Happy New Year’s everyone! Hopefully you’ve gotten through our 50 Best Albums of the Year tome by now, because we’re hitting you with another set of year-end best-of awesomeness. To help celebrate your New Year’s, we’ve compiled 50 Essential Songs of 2018 (a.k.a. New Year’s At The Barn), a playlist featuring some of our favorite tracks of the year. Most of these songs hail from rising, up-and-coming, and/or under-the-radar musical acts who made serious waves in the past year. From all of us at At The Barn, thank you for joining us on our musical journey, and we hope you continue on with us in 2019. Here’s a quick rundown of what we’ve got for ya. As usual, all regions of the world are well-represented!
There’s some gems coming out of Australia in the form of jangly indie band Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, psychedelic sisters Stonefield, dreamy lo-fi rocker Hatchie, and EDM superstar Alison Wonderland. There’s also a trifecta of Swedish acts: reggaeton-trance producer Dinamarca, catchy dream-pop duo Morabeza Tobacco, and avant-garage jokesters Viagra Boys. We’ve also got some English electronic jams from actor/DJ hybrid Idris Elba, experimental IDM king Iglooghost, and pummeling tech-house duo ORKA. Meanwhile, Canada delivers the intimate indie warmth with Toronto acts Basement Revolver and Men I Trust. And then there’s a heavy dose of regional American hip-hop from 70th Street Carlos, Sada Baby, Lil Tee & 80 Proof, and SAINt JHN, among others. It’s the perfect way to send-off 2018, and to get psyched on what’s to come. See you next year, Barn Burners!
1010 Benja SL: “Wind Up Space”
A sonically minimal yet totally epic ballad from the rising R&B crooner/producer from Kansas City. Swelling orchestral violins and horns accompany a series of warped, squiggly synths as his heavenly voice hits towering emotional peaks. 1010 Benja SL followed this one up with his excellent debut EP Two Houses. Definitely one set to break big in 2019.
70th Street Carlos: “Coogi Fit”
There’s no other up-and-coming rapper in the game that utilizes regional sounds to such great effect as Baton Rouge’s 70th Street Carlos. On “Coogi Fit,” the blaring funk and soul layers and beat sample of Lil Boosie’s “Bout Dat” are testament to this, but it’s his addicting, boisterous flow and delivery that sucks you into his king-of-the-neighborhood aura. He’s one to watch out for.
Alison Wonderland: “Easy”
“Walked into the bathroom just so I could cry/ Wish I knew why,” Alison Wonderland sings over a dramatic flurry of shimmering vocal pings and trap-pop hi-hats. The Australian DJ/producer injects a maximum dose of inner turmoil into what is an otherwise intensely catchy and melodic trap-house anthem about mental health. Her ability to not only churn out party-starting bangers but to strike real emotional nerves cements her status as a modern EDM superstar.
Amnesia Scanner: “AS Too Wrong”
Chaotic and mind-rattling experimental electronica from Berlin duo Amnesia Scanner, off their debut album Another Life. “AS Too Wrong” takes off-beat club music and completely warps and stretches it with earth-shaking purges of bass, puncturing tribal beats, and vocal samples that sound like a robot sucking helium, among other wonky textures. You see that album cover? It sounds like that.
Basement Revolver: “Baby”
The opening track off Canadian band Basement Revolver’s stunning debut LP Heavy Eyes is a warm blast of dreamy, garage-y shoegaze magic. Singer Chrisy Hurn croons over an intimate canvas of fuzzy guitars, pleading “give me some time” over an absolutely massive and cathartic noise breakdown. Don’t skip out on the rest of this thrilling album from the rising Ontario trio. They write amazing hooks and churn out blistering sonics, and they’re definitely going places.
Best Picture: “Gold Mint” (feat. Bernard Jabs)
L.A. production unit Best Picture teamed up with rising Georgia rap prodigy Bernard Jabs for a glistening summer hip-hop banger full of bendy synths, pulsating drum machines, echoey samples, and Jabs’ magnetic flow hovering over it all. Both artists churned out a number of exciting singles this year, and “Gold Mint” proved to be an enduring highlight. Look for both to continue their ascents in 2019.
Cherushii: “Your Love Is Smoke In My Hands”
Cherushii was one of the most beloved figures in the Bay Area’s underground electronic scene up until her tragic passing in the Ghost Ship fire. Following her death, a number of her close friends and collaborators inherited the reins of her weekly dance party Run The Length Of Your Wildness, which came to an end in the fall of this year. To honor her memory and commemorate all the Ghost Ship victims, the collective released a farewell compilation, premiering one final beautiful track of hers called “Your Love Is Smoke In My Hands.” It’s eight minutes of pure warm, groovy techno-house bliss. Bless.
CLOSER: “Hardly Art”
“All I want/ Is something familiar!” screams Closer singer Ryann Slauson over razor-sharp post-hardcore riffs and pummeling percussion. It’s the angsty DIY singalong of the year from one of the best up-and-coming punk bands in the game. Slauson’s gnarled vocals anchor the rest of their breakthrough LP All This Will Be, and “Hardly Art” is highpoint showcasing its fiery beating heart.
Cold Hart & Yawns: “Eyes” (feat. Rawska)
Moody Soundcloud rap meets garage-y pop punk, resulting in a truly out-of-the-box track that sounds a bit like auto-tuned Blink-182. Could this be 4th wave emo? In any case, it’s another genre-defying mash-up from a trio of GOTHBOICLIQUE musicians (rappers Cold Hart and Rawska, and producer Yawns) and with an undeniably catchy hook and an incredibly simple but addicting guitar melody.
Chilean-born Swedish producer Dinamarca delivers an off-kilter but totally cohesive blend of trance and reggaeton. It’s a combination that sounds awful on paper, but somehow it all works here, with rippling steel drum percussion and scratchy, subtle hi-hats giving off a slithering dancehall vibe. It chugs along slowly but in the most intimate and hypnotic of ways. That melody will be stuck in your head for days.
Drew Pelisek: “Rippin’ “
A loose, jangly indie rock jam from chameleonic San Diego-raised musician Drew Pelisek. On his debut solo album Rook Plus, the former CHON and Weatherbox member corrals various styles ranging from fuzzy lo-fi garage to stuttering electronic experiments. “Rippin” features organically melodic guitar riffs, pulsating rhythms, and Pelisek’s soft, understated vocals. Look out for his follow-up LP to drop sometime next year.
Exitmusic: “Trumpets Fade”
Exitmusic’s haunting new wave approach to modern dream-pop has made for a thrilling ride that ultimately culminated in their final album, this year’s The Recognitions. “Trumpets Fade” is a particularly chilly and cinematic cut, with singer Aleksa Palladino’s smooth, smoky vocals riding a towering wave of swirling, siren-like synths and flickering electronic percussion. It’s sad to see them go, but they’ve left us with an emphatic parting message.
Foxing: “Nearer My God”
The absolutely epic lead single off St. Louis band Foxing’s ambitious and searing third album. Part anthemic indie rock and part modern emo, singer Conor Murphy pleadingly asks “Do you want me at all?” over slow-burning synths and pulsating drums. Eventually, the song builds to a dramatic crescendo in which winding slide guitars pull you to stratospheric emotional heights. Throw this on in your bedroom, and try your hardest to not jump around and scream every line.
Frankie and the Witch Fingers: “Drip”
Los Angeles psychedelic rock marauders Frankie and the Witch Fingers released just a split single this year, but it’s another thrashy sonic explosion of wonky guitars and pummeling garage punk snarl. Its lyrics evoke the psychological and the supernatural, and there’s a piercing midway noise breakdown that will rattle you to your core. Check out the song’s wild claymation-inspired music video as well. Crazy stuff.
Alpha Pup producer God.Damn.Chan released his debut album of foggy, glitchy, careening hip-hop beats called Slush, and the lounge-y dance floor bop “Groovybby” was a true high point. Driven by a jazzy horn sample and skittering drum machines, it’s a song soaked with both nostalgic and futuristic vibes, and the perfect track to throw on during a smoke-filled afterparty. It’s like a secret speakeasy come to sonic life.
Hatchie: “Sugar & Spice”
One of the great breakthrough indie artists of the year, Hatchie’s fuzzy dream-rock felt like a throwback to lo-fi ’90s pop acts The Cranberries and The Cardigans. The lovelorn “Sugar & Spice” was the Australian musician’s soaring theme song, with its whirring guitar solo and her silky voice combining to hit you with a walloping emotional punch. That melody will stay lodged in your head for days.
Harakiri For The Sky: “Heroin Waltz”
The Austrian black metal band’s fourth album is an atmospheric wonder that combines sprawling post-rock with punishing metal instrumentals. Lead single “Heroin Waltz” is emblematic of the album’s triumphant fighting spirit: intricate piano and guitar breakdowns, machine-gun-like rhythms, and vocalist J.J.’s emphatic, desperate howls. It’s a lightspeeding emotional rollercoaster from start to finish.
Idris Elba: “Badman”
Yes, THAT Idris Elba…the famous actor. If you didn’t know any better, he’s also one hell of a party DJ, and a very talented producer of techno-leaning deep house. A rare single for him, “Badman” is a catchy warehouse rave banger, in which the snowballing reprieve of “HE WAS A BADMAN!” unleashes a fiery drop of clanging cowbells and warped drum pads that would turn any club in the world into an absolute madhouse. Idris, buddy: as long as it doesn’t take you away from your acting, then do your thang.
U.K. experimental IDM freakazoid and Brainfeeder artist Iglooghost continued his prolific rise in 2018 with the braintwisting track “Niteracer.” Following last year’s breakthrough debut Neo Wax Bloom, he released a pair of awesome EPs – Steel Mogu and Clear Tamei – this track appearing on the former. With skittering percussion, warped vocal samples, and distorted synth sounds that bend and stretch beyond comprehension, “Niteracer” hits you at breakneck speeds. It’s the perfect track for a late-night bender.
Kelly Moran: “Helix”
A mind-blowing blend of post-classical music and electronic experimentation from New York composer and producer Kelly Moran. A suspenseful, droning layer of synth noise accompanies a jingling piano melody that is hypnotic in its winding, percussive execution. The song is a slow-burn that gathers steam as its sounds swell, ebb, and flow in a myriad of tangled ways. The rest of her amazing album Ultraviolet is something to get lost in.
Kero Kero Bonito: “Only Acting”
New wavy indie-pop freak-outs Kero Kero Bonito fashioned a catchy slice of ’90s-era fuzz rock with “Only Acting,” an early single off their third album Time ‘n’ Place. Rhythmic electronic pangs and singer Sarah Midori Perry’s sunny vocals tease the song along until midway through, a wall of crashing guitar noise turns the track into a bouncey anthem with an absolutely infectious chorus. A garage-y pop-rock classic from the breakthrough London trio.
Krystal Klear: “Neutron Dance”
Veteran Dublin DJ/producer Krystal Klear rocked 2018 with his latest EP The Division, and especially on the record’s flagship single “Neutron Dance.” It’s a funky and clattering slice of disco-house, with a swirl of spacey synths, ravey house beats, and clanging cowbells that recal the colorful stylings of Todd Terje. It will absolutely get you one of the most fun tracks of the year,
Launder: “Annie Blue”
The DIIV-cosigned Los Angeles musician Launder released debut single “Annie Blue” back in March, delivering a thick aura of dreamy, ethereal guitar haze mixed fast-paced garage percussion and soothing, haunting vocals. It’s a sponge of fuzzy reverb and melodic indie rock that blasts through in hypnotic, longing ways. Dream-pop romanticism at its finest.
Lil Tee & 80 Proof: “Right Back”
One of underground hip-hop’s finest and most underrated duos, California’s Lil Tee and 80 Proof make hard-edged gangsta rap with an anthemic slant. “Right Back” is a contagious hood banger with triggering hi-hats and lyrics about making money moves – with the hook “I spent a check and get it right back” blaring in ultimate theme song fashion. Both rappers are totally on-point as they trade verses depicting their hustling ways, reminding us all that there’s still a place for underground marauders in this syrupy SoundCloud era.
LVL UP: “Orchard”
Back in June, Brooklyn garage rockers LVL UP dropped “Orchard,” their first new track in over a year. Many of us expected that single to be coupled with news of their next album. Instead, we were greeted with news of their impending breakup. Quite the sad development. Despite this, “Orchard” is a farewell single that flows so beautifully – adding and shedding fuzzy layers of guitar noise as bittersweet lyrics hit you with maximum feels. It’s a sincere parting message that sends them out on a high note. Thanks for all the tunes, guys.