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


Hello again, dearest readers, and welcome to The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year™, wherein we here at TMT™ proceed to systematically overwhelm you with such devastating displays of our collective musical taste buds’ complete and utter Un-Fuck-With-Ability™ throughout the past 365 days that you have no choice but to capitulate, agree with, and retweet everything we say. Oh, how we’ve been looking forward to this!

The latest in our power-mad agenda is this genuinely infallible list of our Favorite 50 Songs of 2018, which revisits all of the choice jams and non-jams that made the year 2018 so indisputably GREAT for EVERYONE in EVERY COUNTRY on EARTH, bar none! But don’t worry: because we know that your powers of retention are kinda feeble compared with ours, we’ve decided once again to make it a little easier for you to digest all of this next-level information by dividing it up into five separate themed mixes that we’re rolling out each day this week, titled GYM, VOID, CLIFF, ALLEY, and COUPE.

Now, this isn’t to say that you can’t enjoy our list of GYM songs while driving your COUPE off of a CLIFF or whatever; it’s just that we’re really, really desperate to control every aspect of your psychology, and we thought that sorting all of these fantastic 2018 highlights according to a few completely subjective and impressionistic “moods” would be a great way to do that. I mean: who the hell are you to argue, right? Right!

Happy holidays, everyone. Let’s get listening.


GYM · VOID · CLIFF · ALLEY · COUPE

The GYM mix features 10 ridiculously brawny jams from the past year, guaranteed to increase your VO2 max, even if you’re lying under the covers with your basset hound and smartphone right now. From powerlifting heavyweights like Ms. Boogie and DJ Koze to lithe and agile entries from W00dy and Charli XCX, all of these entries are sweaty, swole, tight, and chiseled like washboards.

PART 1: “GYM” mixed by C Monster


W00dy

“Catharsis”

[00:16]

[Self-Released]

“Catharsis” was the sound of a million MIDI-triggered samples shooting into an anti-gravity chamber at lightspeed. Once W00dy threw a new, brightly-colored element into the mix, it didn’t stop for a second, bouncing off other components instead, creating increasingly chaotic yet ultimately deterministic complexity akin to a double pendulum. The Philadelphia producer is one of few artists in the deconstructed club scene breaking apart traditional club elements while simultaneously keeping the dance floor moving. Fitting that her tagline is: “Attempting to bring absurdity 2 the dance floor.” Close your eyes, find something to latch onto, don’t let go for seven minutes.


Kyary Pamyu Pamyu

“きみのみかた (Kimino Mikata)”

[07:54]

[unBORDE]

“Kimino Mikata” was a gift. I mean that literally. Given as a birthday present to Kyary Pamyu Pamyu from producer Yasutaka Nakata, the track erupted with a sparkling onslaught of hyaluronic J-pop melodics and sprightly bass throbs, proving how a culture of cuteness doesn’t have to be a market of infantilization, even if the Harajuku star uses the track to sell skin-renewing face masks dipped in liquid essence. While the song touted uncharacteristically serious subject matter — the search for allies in the face of alienation and Fake News — “Kimino Mikata” was also about replenishment and renewal, about perseverance and the refusal of the human spirit to submit.


Ms. Boogie

“Morphin Time”

[11:27]

[Self-Released]

Over the most killer bass line of the year, darkly elastic and building with sinister synths, Ms. Boogie spat and purred. “Morphin Time” read as a celebration of transness as transition. Rather than an end product based on a normative idea of what a woman or man should be, she celebrated a process of becoming that was full of contradictions. And if that sounds a bit heavy, it was accompanied by references to the titular Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (the metaphor should be obvious), a delightfully dirtied-up J-Lo line, a queered Sisqo, Wakanda’s Black (power) Afrofuturist Vibranium, and vogue/ballroom culture. Ms. Boogie is stepping into her comfort zone, and “Morphin Time” was a bangin’ly seductive introduction to join her there.


Channel Tres

“Controller”

[15:00]

[Godmode]

As sensual as lip-wet whispers and a voice so sexy even the sax shudders while flirting with such deep gentle resonance. And the beat bounces! Swathing Moodymann’s blues with purple light, pink sound. While the sun shines. And it’s all just so… comfy! Yet, however seduced, we can’t lie in languor, so now we move all flash and flourish, like fingertips light on the keys and tip toes on warm pavement and hip, those roses strewn in the street. A daze for days, though eyelids low still eyes sparkle; this beat kept us cool.


Bad Gyal

“Internationally”

[18:36]

[Puro/CANADA]

GYM! GYM! GYM! I do not go to the GYM anymore. They tried to kick me out for “lifting weak-like, dancing way big, a spectacle.” They wanted to revoke my membership! But then I asked the GYM people if they’d ever felt their whole hearts melted into rainbow chasm? If they’d ever heard a whole planet reflected in that space, a bopping neon liberating and loving all their bodies? And they said no they hadn’t! So I let them drink from my headphones that effervescent trap gospel of Bad Gyal. And the GYM people asked me, “Will this free us?” So I shrugged! And now we all dance, membershipless, “INTERNATIONALLY,” thinking, maybe it will.


Ploy

“Ramos”

[21:59]

[Timedance]

This year, Ploy gave us the answer to a question we didn’t know we’d been asking: what happens when you take the current strain of post-hardcore continuum/bass music (?) emerging from labels like Timedance and combine it with the sound of one of those springy door stoppers being thwacked? You get something like “Ramos,” this year’s consensus pick for track most likely to make you grin in the dance. Over nearly seven delirious minutes, “Ramos” rolled and gasped, spitting out words (“Selektah”) and parts of words (“tah, tah, tah”) before juddering to a halt, ready to be rewound and set on its merry way once more. Sing it with me now: “Selektah, tah, tah, tah.”


Charli XCX

“Focus”

[28:34]

[Asylum]

It would be nice to believe that it’s enough in the era of chronic distraction to momentarily narrow your field of view to something sensual and human. Charli XCX’s “Focus,” an alloy of unadulterated desire and satisfaction, embodied the simple dream of embrace without interruption. If pop generally finds the essences of music synthesized into overcompressed clods of pleasure-forward sound, “Focus,” with its crystalline synths and calibrated melodies, was its apotheosis, a song so fixed to the ethos of pop escapism that the attention-deficient world outside of it languished in plain, loveless monochrome. It was a diamond among infinite interference, contact in the cold.


DJ Koze

“Pick Up”

[31:57]

[Pampa]

House music’s endless pulse continues to transform as the decades march on, but DJ Koze cut straight to its core this year with his album-minted version of live favorite “Pick Up.” True to the genre’s form, the song did as much as it could with as little as possible, consisting entirely of a sample from Melba Moore’s 1970s disco single “Pick Me Up, I’ll Dance” mixed in with the occasional refrain from Gladys Knight’s “Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye).” It was a hi-def take on the classic sound of 90s techno (which was, itself, standing on the shoulders of those crooning soul singers of days past), all brought back into focus for a late-2010s world that’s begun to rediscover dance music for itself. Between its vintage sparkle and bassy punch, “Pick Up” reached for timelessness in an age where nothing seems to last for more than a few seconds, gazing to the past while capturing a tangible slice of the neverending present. It was bittersweet in the same way that looking through old photographs is, reminding us that while it’s true we can never go back, just look at how far we’ve come.


Valee

“Womp Womp” (ft. Jeremih)

[38:21]

[G.O.O.D. Music]

Here at TMT, we like to think that we often “womp” our readers with site content. This might not make any sense to you, so here’s a favorite song of ours by Valee and Jeremih, titled “Womp Womp,” to show you what we mean. Hear how Jeremih is womp-ing at the beginning of the hook, and you don’t really understand it, but you like it? That’s the womp factor. Then here comes Valee (a Chicagoan who made big moves in 2018 by signing to G.O.O.D. Music) like halfway through, sauntering up to the mic with aloof detachment, present but removed, his flow a sigh in concert with cool animation: that’s also the womp factor. They perfectly tag-teamed the womp throughout and struck a fine balance over the filthy womp-worthy beat; by the end, they were just having fun passing the baton back and forth, womping and womping. Delightful! What else can be said? You’re right: womp womp.


Marie Davidson

“Work It”

[42:29]

[Ninja Tune]

For the high-functioning Type A in your rolodex: “Work It” was retro-dance fetishism in function and in form — business and pleasure with elite performance. It exploited the shared jargon of the office and the nightclub in solidarity with the corporatized center of modern dance music. Consider the idea of mobility: capitalism is, like, so obsessed with the illusion of the corporate ladder, and the liberational movement of dance, co-opted so gracelessly away from its roots, inches ever toward dancefloor meritocracy. At this point, all you can do is monetize your existence like everyone else.

Click to the next page to hear the “VOID” mix by Evan Coral.

GYM · VOID · CLIFF · ALLEY · COUPE

Open your mind to our mysterious and mind-bending VOID mix. 2018 luminaries like Grouper, Sunun, and the rest of this mix’s entries make world-class meditation gurus, but it’s still up to you to do the work. Start by pressing “play” and simply breathing through whatever emotions arise. Your next personal breakthrough awaits.

PART 2: “VOID” mixed by Evan Coral


Grouper

“The Races”

[00:00]

[Kranky]

In the hiccup of the anacrusis, Liz Harris let a hymn dribble out. “The Races,” with the prescience of a divining rod, led us with arcane certainty to a certain source (from French: “a rising, beginning, fountainhead of a river or stream”) of dowsing sensibility and dousing sensitivity. It smelled like rain. It was raining. And then it stopped, way too soon. And we dripped there, sluiced and remaindered, limned with the tickle of the gasp — that sticky lick of evaporation. And all that was left was muggy, gloaming: whiff of petrichor, burnished beckoning.


Housefire

“Magick Mirror”

[00:42]

[Hot Releases]


Riding the lightning in the cosmic rodeo like Victoria flying chariots into fires, Luciann Waldrup wrangled the elements with true grit, unruffled by the cascades of shattered glass caught in the swirl of the conjurer’s stampede. In “Magick Mirror,” she captured a sense of magnitude by herding EVP and other strange phenomena, leaving them to roam in analog fields of high density and depth, while she monitored the illusive line between chaos and control. These sorts of psychic round-ups only serve to strengthen the spirit.


Debit

“Audiacious”

[08:12]

[N.A.A.F.I]

The N.A.A.F.I label celebrated its first full-length release this year with Debit’s Animus, the perfect record to showcase the mutant sounds for which it’s become known. From gritty, ambient studies to pensive, tribal numbers, Debit delivered something for every electronic explorer. “Audiacious” was the cut that gripped us by the teeth, an aggressive barrage of sucker punches squeezed into less than three minutes — essential for those nights when you want to get all apocalyptic.


Mint Field

“Quiero Otoño De Nuevo”

[10:44]

[Innovative Leisure]

Staring into the vastness of the year gone by, appropriately a pair of 21-year-old women from Tijuana are looking back. Amor Amezcua and Estrella Sanchez are sending us a message from the future’s past telling us the autumn of our discontent is passing for something strangely new lurking just beyond our event horizon. “Quiero Otoño De Nuevo” borrowed from the time capsule of shoegaze and motorik — whether they are truly Wyld Stallions, transporting their music of unity and harmony, has yet to be determined — yet I hear the future, and it is brightly shining through our black hole of discord.


Messa

“Leah”

[15:22]

[Aural Music]

Sit back. Cast your mind. Let it rip. Initially, Messa evoked a 70s psychedelia/doom vibe on the epic 15-minute “Leah,” yet they soon transitioned into something unexpectedly ethereal, adding a new sheen of occult varnish to their sound. Here, rhythm was carried by voice and what sounded like a Rhodes, Sara’s harmonies gingerly hypnotizing us before heavy distortion and drums returned, laying the groundwork for entry into what lies beyond. The pace of this ritual may have been slow and steady, but we were consumed in full by the flame.


Ian Isiah

“Bedroom”

[23:18]

[Self-Released]

In simplest words, “Bedroom” was a song about having sex with two people at the same time — not that there isn’t something inherently complex about that. But Isiah is a truly talented minimalist songwriter, a genderless Afro-Caribbean futurist beauty-shop David Byrne, tying his saliva-covered cherry stems in subtle and revolutionary ways. The bedroom is a place of radical self-love, and Isiah’s lovers, “hoes” — What do we know about these people? They’re smart and they have ponytails — they “got no clothes in my bedroom.” On them? In the drawers? To their names? “Bedroom” punched its way around unexpected turns, as it dressed itself with molecular vocal riddim. It was a song about checking in on your partners, loving without gender, the holy trinity, and being fucking horny. Isiah recently said to Pitchfork, “I always want to make music that other musicians can study.” No one could say he hasn’t done exactly that.


Sunun

“Ishe Roots”

[25:57]

[Bokeh Versions]


But roots of whom or what? The city? The underground? Where abandoned tunnels twist and swell like varicose veins, sidewalk throngs avert their gaze repulsed by the blood that drew them here in the first place. Ishe saying “roots don’t grow (t)here? “Is-he-is-he-is-he dead?” Transmitting proto-[genre] from CB radios: the crackle of pirated bandwidth, the groundswell breach, the OriGinal riddims heartbeats and earthquakes. Ooid drops the V like ital, for oohs and ahhs, spellbinding, blurb spinning mantrachanics. We’re all under now.


ELUDEM

“Cold Water”

[29:57]

[HIT+RUN]


An easy target for the proud beat head is the emergence of “chill lo-fi” hip-hop radio. The pervasive 24/7 playlists invite ridicule, because many are by design inoffensive, peripheral complements to one’s environment. They tend to ford and avoid plunging into the beat ravine’s muddied depths. At TMT, we dug and let “Cold Water” in, but weren’t immediately drenched. We submerged gradually, as our shut eyes learned that the rickety crib, the swampy pad, and the blown-out bass were there to displace our own comforts. We gulped for the hearth, and before long, we dilated darkly.


Noah Creshevsky

“Lisa Barnard Redux”

[33:27]

[Orange Milk]


A compilation of Noah Creshevsky pieces composed and recorded since 1986 attested to what the folks at Orange Milk were probably thinking: the guy was way ahead of his time. “Lisa Barnard Redux” was one of the newer songs featured therein, and lest we be inclined to understate the instrumental versatility of the human voice, utterances from vocalist Lisa Barnard Kelley were edited and recorded in a way that demanded the shadowing of everything else. A futile light seemed to enter toward the end. And a whine.


Kanye West

“Lift Yourself”

[39:07]

[G.O.O.D. Music/Def Jam]

Kanye had a big year (does he know how to have any other?), but one of the standouts was this three-part slapper from April. The first two parts, which demonstrated how Kanye hasn’t lost his talent for morphing and combining disparate samples into a cohesive whole, were arguably (and unjustly) overshadowed by the third: a flow exercise utilizing a childish euphemism for excrement. It could be read as a middle finger to his haters, as trolling, as political statement, or perhaps most fittingly — it could be not read at all, only heard.

Click to the next page to hear the “CLIFF” mix by Colin Fitzgerald.

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.

GYM · VOID · CLIFF · ALLEY · COUPE

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”

[00:00]

[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.


Lolina

“The River”

[04:56]

[Self-Released]

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"

[07:25]

[Houndstooth]

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"

[11:19]

[Republic]

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.


JPEGMAFIA

"Baby I'm Bleeding"

[15:20]

[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)

[17:35]

[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

"Pachuyma"

[20:36]

[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.


Shygirl

"O"

[24:34]

[Nuxxe]

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.


Rosalía

"De Aquí No Sales"

[26:53]

[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

"Noid"

[29:22]

[Warp]

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.

GYM · VOID · CLIFF · ALLEY · COUPE

For our final year-end mix, let’s blow off work, jump into a state-of-the-art COUPE, hit the highway, and blast some of those 2018 standouts from Lil Wayne, Ariana Grande, Sheck Wes, and more. Upon their initial release, the 10 tracks on this thrilling mix all seemed to do a pretty decent job of making life’s perennial shit-show feel like it was actually exciting (at least for three or four minutes at a time). Maybe they could do it again.

PART 5: “COUPE” mixed by Sam Goldner


Drake

“God’s Plan”

[00:19]

[OVO Sound]

It’s July 4th in East Harlem, and it’s sweltering. If you want smoke, it’s here: Backwoods and barbecue pits and firecracker spits puffing loud(ly), and we’re dancing to Drake. A couple hours past 6PM in New York and you can see the official pyrotechnics popping out and off through the trees of Thomas Jefferson Park. Everyone’s got a phone out, and if it’s not to record the lights in the sky, it’s to cue up “God’s Plan.” But they (we, I) don’t care that those tinny speakers won’t capture the sub-bass booming out on the chorus, because they we I are am already spurred by the titillating little bric-a-brac drum pack no Kawhi. Affective economies circulate and constellate and scintillate — but, above all, persevere. And still. What I’m trying to say is twofold: you can’t escape Drake, but you’re also not too good for Drake. Karena Evans knows. She knows that Drake is shared, and so she got him to share, to swindle and bilk the record company directives and redistribute $999,631.90. “God’s Plan,” defaulting on aspirational attachments and assets accrued, sounds like and looks like and feels like an extravagant liquidation. Drake and Evans led by example here: we don’t owe anyone shit, except we owe each other everything.


Sheck Wes

“Mo Bamba”

[03:51]

[G.O.O.D Music/Cactus Jack/Interscope]

This was a tricky one, as the foremost accomplishment of “Mo Bamba” just might’ve been that it was impervious to narrative. The great promise of the song was that, while it played, there was not a soul alive who cared whether or not it was really the new “Faneto;” contra the plodding pace of the discourse, “Mo Bamba” was the sound of music taking physical, undomesticated form. At the function, its appearance was inevitable, both entirely expected and perpetually welcome; the real magic was that the effect was unchanged whether heard up close or at a distance, through dying earbuds or from a passing car.


Playboi Carti

“R.I.P.”

[06:49]

[Interscope/AWGE]

“R.I.P.” was a problem. To be sure, its inclusion in the COUPE (as well as this list more generally) is thoroughly deserved — it was an exemplary case in point of simple, hypnotic minimalism, one that sunk its tendrils in with throbbing bass and light-hearted keys, and even acted as a springboard for Tyler and Denzel to prime their own versions. Much of this, of course, can be attributed to Pi’erre Bourne, with the digital-deep production that has undoubtedly been a sine qua non of Playboi Carti’s wider appeal. But it was die littest himself who proved to be both “R.I.P’s” main draw and its most troublesome component. Much of Carti’s lyricism and vocal play isn’t necessarily an extension of Self, but here, real life, real lives, intruded. How can we square his triumphalism — “bought that crib for my mama off that mumblin’ shit” — with his violence? Is it befitting of the mindless fun the track posits? What should we expect of our most vaunted artists? Can we keep listening? As “R.I.P.” came crashing back down in a delirious maelstrom of yaps, utterances, and gun shots, these questions seemed increasingly harder to answer.


Lil Wayne

“Uproar”

[09:52]

[Young Money]

Awaited like a special delivery, like joy, danger, or a second chance, C5 arrived with tears and wails, but it was not until the declarative “Wayne time!” that the music felt imperative. Anything less than “Uproar” would be a backslide, but here was a powerglide. A Swizz beat, the Second Summer of Love, windows down in the wintertime. We live everywhere at the end of time, but we also live in a world where Lil Wayne never stood less than 30 feet tall. “Even if they stopped me.” We could hear him smiling every other syllable, and for that, thank God.


Matt Ox

“Jet Lag” (ft. Chief Keef)

[13:06]

[Motown]

Whether we were enjoying Matt OX in earnest or with muddled irony back when the kid blew up Twitter/Instagram/SoundCloud with the fidget-spinner-studded “Overwhelming” video, the fact is, we were all enjoying it. That was a while ago, so for most of 2018, we were left wondering WHAT WILL HE DO NEXT???? Well, he teamed up with Chief Keef, of course! (Sosa was a new teenage rapper once, too, remember?) This here earworm appeared on his new tape OX, which I suggest you stream or download or buy or whatever right now, because holy shit just listen to it. Now, I know what you’re thinking: did Matt OX — who turned 14 this week — actually have jet lag? Your answer: WHO CARES! He sounded so good claiming that he did over a ridiculously charged Oogie Mane beat, who indeed killed it. And how bout Chief Keef’s weird & wacky shout-flow?? A hip-hop ballad for the ages, and a harbinger of good things to come.


SahBabii

“Anime World”

[16:12]

[Casting Bait]

Ridiculousness reached an all-time high in 2018, particularly when it came to hip-hop. We all may still be living in the shadow of Thugger, but on “Anime World,” Chicago-via-Atlanta mumbler SahBabii finally managed to escape the oft-made comparisons to his yelping, tongue-twisting forebear. Fleshing out a nerdy, escapist fantasy world all his own, “Anime World” had SahBabii bragging about googly-eyed manga girls in between shoutouts to ramen and stoned half-thoughts asking whether it’s “too late to go celibate,” staking out his own goofy territory with each of his geeked-out Naruto references. Based TJ’s liquid-smooth beat didn’t hurt either, cruising along on bubbly synths that would make the perfect soundtrack for lounging out on a huge conch shell bed in Zora’s Domain. But “Anime World” was more than just a dreamy ode to those late nights spent demolishing episodes of Death Note while scarfing down bowls of cereal; it was yet another joyful, multi-colored scribble in rap’s ever-expanding notebook and cheeky proof that the right flow can even make hentai sound cool.


Nicki Minaj

“Chun Swae” (ft. Swae Lee)

[19:25]

[Young Money/Cash Money/Republic]

The most genuine quality of “Chun Swae” by Nicki Minaj and Swae Lee was the vocal role-reversal. As contemporary rap continues to be smothered in alpha-male mentalities (no matter how sincere the sound), “Chun Swae” #fatalitied listeners with ultra self-conscious hooks of consent by Swae and nut-gripping words smelted by Nicki. It was another next-step for #MeToo — “If he don’t lose the attitude and run off with his credit cards too” — acknowledging the temperamentality of male hormonal subconsciousness getting the best of men in more ways than infinity. All this while Swae presented the way of real-world looks.


Ariana Grande

“no tears left to cry”

[25:07]

[Republic]

Ariana Grande has made a craft of rising to the top of her game just as she should be hitting bottom. You could call it resilience, or you could chalk it up to artifice (I won’t stop you either way), but the result was a season’s worth of bubblegum pick-me-ups and a year-end chartbuster to take stans through the tragedy and turbulence. While “sweetener” didn’t exit my psyche for months on end (a compulsive refrain) and “get well soon” provided a necessary cool-down, “no tears left to cry” was essential, injecting itself into a historical lineage of woeful, emotive club bangers.


Carly Rae Jepsen

“Party for One”

[28:30]

[Interscope]

Self-empowerment and masturbation aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. Canadian pop sprite Carly Rae Jepsen is well aware of this truth, and on “Party for One,” she veered into both the salacious and the magnanimous as she spun tragedy into triumph. “If you didn’t know that you were right for me, then there’s nothing I can say,” she intoned with resignation on the track’s opening line. But rejection turned to felicity. “Party for one […] I’ll just dance for myself […] Making love to myself.” Maybe it was an ode to self-reliance. Maybe it was just a jack-off banger. Either way, “Party for One” was some much-needed exultation in this abysmal year.


SOPHIE

“Immaterial”

[31:51]

[Future Classic]

Quick, point to yourself. Does your finger hover over your heart? Between your eyes? Pointing to the body is the obvious response, but the body is a fallacy; we point to it — through it — to index identity, what we perform and embody. “Immaterial” reminded us that although we experience ourselves through the body, the body isn’t the only place where our selves can be found, interacted with, and experienced. Like the internet — quick, point to it — the self is a network, a web of meanings we spin. SOPHIE encapsulated that redeeming self-invention, asserting, “I could be anything I want.”

Click to the next page to view and listen to the entire list.

GYM · VOID · CLIFF · ALLEY · COUPE

PART 1: “GYM” mixed by C Monster

[00:16] W00dy - “Catharsis”
[07:54] Kyary Pamyu Pamyu - “きみのみかた (Kimino Mikata)”
[11:27] Ms. Boogie - “Morphin Time”
[15:00] Channel Tres - “Controller”
[18:36] Bad Gyal - “Internationally”
[21:59] Ploy - “Ramos”
[28:34] Charli XCX - “Focus”
[31:57] DJ Koze - “Pick Up”
38:21] Valee - “Womp Womp” (ft. Jeremih)


PART 2: “VOID” mixed by Evan Coral

[00:00] Grouper - “The Races”
[00:42] Housefire - “Magick Mirror”
[08:12] Debit - “Audiacious”
[10:44] Mint Field - “Quiero Otoño De Nuevo”
[15:22] Messa - “Leah”
[23:18] Ian Isiah - “Bedroom”
[25:57] Sunun - “Ishe Roots”
[29:57] ELUDEM - “Cold Water”
[33:27] Noah Creshevsky - “Lisa Barnard Redux”
[39:07] Kanye West - “Lift Yourself”


PART 3: “CLIFF” mixed by Colin Fitzgerald

[00:00] Julia Holter - “I Shall Love 2”
[05:18] Young Jesus - “Fourth Zone of Gaits”
[09:08] Amen Dunes - “Miki Dora”
[14:05] Jeff Witscher - “Nice Sunny Day”
[15:09] Marissa Nadler - “Blue Vapor”
[18:27] Jenny Hval - “Spells”
[24:23] Beach House - “Dive”
[28:43] Haley Heynderickx - “Oom Sha La La”
[31:34] serpentwithfeet - “bless ur heart”
[35:22] 공중도둑 (Mid-Air Thief) - “쇠사슬 (Ahhhh, These Chains​!​)”


PART 4: “ALLEY” mixed by Lijah Fosl

[00:00] Oli XL - “Power Over Death”
[04:56] Lolina - “The River”
[07:25] Aïsha Devi - “Light Luxury”
[11:19] James Blake - “If The Car Besides You Moves Ahead”
[15:20] JPEGMAFIA - “Baby I’m Bleeding”
[17:35] Bamba Pana - “Lingalinga (ft. Makaveli)”
[20:36] Elysia Crampton - “Pachuyma”
[24:34] SHYGIRL - “O”
[26:53] Rosalía - “De Aquí No Sales”
[29:22] Yves Tumor - “Noid”


PART 5: “COUPE” mixed by Sam Goldner

[00:19] Drake - “God’s Plan”
[03:51] Sheck Wes - “Mo Bamba”
[06:49] Playboi Carti - “R.I.P.”
[09:52] Lil Wayne - “Uproar”
[13:06] Matt OX - “Jet Lag” (ft. Chief Keef)
[16:12] SahBabii - “Anime World”
[19:25] Nicki Minaj - “Chun Swae” (ft. Swae Lee)
[25:07] Ariana Grande - “no tears left to cry”
[28:30] Carly Rae Jepsen - “Party for One”
[31:51] SOPHIE - “Immaterial”

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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