RIFF REWIND 2018: Childish Gambino, Bad Wolves and Ghost

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Childish Gambino, This is America, Donald Glover

America; animated by Childish Gambino.

We made it! This is the 52nd RIFF Rewind and the last year of our musical journey through my esoteric and idiosyncratic tastes, not to mention my often sesquipedalian ramblings about that music.

I don’t know how you made it this far. I stopped reading it months ago.

Including these five, I’ve listed about 280 songs lasting nearly 20 hours, and that’s not counting the entirety of Girl Talk’s All Day. The best of the best of the last five decades according to the only person who matters: me, and occasionally my friends. Unless I disagree.

So now, one more time, the five best songs of a (soon to be) past year. And if you missed any of the past 51, or want links to playlists by decade and overall, click this link right here to go to the column index.


Jean Grae & Quelle Chris — “Zero”

Jean Grae has spent the last couple weeks chastising people who didn’t include Everything’s Fine on their year-end best-of list and I wasn’t about to join that club.

Even if she wasn’t lobbying on the album’s behalf, it would still make the list, though. It’s brilliant and, on top of that, the videos are great. This one, for example? Quelle Chris learned to code old school games for this authentic ode to most of the genres of my childhood. That’s dedication to the craft.

I also recommend checking out the video for “Gold Purple Orange” if you managed to miss it back in March. I can’t imagine how, but it’s been a long year. It has Eric Andre and Hannibal Buress!


Childish Gambino — “This Is America”

There have been hundreds of thousands of words analyzing Donald Glover’s song and the video, so I’m not going to try to get into it. There’s a ton of depth here. The commentary is way, way deeper than you would have expected from Troy from Community 10 years ago.

I actually debated putting this on my list of best songs because, by itself, as a song, it’s not the same. It needs the video to be great, and the sociopolitical context, and how all those things work together. I’ve watched that video dozens of times since it came out and I’m still seeing things that absolutely wouldn’t work with just the music.

But the fact that I’ve watched that many times means it needs to be included.


Bad Wolves — “Zombie”

Yes, this is the second time “Zombie” has made the top five. I hailed the original as all-time great songwriting back in 1994’s column and, of course, it’s the same song so it’s still great. That’s why I try to avoid covers.

Why did I make an exception here? Because Dolores O’Riordan, the writer and singer of the original, was supposed to record vocals for this version on Jan. 15. Which was the day she died.

It’s already a sad song about war and loss, but add to that the sadness of O’Riordan’s death and the agonizing passion behind Bad Wolves singer Tommy Vext’s vocals is palpable. I’m of the belief that the sign of great art is that it makes you feel what the artist felt. It’s a transmission of someone else’s emotions to let you walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, and by that standard this song is great art.


Ghost — “Pro Memoria”

Don’t worry, no weighty treatises on the meaning of art in this one. I just love Ghost.

I’ve gone into Ghost’s blending of melodic death metal and religious music, and after going more traditionally metal with “Cirice,” the band is back to its old tricks here. It has all the hallmarks of contemporary inspirational praise music except it’s, you know, about the other team.

It’s psychologically jarring to feel uplifted by the lyrics “Don’t you forget about dying/ Don’t you forget about your friend death/ Don’t you forget that you will die,” but that’s basically what happens. All your musical experiences tell you this music should be behind an inspirational montage of some sort but the words say it’s the opposite of that.

More music should be fundamentally confusing.


Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper — “Shallow”

I’m only putting one song from a movie soundtrack on and Kendrick Lamar made it on the 2017 list, so A Star Is Born beats Black Panther. At least in this. Ryan Coogler wins at filmmaking in general and if you disagree, you’re wrong.

Also, Michael B. Jordan is the best actor of his generation. [Final Gokhman note of 2018: I was a fan since Friday Night Lights. First!]

Anyway, music! While Bradley Cooper isn’t as good a director as Coogler, he’s a surprisingly good singer. And Lady Gaga is a surprisingly good actress, lending more weight to my theory that she’s the next step in Madonna’s evolution. But as this song demonstrates, she’s still an even better singer.

Honorable Mentions

Andrew W.K. — “Total Freedom”
Kendrick Lamar — “Black Panther”
Janelle Monáe — “Pynk”
Weezer — “Africa”

Follow editor Daniel J. Willis at Twitter.com/BayAreaData

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