With the federal government shut down and Donald Trump tweeting angrily at anyone who dares defy him, it's safe to say 2018 was a shit year. We hope 2019 will be better, but let's be honest: It will probably be worse.
But one thing that certainly wasn't shit this year was Miami music. Perhaps emboldened by the rise of Spanish-language music on Top 40 radio, South Florida acts seemed more willing to crisscross languages. Rock music also continues to flourish in the city, even if its commercial heyday seems pretty much done thanks to the ascent of hip-hop and EDM. Then there are the City Girls, who perhaps have singlehandedly resurrected the Slip-N-Slide style of hip-hop that made so many '90s Miami house parties fun. JT and Yung Miami are certainly a breath of fresh air in a SoundCloud-rap-laden musical landscape.
If you slept on Miami music this year, here's the perfect 305 playlist to help you close out an otherwise horrible 2018.
1. City Girls, "Period (We Live)." Choosing the best song from City Girls’ debut album, Period, was almost an impossible feat because the 16-track LP is full of bangers. And if this were a list of Miami’s best albums, Period would undoubtedly sit at the top. “Period (We Live)” is a high-energy hip-hop song that pays homage to the City Girls' hometown; it's a "Take It to da House" for a new generation. Miami’s newest queens of the South, JT and Yung Miami make “alter-ego music” while repping the 305. File under "Miami royalty." — Jessica Gibbs
2. Dracula, “Como La Flor.” Like Selena’s heart-swelling original, Dracula’s “Como La Flor” overwhelms in its ability to conjure ghosts. Covering a song so beloved by Latinos across the nation is no small challenge, but as on their staple covers of songs such as “Veinte Años,” Dorys Bello and Eli Oviedo effortlessly transmute the source material via their stripped-down arrangements and exquisite harmonies. In this quiet, the lyrics resonate timelessly, and their ay's are some of the best in recorded Spanish-language music. Recorded at DJ Le Spam’s City of Progress Studios with the Sweat Records Records powerhouse, Dracula’s “Como La Flor” is the crown jewel of what DIY in Miami can do. — Stefanie Fernández
3. Christian Carcamo, “House of Lies.” On his personal website, indie singer-songwriter Christian Carcamo actively searches for collaborators. He promises to guide aspiring musicians in how to craft “radio-ready” songs. Judging by his body of work, particularly the glittering “House of Lies,” we think the man knows what he’s doing, and though only in his early 20s, he would make a suitable mentor for other young artists. Already an accomplished guitarist and producer, Carcamo has yielded the EP Yorktown and the one-off singles “Promise” and “War Machines.” But the Yorktown cut “House of Lies” is a clear standout thanks to its ambitious yet accessible sound. Combining the grandiosity of A Head Full of Dreams-era Coldplay with touches of M83’s synths and sax solos, “House of Lies” is the truth in terms of Carcamo being the next big Miami music export. — Angel Melendez
4. Amara La Negra, “What a Bam Bam." Amara La Negra has been coming for Miami for a minute. The Hialeah native is no newcomer to music (see 2013’s “Poron Pom Pom”), but this year, she forced the music industry to show its true face when it comes to colorism within and without the Latinx community. Of the tons of bangers she released in 2018, “What a Bam Bam” is the firebrand of the bunch. It's a reworking of dancehall legend Sister Nancy’s oft-sampled “Bam Bam” that foregrounds the influence of dancehall and Afro-Caribbean music on American pop culture, in addition to Amara’s own dazzling self-vindication, against a Miami backdrop. “I'm always balling, I be doing my thing/No tengo por que hacer show,” she sings with a wink, except she's putting on a tremendo show, one the world can’t help but hear. — Stefanie Fernández
5. Donzii, "Mines." Postpunk, like most musical genres, is difficult to define beyond knowing when you hear it. One listen to "Mines" and you know you're hearing postpunk. Angular guitars and arty lyrics fueled by a driving beat fit the song right in with a playlist of Public Image Ltd, Wire, and all the other 40-year-old bands that inspired the term "postpunk." But Donzii is very much of the now. Fronted by singer Jenna Balfe and backed by Danny Heinze, Dennis Fuller, and Monroe Getz, the band had a busy 2018 that saw it play countless local shows. The only question about this Miami band is if it might evolve to post-postpunk in 2019. — David Rolland
6. Millionyoung, "Never Be the Same." “Never Be the Same,” the second single off Millionyoung’s fourth full-length LP, Rare Form, finds the Miami native in just what the album title says. The brainchild of DJ, producer, and vocalist Mike Diaz, Millionyoung is a mainstay of the South Florida electronica scene, and as he’s continually done, Diaz is adding to the conversation once again. Rare Form, and “Never Be the Same” specifically, have long since moved on from Diaz’s early chillwave days. In fact, the title of the track feels like a promise from Diaz both as a man in love and as a musician in love with evolving. There’s a sparkling, funky groove here, peppered with touches of disco and buoyed by dreamy, entrancing vocals. “Never Be the Same” perfectly encompasses where Millionyoung has been and where he’s headed next. For the moment, though, let’s enjoy the party he’s throwing right now. — Angel Melendez
7. Love, Abbey, "Winter Air." On "Winter Air," 21-year-old singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Abbey Loren — better known as Love, Abbey — knows how to make an entrance. Beginning with dramatic and imposing piano chords and crisp finger snaps to catch listeners' attention, the icy “Winter Air” warms up with her girlish vocals pleading, “Don’t you leave me.” It’s a striking combination of sound and emotion. This mixing of styles is something the young musician began honing as a classically trained pianist in her early days, as a professional songwriter currently, and as a onetime voice actor for children’s dolls. “Winter Air,” one of two singles released by Love, Abbey in 2018 — the other being the very different and saccharine synth-pop ditty “Slow Love” — is a musical parade well suited for marching toward or, preferably, away from a frosty relationship. — Angel Melendez
8. XXXTentacion, "Whoa (Mind in Awe)." This publication will forever be intertwined with the tragically short career of Broward County rapper XXXTentacion. In June, a New Times cover story featured the last interview of the troubled artist who had been accused of domestic violence. Two weeks after the article was published, he was killed in a Deerfield Beach robbery attempt. Though XXXTentacion's alleged actions made it difficult to separate the art from the man, his talents were hard to dispute. "Whoa (Mind in Awe)," off his first of what will undoubtedly be many posthumous releases, made his musical future seem limitless. It's an atypical track from the SoundCloud rap genre, haunting and beautiful, an eerie reminder of what was lost. — David Rolland
8. Raquel Sofia, "Déjalo Ir." Originally from Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, singer-songwriter Raquel Sofia is a graduate of the University of Miami's Frost School of Music and was nominated for Best New Artist at the 16th-annual Latin Grammys. Still, for all of her accomplishments and successes, Sofia is still something of a hidden gem, having spent the early part of her career in the background. The trilingual vocalist — singing in English, Spanish, and Portuguese — has done backing vocals for Juanes and Shakira, but the release of 2018’s 2:00 AM should change that. The ten-track collection of heartfelt Spanish pop-rock tunes includes many great moments; one of the best comes about halfway through the album, in "Déjalo Ir." Somber strings accompany Sofia’s nearly sorrow-stricken voice as she mourns the demise of a dream come true. She likens it to a party that ends too soon and passionately laments that sometimes we just need to let go. “Déjalo Ir” is cathartic in both its beauty and its finality. — Angel Melendez
10. Jaialai, "Broken Satellite." Although it formed in 2016 and released its debut EP in 2017, Miami psych-rock band Jaialai has a name from the '80s and a sound straight out of the '70s. The four-piece — consisting of Jose Adames on guitars and synths, Richard Boullon on drums, Mario Lemus on bass, and Oscar Sardiñas on guitars and lead vocals — dropped its shoegaze-esque first effort, When I’m on the Run, only last year. But the quartet returned in 2018 with a pair of solid singles, including the standout “Broken Satellite.” Influenced by the likes of Radiohead, Jaialai on “Broken Satellite” channels a multitude of Britpop spirits, including the tender, twinkling melodies of Travis. Meanwhile, as Sardiñas softly croons, “Cool the mind,” the band melds the worlds of surging guitar pop and a crescendoing, fuzzy wall of sound for which Oasis is known. “Broken Satellite” is a hypnotic, effortless track that rock fans from any era can and will appreciate. — Angel Melendez
11. Seafoam Walls, "Birthday." The Sunshine State conceived one of the best celebratory birthday songs ever, made by the 305’s very own Uncle Luke. And though some of us honor the occasion by riding Jet Skis and dancing poolside in true Miami fashion, for others, birthdays aren't all they're cracked up to be. “Birthday” is a moody lo-fi track off Seafoam Walls’ EP R-E-F-L-E-C-T, detailing a relationship gone awry and using a birthday as a chance to have those uncomfortable conversations. Frontman Jayan Bertrand somberly croons, “I know we don't talk much/Well, how 'bout I use your worth day, worst day, birthday to be the platform/Since we're on the topic, why don't we address bloodlust, distress, egos, and things we don't confess.” The band, comprising Jayan Bertrand, Dion Keith Kerr IV, Gabriel Norwood, and Edward Biscayart, has proven itself to be one of Miami’s most exciting up-and-coming acts. — Jessica Gibbs
12. Simon Grossman featuring Luz Pinos, “Agüitaecoco.” Venezuelan-American singer-songwriter Simon Grossman has a name that belies his Latin American roots. But from the first guitar strum of the enchanting and lovely “Agüitaecoco,” it’s clear where the Miami-based musician makes his home musically. Often compared to Jack Johnson for his laid-back, mellow surfer vibes, Grossman also shares a kinship with artists such as Oscar-winning troubadour Jorge Drexler, salsa legend Ruben Blades, and Brazilian legend Caetano Veloso. Though Grossman takes inspiration from all of his heroes and a variety of genres, he seems most at home strumming his acoustic guitar. In 2018, he released Mujer Eléctrica, his first full-length and a proper pop-rock album. The rich and slickly produced LP is a gem of a record, but “Agüitaecoco” is the place to start with Grossman’s work. Whether you're bathing in the breeze of a sunny beach day or curled up at home on a lazy Sunday, the track is a sweet cup of coconut water for all occasions. — Angel Melendez
13. Baby City Club, "Baby." Augie Pink and June Summer are brothers known in the Miami scene as members of the garage/psych band Plastic Pinks. "The 20 Best Miami Songs of 2017" included the band's high-energy track "All's Alright." Yet in a surprising twist that shocked many friends and locals, 2018 saw the brothers transform from a garage-rock band to the Latin-trap duo Baby City Club with their first release last May, "Mala Fama." Their latest single, "Baby," truly highlights the Puerto Rican/Miami trap vibes the brothers are giving, and the rise of Latin trap has us wondering what 2019 has in store for the duo. — Catherine Toruno
14. Modernage, "End of the Road." No one loved a cold one from South Beach's Mac's Club Deuce more than Anthony Bourdain. He will always be remembered as an incredible writer, eater, storyteller, traveler, TV host, chef, honorary Miamian, and, most important, champion for the underdogs. After the tragic loss of Bourdain this year, Modernage issued the powerful track “End of the Road” as a tribute inspired by the late TV star’s writings. Frontman Mario Garibaldi sings, “Now I'm starting at the end of the road/And now, now I sing without a song.” The music video, shot on an iPhone by guitarist Xavier Alexander, who currently lives in Hong Kong, follows the same streets Bourdain took while filming Parts Unknown shortly before his passing. Pour one out for Uncle Tony with this one, and turn it all the way up. (If you or a loved one is contemplating suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255). — Jessica Gibbs
15. Brika, “Taxi Man.” This time last year, we were celebrating Brika’s ability to put up a wall in the dangerous world of Miami dating via the single “Don’t Want Your Love.” This time around, the soulful R&B vocalist solicits advice from a “Taxi Man” regarding the object of her affection — nay, her obsession. Thematically, the track is reminiscent of Frank Ocean’s brilliant “Bad Religion,” a treatise on the pains of being closeted and several forms of unrequited love; Brika even name-checks Ocean at the outset of “Taxi Man.” However, aside from the allusions to Ocean’s music (including the line “thinking about you” and a reference to the religion vodou), “Taxi Man” stands on its on own in terms of content and style. Throughout the song, Brika is “nervous” and “biting [her] tongue” around her crush, who makes her feel “foolish” and uncool. But the delivery is so sultry and confident that anyone oblivious to this level of attention doesn’t deserve it. — Angel Melendez
16. Palomino Blond, “Supergalore.” Since forming this past March, Palomino Blond has taken off with fearsome speed. The bandmates are younger than most of the audiences in the rooms they fill at Las Rosas or Churchill’s, yet after just one show, you can smell on them an academic study of latter-day alt-rock and a bone-deep hunger for the blooming South Florida scene. Their first EP, Demos, is fine Miami shoegaze, and “Supergalore” is its propulsive bummer anthem, buoyed by Carli Acosta’s floating vocals and her and Kyle Fink’s brutal riff-chorus built in three musical acts. “I cannot tell if you had meant what you said/But I will accept all your sweet condolences,” Acosta sings with all the desire of a Venus flytrap as the song detonates. It suffices to say these kids from Kendall shred. — Stefanie Fernández
17. Rick Moon, "Cracker Jack." In a little over two minutes, "Cracker Jack" dives into that energetic space between paying tribute to the Beatles and their Britpop descendants that came a generation later. It was composed by Miami's psychedelic wunderkind, Rick Moon, who says the inspiration behind the song's lyrics came from feeling the need to grow up. "The song is about telling the worst parts of you to fuck off," he says. "It had the connotations of being immature." But beyond his self-loathing, the song is assuredly mature. Like the snack food for which it's named, "Cracker Jack" is a sweet and sticky confection that will stay with you for a long time or at least until you do some serious flossing. — David Rolland
18. Otto Von Schirach, "Astronomical." Hailing from the 305 comes with a strong sense of pride. And if there's anyone who truly embodies Miami, it’s Otto Von Schirach, AKA "King of the Bermuda Triangle.” The bass god’s track “Astronomical,” off of his latest EP, Draculo, is a quirky ode to Dade County. He proudly raps, “I’m a mastermind, certified/Don’t believe me, ask Chuck from the New Times.” If you aren’t shaking your ass while holding a papaya in one hand and a mango in the other, you’re doing it wrong. — Jessica Gibbs
19. Locos por Juana, “Tal Vez Someday.” First of all, can we talk about the Spanglish title of the latest bilingual jam by Locos por Juana? If that isn’t the most Miami thing, what is? Rhetorical questions aside, “Tal Vez Someday” slaps — gently. It’s one of those slow, creeping earworms the listener realizes is taking over their nervous system only after it’s too late. “Tal Vez Someday” was one of two singles released this year by the venerated cumbia/funk/reggae/rock/salsa/whatever-the-hell-it-wants-to-do group. The other is the hip-hop-and-EDM-flavored dance-floor sizzler “Te Queiro Ver.” Both songs contain the band’s calling cards: a signature sound like none other and high-intensity energy that's infectious and undeniable. Like so many of their fellow Colombians and Venezuelans, the members of Locos por Juana have made Miami their home, and “Tal Vez Someday” will make its home in both your heart and your hips. — Angel Melendez
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20. Jake Spooner featuring Our Fire, "Savage." As a solo artist, Jake Spooner has kept his nose to the grindstone for years. His focus began to bear notable results recently when he garnered national attention for his work with the likes of Gucci Mane, Tory Lanez, and superproducer Scott Storch. But it’s Spooner's collaboration with singer-songwriter Nicole Babin that appears to be the best fit for both artists. The pair began creating music under the name Our Fire after getting together with the intention of writing for other artists. On “Savage,” it’s clear why the collaboration yielded an unintended side project for the two singer-songwriters. The track's bouncing synths, snaps, and handclaps offer a pop reimagining of a light trap beat, but the track wouldn’t sound out of place on the radio alongside hits by Imagine Dragons. Babin’s smooth vocals soften its edges, making the song feel like the soundtrack to the early part of the night at a breezy rooftop party in Miami Beach. — Celia Almeida