Best of 2008: Top 10 Singles

December 13, 2008

While the pop charts continued to lap up the likes of back-from-the-brink Britney and the usual retreads, a couple of left-of-centre artists have won the hearts of hipsters everywhere. These are new classics, songs that take the elements of great tunes past and reconfigure them into something original and special.  I hope you enjoy them.


#10 Guillemots – Falling Out Of Reach

Guillemots may have pissed off a heap of their fans this year with a glitzy, studio-driven album in place of their previous orchestral fantasias, but their embrace of mainstream pop conventions paid off in “Falling Out Of Reach”. It’s a beautiful, sensitive piece almost guaranteed to soften hard hearts. It’s also one of the least synthesized songs on the album and just as subtle and fluid as anything they’ve ever done.

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#9 Portishead – The Rip

Even if they became associated with a certain polite, dinner-party style of music, Portishead were always a pretty grim band. The decade since their self-titled album – itself a more morose trip than 1994’s Dummy – has only made them more so.  But what songs they’ve got! “The Rip” is futuristic folk music, an utterly idiosyncratic blend of melancholy electronics and bucolic guitar plucking. Beth Gibbons will never be mistaken for another vocalist and here she shows why her band will always be imitated but will always one step ahead.

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The Hold Steady

#8 The Hold Steady – Sequestered In Memphis

As ageing hipsters’ bar band of choice, The Hold Steady could have painted themselves into a corner.  Four albums of literate, boozy rock ‘n’ roll would have lesser bands scraping the bottom of their metaphorical barrel.  Not so The Hold Steady.  “Sequestered In Memphis” is one of the best “story” songs ever released.  As a retelling of shady dealings in the South, the whole song just sounds… illegal.  Chances are, if your next business trip ends with you on the run from the law, this song will be playing on your stolen car’s stereo.

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Throw Me The Statue

#7 Throw Me The Statue – Lolita

Still little known after dropping a delightful, shambolic debut album this year, Throw Me The Statue are a band to watch.  Of all the brilliant indie pop they have released, “Lolita” is a definite highlight.  Whether it’s about the Nabokov novel or not, it’s a rapid-fire, skittering and energetic song in the spirit of the classic 90s lo-fi a la Guided By Voices or Pavement.  The song title may hint at unhealthy desires, but Throw Me The Statue’s musical chops have never been better.

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Jamie Lidell

#6 Jamie Lidell – Another Day

The high point of Jamie Lidell’s new album comes the moment you press play.  “Another Day” is a stellar opening track, full of Lidell’s soulful swagger.  It’s a laidback, funky ode to love and communication.  If he sounds less urgent and hyperactive than before it’s because he seems to be more comfortable in his own skin.  Jamie is happy and wants to share his good vibes with us – and who are we to resist?

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Mystery Jets

#5 Mystery Jets – Two Doors Down

Mystery Jets have produced more timely music than “Two Doors Down” – the rest of their album positively screams “2008!” – but even if this one cops all your older cousin’s 80s moves, it’s a mind-blowingly good song.  Rather than an inane throwback for the 20 year reunion crowd, “Two Doors Down” is using the sounds of the past to generate that feeling of youth and possibility.  We often forget that chiming synths and saxophone solos were once the cutting edge.  Mystery Jets make them sound fresh again.

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#4 M83 – Kim & Jessie

Even if he hadn’t told us, it would be obvious that M83’s Anthony Gonzalez wanted to recreate the feel of a classic John Hughes movie with his latest album.  Nothing is more 80s teen flick soundtrack-worthy than “Kim & Jessie”, an ode to misfits everywhere.  But it’s not just Simple Minds or Tears for Fears redux.  M83’s fusion of retro-pop, shoegaze ambience and pulsating electronics is something else entirely.  Gonzalez nails the same “feel” without mimicry and it’s even more potent than any of the songs it calls to mind.

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#3 Alphabeat – Fascination

Taking a leaf from decades of chart-busting Scandopop, Alphabeat are a young band with a mission to make “pop” cool again.  They’re glossier than anything short of Ace of Base, but they’ve got a DIY aesthetic that the sheen can’t hide.  Under it all, Alphabeat are kids mucking around with instruments and accidentally hitting upon the magical formula for pop.  Their calling card will always be “Fascination”, a song full of innocence and passion in every handclap.

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Sigur Ros

#2 Sigur Rós – Inní Mér Syngur Vitleysingur

“This sounds like Coldplay,” was my initial reaction to this anthemic, baroque pop song – but that’s selling it ridiculously short.  In a year in which Coldplay lunged for avant garde cred, Sigur Rós showed them how to be artistic trailblazers AND be heart-on-sleeve romantics.  It’s as euphoric and transcendent as any of the Icelandic band’s post-rock back catalogue, while being the most immediate and hummable song they’ve ever penned.  It’s a potent gateway drug that could lure many an impressionable music fan into a new world of experimental music.

[mp3 file]

Kristoffer Ragnstam

#1 Kristoffer Ragnstam – Swing That Tambourine

This young Swedish troubadour has a knack for off-kilter arrangements that disarm you, making you powerless to resist his hooks.  “Swing That Tambourine” is the perfection of his technique: subdued verses, a tension-building pre-chorus and then…BAM!  He hits you with a chorus so rollicking and triumphant, you’ll want to reach for the nearest tambourine and swing it like nobody’s business.  It’s the soundtrack to a new Summer of Love, a danceclub anthem and 2008’s best single by miles.

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  1. Ah, finally I’ll get to hear that Kristoffer Ragnstam track. I admit, I’m one of the ones who hated Red, but I’ll give that track a try.

  2. He’s not really well known right now, but I’m sure that’s changing. I hope you enjoy it!

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