17 Tracks Presents the Top 25 Songs of 2008

Before 2008 you could get a house that far exceeded your paycheck. Before 2008 you could run for President (or Vice President) but had to be old, white, and male. Before 2008 you could tune into Total Request Live and catch 30 seconds of America's favorite music videos. What a difference a year makes. The demise of TRL wasn't significant in and of itself, but it symbolized a larger trend. America no longer gets its music force fed through the usual media funnels of television or radio. Even with the internet and such ubiquitous sites as YouTube or Last.FM, there is no singular institution telling you what to listen to. Combine that with the worst year the record industry has ever faced, and that seems like a disaster waiting to happen. It probably is, and the Obama administration might have to extend Bush's bailout plan to save record companies and keep our iPods full, but it has made for some great music. With the stakes being raised, artists are forced to put out innovative and compelling music if they have a prayer of keeping their job. And marketing this music to a generation that refuses to be a fan of a single genre, instead labeling themselves as liking "pretty much anything" (with the obligatory "except country, rap, techno, or screamo") on their Facebook profile opens a lot of doors. The boundaries blurred more in 2008 than ever before. Maybe Kanye was right. Even if you don't think he's the new Elvis, there is no doubt that "we are the new Beatles". Click on the song name to watch the YouTube video. Merry Christmas!
"Viva La Vida"
Coldplay
Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends
Following 2005's X&Y, Coldplay found itself quickly becoming the biggest band of the decade but, their record was nothing more than a rehash of their previous work. Knowing that they needed to knock the next one out of the park to justify and keep up with their growing popularity, they teamed up with Brian Eno and ended up crafting the anthem of 2008. It's all there, the strings, the gentle but insistent drum beat, and the religious references. All that's missing is the actual use of the words "viva la vida" anywhere in the song. Martin sweeps the streets he used to own as he nostalgically remembers the time when he used to rule the world. Of course, they do rule the world right now, but assuming they eventually becomes irrelevant and are consigned to playing at casinos and state fairs, 2008 will be the year they think back to as Martin sings, "I hear Jerusalem bells are ringing, Roman cavalry choirs are singing, be my mirror, my sword, my shield, my missionaries in a foreign field...that was when I ruled I world".

"L.E.S. Artiste"
Santogold
Santogold
Santi White has been many things in her lifetime. She's been a singer in a punk rock band, a music major, an A&R rep for Epic Records, and finally, she landed a recording contract herself. White's background provides the context for her genre-defying debut, mixing new wave, hip-hop, indie, pop, and what we can safely assume is that golden glitter she throws up on the album sleeve. Her second single is a triumphant expression of the vindication that comes from finally "making it" on your own while doubling as a middle finger to all the pretentious hipsters of the Lower East Side. As much as she dislikes the wannabes, her song gives them exactly what they want. Standing firmly at the crossroads of Popjustice and Pitchfork, "L.E.S. Artiste" is pure melodic bliss but it's just too cool to be a guilty pleasure. It's the masterpiece of the most forward thinking woman in pop today.

"Black and Gold"
Sam Sparro
Sam Sparro
At face value, "Black and Gold" is a certified dance floor filler. Irresistible synth lines pulse along as Sparro croons about not having a life worth living without that special someone. Of course, that's a topic routinely covered in dance music, but upon further listening, it's apparent that he's not talking about a woman, but God. "If vision is the only validation, then most of my life isn't real... 'cause if you're not really here then it's all just a bunch of matter". It's as intelligent as pop music ever gets and has a good shot at winning the Grammy for Best Dance Recording this February.

"Spiraling"
Keane
Perfect Symmetry
If the Killers are an American band trying to sound British, then Keane 2008 is a British band trying to sound like that one American band that's trying to sound British. Tom Chaplin does his best Brandon Flowers impersonation, even nailing the desperate and compelling voice that we've come to know and love. "When we fall in love we're just falling in love with ourselves" he muses as the killer hook swoops in to rescue you from loosing all hope of ever finding your one true love.

"Sex On Fire"
Kings of Leon
Only By The Night
The Kings of Leon's greatest weakness is sounding a little too much like Nickelback. Thankfully, you couldn't tell it by listening to "Sex On Fire". This arena-ready rock number fulfills their destiny of being the southern Strokes more than any other track to date.

"Electric Feel"
MGMT
Oracular Spectacular
Forget "Kids" and "Time To Pretend", MGMT's ode to being shocked by love is where it's at. With one foot firmly planted in 80's electro revival, and the other in the future, "Electric Feel" shocks in its own right. Even pop purists who eschew anything remotely indie will find themselves tapping their foot uncontrollably.

"Just Dance"
Lady Gaga
The Fame
Stefani Germanotta spent two and a half years trying to put together a debut that would allow her to wear her influences on her sleeve (Prince, Madonna, David Bowie) but be hip and underground. Ironically enough, once she stopped caring and just wrote a song about something as trite as dancing, she pulled it off.

"Sandcastle Disco"
Solange
Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dream
While her older, better known sister spent the year contemplating a sex change and breathing fire on any man who hasn't proposed on the second date, Solange made a convincing argument that she is the next Diana Ross. Oozing the classic Motown sound, Solange shows a softer, more vulnerable side to the Knowles family.

"Human"
The Killers
Day & Age
Brandon Flowers asks the year's most confusing but important question inspired by the late Hunter Thompson's remarks of the softness of America's youth. Are we human or are we dancer? The Killers have shown a wide variety of influences throughout their career, but teaming up with Madonna producer, Stuart Price, the Killers have finally embraced the inevitable neo-New Order comparisons.

"Love Lockdown"
Kanye West
808's & Heartbreak
Considering all the hype surrounding Mr. West's debut of "Love Lockdown" at the VMA's, it was understandable to feel a little let down. It's not like it's his most melodic track to date, and it features absolutely no rapping. Instead, Kanye plugged in the auto-tune and turned on the drum machine to prove that emo knows no boundaries. It sounds like it wouldn't work, but it does.

"Lost+"
Coldplay feat. Jay-Z
Prospekt's March EP
"Lost" is Viva La Vida's most instant track. Naturally, Jay-Z, who loves to get his fingers on a potential hit, provided a bridge for the song's release. Both Chris Martin and Jay provide poetic verses, and, without budging an inch artistically, create the best collaboration of the year.

"Womanizer"
Britney Spears
Circus
Blaring sirens announce the return of Britney Spears in her most repetitious song to date. Considering the number of times she snarls the title, it's surprising that the song actually gets better the more you hear it. It just goes to show you that with the right producers, anything is possible.

"Homecoming"
Kanye West feat. Chris Martin
Graduation
One of Graduation's final hoo-rah's, "Homecoming" was only a taste of what was to come by year's end. Martin's piano and unmistakable crooning add a unique flavor to the song, especially when he sings about fireworks over Lake Michigan.

"Please Don't Stop The Music"
Rihanna
Good Girl Gone Bad
One of the few singles Rihanna released this year that didn't go #1, "Don't Stop" towers over them all as a model pop song, perfectly structured in every way. The track would be able to stand on it's own without the Michael Jackson sample, but the "mammasaymammasay" raises it to a new level.

"Bleeding Love"
Leona Lewis
Spirit
Why isn't Leona Lewis dead yet? She's been bleeding for six months, hasn't she? But seriously, with the distorted organ, sick percussion, and killer hook, Mariah Carey has got to be green with envy. Simon's star making machine has finally struck international gold in a big way.

"Heartless"
Kanye West
808's & Heartbreak
How do you categorize "Heartless"? The production is hip-hop, but Kanye still isn't rapping, and the content is pure emo. At least the minimalist synth let you tap your feet as West laments the pain of falling for a heartless vixen.

"Mercury"
Bloc Party
Intimacy
If Britney Spears was a male rock star who wielded a guitar instead of a female popstar who wielded her sexuality, this would be her "Toxic". The "4 Minutes"-esque horns blare amid remixed shouts of "my mercury's in retrograde"and it takes you so high that you can't come down.

"Falling Rockets"
Cicada
Cicada
Although Cicada is best known for their remixes of New Order and Depeche Mode, "Falling Rockets" is their latest in a string of critically acclaimed singles they've released themselves. Soft and understated, it slowly descends upon its listeners and lodges itself firmly in their brain.

"Break The Ice"
Britney Spears
Blackout
Released right after the peak of all her very public breakdown, "Break The Ice" never got the attention it deserved. Despite the anime music video, it's one of Blackout's strongest tracks thanks to the eerie electro church organ and it's relentless build.

"My Drive Thru"
Santogold, Pharell, & Julian Casablancas
Converse Single
To promote their shoes, Converse asked some of music's most innovative minds to put together a free downloadable single. The result? Three entirely different songs stitched together courtesty of N.E.R.D. Despite the varied backgrounds of the contributors, the track flows flawlessly.

"Live Your Life"
T.I. feat. Rihanna
Paper Trail
I can hardly stand the song now -- it's been ridiculously overplayed. I still can't shake the memory of hearing "Live Your Life" for the first time. T.I.'s decision to sample the Numa Numa song should have been a train wreck, instead it's a stroke of genius.

"Violet Hill"
Coldplay
Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends
The buzzing guitar during the bridge sends a shiver down your spine in Coldplay's lightest, yet most political song of the year. My only regret is that that Iraqi reporter decided to exersize his newly aquired freedom and throw a shoe at Bush after the video was made. The bipartisan approach to dancing politicians is surprising considering Martin's assertion that "the FOX became a god".
"My Delirium"
Ladyhawke
Ladyhawke
And you thought that Flight of the Conchords was the best thing to come out of New Zealand. The land of the long white cloud's Ladyhawke shows what Rachel Stevens should have done, a hard edged punk sound that's not afraid of a little synth.

"Let It Rock"
Kevin Rudolf feat. Lil. Wayne
In The City
If I had a million dollars for every time rock critics say someone sounds like U2, I would be a multi-millionaire. If I had a million dollars for every time they were right, I would get about half as much money. Interestingly enough, the year's most U2-esque track didn't come from one of the minions of bands following in Bono's footsteps, but a former hip-hop studio musician fusing what he does best with techno and arena rock.


"Pork And Beans"
Weezer
Weezer
In 3 minutes and 19 seconds, Weezer perfectly summed up what it means to grow up in the late 00's. The shameless online self promotion, the digital democratization of nearly every aspect of life, Timbaland's uncanny ability to make a hit -- this is what the iGeneration is all about. And
then you have the music video. Pure genius.


Honorable Mentions:
"Swagga Like Us" - T.I. feat Jay-Z & Kanye West
"Time To Pretend" - MGMT
"Love Story" - Taylor Swift
"Blind" - Hercules & The Love Affair
"A Milli" - Lil Wayne

3 comments:

vicm said...

Yay! Finally, the 17 Tracks music of the year! This list would work a lot better as a mix than the summer list, huh?

Anonymous said...

Good list, though my rock 'n roll bias makes me question the order of the tracks. Weezer is only #25? Anyway, here's to a great year for 17 Tracks and hopefully 17 more!

Bronson said...

I'm surprised that "Sister Spears" didn't make it any higher.

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