The single is a certified staple, a digestible summary of what an artist can do, just enough to present an idea or style, a new voice or a familiar trope, but not as clear-cut or defining to brand an artist in a certain light. The solo song format is thriving in times of streaming and online curation, allowing music fans access to infinite libraries of recordings and the control of how that information is applied and dispersed within their daily lives.
Over the past twelve months the music community has given us moments like Julia Jacklin’s Head Alone: an empowered note on bodily integrity and personal autonomy, The 1975’s Love It If We Made It: an emotional plea addressing the state of the world, and Childish Gambino’s This is America: a verbal outcry urging action to be taken.
Combing through the archives of this past year in music, the Bitter Sweet Symphonies team have selected their favourite songs, to form 2018’s ‘Songs of the Year’ list. A serviceable guide of hidden gems, under-the-radar wonders and modern day smashes, highlighting a breadth of international talent beside accomplished triumphs closer to home.
Track selections and reviews by Tom Berry, Lewis Lloyd-Kinnings, Emily Oldfield, Andy Brookes and Charlotte Holroyd.
MELANIE BAKER – False Fantasies
I’ll admit, I’m a little nostalgic. ‘False Fantasies’ was my first review for BSS. But it’s also a mega track.
I’ve had it on my morning playlist for a couple of months now, and the more I listen to it alongside other tracks, the more I love it. There’s such a genuine honesty in the lyrics and delivery that I haven’t seen from many others this year. I found myself humming the tune and repeating the chorus to myself when I least expected it. It’s got inside my head, and that can only be a good thing if you ask me. There’s no excess, because it doesn’t need any. And I think that’s the secret to it as a track. It could have been like everything else, making a bigger sound, adding more. But it didn’t, and that makes it really attractive. A great track, no doubt about it.
ANNA PANCALDI – What I’ve Become
I found Anna Pancaldi back in May. She was supporting David Ryan Harris at the Victoria Dalston in London. I didn’t expect anything from her, but I left clutching copies of all 3 of her EPs (David Ryan was also exceptional by the way).
But ‘What I’ve Become’ isn’t like those EPs on my shelf. It’s a transition to a band setup, with drums, bass and a second guitar. It leads to a dramatic and soulful tune about self-reflection. It feels very in-keeping with her previous acoustic offerings despites its differences. It’s an elegant step into a new sound. The lyrics are grown up and really refreshing. And I don’t think I’ve heard such a graceful yet powerful voice before. If you don’t feel something listening to Anna Pancaldi, there’s something wrong with you. No doubt about it, this is one of my tracks of the year.
HANOVER – Vices
Some songs were made to be hits. I am friends with lead singer Cal, who let me hear an early version of ‘Vices’ at the start of the year. I could tell then it would be mega.
The lyrics have this unique ring and theme, playing off student culture of early morning parties and weekend obsessions. Cal gives a gutsy, measured performance. It’s the sort of voice that teases you to join in for the chorus. And I know I do. Producer/multi-instrumentalist Joel creates extraordinary, lively and alien soundscapes over a pop structure. It’s the first song that’s made me want to sell of my guitar gear and get some good synths. So, it’s a good song? Well let me put it to you this way: if I ever go back to uni for a masters, this is my student anthem. Mega track.
MIKE SHINODA – Crossing A Line
Some songs come along at the perfect time. It’s just the song you need for that moment in your life. ‘Crossing a Line’ came along when I was just finishing up uni. After three years of security, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I was nervous and lost. Then came along this idol from my teens, the reason I started playing music, giving me a musical pat on the back. The tremolo pad synths, the thumping beat, the honest and refreshing vulnerability that Shinoda preaches. It was just what I needed, at just the right time. And it’s one of those rare songs that actually preaches hope in a non-cringey way. I’ve had it on repeat for eight months now. There’s no question for me, this was one of my tunes of the year.
GERMEIN – Knocking at My Door
Sometimes you want to sing along without a care. Germein is the distilled essence of the Easy Listening band, and that’s why I loved this track.
Inheriting Haim, Little Mix and The Corrs, there’s no hidden layers to the track and that’s fine by me. It’s the final form of soft rock, and sometimes that’s what you want to listen to. I don’t listen to it all the time, but whenever I listen to ‘Knocking at My Door,’ I put my headphones on, and crank the volume. It’s an inoffensive, easy-going sing-along. It doesn’t pretend to be anything else. And that’s what I loved about it. If they carry on making music like this, I see good things ahead for the Germein sisters.
IDER – Mirror
We could say so much about this track from IDER. Yet in some respects it’s best for each listener to find their own connection and journey with the song. Although, equally, it’s frankly impossible to hold one’s tongue and not rave about this scintillating gem. Not only do the duo offer valuable insight through their lyrics told in a stream of consciousness style that we can all relate to, resonate with and say ‘yes, I’ve so been there’, but they execute their ideas with such precision, passion and stunning minimalism that as a listener you just have to pinch yourself. Of course you can’t miss those sent from heaven vocals and the pair’s impressive synchronicity, as always Lily Somerville and Megan Markwick find that sweet spot between their voices and explore the possibilities—a humble attribute yet it leaves us wonderstruck every single time. 2019’s full-length album is set to be one for the ages.
JOEL BAKER – Harder To Fall
A personal note but oh so universal. ‘Harder to Fall’ speaks of generational worries and greater social discourse through the timeless medium of singer/songwriter realism. Arguably this track marks a huge milestone for Joel Baker, as long time followers we’ve seen the artist establish his vision and re-configure the elements in many inspiring ways, but it’s with ‘Harder to Fall’ in which Baker amalgamates the two and sculpts his principal masterpiece. With lyrics that embody Baker’s tender, soulful roots, free-flowing personality and upfront truth telling—you bet it gets deep. Alongside modern pop production and street edge, ‘Harder to Fall’ tells a narrative many of us can relate to in the times of mass homogeneity and growing desensitization. A beautifully moving moment.
INDOOR PETS – Being Strange
Ahead of releasing their long-awaited debut album in 2019, Indoor Pets let loose another walloping tune with ‘Being Strange’. The track is a mighty fist in the air moment for all outcasts and weirdos, anyone who’s ever felt condemned for just being themselves or cast out from the crowd—this is our anthem. It also includes singer Jamie Glass’ most raw and refined vocal take yet, disrobing any embellishment and baring only his pure affecting ability in crystal clear HD. And if that’s not enough to make you turn the dial up to 100 then the limitless hooks, playful delivery and raucous guitars will most surely catch your attention. Only onward and upwards we think.
SPECTOR – Untitled In D
Long standing guitar heroes Spector returned with an EP of ferocious indie bangers and clever one liners, after a spacious three-year interval. Proving they still know their way around a good hook, an infectious tempo and a crowd pleasing sing along, ‘Untitled in D’ furnished Spector with a solid hit. Striking up much revelry in the live set the song continues to write its own story and gather rapport with a growing audience. The lyrics are archetypal of Spector’s wry wit and detail the frustrations of living in a social media age. It’s all very tongue in cheek and that’s part of the selling point. Easy to get hooked, easy to dip in and out of. But not as easy to forget. A stellar single from a band who clearly have many promising years ahead of them.
BROKEN HANDS – Split In Two
In October Canterbury rockers Broken Hands broke a three-year silence. The double release of ‘Friends House’ and ‘Split in Two’ applied stomping grooves and exhilarating thrash with a might of will that could shake the very foundations of the band’s previous frolics. The latter is a rumbling ferocity, heavy in its attack and unswerving in its intensity. A song that looks deeper inward and inspects the complexities of the self through a darker lens. Taking a more upfront approach than before, the sound galvanises mainstream ideas with denser flourishes of the alternative. Ensuring that the framework the band created isn’t lost but re-enforced, and strengthened. It’s a steely move—one that carries the weight of fresh beginnings with a touch of invigoration.
SPORTS TEAM – Kutcher
Forming whilst together at Cambridge University, allegedly before they could even play their instruments, Sports Team are bringing the idea of ‘the gang’ back to music. A collection of friends, searching for a way to spend more time together, picked up guitars and haven’t looked back since. Whilst Rob Knaggs on guitar is the songwriting engine room, the sextet are indisputably led by their frontman and captain, Alex Rice. He orchestrates live proceedings like a madcap conductor, his awkwardly lithe figure twisting and turning to his teammates’ racket.
In a year of sonic highs for the band, ‘Kutcher’ is the jewel in the crown. Sardonic references to mid-noughties television culture replete with garagey hooks and Pavement-esque guitar noodling propelled Sports Team to the forefront of indie consciousness.
CONFIDENCE MAN – Don’t You Know I’m In A Band
Australian party-starters Confidence Man were one of 2018’s festival must-sees. Sitting proudly on the predominantly indie focused Heavenly Records label, the quartet delivered a slew of catchy singles ahead of their debut album Confident Music For Confident People. ‘Don’t You Know I’m In A Band’ is no exception. An ironic pastiche of retro rock-star brags set to hefty disco beats, it’s the safe side of Right Said Fred, without ever taking itself too seriously. Whilst so much of Confidence Man’s charm comes from the chemistry between co-frontpeople Sugar Bones and Janet Planet, this is 90% led by the former. “There’s not enough dork in dance” is their mantra, and if this is what adding dork results in, the dial it up.
BAD SOUNDS – Evil Powers
Taken from one of the best indie-pop albums of the year, ‘Evil Powers’ by Bad Sounds is a sinister groover… through the verses that is, anyway. The chorus reveals itself as one of the most cathartic sing-alongs you’ll hear, in spite of it’s goofy supernatural lyrics. So much of Bad Sounds appeal comes from being a band that isn’t afraid to embrace capital f FUN. Bold graphics, matching costumes and Beck style sample-led pop are the vivid ingredients in their infectious mantra.
SORRY – Starstruck
One of the most relentlessly exciting new artists in the country, Sorry raised the bar again with the release of latest single ‘Starstruck’. The trademark atmosphere created by the way Asha Lorenz and Louis O’Bryen’s dual guitars and vocals play off of each other remains, with extra thrust and songwriting clarity to make ‘Starstruck’ an imperious number. Cut and paste vocal samples, spiteful ‘eughs’ and subtle synths add a unique production sheen, that elevates them above many of their contemporaries. For a band already so hyped, ‘Starstruck’ is a great portent of what 2019 has on the cards for the London band.
HOP ALONG – How Simple
Hop Along are arguably a fair bit more established than lots of the artists on this list, especially in the US – however they’re a new discovery for myself, and when trying to think of my favourite songs of 2018 I just couldn’t look past the invigorating, emotional ‘How Simple’. Rarely do you hear things in music that you feel you haven’t before, and whilst on the face of it Hop Along’s Americana-indie isn’t totally groundbreaking, something in the way that the segments flow and blur, and vocalist Frances Quinlan interacts with the soundscapes is so fresh. The bare emotion in the refrain too of “how simple my heart can be, frightens me” cuts to the core. The layers increase and the track builds to a crescendo before stripping back full circle to the minimal instrumentation and vocals of the intro, a beautifully self-contained indie gem.
BONIFACE – Fumbling
Canadian Micah Visser fronts, writes and performs Boniface’s introspective tunes. His ability to take his personal experiences, put them to music and yet still retain and incorporate their diary entry candour is one of the most admirable aspects of his artistry. ‘Fumbling’ is one of those tracks you want to listen to over and over again, with its twinkly cosiness yet just out of reach magnetism. In a song that falls somewhere between “a declaration of love and a breakup song,” ‘Fumbling’ steers an adoring cast of perceptive prose, softly hued synths and pleasing musical progression. Boniface is still a fairly fledgling project, yet one that is growing in pace and power by the day. We look forward to what the future holds.
STEREO HONEY – Icarus
Pete Restrick’s lyrics are profoundly engaging, through deep expressions he examines larger topics and real world issues. Stereo Honey explore the often darker realms of the mind, body and soul challenging the carefree facade of indie rock, for a turn in thought-provoking consideration and progressive creativity. ‘Icarus’ is one of Stereo Honey’s most moving pieces to date, taken from their What Makes a Man EP, the track re-imagines the titular myth and examines preconceptions of masculinity. The song is framed by slinky, silky swoons of guitar, invigorating melody and oscillating rhythm, and made complete by Restrick’s compelling, emotive vocals. It’s an endearing statement from a young band clearly destined for the big leagues.
IMOGEN – White Lines
This artist has a rare knack for writing subtle, emotionally complex, invigorating captures of thought and feeling gracefully put to sound. IMOGEN captured our attention with ‘White Lines’ and ever since the song hasn’t left our side. As constant companions, the gentle melancholy and rapturous imagery of IMOGEN’s narration finds graceful peaks and hollows to glide and interweave together throughout, her words eloquent and uncompromising yet so close to crumbling underneath the surface. It speaks a great deal about her talent, songcraft so deeply internal yet remarkably versatile and affecting beyond its initial confines. A song we’ll spend many more moons consumed in.
The melding of classical, pop, hip hop, alternative and percussive elements form an inspired partnership in ‘Gold’. Just one of the many compositions that Fyfe and Iskra Strings have released from their multi-dimensional project so far, but what makes this track so special? The truth is, so many parts; the captivating synergy between the artists feels lived in yet completely fresh, the lyrics cast a vivid spell of contemporary flair and emotional attunement, and then there’s the beauty of the song’s structure—every little detail is heard, no stone is left unturned; leaving the song to unfold into a wide-scoping articulation of humanity. A bold and absorbing collaboration.
TWIN XL – Good
Hooks smile ear to ear in this track from Los Angeles’ Twin XL, a kind reminder of the indie pop bliss which bands like Foster the People and Portugal. The Man have built their name on. Updating the classic tropes and sprinkling in their own flavour, Twin XL invite hip-shaking rhythms and plenty of listener participation by way of insatiable grooves, melodic whistling and easily acquainted lyrics. A simple, catchy song, light-hearted and carefree, loaded with guiltless, unswerving positivity—sometimes timeless combinations are the most potent.
TVAM – Narcissus
A bizarre, beautifully twisted piece of electronica from Manchester’s very own TVAM. Taken from the debut album Psychic Data, ‘Narcissus’ is an awesomely indulgent twist of spiralling synths and echo-soaked vocals, creating a soundscape which I’d have to describe as: a bit like being dragged into a dream world. Rolling out sound and sensation with a psychedelic quality, this is a brave piece of music which melts styles together but never feels like it is trying too hard.
ANNA CALVI – Alpha
Anna Calvi’s whole album Hunter stands out from this year as an almost cinematic, sonically-soaring exploration of female experience and sexuality. Yet the track ‘Alpha’ unlocks this for me in particular; finger-snaps and a snaking drumbeat allowing for a sashaying, seductive start to the track with the lines, “the lights are on, the TV’s on, my body is still on.” The track gains ground with Calvi’s impressive vocals and hot bolts of guitar giving real gravitas to a chorus which comes to climax in the most evocative way.
BRIX & THE EXTRICATED – Prime Numbers
An energetic drumbeat and expressive guitar plunge the listener into my favourite track from Brix & The Extricated’s 2018 Breaking State album – ‘Prime Numbers’. Brix brings well-paced, confident vocals which roll in their rhyme and animated charge, the likes of “rushing through my head/ the language of the dead.” This is a track which underlines the band’s ability to draw on dark themes yet through fast-paced, foot-tapping, fuelled-up music. Hand-claps and hot washes of guitar make this a real treat of track… tempting to dance to.
BETHIA BEADMAN – Still My Baby
This is an intensely emotive track, wielding a wonderful combination of plush piano, washes of guitar and building vocals from Bethia herself, oozing expression all-the-while. Tinged with bittersweetness, the chorus lines climb in their sonically-stunning crescendo, “still you’re my baby/ but you’ve got me where you want me/ and still you’re gone,” before later blooming into a harmony-layered reprise. A highly notable point about this track is its spot-on pacing, unfurling rhythms and layers which allow the listener to lose themselves in the love story.
RIVAL CONSOLES – Dreamer’s Wake
An electronic soundscape swept into a single track. That said ‘Dreamer’s Wake’ works so well within the listening experience it is part of, Persona – 2018’s album from Rival Consoles (the artist name of producer Ryan Lee West). ‘Dreamer’s Wake’ itself combines reflective vocal effects with tantalizingly tactile rhythms layered with clicking and clapping – all ebbing and flowing before the build of bass notes which seem almost to buzz under the skin. Lusciously layered, this is an imaginative instrumental piece with an ambient feel, allowing for reflection and real feeling to rise to the surface.
IDLES – Colossus
I forget how I first got into IDLES. However, sometime in 2017, I decided to embrace modern punk music to the fullest. I immersed myself in Pissed Jeans, METZ, Honningbarna and IDLES (to pick out a few). Brutalism blew me away and I have many fond memories of my first year at university being soundtracked by tracks like ‘Benzocaine’ and ‘Date Night,’ so the release of ‘Colossus’ was a welcome surprise. It combines much of what I loved about the band’s first album – the menacing basslines and cynical, abrasive vocals. Needless to say, I was not let down by the Joy as an Act of Resistance which, if I was doing a top five album list, would easily be on there.
OH SEES – C
Having only really briefly visited the psychedelic garage rock world of genre veterans Thee Oh Sees, the release of ‘C’ offered me a chance to jump back in – a chance I wholly embraced. Perhaps the first thing I noticed about this track was the bassline. Forget a walking bass, this is a jogging bass: it has urgency, presence, and rumbles throughout the whole track. With every listen, I was filling in the blanks left by bassist Tim Hellman. This song has sparked so much creativity in my life since I first listened and I’ll often play it as part of the incessant noodling I practice in my spare time.
BROCKHAMPTON – 1998 Truman
BROCKHAMPTON are a group who have, off the back of the highly praised SATURATION trilogy of 2017, cemented themselves as the most famous boyband in America – potentially the world. The group didn’t have me at first and friends tried their hardest to get me to listen and give BROCKHAMPTON the time of day. This was during my aforementioned foray into punk so BROCKHAMPTON slipped under the radar. However, Saturation II and III had me hooked and eagerly anticipating 2018 releases. Three single releases satiated that need – ‘1999 Wildfire,’ ‘1998 Truman,’ and ‘1997 Diana’ – of which ‘Truman’ was the standout track. Introduced by Merlyn Wood’s take on the club banger, “While I’m in this club, Lonely as fuck, with my thugs, And we looking for that buzz.” As with IDLES, I’ve tied many good memories with close friends to BROCKHAMPTON’s releases.
Kell Chambers – Foss Island
Kell Chambers’ take on the singer-songwriter genre fundamentally changed how I saw the genre as a whole. ‘Foss Island’ takes the notably sparse composition of some artists and fills in the gaps with lush soundscaping, a perfect backdrop to Kell’s unique and iconic vocals. Every person who I have introduced to his music has commented on his voice and I’d implore anyone to listen to his releases, to sample the talent present in all his music.
Negative Measures – Anatomy
Negative Measures have been around in Brighton my entire musical lifetime, they offered me and my friends our first leg up in the scene and have always been there alongside us over the last five or six years. Ever since their first album release in 2016, I have been dying to review a track and this seems like the perfect opportunity. ‘Anatomy,’ off this year’s The Waste Time Continuum, has been a staple of my playlists since its release. The introductory riff is easily one of my favourite guitar riffs, period. However, it’s the closing portion of the track which takes it from an EP defining track to a year defining track. Negative Measures effortlessly strip back the song into a post-rock influenced dreamscape, with guitar and bass winding around each other in a purely hypnotic dance. This track deserves my final mention as the definitive release of my year and one that will stick around on my playlists for a long time to come.