NME’s best songs of 2018 (so far!)

From the stupendous return of Christine and the Queens to the rise of the mighty Idles, via Arctic Monkeys' bold new reinvention and Nicki Minaj's rude rhymes, it's been a helluva year

Words: Dan Stubbs, Tom Smith, El Hunt, Jordan Bassett, Hannah Mylrea, Andrew Trendell

Well, well, well. 2018’s been a humdinger so far, hasn’t it? In literally no order whatsoever, here are our favourite new songs of this year – we’ll be adding to the list, and will return in December to knock ’em into a proper ranking. Oh! And be sure to wrap your ears around the Spotify playlist at the end of this article.

Sunflower Bean, ‘Twentytwo’

We bet you didn’t celebrate your 22nd birthday by writing a song quite as poignant as this one from Julia Cumming and Sunflower Bean. A from their recent album ‘Twentytwo In Blue’, it’s a coming-of-age masterpiece that’ll hit you – hard – right in the feels. TS

Kacey Musgraves, ‘High Horse’

A song that became affectionately known as ‘Horsey Horsey Disco Song’ over its approximate 3000 plays on the NME stereo, ‘High Horse’ did what Taylor Swift’s forgotten how to do: make people who think they don’t like country music realise they do, in fact, like country music. Lyrically a successor to Carly Simon’s ‘You’re So Vain’ and Shania’s ‘That Don’t Impress Me Much’, it lances the male ego in the most dancefloor-pleasing way. Where ya been, Kacey Musgraves? DS

Shame, ‘Friction’

“Do you determine the person in question is simply worlds apart?,” spits Shame’s Charlie Steen in this existential quandary of living between the divide of the social media age. A righteous riot from UK’s punk’s blinding young hope. AT

Cardi B feat. Bad Bunny and J Balvin, ‘I Like It’

What an absolute stonker. This Latin-themed, gold-crested banger is like a helium balloon pumped full of joy and positivity, as Cardi B – the breakout star of the year, surely – rides a delirious, whirling, colourful beat to rap, “‘Bout my coins like Mario / Yeah they call me Cardi B / I run this shit like cardio”. Grab your Lycra, ’cause this one’s a proper workout. Remember: smiling burns more calories than frowning. JB

Matt Maltese, ‘Greatest Comedian’ 

On this delicious slice of smooth schmaltzcore, Matt Maltese croons of the object of his affection: “God must be the greatest comedian I know / To put you so far away.” It sums the Berkshire don up: funny, whipsmart, knows his way around tune – and isn’t afraid of unabashed romance. JB

Deafheaven, ‘Canary Yellow’

After three albums of bending the rules of black metal, Deafheaven solidified their place as one of the planet’s most intriguing bands with new album ‘Ordinary Corrupt Human Love’. The deliciously heavy ‘Canary Yellow’ is a booming reminder of how far they’ve managed to take their unique sound – and how much further than can take it. TS

Peter Cat Recording Co., ‘Portrait Of A Time’

It was originally released in 2015, but remastered for this year’s album of the same name, so it totally counts, right? The New Delhi band dress like Fleet Foxes but, somehow, sound like Dean Martin, combing modern and vintage on this strange, otherworldly masterwork. The jazzy percussion, slinky bassline, earworm, ’50s-style crooner vocal and and romantic lyrics dissipate in the bridge, as a 21st century dance beat thuds over sliding guitar, before that full-hearted chorus returns for a glorious victory lap. JB

Kanye West, ‘No Mistakes’

XTCY

Kanye West

“It’s been a shaky-ass year” Kanye West confessed on his seven-track album, ‘Ye’. Its an understatement, for sure, but ‘No Mistakes’ proved to be a remarkably frank and refreshing response to some of his more outlandish behaviour this year. TS

MGMT, ‘Me and Michael’

The US psycho-pop pioneers returned to form with fourth album ‘Little Dark Age’, with this Italo-disco tinged banger proving that they’re still able to make exemplary pop songs. With thunderous percussion and tinkling synths, it’s a delectable and unexpected treat. TS

Parcels, ‘Tieduprightnow’

Their Daft Punk collaboration in 2017 put their name on the map, but with ‘Tieduprightnow’ – the lead single from their debut – Parcels channel Chic. It’s joyous pop moment, perfect for poolside parties and Margaritas as the sun sets. TS

Kanye West & Kid Cudi aka Kids See Ghosts, ‘Freeee (Ghost Town Pt. 2)’

Scoop! Say what you like about Kanye’s year of prolific patchiness, but it’s given us some of his greatest individual works to date, not least this celebratory power anthem of artistic and personal liberation. “I don’t feel pain any more / Guess what babe? / I am freeeee,” it goes, and if you don’t join in on the last word, you might have no soul. DS

No Rome feat. The 1975, ‘Narcissist’

Discovered by The 1975’s Matty Healy and duly signed to their Dirty Hit label, No Rome is a Filipino studio wunderkind whose music has the lightness of touch and floaty, layered quality of Healy & co’s latest work – no surprise given they’ve been working on their respective albums in the same studios. The 1975 are at their best when they nearly step into boyband territory, and this co-feature is squelchy, sun-dripped boyband-influenced loveliness. DS

Rejjie Snow, ‘Charlie Brown’

Confusingly, this is no tribute to the loveable comic book dweeb. Instead, the rapper teams up with Anna Of The North to offer a toe-tapping take on Irish funk group Republic Of Loose’s NSFW 2008 song ‘The Steady Song’. TS

Purple Disco Machine, ‘Dished (Male Stripper)’

Get yourself a frankly daft rush of endorphins from this shameless cartoon dancefloor bop. Turn up your speakers, turn off your inhibitions – get silly. AT

The Distillers, ‘Man Vs Magnet’

The Distillers’ Brody Dalle

Fearless, effortless and with no fucks given, this is everything we wanted from Brody Dalle’s band of reprobates in the wilderness of the last 15 years. God, we’ve missed you. AT

Bring Me The Horizon, ‘Mantra’

Stepping up to seize the arena rock throne, Bring Me The Horizon bring monolithic hooks to this battle-cry from their upcoming sixth album. This cult’s about to blow up. AT

Florence + the Machine, ‘Hunger’ 

“We all have a hunger,” belts Florence Welch, dissecting the various traps that steer us into choppy water. Whether it’s drugs, lust, or intentionally leaving hungry holes in your stomach, it’s all here on ‘Hunger’, and yet there’s still an underlying hope that things can be changed for the better. EH

Teleman, ‘Submarine Life’

London four-piece Teleman make music for graphic designers. This is fact. But if you can see past the absolute vacuum of any discernible identity or personality, then the likes of ‘Submarine Life’ will reward you with robo-voiced loveliness that falls somewhere between Hot Chip’s ‘Boy From School’ and Neil Young’s ‘Trans’. DS

Blossoms, ‘There’s A Why (I Never Returned Your Calls)’

Packed with all the flourishes of the finest of ‘80s synth-pop wedding bangers, ‘There’s A Reason Why’ would have been a chart-topping instant classic in any other decade. AT

Peace, ‘You Don’t Walk Away From Love’

It sounds like classic Bloc Party covering Take That. Don’t pretend you don’t want that. Stop trying to be cool. AT

Gorillaz, ‘Humility’

Last year’s ‘Humanz’ turned out to be a bit of a sensory overload, so thankfully Damon Albarn stripped things back to their core on Gorillaz’ 2018 album ‘The Now Now’. On lead single ‘Humility’, Damon’s wistful vocals cheekily sidles up against a playful beat. A bouncing return to form. TS

Mitski, ‘Nobody’

She’s existed somewhere between guttural grunge, swooping baroque pop and heavenly operatic indie. Turns out she can make pretty immaculate existential disco too. AT

Manic Street Preachers, ‘Hold Me Like Heaven’

The band were already accomplished masters of Autumnal arena rock, but this sky-sized tribute to Nicky Wire’s mother is among one of the Manic Street Preachers‘ most bittersweet triumphs. AT

Interpol, ‘The Rover’

A marauding kick of dark rock’n’roll from returning masters – never living slowly and still as devious as ever. AT

Christine & The Queens, ‘Girlfriend’ 

“Boys are loading their arms / Girls gasp with envy” Chris informs a babble of canned laughter on ‘Girlfriend’, a song that’s tired of marching along with tired old parade of gender stereotypes. Everything about ‘Chris’ – even her moniker – is shorter and crisper this time around. Pillaging macho tropes exactly as she desires, the first single from Christine and The Queens’ second album blends West Side Story with smooth, gyrating G-Funk. EH

James Bay, ‘Pink Lemonade’

Who’d-a thunk it? The Man Who Used To Wear A Hat – Hitchin’s finest, James Bay – turned in an absolute indie-disco slapper, here. If The Strokes spent a heady night in the ‘00s on swish cocktails instead of skulking through The East Village’s dive bars, this shimmering triumph would likely be the result. TS

Snail Mail, ‘Heat Wave’

Her moniker rejects the 21st century’s high-speed exchange of hastily typed emails and, here, Lindsey Jordan revels in another tradition: strong, grunge-influenced songwriting. In ‘Heat Wave’, you’ll find one of haziest love songs of 2018, Snail Mail longing for infatuation that “swallows you wholly”EH

Popcaan, ‘Body So Good’

The genial dancehall popstar schmoozes and romances the lucky person in his life with the beatific come-on “me can’t stand you sometimes / But me still love your waistline”. Get Hallmark on the phone and tell ‘em to stick that on a card right this second. JB

King Princess, ‘1950’ 

King Princess

The first signing to Mark Ronson’s Zelig record label, Brooklyn’s indie-pop champion King Princess can also count quiff-sporting hunk-man Harry Styles as an early champion. All the ingredients for a lot of hype are there, but luckily enough ‘1950’ – a smart, wry rejection of discrimination – delivers on the promise. EH

Beyoncé & Jay-Z (aka The Carters), ‘Apeshit’ 

Sometimes husband-wife duets can be a little bit icky, a sickly cocktail of matching knitted jumpers and TMI. No such pitfalls are to be found on ‘Apeshit’, a brashly confident ode to the world’s best-known power couple. They hired out the entire Louvre for the video, and the track features Beyoncé yelling “get off my dick!”, out-rapping Jay-Z at every turn. EH

Parquet Courts, ‘Tenderness’

The Brooklyn band’s sixth album ‘Wide Awake!’ is their most sonically diverse to date, and ‘Tenderness’ – well suited for your next honky-tonk hoedown – blends jaunty piano with lyric about nihilism, tourism and the industrial revolution. Same old, then? TS

SOPHIE, ‘Immaterial’ 

It’s hard to overstate SOPHIE’s monumental influence on the shape of modern pop – bloopy, synthesised melody is everywhere these days. Even Madonna’s on board, and so perhaps it makes sense for SOPHIE to put her own spin on the ‘Like a Virgin’ classic. Here, she longs to be ‘Immaterial’ instead, shifting past every limitation to find something more pure and meaningful. EH

Kali Uchis ft. Tyler, The Creator, Bootsy Collins, ‘After The Storm’ 

A velvety ode to doing daily power stances, Kali Uchis’ ‘After The Storm’ is a sunshine flecked slab of joy. Oh, and did we mention it features both “hottest flower boy” Tyler, The Creator and funk icon Bootsy Collins? EH

Dream Wife ft. Fever Dream, ‘F.U.U’ 

Spitting out lines from The Spice Girls’ ‘Wannabe’, Icelandic rapping from Fever Ray and repeated threats to “fuck you up” in a constant stream of aggression, Dream Wife’s ‘F U U’ is the don’t-mess-with-me-anthem we all need. EH

The 1975, ‘TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME’

A spiritual successor to Whigfield’s ‘Saturday Night’, The 1975’s most overtly poppy song of the year should come with a government health warning. One listen and you’ll be skipping along singing the damn thing for a week. DS

The 1975, ‘Love It If We Made It’

One of the heaviest, most personal and political songs of the year, ‘Love It If We Made It’ holds a lens up to both the clusterfuck that is 2018 and to its author’s own addictions, even taking direct lyrics from Trump tweets (“‘I moved on her like a bitch’/ Excited to be indicted”). Massive and serious but catchy as fuck too, the track finds Matty Healy ranting the words out like a stream of consciousness, but every line in there has spine-tingling power, not least when that guitar squeal kicks in during the second chorus. Magical. DS

 Ariana Grande, ‘No Tears Left To Cry’

Ariana Grande - No Tears Left To Cry press shot

Ariana Grande’s first piece of new music since the terror attack at her show in Manchester last year saw her tackle hate and devastation with positivity and disco beats. With her trademark vocal licks soaring over gospel-laced production, ‘No Tears Left To Cry’ was a euphoric return. HM

Brockhampton, ‘1999 Wildfire’

A lilting, laidback pop song, from the (self-declared) best boy band since One Direction, Brockhampton’s ‘1999 Wildfire’ sees them rapping over a lilting flute riff. who knew that rapping about medieval magic (as Joba does in his verse) could sound so cool? HM

Brockhampton, ‘1998 Truman’

“Gimme no drugs, lend me some love / Tonight, while I’m in this club / Lonely as fuck” raps Brockhampton’s Merlyn Wood over a sweltering, cacophonous beat.  Candid lyrics (which reference animated movie Madagascar and linguine, obviously), blistering delivery and a banging chorus mean this is another triumph for Brockhampton. HM

Janelle Monae, ‘Make Me Feel’

 From the tongue-click beat to the Prince-laced riffs, this ’80s funk tinged banger from Janelle Monae is a treat. HM

Troye Sivan, ‘My My My’ 

The lead single from the pop don’s second album ‘Bloom’ set the precedent for the entire record: it’s a grittier and more mature sound, blending effortlessly intelligent song writing with an abundance of earworm choruses. A total bop. HM

Idles, ‘Danny Nedelko’ 

“Unity!” frontman Joe Talbot bellows on this bubblegum punk ode to immigrants, named after a Ukrainian friend of the band. A joy-filled riposte to the xenophobic Brexit bellends of the world. JB

Idles, ‘Samaritans’

“This is why you never see your father cry”, belts IDLES’ frontman Joe Talbot on this powerful stand against toxic masculinity – it’s the album’s most arresting and vital moment and proof that no one does it better than this lot. TS

Calvin Harris and Dua Lipa, ‘One Kiss’

It sounds a bit weird, Calvin Harris and Dua Lipa teaming up for a tropical-tinged slice of Euro-dance, but it totally works. From its effervescent beats to the slinky brass licks, there’s a reason this topped the charts for almost two months. HM

 Robyn, ‘Missing U’

‘Missing U’ was Robyn’s first solo release since her album in 2010, but in under five minutes she reminded listeners why we’d missed her so much. It’s a masterclass in writing heartbreak pop. With its gorgeous trickling synths and simple drumbeat, you’d expect a megalithic final chorus, though ‘Missing U’ defies slowly ebbs away into a swirl of glittering synths (and you press replay almost immediately). HM

Arctic Monkeys, ‘American Sports’

A track that neatly encapsulates the Monkeys’ bizarre journey from Sheffield indie-pop tykes to languid Los Angeles lounge lizards, this louche piano ballad sees Alex Turner purr, “And I never thought – not in a million years – that I’d meet so many Lolas”. JB

Arctic Monkeys, ‘Four Out of Five’ 

The most commercial cut from new album ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino‘, this is a space-age update on The Eagles’ ‘Hotel California’, as Alex Turner invites us to The Information Action-Ratio, a taqueria that he’s built on the moon. You can take the boy out of Sheffield… but he won’t come back. JB

Nicki Minaj, ‘Barbie Dreams’ 

Nicki Minaj

It’s not a diss track! Nicki rattles through the male rappers she claims to have bonked and found wanting, but it’s a lighthearted homage to Notorious B.I.Gs’ 1994 song ‘Just Playing (Dreams)’ and Lil Kim’s ‘Dreams’, both of which feature similar musical refrains and subject matter. JB

Confidence Man, ‘Fascination’

Few have ever had as much fun as Confidence Man appeared to be having their slapstick debut album, ‘Confident Music For Confident People’. Here, the band veered into ‘Screamadelica’ territory with a cartoonish, head-whirling piano-banger. TS

St Vincent, ‘Fast Slow Disco’

From slow gem to sweet jam, the dazzling pop re-work of the once-sombre highlight from Annie Clark’s ‘MASSEDUCTION’ has become one of her finest moments to date. Fuelled by abandon, it’s an ode to the decadent nights of joyous mistakes. AT

Paul McCartney, ‘Fuh You’

Is it Sir Paul’s worst song since ‘Mull Of Kintyre’? No, you idiots! Macca’s randy-old-git banger is bonkers and brilliant and dirty and silly and absolutely unbecoming of a man simultaneously writing a children’s book called The Grandude. Paul McCartney didn’t need to write with robotic hitmaker Ryan Tedder, but with this result, we’re glad he gave it a try. DS

Lil Wayne, ‘Famous’

For all it’s flaws, Wayne’s long-delayed album ‘Tha Carter V’ is the rapper’s strongest record since 2008’s impeccable ‘Tha Carter III’, and this cut, featuring his daughter Reginae, is the record’s heartfelt centrepiece. Over plaintive piano keys, he explores the distance he’s travelled from his roots, noting, “I’m never alone / Got my demons and my angels / Can’t talk to myself / ‘Cause momma said, ‘Don’t talk to strangers'”. I’m not crying, you’re crying. JB

Years & Years, ‘Sanctify’

Remember when Justin Timberlake was good? Years & Years clearly do – with its falsetto vocals and spacious beats hinting at grandeur, menace and good old fashioned lust, their towering comeback single could have come from the ‘Justified’ album. DS

READ MORE: The best albums of 2018 so far

NME’s best tracks of 2018 (so far!)

A playlist featuring Sunflower Bean, Kacey Musgraves, Shame, and others