In our next year end list, we’ve sifted through the hits to find the very best songs that have taken these acts and their albums to phenomenal things this year – these are the best singles of 2018.
Luke Nuttall (Editor Writer)
5. The Wonder Years – Sister Cities
On paper, Sister Cities was possibly the best introduction that could’ve been given to its eponymous album, because it felt like the most complete conduit between the straightforward alt-rock of The Wonder Years in 2018 and the brooding emo of No Closer To Heaven a couple of years back. Of course, it helps that (spoilers) both have been among the best albums of their respective years, and with Sister Cities, it felt as though The Wonder Years had tapped into something, well, wonderful by straightening out their sound without losing any of the intensity or true, emotional weight. The surging guitars continue to burn and plough forward with a sense of power that feels truly enormous, only surpassed by Dan Campbell’s frayed rasp of a vocal performance to portray a buffeted, ragged heart that comes from witnessing acts of kindness around the world that resonate in such a profound way. And as has often been the case with The Wonder Years, the smallest moments can often be turned into grand emotional statements, and Sister Cities is about as good as you could ask for.
4. Boston Manor – Bad Machine
Boston Manor have already established themselves as a band looking to break out of the emo and pop-punk mould that they started life in, and though they’ve arguably been among the best even within that bracket, they’ve been doing a pretty good job of highlighting just what they’re capable of on a larger scale. Welcome To The Neighbourhood’s onus on a darker, more visceral take on modern life did that exceptionally, but to boil it down to just one example, Bad Machine runs away as one of the best things this band have ever released. For starters, any shred of pop-punk sunshine has been completely replaced by a gloomy, blackened grind that beefs up the heaviness more than ever before as it skulks and snarls by. And while plenty of songs have addressed the bleak, dank void of modern life, particularly in their decrepit hometown, Henry Cox’s dead-eyed sneer is perhaps one of the most convincing and occasionally unsettling portrayals to have come along in some time. It all makes for a track that fully rips apart any previous notions of what Boston Manor once were, and it’s all the better for it.
3. Clutch – In Walks Barbarella
As outside of time and blissfully ignorant of popular trends as they find themselves, Clutch’s material tends to stick within its own boundaries, holding its own within the insane high quality of their discography but rarely rising higher simply because the benchmark is so difficult to surpass. In Walks Barbarella is something special though, pushing for an even more cartoonish brand of boogie-rock than normal, replete with sizzling horns and sci-fi wonkiness to fully highlight how little is off limits for this band. And sure, it mightn’t be totally ripping the rulebook up, but Clutch have become such a powerhouse by playing to their strengths, and this track certainly does that, from the bounding propulsion that comes from the swampy southern heft to Neil Fallon bellowing out his gumbo of non-sequiturs that don’t even feel nearly out of place. It’s a definite highlight in this latest leg of Clutch’s ever-illustrious career, and for a band who’ve never taken all that much of a dip before, that really says a lot.
2. Architects – Death Is Not Defeat
Architects’ Holy Hell was an enormously important album, not only because it was the latest highlight in a career comprised almost solely of highlights, but because it showed a band who could remain strong and resilient even in the wake of great tragedy. And while the shadow of Tom Searle’s tragic passing looms over the entire album in various ways, nowhere does it hold more weight than on Death Is Not Defeat, the opening salvo that reaffirms Architects’ position as the infallible force in metalcore they’ve become, standing strong with the assurance that even among such adversity, this is neither the end for them, nor for Tom’s memory. Along with the vast, cinematic metalcore that feels more powerful than ever serving as its suitably forceful and calamitous backdrop, this is everything that Architects are in 2018 condensed into one track – resilient, enormous, and totally, utterly unstoppable.
1. Ghost – Dance Macabre
2018 has unquestionably been the year where Ghost have made their biggest splash to date, not only because Prequelle was the goth-pop-rock opus they needed to deliver, but because they finally found a way to leverage their vast pop appeal for something truly magnificent. That could be applied to numerous tracks on their latest album, but Dance Macabre stands chief among them all, a fist-pumping, ludicrously catchy love letter to ‘80s pop and new wave that manages to weave in their unashamedly campy sense of humour in the best way possible. And sure, you can gush as much as you like about how the riffs and percussion hit with such no-nonsense efficiency, or how the production is so effortless in capturing the vibe of smoky, seedy goth clubs, but it’s how incredibly simple and succinct everything is kept where this track really shines, dialling up the pop to levels that the metal purists may see as sacrilege, but anyone with a shred of self-awareness can see as a band utterly running away with themselves in glorious form. Topped off with a Perturbator remix that was just as good as the original, Ghost’s domination with Dance Macabre couldn’t be more clear.
Georgia Jackson (Deputy Editor / Writer)
5. Ghost – Dance Macabre
It’s hard to think of many people who owned 2018 more than Ghost. Prequelle showcased a band vastly growing out of any box or venue they’re put into growing organically and ambitiously, and preceding singles Rats and Dance Macabre were a perfect taster. The latter of the two in particular feels special, arena-sized and (perhaps most importantly) so much fun. It’s metal through and through mixed with a whole load of the ’80s, and the chorus about bewitching people in the moonlight over a fist-pumping, handclap encouraging beat makes this a unique proposition in so many ways. It’s a song people who don’t often listen to metal could definitely get on board with purely for the fun factor – a fact that’s only going to continue to be more true as they continue to dominate.
4. Deaf Havana – Holy
Deaf Havana’s sudden shift to a poppier sound was totally unprecedented, but even more so was how much they suited it. While there was some fluff among Rituals’ deep cuts, the singles were some of the strongest they’d ever released, particularly the brilliant Holy. Combining one of the catchiest choruses they’ve ever written with their trademark earnest lyrics and new addition of deftly competent synth lines, it’s a sleek and impressive hint at bigger successes they could easily achieve with a few more years honing this new sonic palette.
3. MNEK – Tongue
As mentioned in our Catch-Up feature last week, MNEK released one of the most unjustly overlooked debuts of the year in September, packed with catchy pop and R&B radio jams that have fun sewn into their DNA. While masterclasses in pop songwriting like Phone and Colour on his record Language are super memorable modern jams, it’s Tongue that’s the cream of the crop. It goes on a full journey with dynamics, sections and emotional realisations in its lyrics about the singer jumping into dropping the ‘L’ bomb too quickly in new relationships; its swooping falsetto pre-chorus into the funky spoken-word chorus to the exploding middle-eight complete with the genius “too to the tee to the ta ta ta” earworm. It feels unique and even game-changing, and it’s so exciting to think where MNEK could be in a few album cycles time.
2. Panic! At The Disco – Hey Look Ma, I Made It
When it comes to the 2000s pop punk icons who’ve dropped the punk in the 2010s, it’s common knowledge that Paramore and Panic! At The Disco are the best ones by far. While Paramore’s journey feels fun and natural, Panic!’s is steeped in ambition and star quality, something Brendon Urie has in spades and has done for years. Pray For The Wicked and 2018 as a whole has seen that fully realised, and Hey Look Ma, I Made It has been a stellar highlight both musically and thematically. The theme of fame changing the motives ‘friends’ have isn’t a new one in pop, but from Urie it feels refreshing, and his lyrics morphing wide-eyed ambition into zombification by hollow decadence are brilliant (“I’m a hooker selling songs and my pimp’s a record label” is a choice cut), especially masked by the chirpy horn embellishments. Urie has evolved to be an absolute master of warping glitz and glamour, and this song is going to stay a bar for him to meet for the rest of his career.
1. Ariana Grande – God is a woman
2018 has been the year of Ariana Grande, and no song could do a better job of encompassing her entire ethos than God is a woman. The sultry guitar than opens and leads the track is so gorgeous, and her slinky vocal gymnastics sound fantastic in whatever style she sings in – from the R&B-tinged verses and fast-paced pre-chorus to soaring high-note improvisations and the layered choral wall at the end. It’s a song that makes such a statement (in its raw form, not including the cries of blasphemy from religious people worldwide), exuding confidence and supporting female sexuality in all of its forms. It’s for songs like this that people love Ariana Grande – a voice of reason encouraging empowerment and self-love, and pure unadulterated talent.