In which I look back at my favourite left-field pop songs of 2018, from Canada, Australia and beyond. So many excellent songs, so many excellent bands came our way in 2018 that this list only scrapes the surface. Let’s get to it! Your setlist and song-by-song reviews below.
- Rebel Yell, Stains (feat. Gussy)
So many great songs passed over the All the Rage airwaves in 2018 that it was incredibly difficult to choose the cut-off song, as it were: my “Rest of 2018” list is 33 songs long. That said, isn’t this a great piece of menacing electronic tuneage? I think my first exposure to Rebel Yell, a.k.a. Brisbane’s Grace Stevenson, was via a remix of a Lovely Head song. So when Hired Muscle, her debut album arrived last June, I was definitely on board. All in all, not a bad way to begin the countdown.
- Smaller Hearts, Chipper
Pet Shop Boys meets Stereolab, with hints of Depeche Mode? Yes, please. “Chipper,” and their whole album, hint at greatness to come from these Nova Scotians.
- Würst Nürse, Hot Doctor
I like to think my musical tastes are pretty eclectic, but if there’s anything that I’ve learned in putting together this show and podcast for the past three-plus years it’s that I definitely have a type, or a few types. And one type is definitely loud, aggressive, melodic punk with a social conscience and a sense of humor. Which is to say that I’ve got all of the time in the world for “the world’s first and best nurse punk band.” Being serious is easy; writing a straight-up Rawk song about sexism that includes the line, “I want your hot beef injection,” is something else. And that something else is Satirical Feminist Transcendent Rock Awesomeness.
- IV League, Superstar
Pure, anthemic pop. A glittering fight song.
- Civic, New Vietnam
Punk as fuck.
- Haolin Munk, Deep Space Float (feat. Lee Reed)
Chill as all get-out. And from just down the road in Hamilton. And it’s part of an odd concept album about aliens and space or some such. Check it out.
- Savour the Rations, Thank the Lord (feat. Domba, Kwame, Raj Mahal & Gibrillah)
Hard, heavy, profane Australian hip hop. Um, yes, I’m in.
- Choses Sauvages, Ariane
Mellow Québécois pop. I’ve already used the word “chill” to describe another song on this list, but it definitely applies here, and I’m too lazy to check a thesaurus.
- Donny Benét, Love Online
Finally seeing Donny Benét live (in Paris, no less. On a boat, no less) was a personal highlight of 2018. (I have no doubt that his January concert in Cologne will feature similarly in my 2019.) So was the release of his latest album, The Don. 80s-style synth-based pop combined with sexy-adjacent lyrics is his stock in trade. Think Chromeo-style come-ons delivered by someone posing as a gone-to-seed Lothario who, despite outward appearances, still has It. His secret is that the music is tight and his lyrics are clever without ever descending into parody. Being serious and sincere is easy, being funny and clever is difficult. Anyway, yeah, “Love Online” is a great song, but I could’ve picked any song from The Don. Treat yourself. Check him out. You deserve it.
- Flowertruck, Come Across
But just because it’s easier to be sincere than funny and clever doesn’t mean there’s no place for sincerity in my favourite songs, “Come Across” being a prime example. It leans heavy on the melancholy and angst and hits those feels like a pro, ably assisted by a chorus that’s been lodged in my mind for months.
- Speedy Ortiz, Lucky 88
See above re emotional heft, which Speedy Ortiz has become expert at delivering. They’re fast becoming one of the United States’ most dependable and exciting rock bands.
- Paupière, Défunte Lune de Miel
And now for some bouncy Québécois pop. Still disappointed that I missed them when they came through Toronto earlier this year.
- Babygirl, Over in No Time
Sad, beautiful dreampop from Toronto. Wonderful delicateness.
- Tram Cops, stolen land
A moody and haunting track out of Melbourne. Yeah. It sticks with you.
- Constant Mongrel, 600 Pounds
Heavy, in tone and content. A song from the soundtrack of a world in a bad spot and spiralling.
- Orlando Furious, Rage
Stream of consciousness unlike anything else I heard this year. Discordant, dissonant, unsettling.
- Tim & the Boys, Hey
Driving, straight-ahead rock and roll with a nice aggressive edge…. Geez. I feel like I’m trying to write about wine. You can use words like “mouthfeel” all you want, but it basically comes down to, do you like it? Yeah, I like this song. I like it a lot. It’s my 14th-favourite song of the year. It rocks. It annoyed me to no end that I couldn’t buy these Sydneysiders’ album in Canada until months after it was released Down Under.
- Confidence Man, Don’t You Know I’m In a Band
In 2018, Confidence Man followed up on a couple of ridiculously enjoyable singles with a ridiculously enjoyable debut album. Case in point, this tongue-in-cheek assertion of pop star entitlement that is itself a near-perfect pop song. I want Confidence Man to be around forever, please.
- BBQT, High Wasted
Charming, off-kilter indie pop from Montreal. One of my two go-to summer songs on this list.
- Muncie Girls, Picture of Health
So, Muncie Girls is one of only three non-Canadian or -Australian bands that made my top 30, which should give you a good idea of how much I like this song. “Picture of Health” is pop-punk done right, and I’m particularly taken with their stuttered repetition of words in the song’s earwormy chorus. I’ve never heard that done before, and it Sounds. So. Cool.
- Little Ugly Girls, Tractor
Australian (from Hobart) riot grrrl band with tracks preserved in amber since the 1990s and whose album was only released this year. “Tractor” roars.
- Chromeo, Room Service
We’re all running low on energy. Chromeo makes the case against going out, and for staying in and getting down. I’m convinced.
- JuliaWhy?, Pocket
More proof that the future of rock and roll is female.
- Metric, Now or Never Now
The live version of this song was a standout when I saw Metric in Utrecht in November, leading me to revisit it on the album. Verdict: It’s among Metric’s best.
- Petra Glynt, Surveillance
Probably the most epic tune on this list, “Surveillance” is an uncompromising and abrasive piece of artpop that had me thinking of U.S. Girls or an unvarnished Grimes. Bonus points for making a danceable song about living in a surveillance society.
- Sunscreen, Tide
My choice for 2018 summer song. A gentle pop tune that nails that end-of-summer feeling.
- Phantastic Ferniture, Fuckin ‘n’ Rollin
Reminds me of Phoenix’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phonenix in that all of the guitar pop songs on this Sydney band’s debut album sound timeless, like they always existed. Perfection.
- Sahara Beck, Here We Go Again
I’ve been a fan of Sahara Beck since coming across her song “Brother Sister” on triplejunearthed.com. After a 2016 debut album on which she seemed to be trying to do everything at once, Beck comes through in 2018 with the superb “Here We Go Again,” a song built on the same emotional depth that characterized her previous work. I’m very excited to see where she goes next.
- Superchunk, Reagan Youth
Who would’ve thought that a 30-year-old band would deliver the year’s most insightful take on how everything went wrong in the United States. A song that is as musically vital as it is emotionally necessary.
- U.S. Girls, Incidental Boogie
From the first time I heard U.S. Girls’ “Incidental Boogie” in 2015 (on the Free Advice Column EP), it was clear that Meg Remy was someone to watch. Fast forward three years later, and U.S. Girls’ latest album, In A Poem Unlimited, is deservedly topping best-of lists. The whole album is great: rage at social injustices mediated by elaborate, sultry (and sometimes menacing) pop arrangements. In writing and performing a pop album of great substance, Remy (working with myriad conspirators) is performing at pop’s highest difficulty setting and succeeding brilliantly. Easily the best album, with the best songs, of the year. And the re-recorded “Incidental Boogie” is just harrowing in its bleakness.
So there you go. See you in 2019!