Sunday, 30 December 2018

The Best Of 2018 - numbers 40 to 21

JUMP TO: 40-21 II 20-1

Well, this almost didn't happen at all. For one reason or another, I was very behind in working out my year-end top 100, but thanks to a mad dash since Christmas, I've compiled my annual chart for 2018. 

With only a couple of days left in the year, I've skipped ahead to the top 40 (maybe one day, I'll go back and fill out numbers 100 to 41 in more detail - who can tell?). So brace yourselves for the usual serving of synthpop, Scandipop and pure pop from a year when it was harder than ever for a music fan with my particular taste to track down good music. 

When it came to Robyn's long-awaited Honey album, fans tended to fall into two camps - those who were disappointed it wasn't packed with "Dancing On My Own"-style tears on the dancefloor anthems and those who liked its more adventurous direction. I belong to the former camp, with the two official singles, "Missing U" and "Honey", placing lower down this list. I did love the album's final track, "Ever Again", though.

It wouldn't be one of my year-end countdowns from the 2010s if there weren't a Swedish female singer making an appearance with her debut single. Let's all welcome Hanna Ferm, who was the runner-up in the 2017 season of Sweden's version of Idol - the 13th year the reality show has aired there.

Brisbane's Cub Sport have been around for about a decade, but the passionate dream pop of "Sometimes", which will appear on third album Cub Sport, is the first song by the four-piece I've connected with.

If you're playing year-end chart bingo, you can mark off "British electronic duo" on your game cards thanks to this appearance by Laurie Revell and Lewis Thompson (aka Just Kiddin). "Indiana" was followed by another solid track by the pair: "Body Talk"

A joint project between Diplo and Mark Ronson - both of whom were very busy in 2018 - Silk City released a stream of singles this year, including the Dua Lipa-featuring "Electricity". The Robin S-sounding "Feel About You", featuring Swedish singer Mapei, was my favourite.

Next up, a group that needs no introduction - the best boy band of all time with the lead single from their upcoming ninth album, DNA (due January). "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" wasn't a major hit for BSB, but it did earn them a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance.

Another electronic duo now, this time from Australia - and I'm shocked this single with vocals by New Zealand singer NÏKA and a music video featuring footage of a young Arnold Schwarzenegger on a dating show wasn't a huge hit. Hugo Gruzman and James Lyell have yet to follow-up their ARIA Award-nominated debut album, Down To Earth, but "Need You" is the poppiest of an eclectic handful of singles they've released over the past couple of years instead.

In reading up on this Norwegian trio, I received something of a history and geography lesson, since ISÁK come from a part of the world known as Sápmi (which is traditionally referred to erroneously by English speakers as Lapland). Musically, "In Comparison" is a pulsating, brooding synthpop banger with the requisite big chorus. 

2018 has been a pretty big year for Australia's Troye Sivan, whose second album Bloom has popped up on all sorts of year-end lists, around the same time as he received a Golden Globe nomination for his song "Revelation" from Boy Erased, in which he appeared. The meaning of title track "Bloom" - it's about receiving anal sex - has been discussed extensively online, but not by Troye, who prefers to remain modest and say "it's about flowers".

Individually, Finland's ALMA and Swedish singer Tove Styrke have appeared on my year-end charts before. In 2018, the pair appear together with this upbeat little number from the former's Heavy Rules Mixtape

She's best known for "Meant To Be", her collaboration with Florida Georgia Line which made number 2 in Australia in February, but for me, this track from debut album Expectations is the best thing the American singer has done to date. A few weeks back, Bebe teased a duet version of "Self Control" with Jennifer Lopez on Instagram - could that version see the light of day in 2019?

Back to '90s-influenced dance sounds with this UK top 10 hit, which features vocals from Norwegian singer Ina Wroldsen. "Breathe" is included on Snacks, the recently released EP from British DJ/producer Jax Jones, which collects his singles dating back to 2016's "House Work".

Let's keep the '90s vibes going with this team-up between another British DJ/producer, Shift K3y (who was last seen in my top 40 for 2016 with "Gone Missing"), and featured vocalist regular A*M*E (seen the same year on tracks by Generik and MK).

Yes, it's another track from Sweden - both producer Oliver Nelson and singer Linae are from the Scandinavian music hot spot - but the funky, disco-tinged "Talk" isn't your stock standard Scandipop. I liked another of Oliver's tracks, "Jealous", this year as well.

Apparently American singer Poppy (real name: Moriah Pereira) is a YouTube celebrity, although she came to my attention this year thanks to this Diplo-featuring (yes, him again) single from her second studio album, Am I A Girl? "Time Is Up" is about the rise of the machines and the end of humankind when the robots take over.

They placed two songs in my year-end top 25 for 2017, and the duo who describe their sound as "future '90s throwback space-pop" were back with another clutch of tracks this year, including this poppy tune and "Waking Up", which falls lower down my top 100.

The most successful song in this batch, "No Tears Left To Cry" (or "no tears left to cry", as it's styled) was a number 1 hit in Australia, and reached number 2 in the UK and number 3 in the US. The Max Martin co-written and co-produced track was also the lead single from Ariana Grande's fourth album, Sweetener, which only came out in August but has already given way to promotion from her upcoming fifth release, Thank U, Next, with the title track, which doesn't appear on this list, topping all three of those aforementioned charts late in the year.

Any fears that Years & Years would fall victim to second album syndrome proved unfounded, at least as far as I was concerned, when "Sanctify" was released as the lead single from Palo Santo. More proof that singer (and the song's co-writer) Olly Alexander knows his way around a big pop hook, the track was moodier than the likes of "King" or "Meteorite" and inspired by a relationship Olly had with a man who identified as straight. The video for "Sanctify", meanwhile, is set in the fantasy world of Palo Santo - a place invented by the band as a visual concept to accompany the album.

If 2016's Red Flag album - particularly career highlight "One Strike" - proved anything it was that there was plenty of life left in late '90s/early '00s girl group All Saints. And with this track from this year's Testament album, the quartet came up with the goods again, with a little help from an old friend. Produced by William Orbit, who'd been responsible for some of All Saints' biggest songs, "Pure Shores" and "Black Coffee", "After All" ranks among their best work. 

A few years back, Danish singer MØ was racking up massive hits (in her own right and as a featured performer) like nobody's business. Those hits might have dried up more recently, but this single from second album Forever Neverland is, for me, the best thing she's ever done and once again saw her team up with regular collaborator Diplo.

Next up: my favourite 20 songs for 2018, which I'll aim to have posted on New Year's Eve.

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