For the Record

The Best Songs of 2018

janelle monae
Janelle Monáe | Rick Kern/Getty Images
Janelle Monáe | Rick Kern/Getty Images

The number of new songs released every day makes creating a list like this an act of madness. Even compared to the ever-growing stockpile of TV shows that appear on cable and streaming services or the amount of movies that debut in theaters and on Netflix, songs are nearly infinite. By the time you finish reading this paragraph, a teenage rapper might have just dropped the next viral hit. A veteran pop star might have returned with a new single. Your favorite indie band from high school might've just gotten back together.

We know: There's too much going on and there's no way to hear everything. Think of the list below as a companion piece to our best albums list and start listening. (Click song titles to hear each track or check out the Spotify playlist below.)

travis scott
Epic

50. "Sicko Mode," Travis Scott feat. Drake

The rollicking art-rap of Travis Scott can be exhausting. This team-up with Drake, who sounds more alive here than he did on most of his recent sleepy double album Scorpion, is an ideal way to experience the Houston artist's hodge-podge of party-starting and trend-chasing. It's unclear why exactly "Sicko Mode" has multiple parts, switching up the beat like fidgety driver switching radio stations, but Drake and Scott bridge the divide between each section with verses that vibrate with confidence in their abilities and spite for their enemies. Scott claims he's jumping off with "no parachute" towards the end of this Astroworld stand-out. Still, the slick production from his collaborators provides the perfect musical safety net.

thom yorke
Paul Bergen/Getty Imges

49. "Suspirium," Thom Yorke

The score for Dario Argento's classic ballet horror film Suspiria was composed by the Italian progressive rock band Goblin, and it remains a completely unnerving, haunting piece of work. With Call Me by Your Name director Luca Guadagnino putting what looks like a baroque spin on the material this fall, it makes sense that the filmmaker would recruit an artist like Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke to handle the music. What's refreshing about this track is how little Yorke attempts to riff on Goblin's sound; instead, he concocts a piano-based composition that enchants, beguiles, and terrifies with its delicate, twitchy approach. Even while working in his stylistic comfort zone, Yorke can still creep you out.

sade
Sade/YouTube

48. "The Big Unknown," Sade

Following a multi-year hiatus from releasing new songs, Sade returned earlier this year with the ruminative acoustic ballad "Flower of the Universe," a track from the soundtrack to Ava Duvernay's A Wrinkle in Time adaptation. Her latest new song, "The Big Unknown," also strikes a somber mood and was written for a movie -- this one plays over the credits of Steve McQueen's heist thriller Widows -- but it's a more impactful, emotionally engaging track. "I'm just trying to hold on/I'm falling in the dark below," she sings in the chorus. Like many of her best songs, it's a narrative of perseverance and personal strength.

metro boomin
Boominati/Republic

47. "10 Freaky Girls," Metro Boomin' feat. 21 Savage  

"10 Freaky Girls," a mercurial and dreamy track off hip-hop super-producer Metro Boomin's Not All Heroes Wear Capes, is built around a sample of the '80s R&B ballad "Are You The Woman?" by singer and producer Kashif. The very beginning of Metro's production has a blurry television glowing in a dark room late at night vibe, which is then complimented with tough-talking lyrics from Atlanta rapper 21 Savage. The cumulative effect is otherworldly and strange, but also completely captivating. Freaky on a number of levels.

Kendrick Lamar SZA
KendrickLamarVEVE/YouTube

46. "All the Stars," SZA and Kendrick Lamar

Ryan Coogler's Black Panther already had a lot going for it: a young director fresh off a crowd-pleasing hit with Creed, a cast filled with rising stars and seasoned veterans, and a trailer that made heads explode. So, when Marvel announced that the film's soundtrack would be produced by Kendrick Lamar and Top Dawg Entertainment CEO Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith, it made sense. The first offering from the project was a mercurial, impeccable R&B track from TDE's rising star SZA with a laid-back verse from Lamar himself. It set the tone for the reign to come. 

fucked up band
John Londono/Merge Records

45. "Raise Your Voice Joyce," Fucked Up

The saxophone solo that arrives towards the end Fucked Up's "Raise Your Voice Joyce" is a is blast of pure, giddy exuberance. That sugar rush aesthetic is what they specialize in. Over the last decade, the hardcore band has earned a reputation as a dynamic group of musicians unafraid of big classic rock gestures: They make concept albums, write epic songs with recurring characters, and toy with genres outside their stylistic wheelhouse. On this song, they've got a saxophone. Frontman Damian Abraham still screams his head off, the guitars chime away with surgical precision, and the whole track sounds like it might spontaneously combust at any point. What a pleasure.

Lil Wayne
NBC/Getty Images

44. "Mona Lisa," Lil Wayne feat. Kendrick Lamar

Storytelling isn't Lil Wayne's greatest gift as a rapper. At his creative peak as a mixtape titan and mainstream superstar in the '00s, he would stretch single syllables and slice up the English language in inventive ways, but his verses were rarely built around conventional narrative structure. So, it's fun to see him getting downright pulpy and novelistic on "Mona Lisa," a collaboration with Kendrick Lamar off the long-delayed Tha Carter V. Does every element of the song, which finds the two rappers telling different sides of the same tale of deception, totally work? Not exactly, but even its missteps are engrossing and worth pouring over. 

Tom Tripp
Courtesy of the artist

43. "Loving You More," Tom Tripp

British singer Tom Tripp surfaced last year with nimble, sly songs like "Aurelia" and "Pamela," which combined an affection for grime with pop instincts. A video of him performing a cover of Drake's "Passionfruit" with Mura Masa on BBC1 gives you a taste of what he's capable of. Even better: His newest single, "Loving You More," is a soulful tale of jealousy and devotion. Bubbling over with hooks and drums, the track reveals its subtle charms over multiple listens, working its way into your brain with each murmured plea.

Soccer Mommy
Shervin Lainez/Fat Possum

42. "Still Clean," Soccer Mommy

Listening to this song is like watching someone yank a tablecloth off a table with a fancy place setting. Guitarist and vocalist Sophie Allison begins the track in a hushed state, singing of a summer when "you loved me like an animal" and drawing you in with a sense of nostalgia. Then everything wobbles. Seasons pass with each verse, and Allison's language becomes less defined by similes as the song progresses. By the end of the track, her ring finger falls to the water "from your bloody teeth." The tablecloth has been removed and the plates are still there, but a wolf is seated across from you. 

Wye Oak
Shervin Lainez/Courtesy of the artist

41. "Lifer," Wye Oak

Wye Oak is easy to take for granted. The Baltimore duo of Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack has made clever, poignant indie pop together for over a decade, and tried out a range of stylistic approaches, from guitar heroics to electronic wizardry, along the way. (Wasner has also released music as Flock of Dimes and the more dance-oriented side project Dungeonesse.) The pair's new record, The Louder I Call, The Faster I Run, is an adroit mixing of modes, perhaps best personified by "Lifer," a track that elegantly threads blustery squalls of feedback with delicate clouds of synth textures. It's the type of song that sneaks up on you.

carrie underwood
Capitol Nashville/YouTube

40. "Love Wins," Carrie Underwood

On a lyrical and thematic level, "Love Wins" is a mealy-mouthed appeal to the country's political center. Underwood, the country star and former American Idol winner, is disturbed that "everybody's gotta pick a side" and she believes "we'll never fall if we walk hand in hand." Not exactly galvanizing stuff. But on a formal level, this soaring power ballad is invigorating, like getting corn syrup injected right into your veins or being pelted with a T-shirt cannon. Even if you roll your eyes at the familiar message, you might find yourself waving your hands along to the chorus.

pig destroyer band
Joey Wharton/Relapse Records

39. "Army of Cops," Pig Destroyer

Virginia grindcore specialists Pig Destroyer make music that punches you in the chest. The vocals and guitars on "Army of Cops," the first single from the metal band's latest record Head Cage, are still harsh even if they're not accompanied by those signature blast-beats. (You'll also hear some bass on this track, a first for the group.) Beyond the sheer intensity of the music, the larger message is one drenched in anger, bitterness, and doubt. "Tell me, where does it stop?" asks singer J.R. Hayes . "This tower of law, this army of cops." He doesn't get an answer but one assumes that won't stop him from hammering away.

Lucy Dacus
Matador Records

38. "Addictions," Lucy Dacus

Lucy Dacus hails from Virginia but the music she makes has a fluidity to it that doesn't immediately tie it to a single region. A song like "Addictions," a stand-out from her second LP Historian, rumbles along a dirt road of memory and regret, which she evokes with sharp, wry lyrics. She sings of "years of senseless waiting," creating a mood of romantic yearning. Yet the music still has a raucous quality: the guitars kick up a storm; the drums hammer away; the melody is drenched in fuzz. The only thing you'll be waiting for is a chance to listen to this again.

Isla
Relapse Records

37. "Hikikomori," Ilsa

Ilsa makes doom metal that leaves your ribs vibrating. "Hikikomori" kicks off the Maryland band's fifth full-length, Corpse Fortress, and it's as sludge-covered and ominous as welcoming mats get. "If metal is the sound of a well-tuned machine, we are that blood-encrusted, hair-matted machinery after it's ground up every worker in the factory, sputtering and rumbling on," the group's frontman Orion Peter told Noisey in a recent interview. Sound appealing? Put some headphones on and witness it for yourself. 

the Internet
The Internet

36. "Roll (Burbank Funk)," The Internet

The laid-back joy of this track from California soul band The Internet is infectious. It starts with roller rink ready drums and then a slinky bass line appears at the same moment you hear the hint of a vocal melody -- by that point you're enveloped in the group's hazy, sweaty vibe. Since the release of 2015's Grammy-nominated Ego Death, multiple members of the outfit have dropped solo projects that stand on their own, but it's encouraging to hear the band locked in a groove again, feeding off the creativity they each bring to the table. It's clear they're glad to be back together.

haru nemuri
Perfect Music

35. "Kick in the World,"  Haru Nemuri 

When the guitars finally arrive on the chorus of "Kick in the World," an anthemic hard rock track from Japanese artist Haru Nemuri, you'll feel like you've taken flight. It's one of the more genuinely cathartic musical moments of the year, a head-banging release of freedom and joy, and somehow the song manages to pack multiple compositional shifts like that into a pop package under four minutes. There's a professional sheen to the production and a handcrafted approach to the actual songwriting, giving the track the type of tension that makes the hairs on your arms stand up. 

ybn cordae
YBN Cordae/YouTube

34. "Alaska," YBN Cordae

The YBN origin story involves rapping and joking around while streaming Grand Theft Auto on XBOX Live, but the youthful hip-hop collective clearly means business. You can sense that on tracks like "Alaska," a showcase for rythmically nimble North Carolina-raised member YBN Cordae. The track also goes by the name "Scotty Pippen," and it's got the type of athletic, Iverson-crossover flow that helps distinguish a rapper emerging as part of a larger crew. It's an autobiographical sketch filled with revealing details -- "Momma's car got stolen, took the shuttle pass/Re-up from three bucks copped the duffle bag," he raps at one point -- and it should leave an impression whether you check it out on YouTube or as part of the group's new YBN: The Mixtape project, which dropped earlier this month.

Saba
Saba Pivot LLC

33. "Logout," Saba feat. Chance the Rapper

Chicago rapper Saba first popped up on projects like Chance the Rapper's 2016 mixtape Coloring Book and Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment's 2015 album Surf, which featured Chance on almost every track. The two artists join forces again on this soulful slice of social media criticism from Saba's new full-length Care for Me, which should be a favorite of anyone who deleted Facebook in the last few weeks. "I don't want no autograph / I just want a follow back," sings Saba on the hook, mocking the selfie-obsessed culture of the present. It's not exactly the most cutting take on the subject, but the sing-song approach makes the moralizing go down easy.  

carly rae jepsen
Steve Jennings/WireImage

32. "Party for One," Carly Rae Jepsen

As a high-functioning joy delivery system, this single from Canadian pop specialist Carly Rae Jepsen is meant to evoke the sugar-rush high of her biggest chart hit, 2012's ubiquitous "Call Me Maybe." (The xylophone in the soft, hushed opening is a nice touch.) Fittingly, the cherry exuberance of the music plays off feelings of loneliness and a melancholy tone reflected in lines like "If you don't care about me/I'll just dance for myself." It works as both a not-so-subtle love letter to masturbation and a more nuanced study of resilience. Even if it doesn't send your heart fluttering like "Cut to the Feeling" or "Run Away With Me," "Party for One" still finds Jepsen back on her beat where she belongs. 

noname
Suzanne Cordeiro/Getty Images

31. "Regal," NoName

A song of elegant refinement and spiritual mystery, "Regal" only has one verse and two choruses, but it opens up a larger world with each carefully arranged syllable. Whether she's rapping about lying warm inside a casket or calling out "Rice-A-Roni politics," the Chicago rapper sounds completely in control of her sound. Her voice can be wry and cool, but she's not detached: Each of the tracks on Room 25, the follow-up album to her acclaimed mixtape Telefone from 2016, are earnestly working through larger personal and political struggles. It's a careful mapping of singular mental territory carried out with a regal eye.

eric church
EMI Nashville

30. "Hippie Radio," Eric Church

Part of the low-key charm of Eric Church's new album Desperate Man is how most of the songs reveal new meanings over multiple listens. With its choruses name-checking of Kansas, Billy Idol, and Warren Zevon tracks, "Hippie Radio" at first feels like a hyper-referential song about driving around in a car with the dial turned to '70s AM rock -- and it is that -- but the verses also tell a poignant, intimate story of a man's life in three little vignettes. It's simple, graceful stuff. Jettisoning the country-hair-metal bombast of 2014's The Outsider and recalibrating the wounded introspection of Mr. Misunderstood, Church has arrived at a sound that wouldn't be out of place on one of the "hippie radio" stations he sings about so affectionately.

blood orange
Devonté Hynes/YouTube

29. "Charcoal Baby," Blood Orange

Dev Hynes can do light and heavy at the same time. "Charcoal Baby," the first single from his follow-up to 2016's excellent Blood Orange record Freetown Sound, was co-written with Aaron Maine of the New York synth-pop band Porches, but it walks a line of ambiguity that should be familiar to Blood Orange fans. Over a breezy guitar part, bleary synth flourishes, steady drums, and a jazzy horn, Hynes poses the same question multiple times, mulling it over and dwelling on its implications. "Can you break sometimes?" he asks. He never sounds like he's in a hurry, letting each syllable rest and reverberate, and the song around him simply floats, suspended in its own intoxicating aroma.

Hatchie
Double Double Whammy

28. "Sugar & Spice," Hatchie

With its jangly guitars and wistful vocals, Hatchie's "Sugar & Spice" feels like it could soundtrack the opening shot of any teen drama -- John Hughes movie, The O.C., or the recent Love, Simon. That might sound like a dig, but it's not: Creating a dream pop song that conjures adolescent angst, scans as timeless, and presses play on a Blu-ray in your mind isn't easy. Australia's Hariette Pilbeam, the multi-instrumentalist behind Hatchie, showed a gift for it with last year's "Try," and "Sugar & Spice" is an even sweeter, catchier follow-up.

lana del rey
Joseph Okpako/Getty Images

27. "Venice Bitch," Lana Del Rey

Sometimes excess is the point. A nearly 10 minute Lana Del Rey song titled "Venice Bitch," complete with a chorus that goes "Oh God, miss you on my lips/It's me, your little Venice bitch," could be exhausting, but the only frustrating part of this quasi-meditative, Lynch-ian slice of Americana is that it ends. Ideally, it should sprawl out for hours. Stretching out a finger-picked, SoCal pop song into an art installation is clever idea for Del Rey, an artist who often finds elegance and profundity in the obvious. By the end, you want to lay this song over you like a weighted blanket.

St. Beauty
Wondaland

26. "Not Discuss It," St. Beauty

The difficulty of compromise is at the heart of countless bewitching pop and R&B songs. "Not Discuss It," a single off the Running to the Sun EP from Atlanta duo St. Beauty, captures the push and pull of infatuation that can often fuel -- or derail -- a long-term relationship. The lyrics in the verses acknowledge there's an issue, but on the delightful shrug of a chorus, singers Alex Belle and Isis Valentino propose a radical solution: "We can just continue making love until we’re dead and gone." The group is signed to Janelle Monáe's Wondaland label, home to "Classic Man" crooner Jidenna, but they're pursuing something more earthbound than those dapper retro-futuristic cyborgs. Clearly, they're worth discussing. 

Beach House
Sub Pop/Shawn Brackbill

25. "Black Car," Beach House

A new record from Beach House is often an occasion to get in touch with your teenage feelings. The other singles from the group's seventh full-length, elegantly titled 7, have provided ample opportunities to revisit the soft, melancholy dream-pop the Baltimore group specializes in. "Black Car" has a sinister edge to it, with an opening synth line that could score the opening credits of a horror movie you stumble on late at night. Lines like "it's like a tomb" and "I skipped a rock and it fell into the water" only heighten the A24 vibes. Where most Beach House songs feel like a warm blanket, this one is like wrapping yourself in a spider web.

Now Now band
Sam San Román

24. "AZ," Now, Now

Now, Now's "AZ," the first single from the band's album Saved, is a smart road song because it knows that the destination isn't as important as the journey. The track begins with the creak of a drum machine, like a tire thumping over a rock, but with each verse new parts emerge -- a Slowdive-like guitar line, a blooming synth -- and soon enough the group is gunning it down the highway. Full tank of gas. Windows open. Map tossed in the backseat.  "Back to the heart of it all," sings guitarist KC Dalager. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Neko Case
Anti Records

23. "Hell-On," Neko Case

The cover to Neko Case's first solo album in five years features the singer wearing a hat (or a wig) made out of cigarettes. The hair underneath them is on fire, but her facial expression shows no alarm. Instead, she's content to let it burn. It's a worldview that's also reflected in the lyrics of the record's title track "Hell-On," which strikes a tone of bemused defiance over a whirling folk-rock arrangement. "God is a lusty tire fire," she sings at one point. Might as well watch the flames.

Kamasi Washington
Photo by B+ & Mike Park

22. "The Space Traveler's Lullaby," Kamasi Washington

In June, jazz innovator Kamasi Washington will release a double LP titled Heaven and Earth, which sounds just as wildly ambitious and potentially mind-altering as 2015's triple album The Epic. (Last year, he worked on a smaller scale with the Harmony of Difference EP.) Following the announcement, he released two songs, the punchy "Fists of Fury" and the dreamy "The Space Traveler's Lullaby." Of the two lengthy tracks, "Lullaby" is the knockout, a swirling concoction of strings, horns, percussion, and choral singing. It might not put you to sleep, but it will take you to another astral plane. (Note: The video clip linked above is just a sample of the track, which you can here in full on the playlist below.)

Hop Along
Tonje Thilesen

21. "How Simple," Hop Along

Philadelphia's Hop Along makes cathartic rock that's not afraid to chase musical digressions. "How Simple," the lead single for the group's new record Bark Your Head Off, Dog, begins in a hushed state before transitioning into a jangle-pop shuffle. Then it builds into a grunge-y, squall-filled section, finally switching to an almost chipper, hand-clap-powered kiss-off in the end. As you can guess, it's anything but simple. But singer-songwriter Frances Quinlan keeps the song grounded in deeply relatable, deeply moving emotions.

mitski
Bao Ngo

20. "Nobody," Mitski

Earlier this year, Mitski served as an opener during a section of the North American leg of Lorde's Melodrama tour, playing cavernous arenas with the captivating New Zealand pop singer and the booming rap duo Run the Jewels. The defiant indie rock of her early albums sounded great at the show I attended, shaking the crowd with raw catharsis, but the thumping disco of "Nobody" feels designed to get listeners moving in a different manner. At the same time, the lyrics are still consumed with contemporary anxieties and personal crisis. She sings of a planet "destroyed by global warming" and a search for "one good honest kiss," framing a romantic quest as an existential mission. When it comes to making songs like this, nobody does it better. 

Cardi B
Atlantic Records

19. "Thru Your Phone," Cardi B

Cardi B's debut full-length, Invasion of Privacy, toggles between moments of righteous invincibility and tender vulnerability. "Thru Your Phone," the second-to-last track on the record, might be the best example of how she combines those two modes: In the verses she's threatening to call your mom, smash your TV from Best Buy, and "make a bowl of cereal with a teaspoon of bleach," but in the chorus she strikes a more melancholy tone. She went through your phone, discovered you were unfaithful, and now it's killing her. It's a song about infidelity that captures the mixed emotions of betrayal. "This shit is eating me, you sleeping peacefully," she raps, perfectly summing up the treacherous contradictions of the situation.

US Girls
4AD

18. "Rosebud," U.S. Girls

In a Poem Unlimited, the latest album from Toronto based artist Meg Remy, is already one of the year's best albums, and "Rosebud" is the perfect song to bring a potentially skeptical listener into her enchanting orbit. Is it dance music? A love song? A disco, murder ballad? "Use those keys and take a drive," sings Remy over a flurry of guitars, synths, and strings. "Through the back alleys of your mind." It's a provocative invitation: an expressway to your own skull. That she accomplishes that while keeping your body moving feels like a miracle.

Childish Gambino
RCA

17. "This Is America," Childish Gambino

It's difficult -- maybe even impossible --  to separate the musical content of the latest Childish Gambino track from the striking, ultra-violent visuals, which were shot by Donald Glover's frequent collaborator Hiro Murai. The clip's virality has eclipsed the song itself. But taken as only a piece of music, this hyper-referential text, which switches up musical modes multiple times over four minutes, often feels like a stitched-together facsimile of work by other artists. (Some of them, like Young Thug, Slim Jxmmi, and 21 Savage, provide ad-libs on the track.) As you'd expect from its grandiose title, the sentiments expressed come from a deeply pessimistic place, presenting a provocative collection of thoughts on consumerism, racism, and the music industry. It's not quite a thesis; instead, each line arrives cloaked in ambivalence. 

sharon van etten
Sharon Van Etten/Jagjaguwar

16. "Comeback Kid," Sharon Van Etten

Feel free to call it a comeback: On this synth-and-snare-driven concoction, which swaps coffee-house poetics for new wave cool, Sharon Van Etten sounds rejuvenated and ready for a fight. "I'm the runaway," she sings in the song's defiant opening verse. "I'm the stay out late." In the years since 2014's bruising Are We There, the singer-songwriter returned to college to study psychology, had a baby, and appeared in two obsessed-over cult TV projects, Netflix's The OA and Showtime's Twin Peaks: The Return. Judging from the jagged, vaguely gothic electro-pop approach of this single, she's discovered a new side to her musical persona along the way.

Bruno Mars
Atlantic

15. "Finesse [Remix]," Bruno Mars feat. Cardi B

Ever since the release of 2016's deftly clever 24K Magic, Bruno Mars has wrapped himself in '90s nostalgia and -- lucky for him -- it fits like some vintage, New Edition tour merch. For an artist who got his start as a pint-sized Elvis impersonator, this type of careful, playful recreation is a smart move. The video for this remix of a 24K stand-out, featuring 2017's breakout hit-maker Cardi B, works as both a nimble, winking tribute to In Living Color for fans raised on the sketch comedy staple, and as a bright, goofy party for kids whose memories of '90s pop culture (and fashion) only come from the internet. Put on the brightest shirt you own and enjoy.  

charli xcx
Olivia Malone

14. "No Angel," Charli XCX

Singer Charli XCX broke into the mainstream by crashing her car into a bridge on Icona Pop's "I Love It," which she co-wrote and shared vocal duties on, and ever since that 2012 hit she's continued to stake out a space as one of pop's most joyfully rebellious provocateurs. With its proclamations about being "bad to the bone" and lines about her status as a "problem child," XCX's latest single "No Angel" is in the same stylistic wheelhouse as her most famous chart-topper. The squishy synths and booming bass keep the song bouncing and the lyrics deepen her no fucks given persona. She may not be an angel, but her recent run of tracks -- including last year's transportive "Out of My Head" with Tove Lo and ALMA -- has been nothing short of heavenly.

Phil Elverum
Geneviève Elverum

13. "Distortion," Mount Eerie

Phil Elverum's last album under the Mount Eerie name, A Crow Looked At Me, was one of the best records of last year, a work of breath-taking intimacy. Using spare instrumentation and stark confessional lyrics, he examined his own raw emotional state after the tragic death of his wife. "Distortion," the first single from his follow-up record Now Only, works in a similar vein, but it leaps across time, weaving together memories of watching a movie on a plane and worrying about a pregnancy scare, in a way that feels new. At nearly 11 minutes, it's a demanding listen -- probably not something you throw on to relax after a long day -- but the rewards are real.

Drake look alive
BlocBoy JB/YouTube

12. "Look Alive," BlocBoy JB and Drake

Memphis rapper BlocBoy JB, who scored a hit and launched a viral dance with "Rover" earlier this year, is the latest artist to fall under Drake's powerful tractor beam. The 6 God has a tendency to spot young hip-hop talent like he's a college recruiter scoping out gifted athletes; iLoveMakonnen and Migos were both remixed by the Canadian rapper relatively early into their careers. Is it a vampiric act of trend-chasing or a mutually beneficial arrangement? When the resulting song is as effective as "Look Alive," which features some tough-talk over menacing pianos and hi-hats, it (almost) doesn't matter.

young thug elton john
300/Atlantic

11. "High," Young Thug feat. Elton John

Atlanta rapper Young Thug is hardly the first hip-hop artist to form a musical friendship with rock royalty Elton John -- Eminem and Sir Elton hugged it out on stage at the Grammys in 2001 and reportedly remain close to this day -- but the act of inter-genre alchemy performed on this track is in a different stratosphere. Over a sample from "Rocket Man" and an appropriately woozy beat from producer Stelios Phili, Thug gets his First Man on here, crooning and rapping with fearless tenacity. Sure, the drug use as interstellar travel metaphor has been done to death, but these two new co-pilots give the engine enough fresh rocket fuel to make it work.

Tracey Thorn
Edward Bishop/Merge

10. "Queen," Tracey Thorn

A song like "Queen," the first single from former Everything but the Girl singer Tracey Thorn's cheekily-titled Record, reminds you how important a strong rhythm section is to an effective synth-pop track. Even if the keyboards sound smooth and the guitar kicks in at just the right moment, there still needs to be a propulsive beat driving the action. This song has that -- and much more. Thorn's yearning vocals call out to you across the dance floor and the drums await your arrival. All hail the queen.

the 1975
Roberto Ricciuti/WireImage

9. "Love It If We Made It," The 1975

The histrionics of The 1975 make for brilliant copy. "We're fucking in a car, shooting heroin," sings frontman Matthew Healy in the opening lines of the single. "Saying controversial things just for the hell of it." In a world of Twitter pundits, fake news, and YouTube reaction videos, it makes sense for this permanently bratty English rock band to write their own "We Didn't Start The Fire," replacing Joe DiMaggio with gone-too-soon rapper Lil Peep and Richard Nixon with our own increasingly compromised commander-in-chief. But "Love It If We Made It" is more straightforward than Billy Joel's current events word jumble. Healy isn't offering a recap of recent history; he's throwing up his hands, gazing out a window, and trolling on a prayer.

robyn
Mark Peckmezian/Courtesy of the artist

8. "Missing U," Robyn

It's been around eight years since Robyn released Body Talk, her endlessly inventive and exhilarating dance-pop masterwork. The wait for a full-length follow-up from the Swedish singer has been long -- she appears content dropping smaller collaborative projects -- but "Missing U" should hold you over for a while. Like many of her best tracks, the song finds Robyn exploring emotionally complex and psychologically nuanced territory, striking a mood between regret and longing. She sings of an "empty space" and "clues in my pockets," but the larger mystery is how she continues to craft these perfect dance-floor anthems. You'll happily keep listening to this one over and over to crack the code.

future
Ollie Millington/Redferns/Getty Images

7. "31 Days," Future

It's tough to pick the best song off Future's latest mixtape Beast Mode 2, a project that moves from track to track with a startling sense of purpose. Is the gleeful exuberance of "Wifi Lift" better than the melodic gluttony of "Doh Doh"? It's hard to say. Even on such a consistent collection, "31 Days" stands out for the way it mixes moments of hardened tough-talk and quasi-romantic ramblings with a creeping sense of despair. The Atlanta rapper begins the song by saying he's having a "moment of clarity," but he sounds as lost as ever. The hours blend together, days turning into months and months turning into years. For Future, time is always elastic.

Courtney Barnett
Milk Records Melbourne

6.  "Nameless, Faceless," Courtney Barnett

After last year's hazy and playful record Lotta Sea Lice, cut with fellow laid-back, indie-rock wordsmith Kurt Vile, Courtney Barnett is ready to dig deep. "Nameless, Faceless" might have jangly guitars and a quirky animated video to go with it, but it also has real bite. Weaponizing a quote from writer Margaret Atwood -- "Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them" -- the Australian songwriter paints a portrait of a man consumed with anger and hate. "I'm real sorry," she sings. "'Bout whatever happened to you."

Swae Lee
SwaeLeeVEVO

5. "Hurt to Look," Swae Lee

On hits like "No Flex Zone," "No Type," and "Black Beatles," Mississippi rap group Rae Sremmurd sounded like the life of the party. But there was always a melancholy quality to even their most raucous songs, a sense that the unending debauchery was also a coping mechanism. "Hurt to Look," the new single from the group's break-out Swae Lee, is a more direct engagement of that sensitive side. Lines like "I can feel the weight of what you say" and "Colors burst and all I see are shapes" give the airy R&B song a drug-addled Before Sunrise vibe, which is aided by the smeared, hazy-eyed production. It may hurt to look but it feels great to listen. 

Ariana Grande
Republic

4. "No Tears Left to Cry," Ariana Grande

For her first single since the tragic Manchester Arena bombing in 2017, pop diva Ariana Grande chose a title that appears maudlin on first glance. You can almost hear the syrupy strings when you read the words. But the actual song she's crafted here is a hypnotic, UK garage-influenced banger that chooses defiance over sentiment. Being all cried out, emotionally spent after hours of grief, becomes a form of strength. She wears her pain like armor here, and is supported by crisp, dance-ready production that makes the catharsis feel earned.

Stephen Malkmus
Giovanni Duca

3. "Middle America," Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks

By now, Stephen Malkmus is a reliable American institution. In the years since the break-up of the beloved indie rock group Pavement, he's made six albums with his backing band the Jicks and, while fans can argue over their favorite, each record is sturdy and playful in a way that's rare for an aging guitar god. "Middle America," the first new Jicks material in four years, finds him in a reflective mood. "Time gets to me," he warbles at multiple points, drawing you into a calming web of poetic observations, pastoral images, and plainspoken advice like "open the door and piss if you need to." It's the sound of a curious mind untroubled by its place in the world.

MCA Nashville

2. "Space Cowboy," Kacey Musgraves

"You can have your space, cowboy," sings Kacey Musgraves on this clever, moving ballad of romantic estrangement. Marching through symbolic territory picked over by Steve Miller and Clint Eastwood, the 29-year-old country singer finds a new spin on an old turn-of-phrase, kicking the dust off it with ease. As you'll quickly figure out, the "space" in the song isn't interstellar. Instead, she's thinking about the way the "sunsets fade" and "love does too." The pause she puts between "space" and "cowboy" works like a knife, cutting a cliché in two.

janelle monae
Wondaland

1. "Make Me Feel," Janelle Monáe

Over the last 10 years, Janelle Monáe has carved out her own moon crater on the often rocky surface of popular culture. On albums like 2010's The Archandroid and 2013's The Electric Lady, she deftly played the role of a robot sent from the future. In 2016, she had significant roles in both Moonlight and Hidden Figures, two movies that introduced her style, wit, and gift for drama to even larger audiences. "Make Me Feel," the better of the two excellent singles she's released for her next record Dirty Computer, feels like the next step in her evolution and the latest move in her quest for world domination. Drawing inspiration from her mentor Prince, who reportedly contributed the synth part on the song, she's concocted a rhythmically nimble and sexually fluid piece of electro-pop candy.

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Dan Jackson is a staff writer at Thrillist Entertainment. He's on Twitter @danielvjackson.