30The Felice Brothers
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
"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
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
27Death 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
"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
"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
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 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
"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
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