Weirdo Music Forever's Top Ten Tracks of 2018
As 2018 nears an end, it must be said that it truly has been a weird and wonderful year of music. And while last year we had a blast compiling a list of our favorite albums from 2017, this year we opted to focus on the more concise medium of singles. Not all the songs in the ensuing list here have formally been released as singles, but these are nonetheless the tracks that we at WMF have found ourselves returning to time and time again during this most recent excursion around the sun.
We would like extend our profound gratitude to each of the artists in our list for sharing with WMF exclusive commentary and background information about these remarkable songs. Contributions from the artists varied from brief to detailed, concrete to metaphorical, and we appreciate each and every one of the following glimpses into the creative process of these artists.
We hope and believe you weirdos will enjoy this list as much as we did while conversing about, considering, and compiling it. Its order is little more than a formality, since each inclusion represents some of our absolute favorite music this year, and could well have found a home elsewhere in the list. But enough of the preamble — let’s revisit Weirdo Music Forever’s Top Ten Tracks of 2018:
1. “Dumpster Baby”, John Maus
The John Maus 2017 masterpiece Screen Memories was a clear choice for our Top Albums of 2017 list, and we also were lucky enough last year to have a rare opportunity to speak with John at length. At the time, our focus was on past work, the upcoming Screen Memories album, and live shows.
We weren’t prepared for the ensuing year’s release, Addendum, but were thrilled when we heard and understood that the album (released as part of the comprehensive John Maus vinyl box set via Ribbon Music earlier this year) was far from being a mere afterthought or bonus disc. On the contrary, Addendum includes tracks that showcase Dr. Maus at his best, and “Dumpster Baby — with its provocative title, contagious interwoven synth motifs, and subtle musical sense of humor — is classic Maus that also hints at possible new creative avenues. Simultaneously accessible and deceptively complex, the brilliance of “Dumpster Baby”’ continues to reveal itself with each new listen.
During a recent conversation with Dr. Maus, we asked him if the 1987 horror B-movie Plutonium Baby was an inspiration for the song’s title, and what else may have informed the track’s content. John graciously shared the following thoughts with us:
“There is a movie called Plutonium Baby, and I think I was thinking of that, but there’s also the D.B. episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Aside from that, dumpster babies are actually real.”
Responding to our comment that “Dumpster Baby” is one of our top tracks of the year, John offered: “I like that one too — it’s cool. There’s a lot of counterpoint going on in that one, and it lends itself to the setup that I’m working towards where I can have the four voices simultaneously.”
2. “Nik V.”, Tim Burgess
We fell in love with Tim Burgess’s track “Nik V” the moment we heard it in early 2018, and it’s really never left regular rotation on our at-home playlist since. A standout from Tim’s excellent solo album As I Was Now, “Nik V” seamlessly melds eclectic references and genres into a delightfully cohesive and thoroughly enjoyable statement.
Tim concisely reflected that “Nik V” is “a song that started life in 2008 and spent ten years in hibernation. It was never quite an ugly duckling, but it sure is a beautiful swan now.”
3. “Gun Control”, Molly Nilsson
We were fortunate enough to catch Molly playing in Southern California three times this winter in support of new album Twenty Twenty, and even sit down with her for an extensive one-on-one conversation about contextualizing music, language, and much more. On the occasion of one of those meetings, we took the opportunity to ask Molly about her irresistible 2018 single, “Gun Control”. Molly graciously spoke in detail with us about the background to the track:
“I wanted to do something with the concept of gun control in the sense of the tragedies that never happen [but could]. There are so many things that could go wrong, but don’t go wrong, and we don’t know it.
So I started working on the song in my head. It was the first song I had ever written on guitar, so it was a challenge for me, and when I finished the song I was really happy with it.
But right then there were so many shootings on the news, so I wasn’t sure if I should put the song out. I wasn’t thinking about it so much in a real social way — I was thinking about it in a philosophical way. I was conflicted about putting a song like that out, but at the same time, it is something important that I really believe in. Gun violence is escalating, and it is important to change this trend. It’s not just [about] gun lobbying — it’s about society itself with aggression and polarization between groups.
[The song is] telling a story, and the subtext is the title — ‘gun control’ just slips in there. When working with lyrics, you’re trying to express something through poetry, but I’m very interested in experimenting with how [an idea] is perceived. I’ve always done a lot of contrasting.
‘Gun Control’ was smooth. It’s not a protest song in its [musical] style, but it has the lyrical content of one.”
4. “Real Outside”, DRINKS
Tim Presley — one half of DRINKS, along with Cate Le Bon — kindly participated with us in one of our favorite music conversations of the year, and DRINKS was one of the major topics. The duo is on tour now, supporting their delectably off-kilter full-length album, Hippo Lite. Our interactions with DRINKS both live and on wax throughout the year have been some of our most treasured musical moments, so an inclusion in this year’s list was all but inevitable.
DRINKS tracks have a delightful knack for getting — and remaining — in one’s head without wearing out their welcome, and “Real Outside” is no exception. We asked Tim Presley what the impetus was behind this wonderfully weird track, and he explained for WMF, “We wrote it secluded in a rural part of south France, in an old stone house. Everything outside the home was alive: animals, sounds, and animal sounds.”
5. “I Can Treat You Better”, Part Time feat. Ariel Pink
The last time we touched base with Part Time’s David Loca, he mentioned he was working on a new album. Fast forward to 2018, and the aforementioned album, entitled Spell #6, is now a reality. “I Can Treat You Better” is a standout from this exceptional release, and a clear inclusion in the present list. It’s also notable that this is one of two tracks in this year’s list that features a contribution from the illustrious Ariel Pink. When we asked David about the genesis of the song, as well as Ariel Pink’s involvement, he shared the following:
“‘I Can Treat You Better’ was an old idea I had lying around, I decided to re-record it for my new album Spell #6. The guitar melody firstly came from a wildly out of tune guitar lying around on my floor. Upon recording my Spell #6 album, I asked Ariel if he would like to come by and try tracking some ideas on my songs. That's when he provided the very funky and delightful vocal backups in the song.”
6. “I Shall Love 2”, Julia Holter
Julia Holter’s Desert Daze 2018 set was absolutely one of the high points of the festival this year, and her latest album Aviary (which includes Kenny Gilmore co-production and Cole MGN executive production) is quality through and through. “I Shall Love 2” stands out as one of our favorite tracks of the year, both in its recorded and live form. We asked Julia for a little insight into this stunner, and she graciously shared the following with us:
“I was feeling some kind of interest in reflecting the vibe of love and human sharing and empathy — the vagueness of it, the unpleasantness of it. I wanted the drum machine to be a little harsh, kind of vaguely uncomfortable. But overall, despite everything, [I] wanted the song to be loving and go to a productive place— I feel like fascism is really taking hold of our world, and imagination is the only thing that can stop it. And even though empathy is normal for most of us and that's a beautiful thing, I think that in certain situations it's hard to be as open as you want, so it's a challenge always. The ambiguity of what love for others means for the self and the inevitable self-questioning and self-criticism was important to me.”
7. “Abracadabra”, Sean Nicholas Savage
We recently had the distinct pleasure of catching Sean’s memorable performance in L.A. when he played to a capacity crowd at Zebulon. Sean’s latest full-length is titled Screamo, and was released in 2018 via Arbutus. Screamo includes track “Abracadabra”, which has quickly become a classic here at WMF HQ. Sean shared the following thoughts with us about “Abracadabra”:
“This is about one of those magicians who floats around your life
and unties knots for you
without effort, just by nature of the way you fit together
they paint everything different”
8. “Grey Area”, Jerry Paper feat. Weyes Blood
Over the summer we had the opportunity to speak with Jerry Paper at length about his Stones Throw Records album debut, Like a Baby. One of the highlights of the album is certainly his “Grey Area” which features backing vocal contributions from Weyes Blood. Jerry shared the following thoughts with us about one of our favorite tracks this year:
"‘Grey Area’ was one of the first songs I wrote for this album, and it came out of a place that I find myself entering into time after time in my life, a place of instability and confusion that seems to envelop me every once in a while.
This grey area has to be passed through and come to terms with every time, and no matter how many times I go through it I find it is always as difficult, amorphous, and hard to navigate as the first time I found myself in this place. The song is ultimately me telling myself that it's okay, [and] that I just need to ease into this experience and let it pass over me until I find a bit of stability, a little spot of ground that I can perch on until the next time I have to pass through the grey."
9. “One Spring Evening”, Charles
The multi-faceted, mega-talented Charles spoke with WMF for our first interview of 2018, and it was a pleasure indeed.
Anyone who checks in with WMF now and then knows that we’ve been anticipating the upcoming Charles album, Let’s Start a Family Tonight, for some time now. And while that album remains tantalizingly unreleased, we were pleasantly surprised when Charles posted “One Spring Evening” online this year. Curious about how the track (which includes Ariel Pink taking care of bass duties) and accompanying video came to be, we asked Charles for a bit more info. She graciously gave the following background:
“I wrote [“One Spring Evening”] when I was eighteen, and re-recorded it recently. I was feeling over the moon with joy that day and wanted to have something to remember it forever so I thought it was a good time to shoot a video on my street. [It] was very spontaneous.”
10. “Loveline”, Magic Wands
Dexy Valentine of Magic Wands kindly shared detailed insights with WMF back in March of 2018 in our exclusive interview with her, including info about the band’s stellar 2018 album, Abrakadabra. While the album is solid from start to finish in typical Magic Wands fashion, “Loveline” nonetheless stands out as a particularly strong track not only from this album, but also from a year of great music in general. Dexy recalled a bit of the process behind the track for us:
“Loveline” was the last song we wrote for Abrakadabra. We were listening back and thought we needed an uplifting song to balance things out after songs like “Nocturnal”, “Big Life” and “Diamond Road”. We talked about asking Fred Schneider to do guest vocals for the “hanging on the loveline” part at the end of the song, but when we looked him up he was on tour, so I sang the part myself.”
We hope you enjoyed — and continue to enjoy — this revisiting of what turned out to be a remarkable yearfor the music we love. Needless to say, this is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg in a remarkable year that also boasted fantastic new music from The Samps, Factory Floor, Cowgirl Clue, Prophet, Enjoy, White Fence/Ty Segall, Negative Gemini, The Garden, and other talented faves that enrich our lives daily with their weird, wonderful work.
Thanks — as always — for sharing in the adventure with us as we continue to find and celebrate this fabulous phenomenon we call Weirdo Music…Forever!