Top 25 Songs by Austin Artists in 2018

Best Songs Austin 2018 Austin is never exactly hurting for quality releases from local artists, but 2018 felt like a major growth year for the city, particularly for genres that struggled in the past to get recognition. It was a year where the city’s hip hop community got national attention from outlets like Pitchfork, where the historic overthrow of a shocking number of GOP seats in local and federal government fueled renewed punk vigor, where our best and brightest electronic acts continued to rack up high profile releases and placements. Austin was a force to be reckoned with in every way in 2018 and 2019 is primed to be even more impressive. It was a remarkable year for singles by Austin artists, with the individual song format doing even more to showcase the abilities and perspectives of Austin musicians than albums did. Whether it was established heavy hitters like Sweet Spirit, Moving Panoramas and Molly Burch, swiftly ascending figures like Zettajoule and Pleasure Venom or bright new faces like Malik Elijah & Ciro Mont, Jonny Jukebox and Dayglow, the singles of 2018 highlighted Austin as a major force to be reckoned with. So join us as we countdown the top 25 songs of the year, complete with a Spotify playlist at the end for your mixtape needs, and don’t forget to also check out our top 10 music videos of 2018 here and our countdown of the ten best albums of the year here.

Molly Burch “To the Boys”

I listen to Molly Burch’s “To the Boys” whenever I need a good strong dose of self-assurance. “I don’t need to yell to know that I’m the boss,” the artist declares in this frank and unashamed meditation on who she is and why she’s great. Burch’s crooning, romantic jazz club delivery reveals every bit of humanity in her voice: when she drops down to a warbling, irresistible bass tone, you can hear the effort in the best way. When certain sounds come out of her mouth, they’re done with a bit of a lisp, making me feel better and more okay about my own lispy voice. And there’s not a second during the whole song where Burch’s imperfections are anything but beautiful and artful. You can tell that to the boys. – Kayleigh Hughes

Bonnie Montgomery “Goin’ Out Tonight (ft. Dale Watson)”

Bonnie Montgomery’s duet with Dale Watson “Goin’ Out Tonight” is the quintessential Texas romance, starring a would be Bonnie & Clyde, the latter of whom is doing his best to convince the former to let him borrow her daddy’s gun so he can pull off a perfect heist. The song’s moseying pace belies a thrilling narrative worthy of a film by fellow Austinite Robert Rodriguez, but the real attraction is the perfect match of Montgomery and Watson, with her sweet vocals subtly masking a grinning puckishness that shuts down his gruff attempts to leave her out of his plans. Given the dire straits of things in the current era, it can’t be too long before folk hero robbers rise again, and when they do, “Goin’ Out Tonight” will be their anthem. – Morgan Davis

Malik Elijah & Ciro Mont “Dope”

My head’s a mess of allergy meds and cedar spores so god bless Malik Elijah & Ciro Mont for “Dope,” a blissed out wonder that I’ve hit up anytime I’ve needed a burst of sunshine this year. Mont’s beat strikes that sweet spot between jazz and electro futurism, smoky piano lines plinking out into the airwaves on the back of distorted drums and 8-bit synth bloops and bleeps. Elijah somehow manages to meet every twist and turn of the instrumental with flourishes of his own, flitting between swaggering yet self-effacing verses and a hook that nails that feeling of recognizing a day has gone to total shit and all you can really do is let it go let it go let it go. – Nick Hanover

fuvk “Smile”

In a time where music tends to be watered down when it comes to meaningful songwriting, fuvk is a crisp and refreshing breath of air. Fuvk takes a minimalist approach instrumentally with “Smile”, making for a perfect complement to the soft and delicate songwriting that’s portrayed. Emotions spill out gently throughout the song in lines like “Maybe if you press a kiss to the back of my neck, I’ll dwell on you for one more year,” and that transparency and raw emotion, equally audible in fuvk’s vocal delivery and guitar playing, made “Smile” an immediate highlight. – Alex LaFuente

Name Sayers “Heron King”

The wooded areas around Austin have many charms, but the shrubby foliage and gnarled pecan trees rarely evoke a storybook kind of forest, the kind seeping with darkness, mystery, and magic. Name Sayers’ “Heron King” gifts you with a touch of that magic. The song oozes through a Southern Gothic vision of the Hill Country, one of blood and trailer parks and ancient rites. Devin James Fry’s world-weary vocals tell a tale of death and regret, uplifted and enveloped by darkly atmospheric folk-rock. The result is spellbinding, and makes you want to get lost in the woods a little more often. – James Fisk

Pleasure Venom “Hive”

From the start of its torrent of rolling drums to swirling vortex of guitars and Audrey Campbell’s blistering vocals, Pleasure Venom demand you shut up and pay attention to them on “Hive.” Campbell has long thrilled as a vocalist but “Hive” is the moment where her barbwire voice met with instrumentation that could truly match it, lifting the band itself into the same terrain as the fearless revolutionaries who influenced it, be they Bikini Kill (whose own Kathleen Hanna endorsed the band earlier this year) or true punk pioneers Death. “Hive” is a revelation, every note a sting on the flesh of anyone who would dare to attempt to silence Campbell and her cohorts. – NH

Sweet Spirit “Los Lonely Girls”

On last year’s year-end list, we commemorated Sweet Spirit’s sociopolitical anthem “The Power.” This year, they return to our list with a more intimate, poppier affair. Yet, it still is anthemic in its own right. Lyrically, “Los Lonely Girls” is a descendant of singer Sabrina Ellis’ “If I Was Your Man” from Bobby Jealousy in 2013, celebrating women who may not see themselves reflected in other parts of our popular culture. Here, Ellis continues her role as the patron saint of weird women, exhorting all the “lonely girls” to drop their inhibitions and join her on the dance floor. Ellis has said that the sound of the song was conceived of as a cross between Hall and Oates and Miley Cyrus; I’m not sure how accurate that ended up being but the end result is hard to argue with. I’d suggest that this is more empowering than any major Miley Cyrus single and more sugary fun than most Hall and Oates songs. In the year that brought us Lady Gaga on the big screen, I’d still say there was no moment as thrilling as when Ellis sings us into the second chorus with, “She was born a star/Well, tonight, my dear, you are.” It’s earnest and joyous in only the way that Sweet Spirit can be. – Carter Delloro

Dan Sir Dan & Jonny Jukebox “Lick”

Dan Sir Dan and Jonny Jukebox came out swinging hard on “Lick”. With production that really makes the track bang and stand out on so many levels, “Lick” is vivacious and addictive, with Dan Sir Dan’s attention to detail, from the blasting bass to the smooth sample cuts, ensuring the song won’t leave your head anytime soon. An intimate slow jam with influences of R&B along with some variations of smooth jazz, “Lick” easily became one of my favorite tracks from 2018. The clean guitar and keyboard samples nicely complement Jukebox’s vocals, setting the mood for a sexy and alluring players’ anthem full of quotable lines. “I’m always in the mood to lick ya’ like Oooo” says it all. Here’s hoping Dan Sir Dan and Jonny Jukebox’s artistic relationship will be far more than casual. – AL

Dorsia “Miami”

Hello, this is music critic Kayleigh Hughes, here to announce that I’m a goddamn fool because I only just recently discovered Austin’s dreamy indie-pop masters Dorsia. Like Chvrches’ best work, Dorsia’s standout single “Miami” is all huge hooks and grand romantic electronic beats, but Kelly Pitlosh and Nick Colbert add big, much-needed doses of tender vulnerability and thoughtful lyrics about moving on but not quite getting over the future you thought you had with someone. One of my best friends — and fellow music critic — calls her alter ego “DJ Feelings,” and Dorsia’s “Miami” is exactly the song I’d want to hear during a DJ Feelings set at the electro-new-wave-heartbreak club night of my dreams. – KH

Samantha Glass “Cruel Anxiety”

Though it’s comprised of a few simple ingredients– a sluggish, echo-y drum machine, a synth melody so subtly mixed it flits in and out like a lost spirit, a bassline and baritone vocal that seem joined at the hip– Samantha Glass’s “Cruel Anxiety” nonetheless gets across that devastatingly complex need to feel free and at peace with yourself with enviable ease. As Glass states in a gentle yet frank manner, “anyone can be anxious and cruel,” the real work is in managing those feelings to achieve some kind of equilibrium. But as the song makes clear in Glass’s bold and aching delivery and its framing by the sunken and claustrophobic beat, life is merciless and dark and sometimes all you can do is put your hurt out there in the hopes that someone will throw you a rescue line. – NH

Teenage Cavegirl “No Good // So Bad”

If the name Teenage Cavegirl evokes to you an image of a grown-up Pebbles Flintstone decked out in a one-piece and a bouffant with white cat-eye shades pounding out tubular rock tunes then, well, you’re not far off. And what’s not to love about that? On “No Good // So Bad” the duo deploys drums that throb like a temporal vein and vocals with guitar that steam with attitude. The setup is simple and the message is too: “I know you’re no good but I want you so bad.” It’s weird, fun, and catchy as hell. – JF

Abhi the Nomad “Sex n’ Drugs (ft. Harrison Sands & Copper King)”

I’m probably not going out on a limb by saying that this is the best hip hop song with a xylophone intro you will hear all year. And yet, if xylophones were all the rage in hip hop right now, I’d probably still rank “Sex n’ Drugs” off Marbled by Abhi the Nomad number one among them. Backed by the aforementioned xylophone and a simple smattering of horns, bass, and subdued drums, “Sex n’ Drugs” (like the rest of the LP) represents a refreshing new direction for local hip hop. With its lyrics addressing hero worship through the lens of one’s own desire for personal success and validation, and the degrees of excess inherent within, “Sex n’ Drugs” may seem a bit heavy on paper. In practice however, Abhi keeps it light. You’ll find yourself singing along with the lyrics and bobbing your head to the lilting tunes long before waking up to the realization that just under that sparkling, subtle surface is something much deeper. – Brian J. Audette

Click Clack “The Times”

I don’t know if any one track can fix a whole canon of fucked up notions of sex and pleasure from men in hip hop but Click Clack’s “The Time” certainly puts in the effort. With the aid of a particularly slinky and seductive Ballteam beat, Click Clack uses the platform of “The Times” to not only pay tribute to every erotic inch of a new boo but to also call out dudes who are too focused on getting their own to get who they’re with off as well as society for encouraging men to run away from women earning more than them. Don’t go thinking “The Times” is a preachy, stuffy little number, though. This is hip hop at its most sensual and flirty, as likely to get you grinding on a club floor as it is to make you nod along to its message. – NH

Third Root “Fantasma Horns (ft. Grupo Fantasma)”

One of the many missions of hip-hop trio Third Root is to increase cross-appreciation of African-American and Mexican-American cultures. By that measure, “Fantasma Horns,” in which Charles Peters and Marco Cervantes rap about Gil-Scott Heron, De La Soul, James Brown, EPMD, Run-DMC and Childish Gambino over a fire beat from DJ Chicken George based entirely around the Latin-flavored horns of Austin’s Grammy-winning Grupo Fantasma, is a massive success. It illustrates how effortlessly two seemingly disparate musical styles can meld into an irresistible track. As Peters raps the hook about “real hip-hop,” it could easily have come across as old heads lecturing the youth. Yet, Peters and Cervantes remain inclusive, encouraging listeners to keep journeying through the history and styles of hip-hop. They also take time to lament police brutality, immigrant detention and the rise of Trumpism, helping locate “Fantasma Horns” in 2018. It’s not a backward-looking nostalgia jaunt; instead, “Fantasma Horns” is a sweeping statement of purpose that draws on a breadth of musical and political influences to chart a path forward that welcomes any open-hearted listener. – CD

Moving Panoramas “Baby Blues”

Moving Panoramas have been lauded members of the Austin music scene for some time, but this year’s single “Baby Blues” is undoubtedly a high point in their life as a band. Clean guitars, wavy synths and tight drums give their sound more explosiveness than ever before, while the bright, empowering vocals create atmospheres similar to artists such as The Greeting Committee and Precious Kid. Moving Panoramas once again create that genuine sound that invites and pulls you in with each and every listen, providing a perfect soundtrack for hot summer days and long road trips. – AF

Mobley “Young Adult Fiction”

Are you certain?/Are you whole?/Are you warm?/Are you safe?” begins Mobley’s “Young Adult Fiction” as if referencing an abridged version of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Like much of the rest of its parent album Fresh Lies Vol. I (though it originally appeared in a different format on an EP by the same name in 2012),  “Young Adult Fiction” is an introspective tune, specifically preoccupied with themes of belonging and being true to one’s self and art. Opening on a sparse beat and Mobley’s half-whispered vocals, layers of complexity continue to pile onto the song as it progresses. Beats get heavier, instruments are added, and vocals get louder, culminating in a cacophony that elevates the chorus’ refrain of “All my life I’ve been wondering/Who it is I’m supposed to be/What it is I’m supposed to see” from a solitary voice to the roar of a crowd. It’s a subtle, but remarkably affecting track that showcases Mobley’s ability to bend the pop/R&B framework into something that’s ultimately more baroque while still paying homage to genre trappings and crafting some excellent hooks. – BJA

Little Father “Violence”

Little Father had been kicking around the Austin punk scene for several years but it was only the past few that they really came in to their own, marrying the bass heavy melodic assault of Joy Division with the blistering metallic scrawl and industrial pounding of Big Black. So it’s a pity that their EP 3 is their farewell. But as far as swan songs go, lead off track “Violence” is pretty damn impressive, showcasing the band’s knack for grafting together soaring lead guitar riffs and the anguished howling of man and machine. The result is a track that will likely sound as different from the state of Austin music in 2028 as it did here in 2018. – NH

Blastfamous USA “Get It (ft. Chantell Moody)”

Blastfamous USA, the wildly ambitious project made up of indie hip hop artist Zeale (in a Freudian slip, I initially typed that he was a “hip hot artist”) and innovative electronic-percussion duo NGHT HCKLRS, knows how to do a collaboration. On “Get It,” they chose their team member — the larger-than-life vocalist Chantell Moody from projects Fort Never, Amakiya and Golden Dawn Arkestra — perfectly. Between Zeale’s pummelling verses about making a mark in music and burning MAGA hats while he’s at it, Chantell Moody’s voice genuinely writhes, weaving through flirty high peaks and big wide viscous valleys. The song is a sexy-as-hell call to arms: “you say you want it, you say you need it,” Moody croons, “but if you really want it, then you go out and get it.” The track is an irresistible announcement that Blastfamous USA and Moody are here to make shit happen. – KH

Glaze “Daisy”

Led by hard hitting drums and an abundance of layered guitars, Glaze’s “Daisy” is far from a one trick pony shoegaze track. Stephen McElwee’s soft vocals float smoothly along with buzzing melodic guitars, making for a giant sound. The abstraction expressed by the trio enable endless options for the massive noise they continue to create. Thumping kick and a snare that slaps encourages an energetic reaction from start to finish. It’s no wonder I kept coming back to the track throughout this year. Time and time again, Glaze prove again why they continue to be a favorite in the local music scene. – AF

Dayglow “Can I Call You Tonight?”

Only a Gen Z teenager could write a song about making a phone call and make it sound like magical realism. Sloan Struble infuses the formerly mundane activity of talking to another human being on a telephone with a sense of wonder akin to what people must have felt 100 years ago. He describes pacing while he walks, watching his battery drain (a distinctly 21st century aspect of talking on the phone), and allows amazement at the feeling that his crush’s presence is next to him even though they may be miles away. The echo and phasers on the vocals and guitar give the song a hazy, dreamy quality that is perfectly balanced by the steady, driving rhythm track. It’s a song equally at home soundtracking a sunny drive or a night alone pining for a loved one. As someone who has spent the last two years in a long-distance relationship, I know the promise and potential of the phone call. It can connect two people or drive a wedge between them, and it’s easy to overthink every tone or breath when the stakes feel high. At 19, Struble intuits all of this and packs his seemingly innocent titular request with all the terror and hope that it truly warrants. – CD

Mamahawk “Lioness”

Mamahawk can seem like a tough pitch on paper. It’s synth-pop, BUT also retro-futurist funk and soul inspired, BUT also use a blend of analog and digital instruments. It’s best to not try to explain it, but rather just hit play and let a song like “Lioness” unfurl itself. Beginning with wooly cassette tape synths, it soon gives way to layered vocal harmonies, delicate guitars, and blooming horns, all underwritten by a tenacious funk beat. Each component is unexpectedly yet precisely deployed, woven together into an expansive tapestry that makes any attempt to try to corner it by genre feel tasteless. – JF

Popper Burns “Sun Tan”

Capitalism has been killing us since it first emerged but this decade in particular has seen us diving headfirst into the kind of commercial dystopia the Huxleys and Orwells of the world never could have even imagined. There’s no real possibility of art vanquishing the invisible hand, still, things are a little more tolerable when you’ve got something like Popper Burns’ “Sun Tan” to give voice to the internal howling you’re beset by whenever you step foot in a grocery store or mall or, shudder, Black Friday sale. Constructed out of wobbly bass, atonal guitar screeches and barbaric yawps, “Sun Tan” brings to life the unique sensation of being a voyeur looking in on a murderous orgy of greed and excess, hating yourself for standing by as much as you hate the people giving in to indulgence. While Popper Burns aren’t here to let you off the hook, they at least provide some comfort in acknowledging that they’ve been in the same place themselves. – NH

Wild Child “Think It Over”

Borne on the back of a disco beat, Wild Child’s “Think it Over” off of their latest LP Expectations has been running in and out of my head for the majority of the year. Opening with frontperson Kelsey Wilson’s solo cooing, the song quickly slides into that sultry beat replete with muffled drums and a funky guitar riff that’s instantly danceable. It’s all just so damned smooth. I’m bobbing my head to the beat just thinking about it! While somewhat removed from their earlier body of work, “Think it Over” is right at home on an album that seems to be begging for Top 40 recognition, a trajectory that Wild Child has been steadily moving towards over their last several releases. Lyrically “Think it Over” treads the familiar territory of hook ups, break ups, and everything in-between that the band has chronicled since their inception, but this latest incarnation steps far beyond the realm of folk into the hallowed dance halls of pop and triumphantly so. – BJA

Zettajoule “No Thank You”

Zettajoule’s sharp, groovy “No Thank You” is without question my favorite song from an Austin artist this year. The track, by electronic duo Megan Carney and Matthew Sheffer, is the ultimate kiss-off: clever, incisive, more than a little brutal, and eminently danceable. Amid stone-faced, teasingly robotic verses with lines like “You wanted some attention, that’s really not my problem,” the chorus, which kicks off with delicate “oohs,” remains chillingly polite: “I gotta go ahead and say no (no, no, no, no) thank you.” Carney — and presumably Sheffer, though as a fellow woman, I get the sense the thrust of the song speaks particularly to Carney — isn’t here to indulge your nonsense, and she knows exactly how play it: “must be so confusing” she pityingly muses to the subject of the song about the shock they are surely experiencing from being rejected, “but you’ll just have to accept it.” This is the energy I want to take with me into 2019. – KH

Abhi the Nomad “Letter for God”

Early on in the voting process, there was a distinct possibility that Abhi the Nomad would singlehandedly take up half of our top 25– Abhi really did just have that good of a year. But the sublime “Letter for God” emerged as the clear favorite of his impressive stable of singles, combining all of the elements that made him such a standout– immaculate production, a stupid number of hooks, that careful balance of wordy and aloof in his flow– with a self-deprecating skepticism that somehow made him even more charming. It also prompted a question that won’t go away: how the fuck is someone so young so goddamn good? Almost every piece of writing on Abhi this year, from our own coverage to his glowing profiles in places like Texas Monthly, has given some of the credit for Abhi’s impressively mature confidence and profound ambition to his battle to stay in Texas, the land he seeks to call home. And while that likely has something to do with it, Abhi’s lyrical voice on “Letter for God” shows he’s well-aware he has been gifted with a one of a kind talent, a talent he seeks to sharpen ever further while also using it to speak for a generation that keeps getting kicked around by the universe. Would Abhi have landed a Tommy Boy deal and national coverage in a different, less fretful era? Possibly. But would we have recognized how badly we needed a voice like his in a more stable time? That’s doubtful. “Letter for God” symbolizes everything that made Abhi such a necessary and important artist in 2018– joyful but questioning, cautiously optimistic but unafraid of risk, youthful and brash and mischievous but ultimately kind and thoughtful. This is the type of work that has the power to briefly make you forget about all the bad of the world and focus on the hope. – NH

You can stream our Top 25 list here on Spotify: