The Best Singles of 2008

[18 December 2008]

By PopMatters Staff



Bon Iver “Skinny Love”

There’s the impossibly high falsetto. The plantive yet powerful strumming. The dead-of-night eeriness it evokes, as if soundtracking a thousand broken hearts all at once and somehow getting them all to sing “my my my” in perfect unison. Though recorded while isolated in a cabin, Justin Vernon’s screeching howl of “who the hell am I?” is powerful enough to touch the soul of anyone, anywhere, at anytime, regardless of habitat. Congratulations, Justin: your “Skinny Love” is now one big fat piece of pop history. Evan Sawdey



Maiysha “Wanna Be”

Maiysha was one of the most formidable new artists to emerge this year. “Wanna Be” is her anthem. She lays bare her strengths and her vulnerabilities in the lyrics while producer Scott Jacoby perfectly matches the friction of her existential quagmire with an explosive funk-rock arrangement. Maiysha’s voice is the star attraction, though. The more you listen to “Wanna Be”, the more you appreciate the nuances of the song’s writing, performance, and production. Your playlist is incomplete without it. Christian John Wikane



Young Jeezy & Kanye West “Put On”

Having the summer’s defining rap single is nothing new to Young Jeezy, yet even still, “Put On” feels different. It trickled out along with word that Jeezy’s third album would be called The Recession and it finds him operating in a zone where he feels our collective pain while still rapping about expensive cars. It’s not condescending because Jeezy, a guy who got rich off hood money, pays his city back by putting out epics like this that bring people together and help them to forget that they are probably fucked. Jordan Sargent



Booka Shade “Charlotte”

It’s one of the great phenomena of popular music, that the same chord progressions we’ve heard many times before can continue to excite us in a new single –- as long as it’s done properly. In the world somewhere between techno, house, electro, ambient, and a little bit of pop that German duo Booka Shade inhabits, “Charlotte” is just such a song. Any lyrical material is incidental here -– muted cries of “’eyaa”, “oh whoa”, and “Charlotte”. The real excitement comes from the fact that, while it isn’t hard to anticipate where that massive synth riff is going to go, it doesn’t make it any less invigorating when it gets there. David Abravanel



Glasvegas “Geraldine”

There’s nothing subtle at all about “Geraldine”, or Glasvegas for that matter, but damn, if it isn’t one of the prettiest singles we’ve heard all year. By taking the Psychocandy template and blowing up the melodrama to fabulously bombastic proportions, James Allan’s simple, seemingly tossed-off song about a social worker friend of the band’s metamorphoses into a shamelessly rosy-hued declaration of compassion and love, whether it’s fraternal, platonic, or romantic, the song propelled skyward thanks to Rich Costey’s stadium rock mix. Adrien Begrand



Kristoffer Ragnstam “Swing That Tambourine”

Forget everything you thought you knew about young Scandinavian singer-songwriters. Kristoffer Ragnstam is sensitive, sure (“You are probably the best thing that ever happened to me” he sings), and he’s all about the melody—but he’s got a swagger and a passion that leaves his contemporaries for dead. “Swing That Tambourine” is a rollicking, raucous piece of late ‘60s rock ‘n’ roll, complete with vintage fuzz and semi-innocent attitude. If this tune isn’t an indie dancefloor staple within a year, it’s a human tragedy. David Pullar



The Walkmen “In the New Year”

Despite claiming that the songs from You & Me were slowly crafted over the course of two years, “In the New Year” could not be better timed. Hamilton Leithauser’s impassioned, howling vocals whip threw an organ drenched landscape that compliments the collective sense of political optimism that has permeated through the indie world leading up to the departure of Bush, and the arrival of Obama.  But while Hamilton rejoices, “We won by a landslide/ Our troubles are over”, he also cautions, “the snow is still falling”. Louis J. Battaglia



Lucinda Williams “Rarity”

Nearly nine minutes, this gorgeous, honest song seems part eulogy to the nurturing music industry artists were fortunate enough to enjoy in the ‘70s and part damning indictment about what that industry has devolved into. Using a very economical amount of words, Williams drives this point home with each line, especially near the homestretch where nowadays money triumphs over any semblance of artistic integrity. While describing another artist in the song, the subject could just as easily be Williams herself. Jason MacNeil



Nas “Black President”

That an African-American had emerged as a viable and tenable candidate for president immediately caused an influx of celebratory and reflective compositions to capture and convey this unique moment in history. But none were as profound as Nas’ -– nor as prescient. Vivid snare-drum rolls evoke past, more militant, black political movements and a 2Pac sample (from “Changes”) functions as a challenge and provocation, “Though it seems heaven sent we ain’t ready to have a black president.” A soothing chorus responds “Yes we can/ Change the world” with an Obama speech sample echoing the second line. The tone is defiant and hopeful. But Nas doesn’t blindly succumb to hype. Balancing the line between ardent supporter (embodied by Johnny Polygon’s chorus) and hostile critic (represented by 2Pac) he addresses the cultural ramifications and questions Obama’s motives and readiness, finally conceding to reality: “America surprised us and let a black man guide us.” Thomas Hauner



The Avett Brothers “Murder in the City”

As the Avetts head off to a big-city major label deal, The Gleam II offers a gentle closing of the books on their indie years. “Murder in the City”, the EP’s standout, lays out instructions to be followed in the event of the narrator’s death, but quickly blossoms into a love song, a self elegy, and a meditation on family. Far more uplifting than its title would indicate, this delicate blend of acoustic guitars, piano, and brotherly harmonies tugs heartstrings on multiple levels. Andrew Gilstrap



We Are Scientists “After Hours”

Not since Semisonic’s “Closing Time” has there been a better pop single about being kicked out of a bar. That circular guitar riff that cycles through, the etheral keyboards, and, of course, that ancient refrain of “time means nothing”—a statement that, after a few drinks and in the company of good friends, rings true for all of us at some point in our life. Nights of that nature have always needed a post-millennial anthem, and, finally, they got one. Evan Sawdey



TV on the Radio “Golden Age”

Like most of Dear Science, “Golden Age” is immediately catchy yet endlessly complicated. Kyp Malone sings falsetto verses over a funky groove, which transitions to the glorious, gospel-like chorus with proclamations about a “golden age, comin’ round”. It is only with repeated listens that Malone’s frantically delivered lyrics begin to reveal themselves. As they do, the superficially optimistic chorus sounds more sarcastic and the ostensible nature of the prophetic “golden age” becomes increasingly ambiguous with shades of cynicism and even hints of apocalyptic themes. “Golden Age”, like many great works of art, has the capacity to generate endless dialogue filled with speculation about its “true meaning”. With that said, let me just admit that I do not know what the song is really about or whether it even has a subjective meaning. And that, right there, is precisely the type of compositional complexity that makes “Golden Age” and, by extension, TV on the Radio so great. Anthony Henriques



Noah & The Whale “Five Years Time”

Notwithstanding “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay”, the inclusion of whistling in a song is normally a net-loss. “Five Years Time” doesn’t seem bothered by such musical conventions, breezily coasting on the strength of an indelible melody and a strummed-guitar riff lifted straight out of a beachside bonfire. Channeling Stephen Malkmus’ wavering indie-rock tenor, Charlie Fink delivers throw-away lines about love, sun, and fun with an edgy exuberance that avoids the usual over-precious trappings of twee-pop. Adam Conner-Simons



Vampire Weekend “Oxford Comma”

With a metronomic beat, carousel keyboards and lyrics alluding to technical grammar, “Oxford Comma” is a hit single fueled by quirky simplicity. The seemingly off-the-cuff style disguises the studied influences at work. Lilting and patient, the verses take their cues from the stately department of the Smiths. Conversely, the stuttered tension of the chorus transitions into Talking Heads territory. Firmly rooted in today however, is the sense of headphoned detachment found in singer Ezra Koenig’s random namedrops of Dharamsala, the United Nations and yes, Lil’ Jon. Tim Slowikowski



Adele “Chasing Pavements”

“Chasing Pavements”, is heartbreak personified. Even if you haven’t heard Adele tell the story behind the title -– running down the street alone after a fight with a boyfriend -– her voice captures the longing and resignation that accompanies a relationship turned bad. The verses are simple, but penetrating; the bombastic chorus, however, is what really sticks in a listener’s memory. The electrifying “Chasing Pavements” establishes Adele as a contender in the sweepstakes to find a worthy (but hopefully less destructive) successor to Amy Winehouse. Rachel Kipp

Chasing Pavements - Adele


Beck “Modern Guilt”

Start with a shuffling Danger Mouse beat played on just a snare and kick drum. Add in Beck’s lyrics about feeling isolated and guilty with his soft, uneasy-sounding vocal performance. Those elements would be enough for an intriguing song. But “Modern Guilt” takes it further. The bass and guitar counterpoint each other along with the beat, then a catchy, sticky one-second synth blip pops up. The final element comes in the refrain, just after Beck sings “Modern guilt, I’m stranded with nothing.” A guitar lead, low and sneaky, shows up and grabs your attention. “Modern Guilt” is a lot like its guitar lead—the song may not get you instantly,  but it worms its way into your mind and stays there. Chris Conaton



Gnarls Barkley “Run (I’m a Natural Disaster)”

Cee-Lo is a wicked, insidious enticer. He emphatically warns impressionable children to keep away, for he harbors a dangerous darkness. But like any siren (or dealer), his alluring song, a wall-rattling incantatory tent revival, defies avoidance. His voice levitates over hallowed ground, namely Danger Mouse’s witch’s brew of muted organ, shivering maracas and grooving handclaps. Thus, “Run” becomes the pre-medicated counterpoint to “Crazy”: human insanity on the cusp of overflowing, like an Indian Ocean tsunami or a New Orleans levee. Charles Hohman



The Verve “Love Is Noise”

The Verve reunites a decade after their Urban Hymns triumph and the subsequent implosion, and this is the first thing they release? Inhuman self-sampled scats, disco hi-hats, and William Blake parodies? But “Love Is Noise” makes so little sense that it makes perfect sense. The contrast between all of that bubbling weirdness and the concrete ordinariness of Richard Ashcroft’s square chorus is what makes it such a notable creation. The sample and the chorus get stuck in the doorway of your subconscious as they both try to rush in. But there’s always room enough for both. Ross Langager



Animal Collective “Water Curses”

Though culled from the Strawberry Jam sessions, “Water Curses”‘s hyperkinetic, calypso-tinged rhythms seem to owe more to Panda Bear’s Person Pitch and like that album, it resembles nothing we’ve heard before. Pulsing drum machines, blurry underwater synths, and nonstop vocals swirl in a sort of bizarrely danceable, psychedelic stew. Just leave it to this Brooklyn collective to usher in the 22nd century 92 years early. I regard “Water Curses” as emblematic of Animal Collective’s singular vision, in which melody and chaos become one and the same. Zach Schonfeld



Jamie Lidell “Another Day”

After channelling the spirit of every rhythm and blues innovator from Otis to Pharrell via Curtis and Prince on his first album, Jamie Lidell has gone even more classicist this time around. He’s dug deep into pop history to make “Another Day”, a sun-kissed ode to monogamous communication, of all things. It’s also the greatest song Burt Bacharach and Hal David never got around to writing and the most blissful tune you could hope to sing along to. David Pullar



The Felice Brothers “Frankie’s Gun!”

It’s obvious that the Felice Brothers don’t endeavor to sound like other indie rock acts; it’s just as obvious that they wish they could transform into Bob Dylan fronting the Band. Those influences are never more obvious than on “Frankie’s Gun!” -– nor are they ever more exuberantly transcended. The old-timeyness of their sound –- the accordion backbone, Ian Felice’s Dylan-style bleat, the deadbeat subject matter -– soars past self-consciousness into knowing, joyful inspiration. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself singing along and feeling like Stillwater on the tour bus in Almost Famous. Jesse Hassenger



Feist “I Feel It All”

No matter how “Adult Contemporary” Feist’s celebrity becomes, there’s little that will change about the airy, unassuming and undeniably graceful nature of her voice. Take, for instance, “I Feel It All”. Think of that lo-fi rock aesthetic giving way to the sparse piano notes, lightly tingeing her cautiously optimistic delivery with a sense of wonder as well as realism. Bitter-sweet and sweetly bitter, Feist makes the star of the show not her emotion, but her ability to feel it. Daniel Rivera



Jamey Johnson “In Color”

In the middle of Jamey Johnson’s outlaw-country LP of deep despair stands this fine ballad with an outstanding melody. The verses tell stories of childhood, war, marriage. In each someone looks back and admits they were beyond scared-to-death. Within the album the song reveals the universality of the hurt personalized in the other songs. On country radio, it does that even better. For times when people’s lives are filled with fear and hardship, the song is a compact reminder that humans have gone through this before, even if it wasn’t any easier then than today or tomorrow. Dave Heaton



Death Cab for Cutie “I Will Possess Your Heart”

Few bands, when looking through the list of songs on their new album, would select as their first single a track that’s over eight minutes long. However, one listen to Death Cab for Cutie’s latest full-length, Narrow Stairs, reveals that “I Will Possess Your Heart” is not only that record’s strongest track, but probably the group’s greatest achievement to date. The song’s foundation is Nick Harmer’s darkly funky bass line, which grooves like an Adam Clayton concoction, only with a stronger sense of swing. Atop this solid bedrock, the band oozes out heady, cold-sweating streaks of piano and guitar. Amidst it all, Ben Gibbard coaxes romanticism out of menace with his beguiling tale of a highly self-assured stalker. Michael Keefe



Coldplay “Viva La Vida”

There’s truly something thrilling about hearing a song like “Viva la Vida” on top 40 radio. When you’re hearing the hits, you’re usually hearing something safe; you may be hearing a new synth line, or a particularly catchy hook, or you may even be hearing the latest heart-on-sleeve musings of a pasty kid who dyed his hair black. What you don’t typically hear is an orchestra. Coldplay doesn’t even bother with a snare drum here, or (for the most part) guitars for that matter; in their place are timpani, violins, and buckets and buckets of majesty. Its words don’t exactly amount to much, but that doesn’t really matter—to listen to “Viva la Vida” is to experience joy for four straight minutes. Mike Schiller



T.I. “Whatever You Like”

A good song is often a deceptive song and sonic deception is what makes “Whatever You Like”, one of 2008’s best guilty-pleasure earworms. Like he’s done before with Lil’ Wayne’s Lollipop, producer Jim Jonsin makes the Dirty South sound like a magical synthy wonderland where rappers like T.I. are free to slyly deliver conditional promises inside dreamy choruses. Sure, the video’s Blingerella can have whatever she likes, but first she must kneel at the throne of T.I. Now that’s what makes this song a deceptive goodie. Chris Catania



R.E.M. “Supernatural Superserious”

Even R.E.M.‘s most languorous and dreary records were accompanied by lead singles catchier and lovelier than most of the rest of the album. “Supernatural Superserious”, the first single from the Accelerate, heralds their return to rock in a similar manner: by rocking harder, better, and sweeter than anything else from their good-not-great comeback. From the brilliantly simple spike of a guitar riff to the half-nostalgic, half-rueful lyrics, this cranked-up number makes the business of producing a classic R.E.M. track sound easier, more fun, and yet also more triumphant than it has in years. Jesse Hassenger



Britney Spears “Womanizer”

Britney Spears would probably be the last candidate you’d nominate as the guardian of feminist virtue, but “Womanizer”, produced by newbie Atlanta duo the Outsyders, is an ice-cold electro stab aimed at the more deplorable proprietors of the Y chromosome. Britney takes on chauvinist actors who woo women and throw them away like street trash. She decimates villainous men with a vocal authority and confidence you might not expect from her trainwreck public persona. She reverses the patriarchal power dynamic as she taunts, repeating the word “womanizer” ad nauseum like a schoolyard bully, and wagging her finger directly at “you you-you you”, denigrating her lustful predator as a “boy” rather than a man. After ten years as an artist, Britney has evolved with her initial ‘tween fanbase, now in their 20s, and remains a vital vixen at the crest of dancefloor pop. Timothy Gabriele



Cut Copy “Lights and Music”

Mainstream American charts ignored Cut Copy’s lead single off their irreconcilably good In Ghost Colours. Hipsters seized and embraced it, but it’s been a couple of months since it saw release so they’ve probably moved on by now. Just more reasons I hate Western civilization. But then again “Lights and Music” is emblematic of that culture. The song is, like its title, all sensory; shimmering synth refractions of polychromatic sound waves, tactile basslines, deliciously frosted jangle-guitar, and audial eargasms that meld ‘80s, ‘90s, and ‘00s electronica into a formative whole. Tim Goldsworthy’s production is an epic of economics. It compacts more elements than one full side of an ELO triple LP into its four and a half minutes and still leaves space for breathing, making out, and glowsticks. Timothy Gabriele



Janelle Monáe “Many Moons”

Though “Many Moons” is set in the year 2719 after five world wars, its sentiment is very much reflective of the early 21st century. Monáe recites a laundry list of ails (drugs, diseases) that we know all too well. The song issues a challenge to the oppressed people of Metropolis (and, by extension, listeners): even when despair, violence, and mental enslavement are the dominant forces, can you still choose love? “Many Moons” is a bold choice for a single, but Monáe’s captivating performance and the track’s new wave-funk rhythms demand to be heard by as many listeners as possible. Christian John Wikane



Keane “Spiralling”

Keane had me at “ohhhh”, which is to say, the very beginning of “Spiralling”. With hooks at every turn, “Spiralling” generates excitement non-stop throughout its punchy three minutes. The song climaxes with Tom Chaplin screaming, “Did you want to be in love?” before dipping one last time into one of the most infectious choruses heard this year. A single is supposed to hook you and incite the need to play it incessantly until you just have to get the album too. Myself, I picked up Perfect Symmetry well before the play count for “Spiralling” passed 50 on my computer. Christian John Wikane



Trentemøller “Miss You”

It’s been two years since Danish knob twiddler Anders Trentemøller released his critically lauded debut The Last Resort and he’s still milking it in 2008. He has every right, though, ‘cause that collection of intricate, atmospheric electronic genre-benders was all highlights. “Miss You” is without a doubt one of the original pressing’s most understated and touching pieces. There’s no bass to speak of, only subtle layers of synth pads, echo-laden leads, and slight, docile cracks. It’s soothing and hypnotic yet vibrant and shimmering. Most electronic producers diminish the impact of such sounds by slathering them over basic beats way too high in the mix, gussying up their club friendly lower frequencies like an old west prostitute. This Trentemøller guy is all class. Filmore Mescalito Holmes



Los Campesinos “My Year In Lists”

Los Campesinos! imbued its debut album with equal parts exuberance and longing, but the noisy, chaotic energy that comes from seven musicians pounding away on everything from keyboards to glockenspiels transforms even the ballads into hooky pop songs. The über-catchy “My Year in Lists” speaks directly to the heart of a certain kind of forlorn DIY geek: the kind who gets turned on by handwritten letters, can grapple with complex literary devices, and, yes, might express yearning through a bulleted list or two. The vulnerable and the obsessive will know exactly where “My Year in Lists” falls in their list of favorite songs of 2008—and it’s likely to be near the top. Marisa LaScala



M83 “Graveyard Girl”

Glassy synthesizers, breathy shoegaze vocals, a sweeping melody and an unselfconsciously mock-profound mid-song spoken word break… progressive French electro-hipsters M83 finally locate pure pop perfection by dipping into the pool of mid-‘80s synth-pop. Like OMD’s “If You Leave” by way of a Sofia Coppola soundtrack, “Graveyard Girl” is, like the rest of the retrograde Saturdays = Youth, a loving tribute to the sound of the band’s own distant adolescence, a fond acknowledgement of just how much our teenage discoveries and tragedies, no matter how lost to adulthood or nostalgia, continue to radiate in our hearts. Jer Fairall



Lyrics Born “I Like It, I Love It”

The latest album from upbeat hip-hop artist Lyrics Born, Everywhere at Once, doesn’t match up to the potency of his 2003 debut, Later That Day… –- aside, that is, from one incredibly groovy and ecstatic track of undiluted bliss. “I Like It, I Love It” is a mid-tempo booty-mover brimming with disco glimmer, but pinned down by a deep, “Brick House”-like rhythm track. Lyrics Born masterfully paces the song’s momentum, inducing multiple peaks of glee during its sub-four-minute run. Michael Keefe



Weezer “Pork and Beans”

Ever since 1996’s Pinkerton, Rivers Cuomo has been writing songs about being an old man, but now that he actually is approaching middle-age, he’s dropped the dour demeanour for a far sillier one. A response to a request from Geffen executives to write more commercial material, “Pork and Beans” is a characteristic dose of Cuomo self-ridicule, with a chorus that, courtesy of some exceptional production from Jacknife Lee, explodes out of the speakers. The song’s impact was certainly aided by the year’s best video. It’s just a shame the rest of the Red Album didn’t live up to it. James Bassett



Lykke Li “Little Bit”

It’s been a very good year for 22-year-old Swedish singer-songwriter Lykke Li, her album Youth Novels topping the charts in Scandinavia early in the year and generating very strong buzz on the internet, ultimately winning over indie fans in North America, and a lot of the credit goes to her winsome first single. Ingeniously produced by Bjorn Yttling, the arrangement is disarmingly minimal, plaintively plucked mandolin strings providing the perfect backdrop for Lykke Li’s unique, not to mention lustful take on modern pop music. Adrien Begrand



Vampire Weekend “A-Punk”

Many tried to ascribe some hip West African origin to the infectious, off-kilter sound of “A-Punk” and the rest of Vampire Weekend’s self-titled debut. Perhaps it’s too easy for that pretentious bunch to simply admit that the Police ever existed. Yes, this cutsey burst of indie-funk was popular as it was polarizing; putting it on at a party could get you a phone number or a punch in the face. But in the end, the haters of these Ivy League, boat-shoe wearing songsters had to admit it: this song is catchy. Louis J. Battaglia



Lil Wayne “A Milli”

Almost as ubiquitous this summer as “A Milli” were the billions of freestyles that showed up on every rap blog. Still, no one could out-stunt Wayne’s original, wherein your favorite Martian’s favorite rapper commands Bangladesh’s block-rattling anti-beat by doing what he does best: rapid-firing jaw-dropping and head-smacking punchlines, following his syrup-addled brain on tangents and back in a matter of seconds, pushing his gnarled rasp to its breaking point and redefining what flow means to rap music. Jordan Sargent



Goldfrapp “A&E”

This isn’t a song about missing someone; something darker lurks just underneath Alison Goldfrapp’s keening, attenuated vocal. No, this is a sublime pop song about being so deranged by sadness and solitude that another night in somehow winds up with you on the floor in the emergency room. The narrator is so desperate for human connection that something horrible happens, and the space “A&E” leaves for our imagination to fill in that blank is it’s most powerful, cruelest trick. Ian Mathers



Kanye West “Love Lockdown”

Let’s face it: “Love Lockdown” isn’t quite a pop-cultural event on the level of, say, “Hey Ya” or “Get Ur Freak On” or (hey!) “Golddigger”. It’s a weirder, moodier, more personal creation that nevertheless possesses the ability make your ass shake. If, in its weirdness, it’s more Andre 3000 than Lil Wayne, it’s also (worth noting) more David Byrne than Al Green—those faux-nerdy suits Kanye’s been wearing for promo shots are, in fact, pure Byrne. It’s also striking evidence that Kanye the AutoTune Soul Man is yet another force to reckon with, in addition to Kanye the Rapper and Kanye the Super-Producer. Josh Timmermann



Radiohead “Reckoner”

You might have noticed the furor over the Radiohead’s pick-your-own-price methodology actually blew over fairly quickly after In Rainbows was released. Songs like “Reckoner” are the reason why. Arguably the greatest triumph of an album hardly short in them, its single release offered individual track stems for fans to remix, but it’s hard to see how they could have improved it. Deceptively simple but devastatingly pretty, “Reckoner” was perfectly judged in all quarters, from the opening clatter of Phil Selway’s drums to Jonny Greenwood’s delicately poised riff and the lush harmonies of its bridge. And then, of course, there’s Thom Yorke’s effortlessly gorgeous vocal, a quite frankly breathtaking reminder of what keeps Radiohead aloft their self-erected pedestal. Chris Baynes



Hercules and Love Affair “Blind”

For six and a half propulsive minutes, Andrew Butler and his breakout dance troupe Hercules and Love Affair ride “Blind”, with its rubbery bass line, unwavering disco beat and hypnotically repeated horn figure, down a one-way street that captured in equal measure the imagination of the dance community and the hearts of the fidgety hipster elite. Co-producer Tim Goldsworthy and his pristine beat-programming provide a typically intricate foundation here, but it is the surprisingly malleable vocal performance of NYC chamber-pop diva Antony Hegarty that will never fail to leave you with a lump in your throat. Jordan Cronk



The Hold Steady “Sequestered in Memphis”

As always, the quintet’s vivid tales of dive bars and sad-faced drifters are gift-wrapped in a bright, sunny package of polished E-Street classic rock. “Sequestered” is a kinetic yet unrushed affair, with cascading piano runs, colorful dollops of saxophone and a chorus that remains simple and memorable even as it employs some tongue-twisting turns of phrase. (Can you name another hit single in the history of pop music that includes the word “subpoenaed”? Bonus SAT points to Craig Finn…) Adam Conner-Simons



Santogold “L.E.S. Artistes”

With the ubiquitous “L.E.S Artistes”, Santogold likely became a name dropped by the Lower East Side hipsters she rails against in the lyrics. What makes the song great, however, is that its appeal is so much wider than the sphere of your average music snob. Santogold’s voice has a robotic quality that brings to mind a number of banal pop numbers from the late ‘90s (Hello Britney.) But “L.E.S Artistes” is exactly the opposite –- an irresistible dose of ‘80s-style, hook-heavy rock. Rachel Kipp



Fleet Foxes “White Winter Hymnal”

If you took a sleigh ride through upstate New York in the dead of December and made your way to a wood-framed, candlelit church only to find the choir staffed by Crosby, Stills and Nash, you’d have an atmosphere akin to that of “White Winter Hymnal.”  It’s two minutes and twenty-seven seconds of melodic bliss, built on lead singer Robin Pecknold’s plaintive wail that turns “the white snow red like strawberries in the summertime.”  Winter never sounded so warm. Tim Slowikowsi



Portishead “Machine Gun”

“Machine Gun” is the undeniable comeback single that re-established Portishead as a force to be reckoned with. In their decade-long absence, popular trip-hop had devolved to the next lazy, exotified groove from Zero 7 or Thievery Corporation. Then that percussion hits –- incessant, hypnotic, overwhelming, deceptively simple. In performance, Geoff Barrow looks almost as though he’s hurting himself just smacking the drum pads to produce the grainy snare snaps. Beth Gibbons, miserable-as-always, the voice of every lonely six-time-loser, enters with “I saw a savior / A savior come my way.” You can’t help but wince a little. David Abravanel



MGMT “Time to Pretend”

MGMT leads a dance party in an 8-bit Garden of Eden on this melodramatic ode to the transitory nature of youth. Armed with a deadly simple synth hook, a driving beat, and an entire cloud of chirpy and gurgly electronic sounds, the band makes a mix of nostalgia, hopefulness, disillusionment, and ironic detachment sound like the most fun you’ve ever had. With a message that boils down to, “It sucks to get old, but at least we can say we had fun that one time,” it’s the perfect anthem for a generation resigned to… well, resignation. Praise MGMT and pass the real estate section. Chris Chafin



Sigur Rós “Gobbledigook”

“Gobbledigook” isn’t just a fantastic way to open the outstanding Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust; it’s one of Sigur Rós’ first forays into the realm of pop. As the barrage of la-la-la’s, hypnotic drum beat, and wavering acoustic strums start up, this Icelandic group has successfully seized unrelenting control of your ear. And although Sigur Rós have crafted their fair share of epically gorgeous tracks, never have they written something this catchy and flat-out fun. Color us impressed. Andrew Martin



Estelle feat. Kanye West “American Boy”

“Featuring Kanye West” is too trite a description of Ye’s role on the Estelle-helmed, “American Boy”. Without him, it’s a predictable trans-Atlantic call for horny trysts across the U.S. The British pop starlet Estelle delivers an agreeably purring vocal, but she doesn’t have enough presence to fill out the song’s projected swagger. Like few others, Kanye does. Who better to play the blustering but insecure Yankee than the Louis Vuitton Don? He musters his trademark panache, humor, and slick rhymin’ (and does he really claim to talk greenbacks because others want him to?), turning this radiant, updated-disco earworm into another breezy victory lap for the king of 21st century pop. Barry Lenser

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