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ARC, Calleja, Olafsson, Herrera, Kahane, Brooklyn Rider make NPR - best Music Of 2018

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These are the 100 best songs of 2018, as selected by the staff of NPR Music and our partner stations. You can listen to the songs here, check out the 50 best albums of the year or hear All Songs Considered's podcast discussion of the year in music.

93. Anthony Roth Costanzo "Liquid Days"
Costanzo is a stellar countertenor - that's a male singer who sings in falsetto to achieve the range of a female alto - and this is a stellar piece of music, juxtaposing Philip Glass' signature celestial ostinatos with David Byrne's temporally focused text ("Love needs a bath / Love could use a shave"), which Costanzo delivers with elegance and sweetness, but with a plainspoken, steely core that is enormously appealing. The video is a thing of beauty, too: It's a gorgeous sequence with dancer Ron "Myles Yachts" Myles, shot under a highway overpass, that speaks to the strange, singular beauty of heaven meeting earth. -Anastasia Tsioulcas

79. Joseph Calleja "Ah! Si, ben mio"
Opera is a theatrical art, but for the fanatics, it's all about the voice. And the voice of tenor Joseph Calleja, suffused with golden Italian sunshine, is among the most satisfying today, both in beauty and execution. He pilots a flickering, old school vibrato with impeccable taste, spinning out phrases with natural flow. Unlike many tenors today, Calleja has supreme control over gradations of loud and soft, from pealing top notes that can make your skull vibrate, to quiet, fully supported fibers of tone that reach the rafters. In this classic Verdi aria, fueled by ardor and angst, a highlight is surely the lovely mezza voce (half-voice) Calleja dispenses on the final syllable of the word "trafitto" ("pierced"). Calleja is today's voice of yesterday, ringing with hope for tomorrow. -Tom Huizenga

58. Vikingur Olafsson "Widerstehe doch der Sunde"
It's easy to wax poetic about J.S. Bach when you have a melody and a performance this beautiful, this vital. The Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson performs his own arrangement of the opening aria from Bach's Cantata No. 54, the German title of which translates as "Resist Sin." His left hand plays solid octaves, softly pulsing like a heartbeat, while his right intertwines Bach's benevolent melodies, climbing ever skyward. The result is the aural equivalent of daily bread. This is music of elemental sustenance, music you can lean on to get you through. One could argue that to resist the sheer beauty of Bach's music, lovingly unfolded by Ólafsson, would indeed be a sin. -Tom Huizenga

34. Magos Herrera & Brooklyn Rider "Volver A Los 17"
You don't need to be a Spanish speaker to feel the tension and release that haunts this performance of a 1960s classic from Chile. Magos Herrera, the smoky-voiced jazz singer from Mexico, practically whispers the verses, their poetic images swirling around the idea of returning to your 17-year-old self, whose feelings trumped reason and for whom every moment was electric with possibility. In the contrasting refrain, set to the buoyant Chilean dance beat called the cueca, Herrera's voice lightens to a wry smile as she sings of ideas entangling like ivy growing up a wall. She gets way under the skin of the song, recalling great communicators like Edith Piaf or Billie Holiday. And she's backed by Brooklyn Rider, a string quartet of boundless imagination that has honed its world-music chops playing in Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble. Strings pulse like anxious heartbeats and slither between and around Herrera's vocals. This is an intimate song to share intimately. -Tom Huizenga

33. Gabriel Kahane "November"
"When last we spoke," begins Gabriel Kahane, against a rippling piano tremolo, "I sang of end times / Of cities washed away." He's remembering one moment of high drama in the midst of another: "November" is the first movement on Book of Travelers, a poignant reflection on the ties that still bind us, politics be damned. Kahane wrote these songs over a two-week period, riding the rails in the immediate wake of the 2016 presidential election. He carries out his project with the same generosity of spirit as Walt Whitman, though his empathy runs a bit more pensive and less gregarious. -Nate Chinen (WBGO)

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