The Best Singles of 2008


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




“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




“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