The best singles of 2008 so far
To my slight surprise, almost all of my favorite singles of 2008 so far as electronic in nature. No doubt that's due in large part to my changing tastes (you can see the transition occurring here, here, here and here), but it's also due to the renaissance in electronic music taking place over the last few years. Once-marginal acts are getting mainstream attention, and genres are blending to a point of becoming irrelevant labels. In fact, the electronic tent has grown so wide that it's tough to cite too many similarities between the songs listed here. Some are dancefloor-driven, others are quieter explorations, while yet others are uniquely experimental. To me, that breadth of options is a very encouraging development, and I, for one, can't wait to see what's up ahead.
15) "C.Y.O.A." - HEARTSREVOLUTION
* MP3: "C.Y.O.A." - HEARTSREVOLUTION from "C.Y.O.A." EP [Buy it]
* Previously: You say you want revolution
14) "Beeper" - Count and Sinden ft. Kid Sister
Along with The Cool Kids' "Gold and a Pager," this seems to be the year to celebrate outdated technology. If so, I'm looking forward to seeing a A-Trak track called "56K Modem" or a Ocelot club-banger called "Rotary Telephone." If not, we've still got the supremely likable "Beeper" to enjoy. It's got some mid-section verses from Flosstradamus sis Kid Sister, who rhymes just like her name suggests--affable, cute, non-threatening. But it's the chorus that wins me over most, stuttering out "beep-uh-beep-uh-beep-uh" onomatopoetically to the chirp of those dinosaur devices.
13) "U.R.A. Fever" - The Kills
You can practically smell the cigarette smoke wafting from their lips. VV's pharmacy lipstick smeared messily across her mouth, Hotel sweating in a vintage suede jacket. "U.R.A. Fever" sounds grungy, punctuated with wayward noises and a sinister drum machine. Both singers come off as jaded and louche, with VV especially purring out every line like a femme fatale. And when they talk of debauched fates like "livin' in a suitcase" and "eyes like a casino," unlike other performers, it sounds like they know exactly what they're talking about.
* MP3: "U.R.A. Fever" - The Kills from "U.R.A. Fever" EP [Buy it]
12) "Graveyard Girl" - M83
"Graveyard Girl" is a portal back in time, to decorated lockers, gym streamers and bag lunches. Not only is its sound Members Only '80s, but its Goth girl infatuation is an instant callback for quarterlifers like me and Anthony Gonzalez. Every school had its clique of eyeliner-abusing, funeral-ready sulkers, and M83's tribute to them is appropriately poetic and sensitive. "She worships Satan like a father, but dreams of a sister like Molly Ringwald," he says, in one of many dead-on descriptions. Even better at capturing a teenager's overwrought drama: "I'm fifteen years old and I feel it's already too late to live." And just like that, Gonzalez distills a hundred late-night diary entries into one pitch-perfect line.
* MP3: "Graveyard Girl" - M83 from "Graveyard Girl" EP [Buy it]
11) "Motor" - SebastiAn
Surely the most divisive song on this list, "Motor" is four-minutes-plus of electronic noise. Whether that prospect excites you or irritates you, it's hard to remain neutral on a track so proudly in-your-face. French DJ Sebastian Akchoté simulates a motor revving over and over, like some Formula One snippet with the needle skipping. A pounding bass thumps in and out of the mix too, giving the song an additional punch. And it even squeals and creaks as if it's hitting sharp turns. All these effects sound pretty good at my desk, but in a club, speeding out of a powerful soundsystem, is when "Motor" really kicks into overdrive.
* MP3: "Motor" - SebastiAn from "Motor" EP [Buy it]
10) "Wait for the Summer" - Yeasayer
This is the kind of song that they'll use to sell air freshener someday. Much like Royal Caribbean co-opted Iggy Pop's heroin ode "Lust for Life" to peddle cruises, "Wait for the Summer" sounds ripe for misinterpretation. It's gleefully summery, with soaring vocal melodies and a thick appliqué of tambourines. But its happy handclaps can't hide its dark exterior, a Eminem-esque tale of shooting your wife in a drunk stupor and being haunted by her murder. Knowing that story radically recasts the music, not as a celebration but a desperate escape. Not that I expect that should bother the ad execs. Let the bidding wars begin!
* MP3: "Wait for the Summer" - Yeasayer from "Wait for the Summer" EP [Buy it]
9) "Ready For The Floor" - Hot Chip
8) "The Healer" - Erykah Badu
After Baduizm's multi-platinum success, Erykah Badu could've easily shed her weirder eccentricities. Like a political candidate tilting toward the center, she could've Diane Warren-ed it up and offset her quirks with syrupy ballads. Remarkably, she's veered even further off-kilter, getting more anti-commercial with every release. "The Healer" is the best product of that idiosyncrasy (Worldwide Underground the worst), a track that could only have originated from Badu. It's hypnotically strange, unfurling over Madlib's minimal beat and invoking an ideology that's both impenetrable and defiantly personal.
* MP3: "The Healer" - Erykah Badu from "The Healer" EP [Buy it]
7) "Invaders" - DSL
* MP3: "Invaders" - DSL from "Invaders" EP [Buy it]
6) "Paper Planes" - M.I.A.
Everyone lost their shit over "Paper Planes" in 2007, but it wasn't officially released as a single until March. I didn't mind since "Down River" and "Jimmy" were always more my jams anyway. Still, there's no denying this song's luster any more than you can downplay its ubiquity. Acts as acclaimed as Holy Fuck, DFA, Adrock, and Bun B lined up to put their unique stamps on it, and it appeared on virtually every playlist of every party I attended. The only competitor even coming close in indie hype-lah last year was Justice's D.A.N.C.E. Now that the noise has faded, it remains an amazingly addictive track hitting every pleasure center in sight. An oh yeah, guess what, it's got gunshots!
5) "Lovely Allen" - Holy Fuck
This song makes me miss San Francisco. It's the kind of music I'd listen to when I'd set off on long walks to nowhere, exploring Golden Gate Park or Tenderloin crack alleys to a sympathetic soundtrack. But even more central to my wandering was the city's landscape, packed with tremendous hills and dips. Walking up a steep slope, seeing the cyan-sky city unfurl around me, it felt like an epiphany. And that's how I feel about "Lovely Allen," which builds and builds majestically until cresting open into mini-revelations. It's the upward climb to the horizon line, but also the euphoria of learning just how much beauty surrounds you.
* MP3: "Lovely Allen" - Holy Fuck from "Lovely Allen" EP [Buy it]
4) "Je Veux Te Voir" - Yelle
Frankly, Jay-Z's "Takeover" and Company Flow's "Linda Trip" don't come close to touching the toxicity of "Je Veux Te Voir." As dis songs go, this one is so plainspokenly cruel and dismantling that I for one will never mess with Yelle. Tearing apart Cuizinier of Parisian hip-hop group TTC, she opens with "avec ton petit sexe entoure de poils roux/ Je n’arrive pas a croire que tu puisses croire qu’on veuille de toi." (Roughly: "With your tiny dick surrounded by red pubes,/ I can't believe you can believe anyone wants you.") From there, she compares his member to a French fry, calls him a Li'l Jon fan mimicking American rappers, and even advises, "Garde ta chemise, ça limitera les degats, batard." ("Keep your T-shirt on, it'll limit the damage, bastard.") And on top of all that, the song samples "Short Dick Man." But the very worst revenge? Making "Je Veux Te Voir" so poppy and playful that it became a huge single.
* MP3: "Je Veux Te Voir" - Yelle from "Je Veux Te Voir" EP [Buy it]
3) "Royal Flush" - Big Boi ft. Andre 3000 and Raekwon
In my more skeptical moments, I think the reason I love "Royal Flush," "Int'l Player's Anthem (I Choose You)" and "Da Art of Storytellin' Part 4" so much is the law of supply. With Big Boi and Andre 3000 trickling out tracks so painfully piecemeal, diehard fans like me will take whatever we can get. And of course, it's easier to obsess over a certain track when you only have that track. Still, even in perspective, both of Outkast's last at-bats have all been unqualified home runs, standing up to the best of the group's catalog. "Royal Flush" finds this "Skew It On The Bar-B" reunion easily continuing the win streak. All three men rhyme like rappers hungry for fame rather than established legends, and their flows mesh as perfectly as ever. It almost makes me wish Outkast tracks would only appear in six-month intervals.
2) "Creator" - Santogold
It was my #5 song of 2007, and time has done nothing to blunt its frenetic goodness. From its intro, where Santi White emotes like a cat in heat, to the chorus, where she punches out every word like a phonetics exercise, the vocals on "Creator" are exactly what this song requires. They're brave, they're bizarre, they're unapologetic. Switch and Freq Nasty's beat steps up to the challenge, matching Santogold's prickly weirdness with their own bells-and-whistles. Their production slinks and seesaws through a gauntlet of electronic effects, merrily tossing in every trick in the book. And so "Creator," an anthem for all the artists coming up, ultimately pays the biggest tribute to its own up-and-coming stars.
* MP3: "Creator" - Santogold from "Creator" EP [Buy it]
1) "Machine Gun" - Portishead
Stand back or run for cover. This is "Machine Gun"'s moment, a glorious endpoint for these endtimes. Effortlessly synthesizing industrial, pop, avant and electronic, it draws on the past to decimate the future. With every malevolent snare, drum slap, and rat-a-tat-tatting machine, it lays waste even as it mourns the fallout. Beth Gibbons has never sounded more gorgeous, trying to eulogize her own self-destruction. But even she can't survive the heavy shelling occurring around her. The last minute becomes purely instrumental, led by a synthesizer singing a dirge. Like Gibbons, it sounds conflicted, unsure whether to continue the bloodletting or accept an inevitable surrender.
* MP3: "Machine Gun" - Portishead from "Machine Gun" EP [Buy it]
* Previously: For I am guilty for the voice that I obey
Up next: The best albums of 2008 so far