Choosing favourite songs of the year is always an enjoyable experience where you get the chance to savour and celebrate the music that has been the soundtrack to your life over the last twelve months. What I find tricky is trying to rank the songs in some kind of order, as if art can be reduced to a competition. Still I think it’s an interesting challenge to try and compose a chart so I have made an attempt to play favourites. There were so many golden songs this year that really I could have written this tomorrow with an entirely differently order!
20) Vivian Leva – Time is Everything
Time is Everything is beautiful in its simplicity – full of a yearning restlessness for something better in her relationship. Leva’s delivery hits straight to the heart.
19) Ruby Boots – Don’t Talk About It
Co-written with the original highway queen herself, Ms Nikki Lane, this song from Ruby Boots was a contemplative slice of dreamy Americana and the highlight of her excellent album of the same name.
This haunting song from Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus is taken from their tentative first collaborative E.P. released earlier his year. On this you hear echoes of Trio, where the voices of Dolly, Linda and Emmylou became a collective instrument. boygenius too have found a new voice, where three becomes one. You sense that this could be the start of something really special.
17) The War & Treaty featuring Emmylou Harris – Here is Where The Loving is At
When Emmylou guests on a song you have to listen and this little gem from The War & Treaty is just a wonderful example of the power of collective voices. Together their mix of classic country and soul really soars. The healing tide of this duo’s music has only just begun.
16) Anna Burch – Tea-Soaked Letter
A sarcastic slice of indie pop which already feels like a classic. It’s as catchy as anything you will hear all year and just dripping with personality. For me Burch is equal to her hyped indie rock contemporaries Soccer Mommy and Snail Mail.
15) Florence and the Machine – Hunger
Hunger is truly a remarkable achievement, with one of the most brutally honest opening lines of any mainstream song I can remember: At seventeen I started to starve myself / I thought that love was a kind of emptiness. You can only admire the guts it took to sing this truth and use it to contemplate the hunger we all can experience in life and love.
Celebrating everything feminine and the colour pink, this was one of the highlights of an album packed with stand outs. Monae’s powerful aesthetic was also present in the stunning video for the song, rightly nominated for a Grammy.
13) Shemekia Copeland – Smoked Ham & Peaches
A song written by Mary Gauthier about being authentic and true to yourself is delivered with heart and soul by Copeland. She may have made her name as a blues singer but this song fits the definition of how Americana should sound: honest, raw and real.
12) Tracyanne & Danny – Alabama
Tracyanne Campbell wrote this wonderful song as a tribute to her friend Carey Lander, who tragically died of cancer a few years ago. Alabama is a touching celebration of a lost friend and it’s hard to listen without welling up.
Night Shift is six minutes of heartbreak in a cathartic grunge style which feels so vivid and vital. The song takes its time but when it erupts you are left in awe at the power of Dacus’ music.
10) Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper – Shallow
It’s somewhat ironic that only when Lady Gaga began acting did we actually get a glimpse of her true talent as a singer. You don’t need to see the movie to understand the power of this song but it surely helps. Gone are the artful disguises and autotune – instead she belts out the song with an emotional heart that can barely contain itself.
Nobody is a brutal slice of loneliness wrapped up in an indie disco beat. In a better reality this song becomes a hit and she gets to live out that one movie kiss she’s been dreaming of. The hunger to make connections is overwhelming but Mitski knows that nobody will save her. In the end music might be all you ever really have.
8) Courtney Patton – What It’s Like To Fly Alone (Hawk Song)
Written after a hawk swooped in front of her car late one night, this near accident experience caused Patton to contemplate life from the solitary bird’s perspective. She sings, I know what it’s like to fly alone, showing a sympathetic songwriting heart which gains strength from solitude. One of the best country songs of the year.
Overland was always my favourite song on the glorious I’m With Her album and over the year its power just kept growing. In August when I saw the band for the second time this year they encouraged the crowd to sing along. So we did. The quiet murmurings of the choir grew in strength until it felt like we’d been singing this song our whole lives. It was a beautiful, spine-tingling moment from a group who hopefully have a long future travelling the rails together.
6) Lindi Ortega – Lovers in Love
Lindi Ortega’s 2018 release Liberty may have been a concept album but the song Lovers in Love was strong enough to stand alone. Getting married was the catalyst for this song but her wisdom comes from a life lived. The song is also just one of the prettiest moments in music this year. A duet version with Corb Lund has also been released which stripped it back to its core and proved that a song as good as this one could have been delivered by any number of classic country pairings of the last century.
Human Child, the stand out song on Belly’s comeback album Dove, was first released on the Record Store Day 10” in April. On that day I got up insanely early and joined a queue, hoping to secure one of the little beauties. The first shop failed to have it in stock, causing a minor panic and dash across town to join a second queue where I was lucky enough to snap it up. When I eventually got home I was tired and emotional so listening to this song caused a minor emotional breakdown. I wasn’t sad though, it was just really, really fucking incredible to hear your favourite band come back to life after twenty years. When Tanya sings ‘it’s a beautiful night / I’m here to drag you outside’ I felt the joy deep inside my soul.
4) Pistol Annies – Best Years of My Life
A song for women, about women, by women. Together the Annies convey the hurt, the pain, the bittersweet joy of life’s struggle. Every line is pure genius, especially the opening ‘I picked a good day for a recreational Percocet / I have an itch to just get high/ I’m in the middle of the worst of it / these are the best years of my life’ sung by Ashley Monroe in such a way so that the listener knows she’s lived it. Women are just so fucking tired right now and no wonder. The Annies are here to ease your mind and that’s maybe all anyone needs from a song.
3) Courtney Marie Andrews – May Your Kindness Remain
There’s few epic songs which could grow in sound and stature by being played entirely unplugged in the middle of an audience, but that is what Courtney Marie Andrews has been doing every night on her recent solo acoustic tour. She is a songwriter who asks questions – of her listeners, of herself and makes us consider the importance of kindness, compassion, love. The power and presence of her music in my life this year has been such a gift and this song says it all.
2) Amanda Shires – Break Out the Champagne
Some songs make you laugh, some make you cry, and some make you feel better about the shitshow that is life. Amanda Shires does it all. In the three part structure of this song each verse deals with a different life-changing scenario. In the first instance a girl predicts the end of the world, sharing her doomsday prophecy over a bathroom stall, no less. The second tells the tale of a mid-air disaster when a plane loses its engine and the final story is about a woman who gets unceremoniously dumped by her boyfriend.
Shires’ response to each potential scenario is to break out the damn champagne and just embrace disaster. If you’ve ever thought ‘fuck it, lets party’ then you’ll understand exactly what she’s singing about. Everyone goes through crap, you can’t control the disasters you face in life but you can control your reaction to them. Shires reminds us to enjoy life, embrace the chaos and remember you’re rock and roll and they’re golf.
1) Kacey Musgraves – Space Cowboy
Someone tweeted that their favourite musical moment of 2018 was the pause between ‘space’ and ‘cowboy’ on this song from Kacey Musgraves and it’s hard to disagree with them. It’s such a simple refrain but the silence speaks volumes, the song conveys heartbreak but ultimately ends with maturity and acceptance. You can’t control what other people feel and you probably shouldn’t even try. People change and they let you down. Love fades. It’s not always a tragedy.
As the year went on the song’s metaphor began to take on another meaning, summing up Kacey’s country music career. She had given her all to the genre and received little support in return. The only answer was to break out of that Nashville gate and never look back. Run to the horizon, see where the wind takes you. When a horse wants to run / ain’t no sense in closing the gate. Kacey’s success in the all-genre Grammys, as well as her high placements on most end of year lists shows her new direction was a risk worth taking.
Space Cowboy is a masterpiece of understated bliss proving 2018 has really been a Golden Hour for music.
You can listen to all the songs on my Spotify playlist:
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