This year was somewhat lackluster for me, no matter how hard I tried to give all these new-fangled indie blog Pitchfork bands a chance. Some of'em impressed me and made the list, but you'll still mostly find the same ol' bands in my top 10.
First some honorable mentions, which really make this a top 13 instead of a top 10. But whatever.
The Decemberists "Valerie Plame"
I just bought all the Always the Bridesmaid singles yesterday so I'm a bit late to the game. This is a catchy ditty with another fun Colin vocal along with a fun Colin tune. There's nothing really exemplary here, but I'll take all the pop tunes I can get from this band before they release theirfull-on Decemberists prog-rock-opera in 2009. I fear for the future.
Franz Ferdinand "Lucid Dreams"
I tend to forget how much I like Franz Ferdinand until they release an album, then I get all tangled up in Franz Mania again. 2005's You Could Have It So Much Better was stellar and, despite all the talk about techno/tribal/Devo/whatever inspirations (you know, the same stuff ALL bands say about the album they're recording), this song is classic Ferdinand. Here's a video of some kid playing the drums along with the song.
Frightened Rabbit "The Twist"
My teammate on Iron Ruckus, Drury Pants, told me to download this album. I did. This is a good song from an album that is better than I thought it would be. Honestly, a band named Frightened Rabbit, in my head, plays eight minute long instrumentals featuring a wide variety of objects, none of which are instruments, and names all their songs after unsung political documents of the 1800s. Anyway, this song disproves that notion since it's a high enjoyable song with just the right amount of emotion and crazy (I loves some crazy in my music).
10. The Kills "Sour Cherry"
I read somewhere (probably Pitchfork) that all a Kills' song is is a drumbeat and vaguely sexy/dangerous lyrics. Good enough for me. Thanks to Frank, another Ruckuser (is that what we are? Ironer? Ironer Ruckuser?), for suggesting I download Midnight Boom, which is a lot better than No Wow was when I listened to it years ago.
9. Vampire Weekend "Oxford Comma"
Just like I did with the Strokes in 2001, I came around to Vampire Weekend. I don't like Paul Simon, I don't dig their aesthetic, and I hate how overhyped they were. I managed to hear this album in its entirety numerous times in various places before finally downloading it just a few months ago, which shows how ubiquitous this album was. This is a good song and one of the real standouts from the album. The guitar solo reminds me of Brenda Lee's Christmas songs from the '50s, so that might explain why I like it.
8. Tilly & the Wall "Pot Kettle Black"
I love sass and this song sizzles with so much sexy sass that I can't stand it. The chorus is pretty euphoric when it finally erupts after almost ninety seconds of tap-dancing anxiety.
7. R.E.M. "Living Well is the Best Revenge"
I've always been a fan of R.E.M. singles, but I wrote them off a while ago when their singles started being boring or, well, nonexistant. Accelerate was a huge surprise and actually ended up being one of my favorite albums of the year. R.E.M. basically do what I say every band needs to do when their discography starts hitting double digits: turn up the volume. It seems that with age every band gets slower and more introspective, which leads to boring and uninspired albums (like Reveal and Around the Sun). With this song, R.E.M. makes it seem insanely easy to recapture the urgency and sound of a band fresh out of their garage. Plus, Mike Mills' backing harmonies in this song are outstanding.
6. She & Him "Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?"
I've avoided M. Ward for a while now based solely on my usual dislike of singer/songwriter types, but pairing him with The Girl Who Sings Real Good From Elf got me interested. This song is pure pop genius. It's like it was unearthed from a time capsule from 1967, and that is just fine with me.
5. The Futureheads "Work Is Never Done"
I love Ross Millard's voice and the fact that this is his only appearance on This Is Not The World is a postpunk tragedy. At least his one contribution is as rambunctious and driving as this one, which has some awesomely overdramatic lyrics that are fun to scream along to. Plus I like how Ross sings the word 'run.'
4. Beyonce "Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)"
From being the inspiration for one of the best Saturday Night Live bits this year to causing a veritable storm of people trying to do the choreography on YouTube, there's no way I could keep this song off the list. Everything about this song is joy, even the part where Beyonce quotes Buzz Lightyear.
3. Oasis "The Shock of the Lightning"
Better than "Lyla" and "The Hindu Times," this song got the word out that a very different Oasis was emerging in 2008. No longer the song-based melody makers of 2005's delightful Don't Believe the Truth, the Oasis of 2008 proved to be challenging, difficult and ultimately rewarding. This song itself grew on me until I was won over by the pulse-pounding drums and classicly irrelevant and irreverent lyrics. This ranks up there with some of their earliest and best work.
2. The Features "Still Lost"
For a band that I used to see three times a week, it was odd getting their new album and not being in Tennessee to go to all the release shows and hear them workshop the new songs in concert. "Still Lost" is a tiny song with a big heart, as saccharine as that sounds. The slow build, the back and forth sway of Matt Pelham's vocal delivery and the psychotic squeal of Mark Bond's keyboards all make this song one of the Features' best. It manages to tell a full story in two minutes, to me, with the early wariness of the vocal delivery being replaced by confidence towards the end. The emotions in the song ring so true with me that, I have to admit, it's the only song on this list that has made me work in the waterworks factory. The live version below isn't the best, but at least its something.
1. The Go! Team "Milk Crisis"
The song first appeared on the bonus disc to 2007's spectacular Proof of Youth, but this new version, featuring a new verse in English that is actually understandable, completely dominated my 2008. It's fast, triumphant, unstable, cocky and pretty much how all music should sound. I still haven't gotten enough of this song even if I have listened to it over a hundred times.