[More and more, popular music is turning back into a singles format. So, even while great albums were few and far between in 2008, there was no shortage of strong, diverse one-shots. Over the past five days, I've been counting down my picks for the 50 Best Songs Of 2008, and today we reach #1. Merry Christmas!]
1. M.I.A. – Paper Planes
One of 2007’s best singles (it ranked #13 on this chart last year) finally got its well-deserved moment in the sun in 2008, and “Paper Planes” responded by casting its cultural shadow over everything it touched: “Swagga Like Us” sampled it, 50 Cent rapped over it, Rihanna covered it. And if the Pineapple Express trailer was ground zero, then Slumdog Millionaire—which might as well be ripped from M.I.A.’s own backstory—brings the song full circle, one gunshot chorus at a time.
2. Coldplay – Viva La Vida
Amazingly enough, Coldplay managed to become one of the biggest bands in the world despite never topping the American charts. That they finally did it by ditched the pianos—and the guitars, and the drum kit—proves sometimes the riskiest move can pay off in spades. And sometimes left-field moments come from the most unexpected places.
3. Kanye West – Love Lockdown
The biggest shock of 808s And Heartbreak’s lead single wasn’t the AutoTune. Rather, it was hearing Kanye’s ego dismantled against production so dark it seemed almost frozen, until all that remained was a lonely, near-human voice crying in the digital wilderness.
4. Robyn – Be Mine!
That the United States remains one of the few countries unmoved by Robyn is our character flaw, not hers. This is the second year the Swedish songbird placed a single inside my yearly top ten, and with good reason: “Be Mine!” is a lament disguised as a kiss-off, heartbreak with an electro beat, and a better pop single than anything released by Britney, Mariah, or Fergie in the last five years.
5. Guns N' Roses – Better
Sure, the initial singles were underwhelming, but at least one song on Chinese Democracy felt worth the 17-year wait. And Axl must’ve known it too, as he stuffed all five minutes with rage, redemption, demented loops, cyborg guitars, and possibly the sickest groove in GN’R history.
6. M83 – Kim & Jessie
The yin to “Graveyard Girl”’s yang, this second M83 single possessed a more haunted beauty, unwinding like a marriage of Cocteau Twins and vintage Psychedelic Furs at the end of summer.
7. Lykke Li – Little Bit
Like the cracked-mirror version of Robyn, Li writes disarmingly catchy pop songs, but this is literal kitchen sink production: Cobbled together with wires and found sounds, and all the more charming for it.
8. The Verve – Love Is Noise
Richard Ashcroft doesn’t “do” small, so the thrill of the first Forth single was hearing the epic scope of “Bitter Sweet Symphony” banging up against insinuating, driving club beats. In an era of diminished comebacks, this was one that actually expanded a band's legacy.
The Verve - Love Is Noise
9. Santogold – Lights Out
Radio ignored this new-wavish pop nugget—much like they dismissed the equally great Res in 2001—so Santi White found her audience via Anheuser-Busch. An industry vet bringing underground music to the people in the guise of a beer commercial? Oddly subversive.
10. Portishead – Machine Gun
A monster of a comeback single, with the world’s angriest snare sample turning Beth Gibbons’ always spooky vocals into something downright terrifying. Music was rarely more confrontational—or hypnotic—in 2008.
Machine Gun - Portishead
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
11. Metallica – The Day That Never Comes
Take away the over-compression, and it’s like the last fifteen unfortunate years of Metallica never happened: A “Fade To Black” opening disintegrates into whiplash metal, all tricky time changes and shredding solos. Welcome back, guys.
Metallica - The Day That Never Comes
12. Adele – Chasing Pavements
Once in a blue moon, the Grammies get it right: This justifiably-acclaimed “Record Of The Year” nominee is the kind of soaring torch song strong enough to wipe away a thousand Amy Winehouse tabloid stories.
Adele - Chasing Pavements
13. Death Cab For Cutie – Cath...
Ben Gibbard is the master of portraits in miniature, but even by his standards, this tale of wedding-day regret ranks as one of his finest. And a decade on, DCFC’s nagging guitar riffs remain as blissfully melodic as ever.
14. TV On The Radio – Family Tree
Critical darlings since their inception, TVOTR finally drop their guard to deliver the most open, heart-rending moment of their career thus far. The perfect soundtrack for a whole new generation to hold their boomboxes aloft.
15. MGMT – Time To Pretend
What’s more 2008 than two twentysomething indie hipsters writing synthpop anthems about bedding models? Can’t wait ‘til they get their own reality show.
16. Estelle featuring Kanye West – American Boy
Don’t tell the lemmings running your local radio station, but this year’s summer anthem was not some mind-numbing Skynyrd rehash. Rather, it was this breezy ode to cross-Atlantic seduction, carried aloft by a lovely British newcomer with more than a touch of Lauryn Hill in her vocals.
Estelle - "American Boy" ft. Kanye West
17. Hercules & Love Affair– Blind
By far the weirdest/catchiest combination of the year, “Blind” marries the unique stylings of Antony (of Antony & The Johnsons) to straight-up disco, reimagined for the era of DFA and Goldfrapp. The dance floor has rarely sounded this romantic.
18. Radiohead – Reckoner
How to follow 2007’s Album Of The Year (and two songs in our Top 50 to boot)? If you’re Radiohead, you naturally open up your next single to every remixer on the Net, resulting in a torrent of reinterpretations that only served to make the original sound even more singular.
Radiohead - Reckoner - by Clement Picon
19. Sun Kil Moon – Moorestown
With over ten albums under three different names to his credit, Mark Kozelek still remains a criminally underrated songwriter. “Moorestown” is a languid, gorgeous highlight on an album (April) stuffed with them, finely-sketched nostalgia in 6/8 time.
20. M83 – Graveyard Girl
The perfect soundtrack to the ‘80s movie John Hughes never made, two chords of shimmering, summery, teenage bliss.
Monday, December 22, 2008
21. Q-Tip – Getting Up
The breezy beat, the jazzy sample, and that singular flow: In case you’re wondering what hip-hop lost with Tribe’s breakup, this is your answer in three minutes and change.
22. Snow Patrol – Engines
The Irish foursome reteam with Jackknife Lee to create another sensitive slow-burner, with inventive production so massive it basically becomes the hook.
23. Bruce Springsteen – The Wrestler
Technically only an iTunes release, but few who’ve seen The Wrestler trailer can deny the power of its accompanying title song, Springsteen’s best stand-alone effort since “Streets Of Philadelphia.”
24. Fleet Foxes – White Winter Hymnal
Fleet Foxes is one of those rare, singular albums meant to be heard in a complete listen, rather than crass, “single-size” chunks. Nevertheless, one couldn’t ask for a better introduction to their sound than this gorgeous, two-minute calling card.
25. Keane – Spiralling
Abandoning all pretensions of seriousness, Keane shoot for the candy-coated rafters. Easily the most fun this band has ever been.
26. Pink – Sober
Sure she’s “still a rock star,” but the darker Pink—ostensibly pop, but undercut with sorrow and vulnerability—remains my go-to diva of choice.
P!nk "Sober" Music Video
27. Kanye West featuring Dwele – Flashing Lights
The 3 A.M. electronica backing is menacing enough, but it has nothing on Kanye’s deeply twisted, possibly disturbed video. “Shock value” is a phrase often thrown around carelessly. Not in this case.
28. R.E.M. – Hollow Man
Aging Rocker Comeback #1: A two-and-a-half-minute blast of the kind of smart, driving rock that inspired a generation of indie bands.
REM - Hollowman
29. The Cure – The Only One
Aging Rocker Comeback #2: A sticky-sweet oddball ditty that would’ve fit comfortably on Side One of The Head On The Door.
The Cure - The Only One
30. Paramore – That's What You Get
Sure it’s pop-punk, but at least it’s good pop-punk, thanks in no small part to Hayley Williams, who has the pipes to be this generation’s Pat Benatar.
Paramore - Thats What You Get (Official Video)
Saturday, December 20, 2008
31. nine inch nails – Discipline
After the head-scratching Year Zero and Ghosts’ tedious instrumentals, it was a relief to hear Trent Reznor do what he does best: Grinding, angsty, melodic rock. And for free!
32. My Morning Jacket – Touch Me I’m Going To Scream (Parts 1 & 2)
Don’t say you weren’t warned: MMJ set up Evil Urges with a radical, electro-flavored break from their jamband past. If “Part 1” is twisted robot pop, “Part 2” finds the humanity in all technology… and a feeling too wonderful to ever turn off.
33. Kings Of Leon – Sex On Fire
The Kings remain too overrated for their own good—even Razorlight can sell out UK stadiums, after all—but this sleek, pounding single from Only By The Night finally delivered on all those years of anthemic promise. Shame about that title, though.
34. The Hold Steady – Sequestered In Memphis
Over a classic ‘70s chord sequence, Craig Finn reminds us why he’s the best lyricist in rock today. Most quotable line: “In bar light she looked alright/ In daylight she looked desperate.”
35. AC/DC – Rock N’ Roll Train
Australia’s ageless schoolboys mine that glorious three-chord vein once again, this time with full Wal-Mart approval!
36. Lil Wayne featuring T-Pain – Got Money
Weezy and TP exchange AutoTuned volleys over an infectious club beat, in what will undoubtably go down in history as the final “we got cash” jam before the economic collapse.
37. Vampire Weekend – A-Punk
Best white-boy ska since The English Beat disbanded. Or, alternately, best white-boy Soweto since Graceland.
38. Oasis – The Shock Of The Lightning
Dig Out Your Soul was only half of the great comeback Oasis has been threatening for years now. Fortunately, this up-tempo blast comes from the good half.
39. Bell X1 – Rocky Took A Lover
Twinkly Britpop by way of Damien Rice’s old band. Perfect for those who miss the days when Coldplay was just four romantics with guitars.
40. Counting Crows – Come Around
Last year at this time, Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings seemed poised to be the Crows’ glorious return to form. More bittersweet pop songs like this one, and it would’ve been.
Discover Counting Crows!
41. Bob Mould – Stupid Now
Mould has fallen in and out of fashion countless times since Husker Du’s demise, but he hasn’t sounded so invigorated—or pissed off—since 1992. Yes, that was the year of Sugar’s first album. And yes, District Line is really that good.
42. Duffy – Mercy
Who knew the Welsh had a weakness for Sixties girl-group 45s?
43. Lindsey Buckingham – Did You Miss Me
Close your eyes, and it’s Tusk all over again. Minus the 1979 fashions and marching band cameos.
44. Weezer – Pork And Beans
At this point, Rivers Cuomo may write songs like this in his actual sleep—which certainly explains the line about “I'll eat my candy with the pork and beans”—but it’s hard to begrudge one of the few simple pleasures from The Red Album, a disc otherwise consisting of Weezer working very hard to sound like a bad Weezer cover band.
45. Pretenders – Boots Of Chinese Plastic
Chrissie Hynde’s umpteenth comeback delivered the goods almost immediately, thanks to this popped-cork rocker, a kissing cousin to 1980’s “Tattooed Love Boys.”
46. Hot Chip – Ready For The Floor
Frothy dance effervescence, wrapped in the kind of indie threads guaranteed to make bloggers foam at the mouth.
47. Rihanna – Disturbia
With her jetsetting looks and ice-princess vocals, Rihanna is the pop star for this time, underplaying what could’ve been a conventional love song until it morphs into something far creepier.
48. The Killers – Human
Are we human? Are we dancer? Apparently, we are all Killers.
49. Beck – Modern Guilt
The bright spot on a soggy album, with our favorite indie wunderkind milking the 21st-century blues by way of Danger Mouse.
50. Beyonce – Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)
But only if you put Justin Timberlake in heels first.