As we approach the end of the year, the internet is sure to be flooded with bloggers and amateur musicians each offering their slice of annual music recommendations. Which pop star demonstrated interesting growth? Which huge hit was a disappointment? Which tracks are undiscovered gems everyone should go listen to, like, right now?
I plan to take a personal approach. I freely admit my lack of specialized knowledge in music. My “songs of the year” are not an analysis of the best and worst songs released in 2018— rather, they are the songs that defined this year for me. (Some of them are far from recent releases.) I move through phases of being attracted to specific types of music, and this is a good way to recap what this year was like— the rhythms I danced to and the melodies I cried to.
1. Piledriver Waltz- Arctic Monkeys
AM has been my favorite band since 8th grade: proof of my all-enduring, perpetually middle school-esque taste in music. Multiple tracks from AM and Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not have always been on my most-played list, but this song in particular has been on loop this year. Not sure why.
2. Moon River- Carla Bruni
Sometime this summer during a trip to Ireland, I downloaded this song out of nostalgia, and could not stop listening to it for days on end. The age-old melody has been a space of comfort. Carla Bruni’s tender, quaking voice is a perfectly intimate sound that makes me want to close my eyes and nap regardless of where I am.
3. Samson- Regina Spektor
Another summer song. It was introduced to me by a striking and impactful friend, and since then, it has become so powerfully attached with someone in my life that I am quite sure I will never be able to dissociate this song from him.
4. The Rain- Hisaishi Joe
While working on my novel in November, I went through a period of exclusively listening to Studio Ghibli film soundtracks. They are perfect for writing— there’s a song for every mood, each a beautiful masterpiece, with no lyrics to distract from the story at hand. This particular song from the movie Kikujiro was my favorite. The deep sounds transition in the middle to a light, charing rendition of Summer, one of Joe’s most famous songs, and that moment almost makes me cry every time.
5. The Dear Evan Hansen soundtrack
I had a tough time trying to choose one song, and decided it would be more meaningful to mention the musical as a whole. The story is evocative, characters realistic, and music powerful. My Dear Evan Hansen phase hasn’t ended yet.
6. Romance- Cheeze (로망스-치즈)
Cheeze cops the spot for the only Korean song on this list. Something about Romance’s figurative, tragic, and somewhat chilling lyrics, combined with its uniquely jazzy sound that uses the familiar tune of Autumn Leaves in the background, made this the most-played song on my phone this year.
7. Sweet- Cigarettes After Sex
Cigarettes After Sex was introduced to me by a friend who called their music “like being high in space”. I will never forget that description, although I don’t necessarily agree. The androgynous voice and lulling energy was a charm. I listened to a handful of their songs, but picked Sweet for its sexiness.
8. Sing to the Moon- Snarky Puppy
Like Samson, this makes the list not only for being a good song, but for being deeply emotionally associated with someone I know. It’s evocative of my February and March. Pardon me for being so vague, but in any case, it’s a beautiful song, and if you haven’t listened to Snarky Puppy yet, definitely give them a try.
9. Bluebird- Sara Bareilles
I went through a shameless Sara Bareilles phase this year. I mean, I listened to her in middle school, like everyone else, but this was a sort of rediscovery. Bluebird was one of those songs (alongside Come Around Soon and The Light) and makes the list for making me cry. The lyrics punched me in the gut when I first heard the song, basically by uncannily mirroring my own break-up. Except in reverse. This was the song he sent me after I broke up with him. Through a letter.
10. Boyish- Japanese Breakfast
Time to end on a lighthearted note. I stumbled upon this song on Youtube. The band name first caught my eye; it sounded exactly like the kind of cool and quirky Asian artist I wanted to be into. I was mesmerized by the funky, purple-flooded music video. The chorus came swinging with lines that were simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking. It’s an honest song that can be a bop or an emotional wreck; whatever you make of it.
These songs have laid the soundtrack to my 2018, which is now winding out with a good number of classic carols, Pentatonix Christmas songs, and Leslie Odom Jr.’s cover of Merry Christmas Darling. The tracks listed here make up a sort of nostalgic auditory history, to remind me of what things I enjoyed this year, and whose companionship. Here’s to another year of happy listening.