosmos worthy of worship, few monuments that deserve preservation. On soil ostensibly abandoned by God and reclaimed by his most violent descendants, it is astonishing that serpentwithfeet has found something (or someone) in this world that provokes adoration with such liturgical intensity. This little devotional’s brilliant queerness was bold, but only because, by comparison, so little is; serpent’s impression on “bless ur heart” was absolute and nearly eternal as its sonic coils squeezed deeper around eardrums and hearts with each listen. The song’s title wasn’t a pan-American platitude, exclaimed with a sardonic drawl; rather, this was a performative ritual with real, pragmatic, trans-substantial power. Its existence and its performance was, in itself, a blessing. Bless serpentwithfeet for sharing it in such heartless times!


공중도둑 (Mid-Air Thief)

“쇠사슬 (Ahhhh, These Chains​!​)”

[35:22]

[Self-Released]


What is this song about, and where did it come from? Does that matter at all? How often do we get to discover music completely in the clear, free of preordained PR narratives, expectations, or artistic baggage? Precisely. We have nothing to frame our analysis of “Ahhhh These Chains!,” except that it came out in the fall with season-appropriate signifiers. It sounded like a virtuosic sojourn into electronic-tinged folk-pop, delicate and elegant to delightful extremes. When listening, one imagined a forest’s starry sky minutes before the first snowfall, and yet, a machine-assisted translation of the information available on Mid-Air Thief’s Bandcamp suggested something closer to Castlevania, with encroaching chains and bloody knives. What do you know, the mystery around 2018’s most fascinating anomaly deepens! A glitch in the algorithm-driven landscape we are most thankful for, a folky gem we never knew we needed, a Korean kid’s bedroom reverie.

Click to the next page to hear the “ALLEY” mix by Lijah Fosl.

We celebrate the end of the year the only way we know how: through lists, essays, and mixes. Join us as we explore the music that helped define the year. More from this series


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