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Call for Music Critics and Essayists: If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by our quality readership.

The Best Singles of 2008


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





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


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




“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




“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




“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” 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