The Top 50 Songs of 2008

The Top 50 Albums of 2008

Ladytron “Ghosts”

As time goes on, Ladytron comes closer and closer to becoming a muscular, meaty rock `n’ roll band, just one with more synthesizers than a Rick Wakeman/Brian Eno steel cage match. On “Ghosts,” that finally came to fruition, as a badass, distorted groove rockets the band straight to cybernetic glam rock heaven, finding a happy medium between “Metal Guru” and “Personal Jesus.” The eerie ambience surrounding the sexy swagger brings those ghosts to life, as Helen Marnie’s own haunted vocals seem to teeter between distance and regret as she coos, “there’s a ghost in me/ that wants to say I’m sorry/ it doesn’t mean I’m sorry.” Only a rock star could go from sentimental to ruthless in just one line. – Jeff Terich

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Cadence Weapon “Real Estate”

When Rollie Pemberton incited a crowd to shout “I made a deal today/ I’m selling real estate” at SXSW earlier this year, I couldn’t help but think he had a certified hit single on his hands. On “Real Estate,” Cadence Weapon parallels hip-hop’s territorialism to those commission-chasing Guy Smileys in red blazers, positing “you’re on a lease if you’re major label” while joking “weather’s on your side if you go down South/ over there it’s okay to wear gold in your mouth.” But it all comes back to that monumental chorus, catchier than West Nile virus, bigger than too-big-to-fail Freddie Mac. Only this bubble won’t burst. – Jeff Terich

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The Presets “This Boy’s In Love”

A decidedly darker outfit than compatriots Cut Copy, The Presets envision the specter of new wave shrouded in curdling synth, bone-rattling bass, and the lyrical sentiments of a lover scorned. “This Boy’s In Love” is, well, a love song. Sort of. The piano chills almost as much as Julian Hamilton’s booming baritone, and is best enjoyed in the slow-motion flicker of straying strobes. Glass-cut purification by fire—”tonight we’re burning all the dark times“—flicks the flames of a torrid love affair amid persistent club beats. The most beautiful thing under city lights? Probably. – Mars Simpson

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TV on the Radio “Family Tree”

Sometimes you hear just the opening of a song and you know it’s going to be good. Maybe it’s a muscular riff or a first lyric. For “Family Tree,” it was the first echoing chord. It was unexpected. The entire song was, actually: A slow love song between all the funkiness and danciness and even chk-chk-chk-iness of Dear Science. Not that TV on the Radio can’t do a heartfelt ditty (“Ambulance” comes to mind), but “Family Tree” is something different. It’s a big, lush pop ballad. I don’t mean that in the pejorative or anything. It builds like a big pop ballad and delivers like a big pop ballad, but it doesn’t become saccharine like a big pop ballad. It may be because the subject matter is bleak and smartly explored. There’s a forbidden love “brought down by an idea whose time has come“—maybe a Montague/Capulet-style feud, or perhaps an interracial couple as the mention of gallows may suggest. And yet there’s that idea of reconciliation beyond the grave, a hopeful end like the Olivier/Oberon Wuthering Heights. If this song was meant as a slow dance, it would be for the ghosts of the Romeos and Juliets and Heathcliffs and Catherines. I’d like to be a wallflower at that dance just to see all of them share that last song before, finally, they have their quiet slumber in adjacent plots of earth. – Hubert Vigilla

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MGMT “Electric Feel”

It went down as the rare track Justice actually diminished by remixing—they pretty much called it a year soon thereafter. The lithe, coiled original remains the year’s coolest track, a saucy cartoon of dipsy-do eroticism that makes me think, in no particular order, of overpixelation, the lines at Disneyland, Evangeline Lilly, peanut butter sandwiches, that Carl Hiaasen quote about sleeping with endangered reptiles not being a constitutional right, and MySpace bands wondrously codifying themselves as metal/tropical/funk and pop/traditional/other. MGMT, to be sure, are more ‘other’ than traditional, preening pranksters who somehow devised a bassline as balletic as instant replay, diagnosed themselves with some very literal jungle fever, and shook out the line “you can feel it in your mind/oh, you can do it all the time.” No ghostwriter’s wittier or more welcome than Dr. Seuss, after all. – Anthony Strain

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Vampire Weekend “A-Punk”

2008 can be summed up as the year that White America went gaga for Vampire Weekend. After building an enormous following largely through blog hype and their self-titled EP, “A-Punk” became the bouncy anthem that introduced Vampire Weekend to the MTV types. Despite the minor gripe that the song makes little sense lyrically, “A-Punk” is far and away the best second-for-second song of the year, clocking in at just over two minutes. Though it’s not as cute as “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” or “Oxford Comma,” “A-Punk” is the most danceable Vampire Weekend song to date and is the one that transferred the band from Internet sensation to real life phenomenon. – Tyler Weir

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Fleet Foxes “Ragged Wood”

Like much of Fleet Foxes’ debut album, “Ragged Wood” was written piecemeal, encompassing all the pastoral imagery, Sunday morning vocals and finger-plucked tangents that made these Seattle pups one of the best new acts of ’08. Even as this song in particular seems to have evolved bit by bit – skipping lithely between its opening verses, sidestepping a chorus altogether for a traveling bard interlude until a soft drum beat summons its extended coda – every transition feels entirely natural. By abandoning any routine structure, “Ragged Wood” explores themes instead of hooks, able to settle and swell on a whim. More contemplative than the nimble jaunt of Fleet Foxes’ other standout track, “White Winter Hymnal,” but every bit as spirited, the song allows the band to revel in their classic rock influences as much as follow in the footsteps of their more endearing folk tendencies. As much like a honey-and-milk brunch as a stately sunset, “Ragged Wood” leaves you refreshed and wishing it wasn’t over so soon. – Dustin Allen

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Port O’Brien “I Woke Up Today”

“I Woke Up Today” manages to talk about nothing remarkable in an indelibly familiar tone. Diamond rings and the like are mere tools to outline universally fuzzy, half-joyful bleariness. On 2007’s The Wind and the Swell, the song was an optimum subdued sing-along around about the point where Dufus and Moby Grape collide. It re-emerged on All We Could Do Was Sing as the kind of anthem that makes a cell-phone seem semi-interesting. The Arcade Fire is an obvious reference point, and it’s there because of standards reached rather than serviced lips. Commendably, “I Woke Up Today” manages to pack a lot of what’s interesting and good about Port O Brien into three easy-access minutes. A Michel Gondry-tinged indie mini-epic that’s all the better for putting early day exhumation at the centre of tons of exuberance. – Thomas Lee

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Deerhunter “Agoraphobia”

“Agoraphobia” might be the most blissful song about getting buried alive. Recalling the subdued pop of the Velvet Underground, guitarist Lockett Pundt takes the reins and proves to be a sweetly understated singer. The melancholic lyrics (“I lose my voice, I know/ but I’ve nothing left to say“) are accompanied by sunlit psych-pop melodies. If it weren’t for Pundt’s seductive way of singing, “come for me/cover me,” the sexual undertones would be buried (ha!). It’s a wildly provocative song disguised as with sweetly innocent melodies, but above all, “Agoraphobia” is masterfully done. – Jackie Im

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Hercules and Love Affair “Blind”

Six and a half minutes were all it took to carve out a spot for DJ Andrew Butler and his breakout dance collective in the pantheon of great electronic acts. DFA MVP Tim Goldsworthy helps churn out a propulsive beat while special guest Antony (of Antony & the Johnsons) Hegarty brings his supple warble to the passionately plaintive lyrics. Not since “All My Friends” have the hipsters had a song that they could dance and cry to at the same time. – Robert Huff

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