Vampire Weekend – Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa. All Vampire Weekend’s Paul Simon comparisons lead back to this. Over a crisp Afro beat with a touch of calypso, Ezra Koenig namechecks Peter Gabriel then subverts their apparent lack of cool by yelling, "Do you wanna fuck? Like I know I do". Oooh!
The Verve – Love Is Noise. By penning a song to love itself, the band stumbled upon a high point in their on-off career. Some found the stuttering Space Invaders loop inhibiting, but dig deep and you’ll find an anthem as big as Richard Ashcroft’s heart.
Wiley – Wearing My Rolex. Hot Chip’s retooling showed that beneath the original’s just-the-right-side-of-minimal production and tribal, hypnotic beats lay a tune versatile enough to appeal to neon-clad hipsters and speccy schmindie fans alike. A bona-fide grime banger.
Oasis – I’m Outta Time. Liam’s been building up to this song for a while now, his first stone-cold classic and the undisputable highlight of ‘Dig Out Your Soul’. A Lennon-esque ballad complete with spoken-word Lennon sample, this could easily have been called ‘Lennon Is Ace’ – yet it was never embarrassing, such was Liam’s obvious, unselfconscious sincerity, the key to his, and this song’s, charm.
Oasis – The Shock Of The Lightning. This was a perfect trailer for the confident ‘Dig Out Your Soul’, showing off the groove now perfectly complementing their swaggering rock’n’roll instincts, and demonstrated a band both looser and more focused than they’d been in years. A prime piece of ‘avin’ it’ majesty.
Portishead – Machine Gun. Laying the ghost of trip-hop to rest in one fell swoop, ‘Machine Gun’ took little more than a militaristic drum-machine motif and the ever-disturbing warble of Beth Gibbons to create a truly monolithic comeback single – the heart of darkness at the centre of Bristol’s finest was still beating as hard as ever.
Santogold – LES Artistes. Through reverberating electro, razorsharp vocals and a chorus so skyscraping that it was probably conceived halfway up Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Towers, ‘LES Artistes’ was nothing less than the sound of a star being born.
Spiritualized – Soul On Fire. It’s a given that Spiritualized write songs to take drugs to and to come down to, but now it appears they also make songs to fall heart-meltingly in love to. ‘Soul On Fire’ was an unashamedly uplifting and achingly beautiful love song; a joyous soulful explosion, boasting one of the most stirring choruses Jason Pierce has ever written.
Sam Sparro – Black And Gold. This was 2008’s strangest love song. Darwin’s theory of evolution spun into a heart-shaped metaphor. A valentine in the middle of a breakdown. It was part glitchy glam stomp, part 21st century space soul odyssey – bask in this song’s undisputed warmth.
TV On The Radio – Golden Age. With its funk-infused bassline and Kyp Malone’s Prince-esque vocals luring you in, as well as the track’s layred, quixotic strings, tubby-heavy pop keys and mellowing brass section, the Brooklyn five-piece had created one of the most joyous, hopeful songs of the year.
Vampire Weekend – A-Punk. There’s hi-life guitars, ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ Mellotron, disco beats, cryptic lyrics about pueblo huts and, probably, the kitchen sink. On paper one of the strangest indie songs of the year, ‘A-Punk’ is also damn catchy, as evidenced by its recent invasion of daytime Radio 1 like a particularly enjoyable rash.
Vampire Weekend – Oxford Comma. Never mind punctuation disputes, it was the bourgeoisie-poking queries and sweet guitar-glazed organ breakdown that verified this song a bona fide gem and one that sounded absolutely gorgeous all summer long.
Mystery Jets – Young Love. This was the moment that the Eel Pie Islanders surprised everyone who’d written them off as toy box oddballs by dynamically unveiling themselves as reborn pop prophets. ‘Young Love’ not only tugged your little heartstrings, making you coo nostalgically/concurrently over the blossoming from sexual innocence, but offered something you could actually dance to.
Mystery Jets – Two Doors Down. Exploiting the human species’ innate prejudice towards local love for local people, Mystery Jets offered up this delightful slice of commuter porn, pinned to an infectious call-and-response hook easily shouted by festival drunks. Mystery Jets had humped the leg of unashamedly fruity pop – and sounded better for it.
Mogwai – Batcat. This was arguably the band’s most intense offering yet: five minutes of distinctly uneasy listening featuring nerve-shredding guitars and a rhythm section so loud it could wake up Rip Van Winkle, all of which resulted in a heart-stoppingly intense assault on the senses.
The Last Shadow Puppets – Standing Next To Me. Forget easy-listening clowns, or identikit Saturday night TV wannabees, this is so much more than a homage to a rose-tinted yesteryear. Instead, Turner and Kane provided pop music with a much-needed touch of class.
The Last Shadow Puppets – The Age Of The Understatement. With an intro of charging strings and drums summoning the image of a nail-biting showdown between Zorro and Buffalo Bill, it was clear from the start that the pair’s ambitions were, well, colossal. Bolder still, they went and swiped Lennon and McCartney’s mops for a harmonious sing-off. Somehow, this bizarre musical mixture couldn’t feel more natural.
Little Boots – Stuck On Repeat. Sleigh bells in June? Japanese LED instruments developed by the guy who worked on the Nintendo DS? Pitch bent out beyond recognition under a gossamer voice with just a fairy dust sprinkling of crystalline bleeps? Welcome to the breathlessly promising future of pop music.
Laura Marling – Ghosts. Our own Joni Mitchell for the pre-menopausal, we want to buy her all the kittens, puppies and flowers in the world. ‘Ghosts’ deserves its place as a single of the year if only because, in a world of disposable flippancy, it is a track that will endure.
Metronomy – Heartbreaker. So, your pal’s been dumped by that bint you never liked, and is crying into his 10th pint wondering where it went wrong. Thank god for ‘Heartbreaker’, with its off-kilter keys and creaking-door effects. Never again will you have to worry about consoling anyone; just let Joe Mount do it for you.
MGMT – Electric Feel. This was a song suggesting that sex is not just something to do when there’s nothing on telly, it’s actually a magical force which can bring about a bloody revolution! A sex-funk masterpiece so erotically charged that your iPod starts to vibrate.
Late Of The Pier – Focker. Hearing ‘Focker’ for the first time, what became abundantly clear was that new rave (remember that?) wasn’t just about pills and posturing, it was far more noble than that – focusing on pushing things forward and breaking boundaries. This was about smashing every single musical obstacle in its way. Positively, heroically insane.
Late Of The Pier – Space And The Woods. Less deranged than the rest of the album, this was the first real throat-grabber on ‘Fantasy Black Channel’ that rained down synth rays on unsuspecting Enemy fans before unleashing riffs Kele once had sole custody of.
MGMT – Kids. This was the first song that Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser ever wrote together on arriving at Wesleyan University, and it sounds like it. Its naive, carefree nature stems directly from the times when they were wide-eyed, unsure about the whole being-in-a-band thing and just, in Andrew’s words, "messing about".
MGMT – Time To Pretend. This was so casual, so effortless in its brilliance that it felt like a kick in the face for… well, for every other band around – because if they could chuck out such a prime slab of psych-pop wish-fulfillment as their debut single, who knew what other delights lurked beneath Andrew’s billowing robes?
MIA – Paper Planes. Ostensibly a fuck-you reiteration of her world-striding playerdom, in which she defiantly declares "all I wanna do is take your money", the surface bullishness is undercut by muted delivery and the concisely clever, heartbreakingly beautiful sample of The Clash’s ‘Straight To Hell’. And all MTV noticed were the guns…
Florence + The Machine – Dog Days Are Over. Shown off to powerful effect on the Kate Bush-does-Springsteen of her second single, Lungs Of The Year 2008 should go to Flo, not Wino. Florence’s vocal range goes from heavenly highs to guttural lows, which ensure that this slow-burning song gently wakes you up then promptly Tazers you in the ribs.
Elbow – Grounds For Divorce. Simultaneously rocking, bluesy, anthemic and intimate, but far from being sentimental, Guy Garvey’s lyrics were scathing and his delivery impeccable. A sweet victory.
Elbow – One Day Like This. It took the gestation period of a Guns N’ Roses album, but Elbow finally achieved the recognition they deserved this year, thanks in no small part to this, a Disney-worthy happy ending with a chorus of heavenly euphoria to which the only natural response is a big fuck-off grin.
DJ Mujava – Township Funk. Not many clubland smashes come out of the South African township of Atteridgeville. The breakthrough tribe-step-house cut from the mind of Elvis Maswanganyi was an ode to the unforgiving conditions of his hometown; its infectiously unsettling ‘dying Clanger’ synth-line defined the cool clubs’ summer end.
Dizzee Rascal – Dance Wiv Me. When put to disc it was instantly clear that the Rascal’s battering ram thrust into the pop world was one of the biggest club bangers of the year. We know which of Dizzee’s tunes we’d most like to get behind some backbones to at 3am on a Friday night.
Crystal Castles – Courtship Dating. The lyrics covered sick love and taxidermy, but to be honest, who could tell? Alice alternated thick screams and buoyant yelps through a downpour of bleeps and beats, which through indistinctly, as if from the bottom of a well constructed from dank, mouldering circuit boards.
Chairlift – Bruises. On the face of it, it had all the right elements for an iPod ad: a nursery-rhyme of a song built on crisp ’80s beats; a gooey lyric about falling in love; soaring vocals we’d call ‘kooky’ if it wasn’t such an objectionable word. But all that sweetness was deceptive: this was actually a sex song.
Crystal Castles vs Health – Crimewave. So it had already been around for a year, but as a central plank of their album its re-release marked the point at which CC were finally, decisively coronated as the hipster king and queen, the alt.Sonny & Cher if you will.
Black Kids – I’m Not Going To Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You. This pop masterpiece played out like a half-cut teen rom-com showcasing the giddy highs of girls screaming and boys sewing their hearts on their sleeves for all to see. All the hand claps and "one-two-three-four" shout-outs you could ever want in three and a half minutes were present and correct, too.
Florence + The Machine – Kiss With A Fist. It was probably best not to get into the complexities of the lyrics, and simply rejoice in the birth of a genuine star turning the Kate Nash-y preconceptions of female singer-songwriters on their head with one belligerent, tuneful kick to the teeth.
Friendly Fires – Paris. It had been released before, but October was when Friendly Fires lit up the dancefloors and radio waves with this track – once the sublime, heart-jolting chorus kicked in like a defibrillator, this aspirational slice of shoe-rave really revealed its true, life-affirming colours. A future-pop classic.
Fucked Up – Year Of The Pig. Eighteen minutes long and laden with cutesy coos, this certainly isn’t punk. In being totally staunchly so unpunk, complex and – whisper it – more than a little prog, though, ‘Year Of The Pig’ is, conversely, totally fuckin’ punk rock. The punk band of a generation? Almost certainly. Behold their opus.
Ladyhawke – Paris Is Burning. A steamy Gallic love affair? 2005’s Clichy-sous-Bois riots? A night getting absolutely plastered in Paris? The exact origins of Ladyhawke’s UK debut are lost in Pip Brown’s secret diary, but one thing’s for certain: this head-spinning single fizzed with unbridled decadence and desire.
Ida Maria – Oh My God. From the girl/boy repetitive chants of "Find a cure, find a cure for my life" to the hyperactive guitar storms, to the screaming fit at the end, this was song residing on the Pro Plus shelf of the pop pharmacy.
Kings Of Leon – Sex On Fire. The screaming, overdriven guitars and pulsating drums helped thrust the Kings from the second-league into Kryptonite-encrusted rock demigods – and earned them the Number One single they deserved. It also brought Southern rock sexily back to the masses’ frontal lobes and signed off a juggernaut year for them.
Hercules And Love Affair – Blind. Mainman Andrew Butler rallied together a million disparate elements that, taken individually, really shouldn’t have worked, from Antony Hegarty’s guest vocals to the leery bass and bongos… But it all came about brilliantly – one of the most effortless songs of the year.
Glasvegas – Flowers & Football Tops. Despite not being released as a single in 2008, this was James Allan’s bittersweet songwriting at its very best – euphoric guitar washes crashed against the tragic tale of racially motivated murder.
Heartbreak – We’re Back. Ali Renault and Sebastian Muravchik’s over-the-top performance and synth-stab perfect approximation of Italo’s excess was labelled by some as pastiche. But if you ignored the duo’s Moroder-having-a-coke-binge-in-Rimini synths, you missed out on the most fun you could have had all year.
Hot Chip – Ready For The Floor. Some heard the line "You’re my number one guy" and assumed Alexis Taylor was gay. Actually, it’s a line Jack Nicholson’s Joker mutters to a goon in ‘Batman’. But there was nothing evil about this twinkly slice of synth-pop, which smoothed Hot Chip’s ascent to tribe-uniting mainstream stars.
Glasvegas – Geraldine. A teary-eyed tale for our times, it was downbeat yet not downtrodden, and cut through to the core of a nation of music lovers all caught in a web of individual social ills. Not since the peak of Morrissey and Marr’s heyday has gloom felt this gratifying.
Glasvegas – It’s My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry. This was the kind of record that delved into feeling most bands don’t dare to touch, while its arrangement – spirally, reverb-drenched – sounded genuinely, horrifyingly empassioned, like a man waking up, stumbling to the bathroom mirror, prising his eyes open, and being disgusted by what he sees.
Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds – Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!. This thick slice of garage-funk gateau came on like a family-friendly take on Cave’s Grinderman side-project, and also provided the perfect opening track to any iPod playlist dedicated to strutting down the street like you owned it. If Nick Cave gets any bloody cooler he’ll have turned into Shaft by next year.
Ladyhawke – Back Of The Van. Nicking its synths from ‘Get In The Groove’, its vocal slur from ‘Brass In Pocket’ and the euphoria of its chorus from every amazing ’80s teen flick ever, Ladyhawke’s introduction was an emphatic one.
Amazing Baby – Head Dress. The opening track of the ‘Invisible Fucking Cross’ EP, ‘Head Dress’ soared with euphoric guitar riffs and heart-burstingly beautiful layers of noise. And it isn’t going too far to point to the surge of thrilling music coming from New York as the icing on the ‘We Heart USA’ zeitgeist that peaked with the electing of Obama and promises so much for 2009.
Pic: Pieter M Van Hattem