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Paste’s 50 Best Songs of 2018 Features Sunflower Bean, Mitski and a Slew of Other High Road Artists

[Paste Magazine]

There were times in 2018 when everything just felt like too much. We saw a divided nation grow even further apart. We witnessed mass shootings, the #MeToo movement’s successes and heartbreaking downfalls, a slew of devastating natural disasters and a chaotic administration try to patch it all up. But in the two years since that harrowing election, we’ve figured out how to cope. We’re used to—but not complacent in—these turbulent times. And our ability to handle it all is in part thanks to the great art that has emerged from the chaos. Matador Records, a label that’s home to several of the artists featured on this list, has a Spotify playlist called “Great Music For Terrible Times.” Though these times aren’t entirely terrible, Matador’s right, in a way: We need music even more when the going gets tough. The songs on this list would fit snugly under that same title. These are the songs we needed this year—to dance to, laugh to, cry to or space out to. These are the songs that helped us understand 2018 and survive in 2018. Whether it was a self-love bop from one of rap’s rising female stars or a #MeToo anthem by a rightfully enraged rock band, a dizzying love song or a quiet muse on the bleak state of affairs, or maybe even a blissful pop song, this year’s tunes often provided us with just what we needed to get by in the moment, and we’re sure to be playing these jams for years to come. Here are the songs that moved us in 2018.

2. Sunflower Bean, “Twentytwo”
Are you 22? Or, were you at one time 22? Then you know. You know what it feels like when the protective bubble of youth begins to wrinkle and then pop, when adulthood arrives before you were done being a kid. You remember that all-consuming confusion—and stress—born out of questions like “Who am I?” and “What the hell am I supposed to do with the rest of my life?” Sunflower Bean are all-too familiar with those qualms. Each member of the New York City trio, one of the most consistent groups working in indie-rock today, was 22 when they recorded Twentytwo in Blue, and, on a single track, they flawlessly capture the anxiety, beauty, fear, sadness and excitement that permeate a human being’s 22nd year of earth-dwelling. Not to mention, “Twentytwo” is one of the most smartly and creatively composed songs to come out of this year, complete with an achingly melodic chorus and unforgettable riffs. “Independent, that’s how you view yourself,” frontwoman Julia Cumming sings, before later declaring, “I do not go quietly / Into the night that calls me.” 2018 brought us all kinds of anthems, but—and maybe this is my sappy post-grad subconscious talking—“Twentytwo” might just be the most heartfelt of them all. —Ellen Johnson

7. Mitski, “Nobody”
Disco beats had a moment this year—and so did cowboys. The slick disco blips appeared first on Kacey Musgraves’s “High Horse,” a dance song fueled by cowboy metaphors, then again, a few months later, on arguably the best song from Mitski’s Be The Cowboy, “Nobody,” in which the indie-rock monarch employs tight basslines and movie-score drums to make a thumping, sweaty dance track. Mitski shouts into the void to anyone who can hear her: “I’m just asking for a kiss / Give me one good movie kiss.” As her despair worsens, the song just gets louder, faster and groovier. Who knew the sound of loneliness could be so irresistible? —Ellen Johnson

14. boygenius, “Bite The Hand”
In August, the good people at Matador Records finally pulled back the curtain on the new supergroup made up of Lucy Dacus, Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers, boygenius. “Bite The Hand” is Lucy Dacus’ chance to shine, an unflinching declaration of independence that would have fit right in on Historian. What sets it apart from her solo work, however, is its choruses, on which Dacus, Baker and Bridgers harmonize to drop-dead gorgeous and increasingly powerful effect, warning an unwanted partner, “I can’t love you how you want me to.” The song closes on their voices, with nothing but bare conviction against the silence. —Scott Russell

16. Soccer Mommy, “Your Dog”
Few opening lines this year have shook and scorned like, “I don’t wanna be your fucking dog / that you drag around.” The story of being trapped in an abusive relationship is not an easy one to consume, and Soccer Mommy’s Sophie Allison doesn’t sweeten any of the details. “Your Dog” is honest and painful and necessary, a massive “back off” to every man who’s ever emotionally or physically abused. —Ellen Johnson

17. Yo La Tengo, “For You Too”
“For You Too” is a transcendent act of noise-rock introspection. Yo La Tengo’s song is one of the most entrancing from their new record, There’s A Riot Going On. The scintillating guitar line, soft synth drone and deceptively propulsive percussion combine to create an inviting, yet layered soundscape, while Ira Kaplan delivers near-whispered lyrics that are brimming with heart-swelling affection: “For you / whenever there’s hurt / and when things are uncertain / Maybe I could be that guy / I’d like to try,” he sings. Songs like this are why Daily Dose exists. —Scott Russell

31. Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, “You Worry Me”
Denver’s Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats broke through in 2015 with the polished honkytonk rock of their self-titled debut on the famed Stax Records label. Three years later, on their sophomore LP, the band, with Rateliff at the helm and the dearly departed Richard Swift behind the boards, have become one of the finest Americana acts in the nation, and “You Worry Me” is the best song Rateliff has ever written. Solitary keys play as the song opens, a now bold and signature indicator that Rateliff & The Night Sweats are about to embark on their crown jewel. Intensity builds through gracefully careening strings and Rateliff’s gravelly vocals ascending into a glorious explosion of horns. A superb saxophone bridge atop a kick drum raises Rateliff’s delivery to mountainous levels of soul and emotion, and you can’t help but just feel something powerful inside of you. There is the blissful sound that marries the Colorado frontier from which it came with the Stax legacy into a newfound apex of Roots and Americana music. —Adrian Spinelli

50. Caroline Rose, “Bikini”
It’s hard to believe the Caroline Rose who made I Will Not Be Afraid, her first album and a swinging, folk-fueled rockabilly record, is the same Caroline Rose who, this year, released an absurdist, darkly hilarious pop record called LONER. “Bikini,” from the latter, is weird and wonderful and, like many of LONER’s best tunes, oozes with satire. On standout “Jeannie Becomes A Mom,” Rose tackles aggressive suburban ideals, but “Bikini” freaks out on the insane expectations facing women in the spotlight (and women in general). In the video, Rose, though still dressed in her signature red, is costumed as her male narrator, barking commands at bikini-clad women. “C’mon shake it,” she sings. “Put on this bikini and dance.” The takeaway: Ladies, you don’t ever have to “shake it” for anyone, no matter how nicely they ask. —Ellen Johnson