NPR Music's 35 Favorite Songs Of 2018 (So Far) Writers from across the public radio map pick the best songs they've heard this year.
NPR logo NPR Music's 35 Favorite Songs Of 2018 (So Far)

NPR Music's 35 Favorite Songs Of 2018 (So Far)

Angela Hsieh/NPR
Favorite Songs Of 2018 So Far
Angela Hsieh/NPR

The best songs from the first half of 2018 serve many functions. Some reveal pain, others relieve it. Some guide us forward through the darkness, others eradicate it like a firework. Here are 35 favorites that put in work for us, each one the personal choice of one person at NPR Music or one of our partner stations around the country. (If you're into playlists, there's one here.) We didn't vote or haggle; we each reached into our hearts and picked what nestled closest. As one of these songs puts it in less printable fashion, we didn't really care too much if no one else liked it. Well, maybe we care a little — here's hoping you find a new favorite, too.

Table Of Contents


Lucy Dacus
"Night Shift"

YouTube

It was mid-December of 2017 when I first heard these lines: "The first time I tasted somebody else's spit / I had a coughing fit." And for 6 minutes, 32 seconds, "Night Shift" took me through Lucy Dacus' painful breakup. It's riveting — the emotional shifts are expressed both lyrically and sonically, with subtle moments and spellbinding outbursts of guitars. Before January even hit, I was certain this would be my song for 2018. Lucy Dacus wrote to say that "for a long time I didn't believe expressing this sort of negativity was productive, but it's less productive to resist the truth of a situation. It's a hopeful song." — Bob Boilen

"Night Shift" intensely and accurately articulates the swell of emotions felt in the difficult aftermath of a breakup, from accusations ("You don't deserve what you don't respect / Don't deserve what you say you love and then neglect") to a grudging sense of closure ("I feel no need to forgive, but I might as well"). At once universal and emotionally specific, "Night Shift" takes its time blooming to a powerhouse chorus and a closing couplet that sums up the present and future of a broken love: "In five years, I hope the songs feel like covers / Dedicated to new lovers." — Stephen Thompson


Father John Misty
"Mr. Tillman"

YouTube

Joshua Tillman often crafts descriptive stories in his songs as Father John Misty, but "Mr. Tillman" is like reading from a surreal storybook. He recounts a comical conversation with a politely frustrated hotel clerk who desperately tries to contain Tillman's drunkenness. Tillman just brushes it off: "Don't be alarmed, this is just my vibe." Although the questionably (but plausibly) autobiographical story is cringe-worthy, the song is lightened by sparkling chimes and a happy-go-lucky whistle. — Emily Abshire


Flasher
"Pressure"

YouTube

Perfect for summer, the band Flasher serves up one of the year's most spectacularly refreshing songs. A swirl cone of two competing influences — one half post-punk, the other half inspired by early English alternative rock – "Pressure" is an unstoppable force, hurtling past unorthodox hitches and slashing guitars. The Washington, D.C.-based trio's tightly controlled chaos is punctuated by intense lyrics ("Can't sleep / Sweat the sheets / Eyes above stare deep") and the overlapping vocals of guitarist Taylor Mulitz, bassist Daniel Saperstein and drummer Emma Baker, which gives the song a true sense of, well... pressure. — Jerad Walker, opbmusic.org


G Flip
"About You"

YouTube

At this time last year, Georgia Flipo was giving drumming lessons in her bedroom to pay the bills. If she's still teaching hand-foot combinations these days, it's not because she needs to. The 24-year-old Melbourne artist known as G Flip is a national name in Australia now thanks to her stunning debut single, "About You," which she recorded and produced herself in that same bedroom and uploaded on a whim to the Australian emerging artist website Unearthed. Flipo reportedly didn't know what she had on her hands, but it was immediately clear to the thousands who heard the song on Unearthed's parent radio station, triple j: This is a tuuuuuuuune. — Otis Hart


Nubya Garcia
"When We Are"

YouTube

During soundcheck at her Jazz Re:freshed SXSW Showcase in March, London saxophonist Nubya Garcia roared a note that silenced dozens of conversations, prompting at least one stunned member of the crowd to murmur, "Whoa." With this same force and dexterity, Garcia creates spiritual jazz ecstasy on the title track of her When We Are EP. Delivering a relentless charge of rhythm and melody, she dances through a tapestry of Femi Koleoso's drumming. Halfway through the song, Garcia drops out, giving pianist Joe Armon-Jones a chance to dazzle with Ahmad Jamal-esque runs as Daniel Casimir's bass anchors this fire music. Whoa. — Derek Smith, KMHD


Jenny Hval
"Spells"

YouTube

Jenny Hval casts her songs like shadow puppets — you're able to follow the plots, but they require you to bring your own imagination, your own story, for the connection to click, to make a knuckle a nose. On "Spells," Hval has welded her talent for bridging the between-zone of reality and surreality to the distant production textures of '80s pop, conjuring a rhapsody to love and the liberty of the soul. "You are your own disco ball hovering above you like / A comforting reminder that not even you belong to you." The point is we're all projections. So don't, I think, worry about it. — Andrew Flanagan


Angelique Kidjo
"Once In A Lifetime"

YouTube

When Talking Heads made Remain in Light in 1980, its band members and producer Brian Eno drew heavily from the sweaty, polyrhythmic funk of Nigerian bandleader Fela Kuti. So vocalist Angelique Kidjo — originally from Benin, just west of Nigeria — decided to make over Remain in Light, track for track, as a tour de force of exuberant Afrobeat swagger. Prepare yourself for a fully reimagined "Once in a Lifetime" with a fat horn section and buoyant, thickly layered drums, captained by the commanding Kidjo and her larger-than-life voice. Brilliant fun. — Anastasia Tsioulcas


Hayley Kiyoko
"Curious"

YouTube

If this year is, as Hayley Kiyoko dubs it, #20GAYTEEN, the pop singer known to her fans as Lesbian Jesus is making a play to be the creator of its official soundtrack. "Curious," the addictive third single from Kiyoko's major-label debut album, Expectations, explores the frustrations of trying to make it work with a girl who won't make up her mind. "Calling me up, so late at night / Are we just friends? You say you wanted me, but you're sleeping with him," Kiyoko teases with crushing queer relatability. Kiyoko's sultry confidence and the song's weightless production make "Curious" shine — and its cheeky, cinematic video, which Kiyoko directed and stars in, cements her as a force whose perspective is sorely needed. — Marissa Lorusso


Lil B
"Riding Skating Rolling Painting"

YouTube

As gentrification progresses in the Bay Area, Oakland's Lake Merritt has become contested soil. What once was a sunny public park where locals got together has become the site of the city's intensifying culture clashes, such as May's viral "BBQ Becky" incident. Enter ultra-positive rapper Lil B, the Bay Area's unifying force. "Riding Skating Rolling Painting," from Platinum Flame, is a laid-back, breezy celebration of those lazy lakeside afternoons, with a saxophone-laden boom-bap beat smooth as the asphalt where the skaters and rollerbladers hang out. The song harks back to Oakland's early-'90s conscious rap era, so it's only fitting that Siri, a rising rapper and daughter of Souls of Mischief's Tajai, delivers an upbeat verse that reminds us that inclusive public spaces are crucial for communities to thrive. — Nastia Voynovskaya, KQED


The Low Anthem
"Give My Body Back"

YouTube

Inspired by a fable that frontman Ben Knox Miller read in a John Cage biography, The Low Anthem's beautiful concept album The Salt Doll Went To Measure The Depths of The Sea revolves around the titular character's search to know more about herself. Featuring Knox Miller's gentle voice riding alongside a steady and gentle beat, "Give My Body Back" finds the doll submerging herself into the sea, reflecting what she will learn and what she will leave behind. Wes Anderson had better hurry up and write the Salt Doll movie; he already has his opening song in this one. — Cindy Howes, WYEP & Folk Alley