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


With the ALLEY mix, you better watch your back. When we crossed their paths earlier in the year, tracks from the likes of Elysia Crampton, JPEGMAFIA, Yves Tumor, and the rest of these entries snuck up and cut us hard. Each song here is razor sharp, slightly unhinged, and more than a little desperate to get itself stuck inside you. You’ve been warned.

PART 4: “ALLEY” mixed by Lijah Fosl

Oli XL

“Power Over Death”


[Posh Isolation]

For the last couple months that I lived in Arizona, I had a CD of I Could Go Anywhere But Again I Go With You in my car, playing on a loop. It’s one of the best and most eclectic compilations of new music released in a long time, and added its varied assemblage of textures to the constant hum of the car’s air conditioner. These 24 tracks work together primarily because they don’t. Because of that, it’s difficult to pick a highlight, but Oli XL’s “Power Over Death” is as good of a candidate as any. It was a bit subtler than most of the Stockholm-based artist’s work, but it shared the particular brokenness and irregular sputter by which all of his music is marked. Like many of the tracks compiled with it, the song didn’t really have a conventional compositional or dynamic narrative. Two notes swelled in unending repetition, flanked by percussion that, with its mechanical randomness, sounded like both a machine and a crackling fire. The only source of tension was the gradual appearance of a light, harmonic shimmer, which lingered for the second half of the track before it all abruptly fell into silence. Back in the sunny desert, “Power Over Death” was a dark oasis. Stuck in traffic, I found patience in its incongruous beauty, which defied the old notion about ambient music needing to take you somewhere else.


“The River”



Oyster is flesh, shielded in shell. Unlike more fashionable mollusks, oyster shells are typically dull, rough, covered in barnacles. In Spanish, concha (shell, esp. mollusk) means pussy. In London, your Oyster takes you where you need to go; your pussy is mass public transport, despite you. It’s your wherever; dull, rough, covered in barnacles. The misuse, abuse, overuse of the flesh compelled Lolina to announce: "In the river, I throw in my Oyster." She was prying open her own beat-up shell, narrating a crisis in the flesh: the flesh in crisis.

Aïsha Devi

"Light Luxury"



The hyperpriestess initiates us into the aetherave. The hanged man presides. We are reminded that we are light, which is a luxury. It exceeds us. The snake transcends and the flower it chokes on, too. The ultimate deconstruction of presence is that when she opens her mouth, the frequencies of her voice are encoded with spells that heal us. The snake transcends, but this trance never ends. The dislocation of the alpha or the "A" in différance. There, in her L.V.X.

James Blake

"If the Car Beside You Moves Ahead"



In our panic, it became a mad rush to find the song that could audibly bottle up the stomach-pit sense of dread we collectively felt. We were all falling, and whether we were in a roller coaster or a total freefall was still to be discovered. Read enough and you'll see: we all wanted a song that really told us how much trouble we're in. I nominate this one. With a vocal performance that moves through time like waving hands of a drowning child, James Blake stumbled into perhaps his best work to date. What feels more appropriate than this kind of lyrical validity stretched to the point of absurdity? I was a bad boy. You were a bad boy. We were bad boys. That was bad.


"Baby I'm Bleeding"


[Deathbomb Arc]

Antagonism is the tenor of online conversation as provocation replaces meaningful discourse. JPEGMAFIA is not antagonistic; instead, he centers on the antagonism embedded in modern life. Sonically, "Baby I'm Bleeding" injected an intoxicating disorientation before returning to the comfort of the beat. Peggy's bars rejected rap's Percocet malaise and abuse apologia, instead confronting racial capitalism. Yuppies, hipsters, gentrifiers, white boys — these aren't representations of oppressive structures, but the embodiment of them. Peggy positioned his being in conflict with them, moving politics from abstraction to the concrete of the sidewalk, your mouth on the curb and Peggy's foot on your head.

Bamba Pana

"Lingalinga" (ft. Makaveli)


[Nyege Nyege Tapes]

Being blessed by Senegalese people is attributed to experiencing their cultural animism, en masse. Although Bamba Pana is Tanzanian, he — along with his Sisso studio and Nyege Nyege Tapes mates — manipulated the "acoustic and instrumental style of Singeli" on Poaa with pure sonic enlightenment. "Lingalinga (ft. Makaveli)" provided the album's thesis of balance between the spirit world and what we listen to on modern-day Earth: secrets shared without answers, languages hyper-melodied in untranslated rhythms, and hidden swarays revealed. Parties in blush. Experiencing lime light. Feeling flush.

Elysia Crampton



[Break World]

"Pachuyma" recalled a voiceless "American Drift," a limitless horizon truncated by invisible lines, colonized like constellations by wide-eyed star-wranglers upon spotting old gods suspended in darkness. Blaze just, Orion. Here, though, there were no words. Only drums. And crashing keys. And air horns. Not an announcement, not an introduction, but a reminder. A (fashion) statement of purpose, a glyphless badge of identity, a limitless braid of space-time. Blaze spoiled signage. A crying out into three dimensions, rushing over flat imaginary lines like a river run footless. This beat has always beat here, like a primeval gash, pulsating, swelling up around each damaged vein. All this with no words. No blue ridge stay blue, bright wing stay bright, but blue ridge and bright wing, encoded in eternal sound.





Breathless, relentless, imposing, and succinct, "O" repeated its vocal line at a dead-heat, pummeled along, swerving, driven. Kick drum, kick drum, kick drum. Vocals as percussion, as intensity; repetition as a statement of purpose, as limitless drive. This song was pure, raw, relentless. This song was the hip-hop ideal of transcendental perfection of the self, reduced to pure refusal to cease moving. Play it 10 times in a row. It's a drug with reverse tolerance: it gets stronger. Keep moving.


"De Aquí No Sales"


[Sony Music]

Rosalía's El Mal Querer documented a doomed relationship, but often played like an idiosyncratic blockbuster action film: driven less by its concept than its series of captivating sonic set pieces, of which "De Aquí No Sales" was perhaps the most striking example. Swagger has rarely been evoked so poetically as it was by the manipulated snarls of ATV engines that entered under Rosalía's a capella intro, but she and El Guicho also showed control by only giving the engine sounds 30 seconds of screen time before building a busy, hallucinatory soundscape of claps and chopped vocals in their place.

Yves Tumor




What's "Noid"? Noid is part "paranoid," but also nodule, node, void, noise, like an existence of emptiness in outlined space. There were only a few words here. How many more ways could a body say, "I'm scared for my life"? Verse and chorus, and then again, a song's statistics like the march of murders from state-sanctioned handguns. "Noid" was pop unsprawling after the elegy, before the next shot. You know there was going to be a next shot. “Safe in the hands of love?” In skin unsafe to be in, Yves Tumor begged us to only look outside and see the numbers stacking up.

Click to the next page to hear the “COUPE” mix by Sam Goldner.

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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