Dying Habit is an alternative rock band from the Isle of Anglesey in northwest Wales, and comprised of brothers Nathan (vocals & bass) and Mark Jones (drums), and their best friend Alan Hart (guitar). Formed in 2016, they play an intense and grungy style of melodic alternative rock steeped in progressive undertones and teeming with complexity and nuance. I’ve followed them pretty much since their beginning, and have written about them several times on this blog, most recently last November when I reviewed their excellent debut album Until the Air Runs Out. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post.)
In August, Dying Habit returned with a terrific new single “Think“, which will be included on their forthcoming EP Antidotes, due for release later this year. It’s a darkly beautiful banger, featuring the signature melodic time changes, compelling lyrics and brilliant instrumentation we’ve come to expect from these talented musicians. Alan’s intricate guitar work is fantastic, with so many different layers and textures at play – from lovely chiming chords to thunderous fuzz-coated chugging riffs to flourishes of screaming distortion – that it sounds like there are three guitarists instead of only one. Meanwhile, the Jones brothers drive the powerful rhythm forward with a pummeling bassline and explosive drumbeats, all working in a glorious alchemy to create a spine-tingling backdrop for Nathan’s plaintive vocals.
The band states the lyrics describe the thoughts of someone after having killed themselves: “It’s morning. I don’t know. Turning to the light for something. The sunlight is getting in my eyes. There’s only one way this day is going. Memories are coming back but I don’t know what to do. There’s blood on my face and I’m lying next to you. / I think they’re going to take me straight to hell. Demon’s taking over everything. What the hell am I supposed to do. I got a bad feeling.” While the subject is arguably grim, the song is great, and I think it just might be one of Dying Habit’s best yet.
From the picturesque Isle of Anglesey in northwest Wales hails alt-rock band Dying Habit, who in mid-October released their debut album Until the Air Runs Out. Officially formed in 2016 after a few years of informally playing together, the band now consists of brothers Nathan (vocals & bass) and Mark Jones (drums), and Alan Hart (guitar). Influenced by some of their favorite bands such as Dead Letter Circus, Katatonia, Biffy Clyro, Therapy?, The Wildhearts and Karnivool, they play an intense and grungy style of melodic alternative rock with progressive undertones.
I’ve previously written about Dying Habit a few times on this blog, first in July 2018 when I reviewed their magnificent single “Unrealities”, then again this past May when I reviewed their single “Solutions”, one of the tracks featured on Until the Air Runs Out. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post.) About the album, which dropped October 16th, band front man Nathan Jones explains: “Almost a year in the making, this album portrays our passion for music, grunge, and a 90s feel which has been given a contemporary makeover. It also exploresthe difficulties of how our world changed in 2020, as well as mental health, loneliness and how even in the darkest of times there is always hope.”
It’s an ambitious work, featuring 13 tracks and running a total of 46 minutes. There are quite a few gems here, and I’ll touch on the ones that most resonated with me. Kicking things off on an ominous note is “The Prey“, a dark track with heavy stab-like riffs of grungy guitars, spooky synths and a grinding, wobbly bass line, all of which succeed quite nicely in creating a menacing vibe. I really like the instrumentals a lot, and my only criticism is that Nathan’s vocals are sometimes overpowered by the music, making it difficult for me to understand much of what he’s singing.
“Lost On You” is a great example of Dying Habit’s superb songwriting and musicianship. I love the meandering melody that goes from a moody, Nirvana-esque groove to a dramatic crescendo, highlighted by a torrent of fiery buzz-saw riffs. I cannot gush enough over Alan’s phenomenal guitar work, and Nathan does a great job on both bass and vocals here as he sings of his frustration to a partner who doesn’t value or appreciate him: “I will never burn these bridges / What are we hurting for? All my reasons, all my conscience, must be lost on you.” The beautiful track “Solutions” speaks to feelings of regret over past mistakes and hurts inflicted toward others, and yearning to make things right but not fully knowing how: “Whatever my mistakes were / Whichever lies I told / The heat is overwhelming but my skin’s remaining cold / This serenity engulfs me yet the world keeps passing by / I long to find solutions.”
I like when bands leave unintended sounds at the beginning or end of their songs, so the belch heard at the beginning “The World’s Too Big For Us” is perfectly fine by me. That said, it’s a terrific progressive grunge rock song, with a chugging start-stop groove, highlighted by a cacophonous mix of super-gnarly and distorted guitars, heavy throbbing bass and spacey synths. Along that same vein, “Red Lines” delivers a wonderful fantasia of grungy as hell riffs, accompanied by pummeling bass, Mark’s crashing percussion and wild psychedelic synths that make for a dramatic and fascinating track.
One of my favorite tracks on the album is “Out of My Hands“, an enchanting song where the band shows their softer side. The chiming guitars are simply gorgeous, and accompanied by a subtle bass line and just the right amount of percussion that allow the guitars to shine. Once again, it’s hard to make out many of the lyrics Nathan sings, but the exquisite instrumentals more than make up for it.
The title track “Until the Air Runs Out” is another great track that’s heavy on progressive grunge vibes. The song starts off with dark, ominous sounds that conjure up images of an impending battle in a sci-fi movie, then a driving, bass-heavy rhythm ensues along with wailing buzz-saw riffs as Nathan begins to sing. As the song progresses, Alan introduces an upbeat melodic riff that ends things on slightly more optimistic note. “Scared of the People We Love” is a moody six-minute-long tour de force, with an extended instrumental segment that nicely showcases Dying Habit’s outstanding musicianship and skill at playing as a tight unit. And the mesmerizing melody, stunning guitar work, and hypnotic drum beats on album closer “Nowhere to Run” are fantastic.
I must admit that I’m generally more a fan of melodic and dream rock than heavier grunge or progressive-style rock. Nevertheless, I still have a great deal of respect and appreciation for those genres, and do enjoy a fair amount of it. Dying Habit have packed quite a lot of complexity and nuance into their songs, and it took a couple of listens for me to fully get into Until the Air Runs Out. But once I did, I fell head over heels in love with this excellent album. I’ve been following this band pretty much since their beginning and I’m so proud of them. I know they worked hard on this album, and their skill and dedication for producing quality music really shows.
Nathan is also a talented visual artist, with a number of remarkable paintings to his credit. Inspired by their lyrics, album, lockdowns, and anxiety, he created this wonderful abstract oil painting titled ‘Until The Air Runs Out’:
Dying Habit is an alternative rock band from northern Wales, whose electrifying and melodic sound is influenced by such bands as Dead Letter Circus, Katatonia, Biffy Clyro, Therapy?, The Wildhearts and Karnivool. Hailing from Anglesey Island, they started off as a group of friends who bonded over a shared love of music. Eventually coming to realize they had a special musical chemistry between them, they officially became Dying Habit in 2016. Beginning as a four-piece, they now consist of brothers Nathan (vocals & bass) and Mark Jones (drums), and Alan Hart (guitar).
In August 2018, they released their first official single “Unrealities”, a magnificent and stunning rock song (you can read my review here). More recently, they’ve been writing and recording songs for their forthcoming debut album Until The Air Runs Out, due out later this year. In April they released the first single from the album “Out of My Hands”, and on May 6 they dropped the second single “Solutions“. The song has a moody, contemplative feel, with Alan’s superb, layered guitar work that forms the backbone of the track’s hauntingly beautiful melody. After the departure of the band’s previous bassist, Nathan took over duties on bass and does a fine job laying down a pulsating bass line that keeps the track on solid footing. Mark’s measured drumbeats strike the perfect balance of percussion, never overpowering the sometimes subtle instrumentals and intricate guitar notes.
Nathan has a low-key vocal style with a vulnerable, emotive quality that’s well-suited to the music and introspective lyrics that speak to feelings of regret over past mistakes and hurts inflicted toward others, and yearning to make things right but not fully knowing how.
I’m reading every word All the wires in my heart And the memories lay dead But not in the eyes of everyone This is what we’ve learnt Is that I feel My mind still hurts But yes I’m fine Yes I’m fine
Whatever my mistakes were Whichever lies I told The heat is overwhelming But my skin’s remaining cold This serenity engulfs me Yet the world keeps passing by I long to find solutions
I never get the use Of letting people in Of giving them your pain Don’t let them breathe you in Breathe you in
When we’re lost There is no right answers There is no cost There’s no cost
“Solutions” is a well-crafted and beautiful song. I like the direction that Dying Habit seems to be going with their latest music, and look forward to hearing their album when it’s completed.
Dying Habit is an alternative rock band from northern Wales, whose electrifying, dynamic sound is influenced by such bands as Dead Letter Circus, Katatonia, Biffy Clyro, Therapy?, The Wildhearts and Karnivool. Hailing from Anglesey Island, they started off as a group of friends who bonded over a shared love of music and began jamming together around 2011. They finally became an official band in 2016 when they realized they had a special musical chemistry between them. Previously a four-piece, Dying Habit now consists of Nathan Jones (vocals), Alan Hart (guitar) and Mark Jones (drums).
In August 2018, they released their first official single “Unrealities”, a magnificent and powerful song that I featured on this blog, which you can read here. I liked it so much that it ended up on my Top 100 Songs of 2018. They followed up with a second single “Into Colour” this past July, which I’m now getting around to reviewing. It’s another hard-hitting banger, with a heavier, more modern rock vibe than “Unrealities”. It’s not quite as melodic, but still an impressive track, with a thunderous barrage of blistering riffs, pummeling bass and smashing drums. The guys play as a tight unit, their layered gnarly and distorted guitars nicely enhanced by powerful driving rhythms. Nathan isn’t the strongest vocalist, but he handles the more dramatic parts of the song quite well, and his wails at the end are spine-tingling.
About the song, the band states “It is when we are at our lowest point that we find an inner strength we never knew was possible.” The hopeful, poetic lyrics urge us to turn toward the light – ‘into colour’ – to find a reason and the strength to continue and fight for our survival in this difficult and challenging thing called life:
Float above the surface Think about tomorrow Digging up the past it’s becoming real We are getting somewhere No more living in shadows You got to show your face just get it done On the edge of a dotted line, about to end it all Wandering why I’d leave it all behind
Sink below the bottom There’s not much to uncover Behind the walls we’re finding all the clues I’m on the edge for a second time, about to end it all Wandering why should I turn away But I’m melting into you Into colour we flow, Into colour we flow Screaming the words at you, all because of you Gripping onto the edge, about to end it all Wandering why should I turn away
1. HURT PEOPLE – Two Feet featuring Madison Love (2)
2. GUIDING LIGHT – Mumford & Sons (1)
3. HIGH HOPES – Panic! At the Disco (3)
4. YOU’RE SOMEBODY ELSE – flora cash (4)
5. MY BLOOD – twenty one pilots (5)
6. THESE ARE MY FRIENDS – lovelytheband (6)
7. WANDER – Vox Eagle featuring Pierre Fontaine (8)
8. IN THE WATER – The Underground Vault (9)
9. BACK DOWN – Bob Moses (11)
10. DELTA BLUES – Jetstream (16)
11. FAST TALK – Houses (17)
12. THANK U, NEXT – Ariana Grande (15)
13. “99” – Barns Courtney (14)
14. IN MY MIND – Draft Evader (7) 19th week on chart
15. UH HUH – Jade Bird (10)
16. NEW BIRTH IN NEW ENGLAND – Phosphorescent (19)
17. APOCALIPSTICK – Lazy Queen (20)
18. PRESSURE – Muse (23)
19. SUPERPOSITION – Young the Giant (24)
20. LOVE IT IF WE MADE IT – The 1975 (25)
21. NORTHERN LIGHTS – Death Cab for Cutie (26)
22. MAKE IT UP AS I GO – Mike Shinoda featuring K.Flay (18)
23. HAPPIER – Marshmello featuring Bastille (12)
24. LOADING ZONES – Kurt Vile (13)
25. WORST NIGHTS – Foster the People (28)
26. LIGHT ON – Maggie Rogers (29)
27. CHANGE – The Revivalists (30)
28. UNREALITIES – Dying Habit (21)
29. SUPERWOMAN SWAY – Brett Vogel (22) 18th week on chart
30. SIGUE CON EL AMOR – John Defeo (N)
1. GUIDING LIGHT – Mumford & Sons (1)3rd week #1
2. HURT PEOPLE – Two Feet featuring Madison Love (2)
3. HIGH HOPES – Panic! At the Disco (3)
4. YOU’RE SOMEBODY ELSE – flora cash (6)
5. MY BLOOD – twenty one pilots (5)
6. THESE ARE MY FRIENDS – lovelytheband (7)
7. IN MY MIND – Draft Evader (4) 18th week on chart
8. WANDER – Vox Eagle featuring Pierre Fontaine (13)
9. IN THE WATER – The Underground Vault (14)
10. UH HUH – Jade Bird (8)
11. BACK DOWN – Bob Moses (16)
12. HAPPIER – Marshmello featuring Bastille (9)
13. LOADING ZONES – Kurt Vile (10)
14. “99” – Barns Courtney (15)
15. THANK U, NEXT – Ariana Grande (18)
16. DELTA BLUES – Jetstream (19)
17. FAST TALK – Houses (20)
18. MAKE IT UP AS I GO – Mike Shinoda featuring K.Flay (17)
19. NEW BIRTH IN NEW ENGLAND – Phosphorescent (21)
20. APOCALIPSTICK – Lazy Queen (22)
21. UNREALITIES – Dying Habit (11)
22. SUPERWOMAN SWAY – Brett Vogel (12) 17th week on chart
23. PRESSURE – Muse (24)
24. SUPERPOSITION – Young the Giant (25)
25. LOVE IT IF WE MADE IT – The 1975 (26)
26. NORTHERN LIGHTS – Death Cab for Cutie (27)
27. YOU SHOULD SEE ME IN A CROWN – Billie Eilish (23)
28. WORST NIGHTS – Foster the People (28)
29. LIGHT ON – Maggie Rogers (N)
30. CHANGE – The Revivalists (N)
1. GUIDING LIGHT – Mumford & Sons (1)
2. HURT PEOPLE – Two Feet featuring Madison Love (4)
3. HIGH HOPES – Panic! At the Disco (5)
4. IN MY MIND – Draft Evader (2)
5. MY BLOOD – twenty one pilots (3)
6. YOU’RE SOMEBODY ELSE – flora cash (11)
7. THESE ARE MY FRIENDS – lovelytheband (12)
8. UH HUH – Jade Bird (6)
9. HAPPIER – Marshmello featuring Bastille (7)
10. LOADING ZONES – Kurt Vile (8)
11. UNREALITIES – Dying Habit (10)
12. SUPERWOMAN SWAY – Brett Vogel (9)
13. WANDER – Vox Eagle featuring Pierre Fontaine (14)
14. IN THE WATER – The Underground Vault (15)
15. “99” – Barns Courtney (16)
16. BACK DOWN – Bob Moses (17)
17. MAKE IT UP AS I GO – Mike Shinoda featuring K.Flay (13)
18. THANK U, NEXT – Ariana Grande (18)
19. DELTA BLUES – Jetsteam (20)
20. FAST TALK – Houses (22)
21. NEW BIRTH IN NEW ENGLAND – Phosphorescent (21)
22. APOCALIPSTICK – Lazy Queen (25)
23. YOU SHOULD SEE ME IN A CROWN – Billie Eilish (26)
24. PRESSURE – Muse (28)
25. SUPERPOSITION – Young the Giant (29)
26. LOVE IT IF WE MADE IT – The 1975 (N)
27. NORTHERN LIGHTS – Death Cab for Cutie (N)
28. WORST NIGHTS – Foster the People (N)
29. SHE’S KEROSENE – The Interrupters (19)
30. NINA CRIED POWER – Hozier featuring Mavis Staples (23)
2018 was another banner year for music, with seemingly more of it being produced and released by a greater number artists and bands than ever before. And despite the fact that as a music blogger I’m exposed to a tremendous amount of music, I know I’ve heard only a fraction of all the singles and albums released in 2018. I get enough proof of this just by reading other bloggers’ year-end best-of lists, where in some cases I literally haven’t heard any of their song choices! Consequently, each of our annual best-of lists are going to include songs we know, and I’m certain there are some truly great songs that should belong on my Top 100 Songs list, except for the fact that I’ve never heard them! That said, there were so many fantastic songs in 2018, and it frustrates me to have to cull them down to only 100, omitting scores of tracks I really like. All the songs on this list could easily be in the top 40, and a song listed at #30 isn’t necessarily better than one at #60.
It also goes without saying that everyone’s music tastes are very subjective, so it’s guaranteed that not a single person reading this will agree with my song choices or their rankings. My list essentially contains my favorite songs of the year. My music tastes, while eclectic, lean toward Alternative Rock and most variations of Rock (hard, metal, post-punk, folk, progressive, electronic, surf, garage), R&B and Pop, so my Top 100 song choices generally reflect those genres. I like some hip hop and rap, but cannot tolerate the mumble rap or much of the other shitty hip hop, bro-country and pop music currently dominating the Billboard Hot 100. I’d rather listen to “Disco Duck” for an hour than three minutes of Cardi B (sorry Cardi B lovers). I’m not a music critic, and while I make every effort to recognize the cultural and artistic merits of music that came out this year, at the end of the day this is a list of songs that moved me personally – that gave me chills or that I simply enjoyed listening to over and over. Some were critically acclaimed, but many were not, and that’s OK. I love them, and that’s what matters to me.
Many bloggers and critics list songs in the year they were released, while Billboard and some other charts place them in the year they were ‘hits,’ which is what I prefer. Many of the songs on this list were released in 2018, however, a number of them were released in 2017 but didn’t chart until 2018. Also, because there are always a few songs that overlap from one year to the next, I always wrestle with how to rank them, as well as whether to list them in only one year or two. One example of this dilemma is “Without You” by L.A. band Disciples of Babylon, which spent the last week of 2017 and first week of 2018 at #1 on my weekly chart. It seems the fairest thing to do is include those songs on lists for both years if they spent enough time on the charts or ranked highly in each year. I suppose that at the end of the day it’s all silliness, but this is the way I choose to do it. The songs in this Top 100 that also appeared on my Top 100 Songs of 2017 are indicated with an * I wish I could have written a narrative for all 100 tracks, but being a slow writer who agonizes over every word, it would have taken me until mid-January to finish this post!
1. BROKEN – lovelytheband Unquestionably one of the most exuberantly catchy ear worms of 2018, this debut single by L.A.-based three-piece lovelytheband actually came out in 2017 as an exclusive release to Billboard that April, but didn’t chart until the beginning of 2018. It ended up being the #1 song of 2018 on the Billboard Alternative Chart, and is my personal pick as well. The song speaks to the idea that everyone’s flawed and has problems, and of finding someone who’s just as fucked up as you, and trying to make a go of it: “I like that you’re broken, broken like me. Maybe that makes me a fool. I like that you’re lonely, lonely like me. I could be lonely with you.” I love the chirpy synths, intricate guitars and strong drumbeat, as well as lead singer Mitchy Collins’ irresistible, quirky vocals that had me listening to the song again and again.
2. I FEEL LIKE I’M DROWNING – Two Feet I was blown away the moment I first heard the dark and sultry “I Feel Like I’m Drowning”, and quickly became a big fan of singer-songwriter Two Feet (born Zachary William “Bill” Dess) and his soulful, bluesy sound. This man can play guitar, and his songs are accompanied by some of the deepest bass grooves around, giving them tremendous heft and impact, and his vocals have a seductive, yet vulnerable quality that’s incredibly appealing. The song is about drowning in a toxic relationship, but could have also described his own mental state early in the year as the pressures of fame and professional commitments took their toll on his emotional well-being. Fortunately, he’s doing better and about to go on tour with Panic! At the Disco starting in January 2019. I had the good fortune of seeing him perform in L.A. in November, which you can read about here.
3. SIT NEXT TO ME – Foster the People * Foster the People are one of my favorite bands (see the header pic on my Twitter page), and I adore “Sit Next to Me.” The third single from their third album Sacred Hearts Club, it was released in July 2017 and debuted on my weekly chart that September. It reached #1 in on my chart in December 2017 (though by that time it had barely made the top 10 on only the Billboard Alternative Chart), and ended up at #20 on my Top 100 Songs of 2017. In January 2018, the song began to fall on my weekly chart, but kept rising on the Alternative Chart, eventually peaking at #3, and remaining in the top 10 for nine months until September 2018! It continued to hover in the 20s on my chart for several months, jumping back into the top 10 in July. I never tired of hearing it, and when I saw on my Spotify Wrapped report for 2018 that it was my most-played song of the year, it confirmed for me that it was also one of my favorite songs of 2018.
Song intros are important in setting the tone for a song, and “Sit Next to Me” has one of the most enthralling openings of any song I’ve ever heard, immediately grabbing hold and leaving me wanting more. It starts with a delicate shimmering synth and Mark Foster’s ethereal vocals, then bursts open into a breezy ballad loaded with gorgeous sweeping synths, subtle guitar and Mark Pontius’ perfect drumbeats. I love Foster’s fervent vocal style that includes lots of soaring falsettos and beautiful harmonic choruses. The song was inspired by his time spent in the L.A. bar scene. Foster explained in an interview with Rolling Stone: “Everyone was trying to look cool, say the right thing and be at the center of the universe. It was like a fashion show. In that environment, I felt alone in a room packed with people. I kept waiting for someone authentic to come walk through the door and sit next to me.” About the song’s slow rise and longevity, he stated: “I’m just kinda shocked. It’s kind of crazy to me that it’s been on the radio for so long and it keeps continuing to grow. I guess it’s a sleeper.“
4. THIS IS AMERICA – Childish Gambino One of the best songs of 2018 is Childish Gambino’s “This is America”, with its highly provocative lyrics and alternating mix of African-folk inspired melodies and pulsating hip hop-driven trap beats. But it was the brilliant companion video produced for the song that had the greatest impact, driving home the lyrics with shocking and often disturbing visual imagery, and quickly going viral the moment it was released on May 5th. Childish Gambino is the artistic name for the music project of the multi-faceted and incredibly talented actor, writer and singer Donald Glover. He packs a lot of symbolism into the video to address issues like racism and gun violence in America.
Things start off pleasant enough, with Glover/Gambino dancing about shirtless, but using grotesque smiles and exaggerated poses that some believe invoke the racist caricature Jim Crow. He sings “We just wanna party. Party just for you. We just want the money“, possibly referencing Black peoples’ historic role as entertainers for White people. Events take a violent turn when he walks up to a man who’s sitting on a chair playing guitar with his head covered by a hood, and shoots him in the head. A little later, he nonchalantly mows down a choir of singers with an automatic weapon. In both cases, he hands the guns over to someone holding a red cloth, giving the impression that the guns are being handled with greater care than the people he’s killed. The shooting of the choir is thought to represent the 2015 massacre at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Glover/Gambino and a group of kids clad in school uniforms dance throughout much of the video, smiling as violence erupts around them. At the end of the video, he’s shown running for his life from an angry white mob.
5. BAD BAD NEWS – Leon Bridges And speaking of soulful, Leon Bridges is like a breath of fresh air with his throwback R&B style that echoes some of the great soul singers of the 60s like Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye and Otis Redding. It’s a reflection of my advanced age, but I loved so many of the artists and music coming out of Detroit (Motown), Memphis and Philadelphia from the early 60s to the late 80s, and wish more Black artists would make music like this. In any case, “Bad Bad News” is fantastic, with jazzy guitar, gorgeous brass, crisp percussion and deep bass set to a soulful, hypnotic beat. Add Bridges’ smooth vocals, and the result is a little piece of sonic heaven. He sings about overcoming others’ lack of faith in him, and making it on his street smarts, honesty and belief in himself: “Ain’t got no riches, ain’t got no money that runs long. But I got a heart that’s strong and a love that’s tall. Ain’t got no name, ain’t got no fancy education. But I can see right through, a powdered face on a painted fool./ They tell me I was born to lose. But I made a good good thing out of bad bad news.“
6. ALL THE STARS – Kendrick Lamar/SZA The positively gorgeous “All the Stars” is one of many outstanding songs featured on the soundtrack for the hit superhero film Black Panther. A stylistic departure for Kendrick Lamar, the song is highly melodic, with vibrant sweeping synths and orchestration, set to a captivating beat. His vocals are mesmerizing and powerful as he sings the biting lyrics about duplicity and betrayal. And SZA blows our minds and eardrums with her bewitching soulful vocals. She passionately sings about her inability to resist another’s charms despite the fact he’s no good for her, always putting her faith in love and the stars, and when her and Lamar’s amazing voices are combined, it’s sheer bliss. I’ve listened to this song countless times and it never fails to cover me with goosebumps. The lush and colorful video is visually stunning, and one of the best of the year.
7. PAIN – The War on Drugs The War on Drugs are one of the best bands making music today, and I love their beautiful and lush melodic sound. The second single from their phenomenal, highly-acclaimed album A Deeper Understanding, “Pain” is one of my favorites among their many brilliant songs. (The album’s first single “Holding On” was #9 on my Top 100 of 2017). As I’ve alluded to earlier in this post, I know I love a song if it gives me chills, and “Pain” brings them in spades. The guitars and synths are so gorgeous they literally bring tears to my eyes, and lead singer Adam Granduciel vocals are brimming with heartfelt urgency that touches the soul. He told Q Magazine that “Pain” was inspired by the physical agony he endured from a ruptured disc. (Having recently suffered with pain from a back sprain myself, I can empathize.) It’s one of several tracks on A Deeper Understanding where he touches on the excruciating experience. “I couldn’t sit to work and I couldn’t stand up to play guitar,” he said. “The idea of chronic pain and what it does to the mind is scattered throughout the songs.”
8. CLOSER – IAMWARFACE London-based electro-rock band IAMWARFACE has released only a handful of songs, but are among my favorite UK bands. Their aggressive name is a fitting metaphor for their bombastic, high-energy, groove-based sound. They released their debut single “Say My Name” in 2016, a phenomenal track that literally left me speechless the first time I heard it, and it ended up at #14 on my Top 100 Songs of 2016. I didn’t think they could top that song, but I was wrong. In July they released “Closer”, and I was stunned as I heard the opening mysterious throbbing synth chord that slowly builds into a dramatic soundscape, enveloping us as lead singer Matt Warneford implores to someone with whom he seems to have an obsessive and destructive relationship. With that, the music explodes into a maelstrom of grinding synths, fuzzy guitars, buzz-saw bass, and thunderous percussion, punctuated by almost violently crashing cymbals that emphasize the feelings of desolation expressed in the bitter lyrics. Warneford’s emotional vocals seem filled with despair and resignation over a love affair that now lies in tatters. “Feel I’m walking on shattered glass. This romance just has to end, to reset, erase, begin again.” My body is covered from head to toe with chills by song’s end, overcome by the fierce beauty and power of this monumental track. The video is dark, ghostly and breathtaking.
9. LIVE IN THE MOMENT – Portugal. The Man Following up on their monster hit “Feel It Still”, which was my #1 song of 2017, Portugal. The Man struck gold again with “Live in the Moment.” The second single from their album Woodstock, it’s an exhilarating track, with a hard-driving beat, sweeping synths, chugging guitars and soaring choruses dominated by John Gourley’s wonderful tenor vocals. The song lyrics are pretty deep with lots of hidden meaning, but they basically touch on subjects of religion and mortality: “Let’s live in the moment. Come back Sunday morning. Got soul to sell. When you’re gone goodbye, so long, farewell.” Toward the end it transitions to an almost church hymn with a dominant organ riff and chant-like vocals produced by computer text-to-speech software that sing “Oh, God, I can hardly believe my eyes. Wake up everybody you know. Come and watch the garden grow. I’ll see you when you get there.” The imaginative video shows the band riding in a car with a giant puppet of a guy skateboarding on top, being chased by another with a policeman puppet on top of that car. I love it.
10. DIZZY – The Million Reasons “Dizzy” is an outstanding rock song by Chicago band The Million Reasons, and I loved it at first listen. The song is about a relationship in which both parties are blinded by an obsessive and possibly irrational desire for each other. It opens with an enthralling guitar riff that immediately pulls us in with the promise that something really beautiful is about to unfold, and as the music swells into a soaring anthem, we’re not disappointed. The instrumentals and lead singer Scott Nadeau’s fervent vocals are perfection, and by the time the chorus arrives with Mike Nichols’ jaw-dropping solo from his screaming guitar and Nadeau’s raw, impassioned wails, I’m left covered with chills and gasping for breath. This is truly one of the most beautiful rock songs I’ve ever heard.
11. JUMPSUIT – twenty one pilots I fell head over heels in love with twenty one pilots in the summer of 2015 when their fantastic single “Tear in My Heart” bored itself into my brain. I rarely purchase albums these days, but I bought Blurryface and played it non-stop the rest of that year and during much of 2016. “Tear in My Heart” ended up as my #1 song of 2015, and “Stressed Out” was my top song for 2016, with “Ride” placing at #3. Needless to say I, along with millions of other die-hard fans, eagerly anticipated the arrival of new music by twenty one pilots, and “Jumpsuit” didn’t disappoint when it debuted last July as the lead single of their forthcoming album Trench, which dropped in October. Like Blurryface, Trench is a concept album, and tells the saga of the fictional evil city of Dema ruled by nine bishops, referred to as “Nico and the Niners” in the companion single of that name that was released concurrently with “Jumpsuit”. The bishops impose the religious cult of Vialism upon their citizens, and they do everything in their power to prevent them from leaving the walled city. Because they are unable to see the color yellow, the only way to escape is by wearing a yellow garment. twenty one pilots lead singer Tyler Joseph’s alter ego is a character named Clancy, whose escape attempt is described in “Jumpsuit”. The song is a metaphor for the struggle with mental illness, with the evil city of Dema representing mental illness, and the bishops representing the internal struggles of a person suffering from mental illness.
When researching about the song, I learned it was co-produced by Joseph and Paul Meany, front man for the alternative rock band MUTEMATH (who toured with twenty one pilots on their Emotional Roadshow Tour). Given its subject matter, “Jumpsuit” is darker, edgier and more complex than many of their previous songs. It opens with Joseph’s altered vocals shouting “cover me“, referring to his jumpsuit. As the song progresses, the music alternates between barrages of Joseph’s heavy bass guitar riffs and Josh Dun’s pounding drums, and soothing interludes of hushed vocals, lush synths and haunting piano. Joseph’s vocals gradually build to a goosebump-inducing crescendo towards the end as he desperately wails “Jumpsuit, jumpsuit cover me!“
12. NINA CRIED POWER – Hozier featuring Mavis Staples Irish singer-songwriter Hozier burst onto the music scene in 2014 with his massive hit “Take Me to Church” and self-titled album Hozier, which in addition to “Take Me to Church” generated several more singles. Exhausted from nearly two years of touring, he took a break in 2017 and then began writing new songs this year, but it would be four years before he followed up with a surprise release in September of a four-track EP Nina Cried Power, which includes the title track. (He plans to release a full-length album in 2019.) “Nina Cried Power” is a magnificent and stirring gospel-infused ode to Hozier’s love of American rock and roll and it’s roots in R&B and gospel, with tributes paid to artists like Nina Simone, Joni Mitchell, Billie Holliday, James Brown and Mavis Staples, who lives up to her reputation by adding her powerful vocals to the song. In addition, legendary musician Booker T. Jones contributed his organ-playing to “Nina Cried Power” and other songs on the EP and forthcoming album. It’s a stunning masterpiece in my not-so-humble opinion, yet failed to connect with very many listeners for reasons I cannot fathom. It was a hit only on the Billboard Adult Alternative chart, where it reached #1.
13. THE JOKE – Brandi Carlisle One of the most beautiful and moving songs of 2018, Brandi Carlisle’s “The Joke” is a poignant ode to the delicate boys and striving girls who continue to struggle in our society. She explained her inspiration for the song: “There are so many people feeling misrepresented. So many people feeling unloved. Boys feeling marginalized and forced into these kind of awkward shapes of masculinity that they do or don’t belong in…so many men and boys are trans or disabled or shy. Little girls who got so excited for the last election, and are dealing with the fallout. The song is just for people that feel under-represented, unloved or illegal.” Carlisle has a strong, beautiful voice and – at the risk of sounding like a broken record – her stirring, passionate vocals on “The Joke” send chills up and down my spine. Hearing her sing the defiant lyrics “Let ’em laugh while they can. Let ’em spin, let ’em scatter in the wind. I have been to the movies, I’ve seen how it ends. And the joke’s on them” in her gorgeous voice, backed by soaring instrumentals highlighted by beautiful strings courtesy of the late Paul Buckmaster (a music genius who arranged Carlisle’s album By The Way, I Forgive You as well as such legendary recordings as David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers and many of Elton John’s early hits), is a religious experience indeed. Music doesn’t get any better than this!
14. LOADING ZONES – Kurt Vile I became a fan of Kurt Vile a few years ago when I really got into his wonderfully cool song “Pretty Pimpin’,” which ended up at #19 on my Top 100 of 2016. This past August, he returned with a new single “Loading Zones”, which I like even better. Vile’s layered, intricate guitar work is fantastic, and I love the talkboxy wah-wah riffs toward the end. He’s also quite the wordsmith. He sings of driving around his “dirty little town” of Philadelphia, running errands and parking for free in loading zones as he tries to stay one step ahead of the parking meter police, humorously played by actor Kevin Corrigan and Matt Korvette of the band Pissed Jeans in the entertaining video. He defiantly declares “I park for free! One-stop shop life for the quick fix / before you get a ticket / That’s the way I live my life” – leaving little doubt he’s the coolest musician around today.
15. PINK LEMONADE – James Bay I’ve liked James Bay and his music since his first breakthrough single “Hold Back the River” in 2014, but wasn’t what I’d call a huge fan. With his signature hat and long hair, and pleasing low-key folk-rock style, he quickly built a huge following. Then, in early March he released “Pink Lemonade” and appeared on Saturday Night Live, revealing a major change in both his look and sound. When I watched his performance on SNL, I nearly fell out of my chair! James had ditched the hat, cut his hair and replaced his casual clothing style with a hot pink sequined shirt and black leather pants, and he looked hot! As my friend Anthea commented – “who knew all that beautiful bone structure lay hidden beneath the hat and long hair!”
Not only that, I loved the song’s exuberant, harder rock vibe, with scratchy guitar, heavy bass and a driving beat. The song actually has a rather rough, gravelly production sound, which some felt detracted from its overall quality. My feelings are mixed about it, and perhaps James wanted a more rugged sound. In any case, many seemed to prefer his mellower folk ballads to this edgier sound, so “Pink Lemonade” was not as successful as his other singles. Oh well, their loss, as I love it and couldn’t hear it enough. The songs is about escape and not wanting to commit to a relationship, and the official video for the song is cleverly done, showing scenes of James building a rocket ship in the garage. But I’m sharing the video of his riveting and charismatic SNL performance instead, where he seems to channel John Mayer with the swagger of an early Elvis Presley. This is definitely my guilty pleasure track of 2018!
16. UNWIND – John Defeo John DeFeo is a soulful and talented R&B/hip hop artist based in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and he released one of the hottest singles of 2018. From his marvelous little EP Champagne Heart, “Unwind” is one steamy tune! From the moment I first heard that funky opening guitar riff and deep bass-driven beat, I was hooked. With a sensuous mellow dance groove that aims straight for the hips, the track echoes Justin Timberlake’s “Rock Your Body”, only it’s better and sexier. John sings to a woman he’s got the hots for, reassuring her that he also respects her and wants to get to know her better, not just have sex: “So right don’t talk shit, I bet you think I just wanna f**k. There’s more to it, please don’t confuse my vibe. Don’t get it twisted. If you’re down, I’m down. Tonight I’m gonna show you a good time. Me and you take a shot we can unwind.” I had this song on repeat all year!
17. WHATEVER IT TAKES – Imagine Dragons Imagine Dragons have been releasing music pretty much non-stop since the fall of 2012 when we first heard their breakthrough single “It’s Time”, and have ruled the rock and alternative charts ever since (although they seem to have also become the band some people love to hate, similar to Nickelback). Be that as it may, “Whatever it Takes” is an awesome song, overflowing with dynamic instrumentals, lush synths and soaring anthemic choruses that have become part of Imagine Dragons’ signature sound. And there’s no denying Dan Reynolds’ ability to stir our emotions with his commanding, powerhouse vocals. I really like his rapid-fire rapping on this song. The third single from their monster album Evolve, “Whatever it Takes” is about living life to the fullest, doing everything in your power to achieve your dreams, with no regrets at the end of your life.
18. GOLD RUSH – Death Cab for Cutie Death Cab for Cutie have been making music for 20 years, characterized by their pleasing, unconventional instrumentation and band front man Ben Gibbard’s distinctive vocal style. “Gold Rush” was inspired by Gibbard’s feelings about the ever-changing face of his adopted city of Seattle, which has seen tremendous growth in terms of jobs, construction and population over the past decade or so. In an interview with NPR, Gibbard explained “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become acutely aware of how I connect my memories to my geography and [how] the landscape of the city changes. I’ll walk down Broadway and walk past a location that used to be a bar I’d frequent with friends, or somewhere where I had a beautifully intense conversation with somebody that I once loved very much. The song is not a complaint about how things were better or anything like that. It’s an observation, but more about coming to terms with the passage of time and losing the people and the moments in my life all over again as I walk down a street that is now so unfamiliar.” The lyrics he wrote for “Gold Rush” are some of the most poetic of any song in 2018: “Digging for gold in my neighborhood. (Gold rush) Where all the old buildings stood. (Gold rush) And they keep digging it down and down (Gold rush) so that their cars can live underground.” The song is built around a sample of Yoko Ono’s 1972 song “Mind Train”, with a chugging guitar-driven beat. The rich and varied layered instrumentals are marvelous, especially the recurring little piano riff.
19. WORLD GONE MAD – Bastille Another stellar song in 2018 was Bastille’s powerful anthem “World Gone Mad.” Though it was featured in the fantasy crime film Bright, the song was written by band front man and lead singer Dan Smith to address social injustice and the strong political divisiveness and turmoil afflicting so many countries, particularly Britain where it resulted in Brexit: “So this is where we are. It’s not where we had wanted to be. If half the world’s gone mad. The other half just don’t care, you see. You don’t wanna fuck with us. British to the very last.” Many of the lyrics also perfectly describe the current fucked up political situation in America, where we’re led by an evil, racist and narcissistic sociopath whose divisive rhetoric encourages nationalism and xenophobia, which is why it resonated so strongly with me. The song was a modest hit, charting only on the Billboard Alternative Chart, however I think it’s Bastille’s best song since “Pompeii”.
20. SAFARI SONG – Greta Van Fleet Speaking of powerhouse vocals, after bursting onto the music world in early 2017 with their explosive head-banger “Highway Tune” (which ranked #6 on my Top 100 Songs of 2017), Greta Van Fleet came roaring back with another fantastic hard-hitting single “Safari Song.” The astonishingly-talented young band from Michigan consists of brothers Josh Kiszka (a diminutive guy with a gargantuan bluesy voice that sounds disarmingly like an early Robert Plant) and twins Jake (guitar) and Sam (bass) Kiszka, and Danny Wagner on drums. In addition to the Robert Plant similarity, their guitar-driven blues-rock sound has also been compared to Led Zeppelin.
21. GHOST – Badflower 22. ONE FOOT – WALK THE MOON * 23. HANDYMAN – AWOLNATION 24. IN MY MIND – Draft Evader 25. SOBER UP – AJR featuring Rivers Cuomo 26. LOS AGELESS – St. Vincent 27. TWO HIGH – Moon Taxi 28. KINKY – Oli Barton & the Movement * 29. HUNGER – Florence + The Machine 30. &RUN – Sir Sly 31. MY BLOOD – twenty one pilots 32. NATURAL – Imagine Dragons 33. YOU WORRY ME – Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats 34. WITHOUT YOU – Disciples of Babylon * 35. GUIDING LIGHT – Mumford & Sons 36. ZOMBIE – Bad Wolves 37. SUCH A SIMPLE THING – Ray LaMontagne 38. ALL MY FRIENDS – The Revivalists 39. NEVERMIND – Dennis Lloyd 40. UH HUH – Jade Bird 41. FOUR OUT OF FIVE – Arctic Monkeys 42. HURT PEOPLE – Two Feet featuring Madison Love 43. BURN THE HOUSE DOWN – AJR 44. I ONLY LIE WHEN I LOVE YOU – Royal Blood 45. SCARY LOVE – The Neighbourhood 46. BODY TALKS – The Struts 47. HAPPIER – Marshmello featuring Bastille 48. BETTER NOW – Post Malone 49. SHE’S KEROSENE – The Interrupters 50. RED MOON SKY – Face of Stone 51. LIVING IN THE FUTURE – Dawes 52. 44 – Oli Barton & the Movement 53. THE NIGHT HAS AN ALIBI – Wons Phreely + The Horses 54. SAY AMEN (SATURDAY NIGHT) – Panic! At the Disco 55. SEVERED – The Decemberists 56. RUN FOR COVER – The Killers 57. WHEN THE CURTAIN FALLS – Greta Van Fleet 58. FEVER PITCH – Rainbow Kitten Surprise 59. CELEBRATE – Dirty Heads featuring The Unlikely Candidates 60. THOUGHT CONTAGION – Muse 61. GUIDE YOU IN THE DARK – Reckless Jacks 62. DEVIL – Shinedown 63. HAPPY HOUR – Weezer 64. PANIC – Agency Panic 65. COLORS – Beck 66. RX(MEDICATE)- Theory of a Deadman 67. CITY LOOKS PRETTY – Courtney Barnett 68. THE GOLD – Manchester Orchestra 69. ANGELA – The Lumineers 70. ALL ON MY MIND – Anderson East 71. HI HELLO – Johnny Marr 72. THE BIGGER THEY FAIL – The Autumn Stones 73. PASSION – AWOLNATION 74. WORKS EVERY TIME – Mini Mansions 75. CRAZY – From Ashes to New 76. LIFE TO FIX – The Record Company 77. SUPERWOMAN SWAY – Brett Vogel 78. YOU’RE SOMEBODY ELSE – flora cash 79. TIDAL WAVE – Portugal. The Man 80. SHAME – Elle King 81. BEST FRIEND – Sofi Tukker, NERVO, The Knocks & Alisa Ueno 82. FAVORITE COLOR IS BLUE – Robert Delong & K.Flay 83. UNREALITIES – Dying Habit 84. I HOPE YOU’RE HAPPY – Blue October 85. WANDER – Vox Eagle featuring Pierre Fontaine 86. RIDE OR DIE – The Knocks featuring Foster the People 87. HUMILITY – Gorillaz featuring George Benson 88. SORRY – Nothing But Thieves 89. FLAWLESS – Dorothy 90. MY MY MY! – Troye Sivan 91. WITHOUT WALLS – Lyia Meta 92. REMEMBER TO BREATHE – Hannah Clive 93. GOD’S PLAN – Drake 94. LUCID DREAMS – Juice WRLD 95. MAKE IT UP AS I GO – Mike Shinoda featuring K.Flay 96. YOU SHOULD SEE ME IN A CROWN – Billie Eilish 97. BORN FOR GREATNESS – Papa Roach 98. PATAGONIA – Patawawa 99. SILVER LINING – Mt. Joy 100. TRANSITION – The Winachi Tribe
1. GUIDING LIGHT – Mumford & Sons (3)
2. IN MY MIND – Draft Evader (1)
3. MY BLOOD – twenty one pilots (2)
4. HURT PEOPLE – Two Feet featuring Madison Love (6)
5. HIGH HOPES – Panic! At the Disco (7)
6. UH HUH – Jade Bird (4)
7. HAPPIER – Marshmello featuring Bastille (5)
8. LOADING ZONES – Kurt Vile (8)
9. SUPERWOMAN SWAY – Brett Vogel (9)
10. UNREALITIES – Dying Habit (10)
11. YOU’RE SOMEBODY ELSE – flora cash (11)
12. THESE ARE MY FRIENDS – lovelytheband (12)
13. MAKE IT UP AS I GO – Mike Shinoda featuring K.Flay (16)
14. WANDER – Vox Eagle featuring Pierre Fontaine (17)
15. IN THE WATER – The Underground Vault (18)
16. “99” – Barns Courtney (19)
17. BACK DOWN – Bob Moses (20)
18. THANK U, NEXT – Ariana Grande (21)
19. SHE’S KEROSENE – The Interrupters (13)
20. DELTA BLUES – Jetstream (23)
21. NEW BIRTH IN NEW ENGLAND – Phosphorescent (25)
22. FAST TALK – Houses (26)
23. NINA CRIED POWER – Hozier featuring Mavis Staples (14)
24. BODY TALKS – The Struts (15)
25. APOCALIPSTICK – Lazy Queen (27)
26. YOU SHOULD SEE ME IN A CROWN – Billie Eilish (28)
27. SHAME – Elle King (22)
28. PRESSURE – Muse (N)
29. SUPERPOSITION – Young the Giant (N)
30. ALL MY FRIENDS – The Revivalists (24) 18th week on chart
1. IN MY MIND – Draft Evader (1)
2. MY BLOOD – twenty one pilots (2)
3. GUIDING LIGHT – Mumford & Sons (3)
4. UH HUH – Jade Bird (5)
5. HAPPIER – Marshmello featuring Bastille (6)
6. HURT PEOPLE – Two Feet featuring Madison Love (7)
7. HIGH HOPES – Panic! At the Disco (8)
8. LOADING ZONES – Kurt Vile (4)
9. SUPERWOMAN SWAY – Brett Vogel (12)
10. UNREALITIES – Dying Habit (13)
11. YOU’RE SOMEBODY ELSE – flora cash (14)
12. THESE ARE MY FRIENDS – lovelytheband (15)
13. SHE’S KEROSENE – The Interrupters (11)
14. NINA CRIED POWER – Hozier featuring Mavis Staples (9)
15. BODY TALKS – The Struts (10)
16. MAKE IT UP AS I GO – Mike Shinoda featuring K.Flay (18)
17. WANDER – Vox Eagle featuring Pierre Fontaine (19)
18. IN THE WATER – The Underground Vault (20)
19. “99” – Barns Courtney (21)
20. BACK DOWN – Bob Moses (23)
21. THANK U, NEXT – Ariana Grande (25)
22. SHAME – Elle King (16)
23. DELTA BLUES – Jetstream (26)
24. ALL MY FRIENDS – The Revivalists (17)
25. NEW BIRTH IN NEW ENGLAND – Phosphorescent (28)
26. FAST TALK – Houses (29)
27. APOCALIPSTICK – Lazy Queen (30)
28. YOU SHOULD SEE ME IN A CROWN – Billie Eilish (27)
29. VISIONS – Dirty Heads featuring Kitten (22)
30. GHOST – Badflower (24) 19th week on list