Charlatans of Pop

All Cows {Dressed Ginsu-sharp} Drink Cuervo

The following is a playlist opera entitled “AC{DG#}DC.” The narrative is strictly harmonic (a large scale chord progression), and the main purpose of this opera is to highlight some of the best tracks from the best pop music artists of 2013. But I also hope a careful listen will reveal to each listener her fair share of meaningful, dispositional modulations. In other words: This isn’t just a list; it’s a dramatic event. Hopefully, anyway.

Halfway through composing this event, upon noticing how it consisted of mostly sad ballads and dark electronica, I had to laugh at what a solitary thirty-something I’ve become. I’m fairly confident, however, that I was able to shelve my current personal tastes in order to provide a representative soundtrack to the year 2013, so far. My goal was to collect disparate pop forms into a cohesive—if highly eclectic—narrative. Over the course of this four-hour opera, be sure to note the latest trends, especially the influence of sixties psychedelic rock, disco, Latin, and nineties alternative; enjoy the long-awaited returns of greats like Queens of the Stone Age and The Mavericks, and consider the continued West-centric homogenization of international music forms, despite David Byrne’s best efforts.

Why sixty-three tracks? At about four hours, this composition is roughly the duration of a Wagnerian opera. And then there’s the “six” as in June and the “three” as in 2013. Whatever notes I’ve included next to the entries are largely a distraction from the content, but they are generally meant to inform, entertain, or provide insight. Enjoy! (And click to listen to the opera on Spotify.)



Act I: AC


1. Lusine. “Panoramic.” The Waiting Room.

2. Bassekou Kouyate + Ngoni ba. “Jama ko.” Jama ko. Great West African records come out almost every month, but this one is the best I’ve heard maybe since Vieux Farka Toure’s debut six years ago.

3. Baptists. “In Droves.” Bushcraft. Produced by Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou, here’s a great “Ace of Spades” rip.

4. The Mavericks. “Born To Be Blue.” In Time. If you watched the CMT Awards last week, you may remember that The Mavericks were the backing band for many of the performing artists, my boss Randy Houser included.

5. Sally Shapiro. “Starman.” Somewhere Else.

6. Lil Wayne. “My Homies Still.” I Am Not A Human Being II. Weezy spreads himself pretty thin, but he continues to astound me.

7. Depeche Mode. “Angel.” Delta Machine. The Mode have aged well, but this is no surprise given that they got in on electronic pop music more or less on the ground floor.

8. Paramore. “Still Into You.” Paramore. Congratulations to my buddy Miles McPherson for landing this gig. Considering the star power of Hayley Williams, it’s good work for a drummer if you can get it.

9. Foxygen. “Shuggie.” We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic. Between Tame Impala, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Spectral Park, and umpteen others, Modern Psychedelic Rock should probably have it’s own section at the record store, if there were such a thing anymore.

10. Bilal. “Back To Love.” A Love Surreal. Between Janelle Monae, THEE Satisfaction, Marques Toliver, and umpteen others, Psychedelic R&B…

11. Pissed Jeans. “Romanticize Me.” Honeys. Finally, rock music for my people: the bitter, disillusioned, white lower-middle class. Oh wait, that’s most rock music.

12. Patty Griffin. “Don’t Let Me Die In Florida.” American Kid. There are better songs on the album, but this title rings too true to this touring musician to leave off the list.

13. Haiku Salut. “||: Lonesome George (Orwell, There’s No-One Like) :||.” Tricolore.

14. Mice Parade. “Candela.” Candela. Entirely innocent of technique, finger painters often make nice things. Snark aside, Mice Parade is one of our better Arts & Crafts-core artists.

15. DJ Koze. “Homesick.” Amygdala.

16. Matmos. “Mental Radio.” The Marriage of True. New Grammy category: Best Utilization-of-Water Record.

17. KEN Mode. “Counter Culture Complex.” Entrench. If you’ve spent much time in Winnipeg, you may agree with me that this band feels like its most representative artist these days.

18. Kenny Chesney. “Pirate Flag.” Life on a Rock. Written by David Lee Murphy and my buddy Ross Copperman, here’s another great song to annoy all the Chesney haters.

19. Sizzla. “Look How Many Years.” The Messiah. Reggae hasn’t evolved much for the better, but Sizzla is a bright spot on an increasingly gentrified genre.

20. Blu. “Down To Earth.” York. Title of song could refer to what Madvillainy would’ve sounded like if it had more friends in high school.

21. Villagers. “Earthly Pleasure.” {Awayland}.

22. Alice Coote. “Der Leiermann.” Winterreise (Schubert D911). Ever since I moved to my new place, I’ve locked myself in and have been studying scores pretty much all day. Here’s the concluding number of the greatest song cycle of all time, and this track also serves as the finale to Act I of this playlist. Refill your libation during the applause.


Act II: {DG#}


1. Doldrums. “Egypt.” Lesser Evil. My favorite record of the year so far? Maybe.

2. Bombino. “Imuhar.” Nomad. Dan Auerbach strikes again! He’s an even better producer than he is a songwriter.

3. The Strokes. “Happy Ending.” Comedown Machine.

4. The Foreign Exchange. “Don’t Let It Be So.” +FE Music: The Reworks.

5. Mount Moriah. “Younger Days.” Miracle Temple.

6. Parquet Courts. “Master Of My Craft.” Light up Gold. Of all the current indie trends in which classic records are appropriated by pretty people in cool clothes (alt-country, psychedelic rock, punk blues), I’m most excited about bands like this who realize that Pavement was the best band of the nineties.

7. Voivod. “Kaleidos.” Target Earth.

8. Robyn Hitchcock. “Death and Love.” Love from London. One of my favorite songwriters rips Primal Scream’s “Damaged” a la Roxy Music’s “Avalon.” Brilliant!

9. Autechre. “Recks On.” Exai. Autechre have never sounded quite like this. They must have produced this track right after having watched Inception, or something.

10. Spectral Park. “Nausea.” Spectral Park.

11. Ashley Monroe. “She’s Driving Me Out Of Your Mind.” Like a Rose. Had the privilege to enjoy Ms. Monroe’s voice nightly on tour earlier this summer. This is what “alt-country” bands like Mount Moriah would sound like if they had more talent. Then again, Like a Rose might sound more like Miracle Temple if more time and care went into production. Ironic, huh?

12. Teena Marie. “Maria Bonita.” Beautiful. RIP, Lady T.

13. Tall Black Guy. “The Motor Is Running.” 8 Miles to Moenart. Detroit and whatnot.

14. Aleister X. “Cheeseburger Tits.” Half Speed Mastered. See you in twenty years when nerds pontificate about how ahead of his time this guy was. I’ll be the more boring guy reminiscing about The Streets.

15. The Uncluded. “Tits Up.” Hokey Fright. See what I did here? I put the “Tits” tracks together, in a pair.

16. Waxahatchee. “Misery Over Dispute.” Cerulean Salt.

17. Queens Of The Stone Age. “My God Is The Sun.” … Like Clockwork. The best rock band in the world’s best album since Rated R. Welcome back, Nick Oliveri.

18. Dadub. “Existence.” You are Eternity. Nominated for a Best Utilization-of-Water Record Grammy, but edged out this year by Matmos. The young Europeans console themselves with the words of Charles Ives: “Awards in art are badges of mediocrity.”

19. Broadcast. “Teresa, Lark of Ascension.” Berberian Sound Studio. This finale of Act II is a threnody for Trish Keenan… and, like the rest of Berberian Sound Studio, a total Dario Argento ripoff.




1. The Staves. “Winter Trees.” Dead & Born & Grown. Released last year, technically.

2. Etana. “Queen.” Better Tomorrow.

3. FIDLAR. “Cheap Beer.” FIDLAR. “Fuck it dog, life’s a risk.”

4. Adrian Younge, The Delfonics. “Stand Up.” Adrian Younge Presents the Delfonics. William Hart needs no introduction, but I’ll note that this is one of two Adrian Younge productions on this list.

5. Kacey Musgraves. “Dandelion.” Same Trailer, Different Park.

6. The Haxan Cloak. “Excavation (Part 2).” Excavation.

7. Los Amigos Invisibles. “Stay.” Repeat After Me.

8. Letherette. “D&T.” Letherette. Name that Hall & Oates tune.

9. Nails. “Tyrant.” Abandon All Life.

10. Dungeonesse. “Drive You Crazy.” Dungeonesse.

11. Pistol Annies. “Hush Hush.” Annie Up. For anyone interested in music writing that has nothing to do with music, this song was featured in a recent article about country music and marijuana—Salon, I think.

12. Unknown Mortal Orchestra. “Faded in the Morning.” II.

13. Monoswezi. “Metal Drum.” The Village.

14. Vampire Weekend. “Everlasting Arms.” Modern Vampires of the City. Are Vampire Weekend the most representative band of the Millennial Generation? Possibly.

15. Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats. “Evil Love.” Mind Control.

16. Carmen Villain. “Easy.” Sleeper. I think I’m in love. (emoticons)

17. Daft Punk. “Lose Yourself to Dance.” Random Access Memories. “Get Lucky” is the most infectious tune of the year so far, but it’s so recognizable by now that I couldn’t find a suitable place for it in this little playlist opera without toppling the gravity of the big picture.

18. Ghostface Killah. “The Sure Shot (Parts One & Two).” Twelve Reasons to Die. Adrian Younge production #2. He’s a legit composer, he runs a record store, and he’s a law professor. I wonder if he needs an intern.

19. Marques Toliver. “CanAan.” Land of CanAan.

20. Jose James. “Come To My Door.” No Beginning No End. In many ways, this is the most pedestrian track on the jazz singer’s new album, but I might have actually become a Jack Johnson fan if he ever did anything this good—abrupt last chorus modulation included.

21. Joshua Redman. “Final Hour.” Walking Shadows. My first concert was Joshua Redman, Christian McBride, and Brian Blade in Wilson Hall at James Madison University when I was thirteen years old. Thus began my lifelong passion for jazz—one untainted by aspirations to play it well—and, even when I went through my if-it’s-smoother-than-Albert-Ayler-it’s-crap phase, I’ve always held a secret place in my heart for the smooth sounds of Joshua Redman. As an adult, I have no apologies.

22. Steve Mason. “Come To Me.” Monkey Minds in the Devil’s Time. Hearing all the darkness in this little playlist opera, I thought it appropriate to conclude with the uplifting closer from this moody—and fantastic—album by the ex-Beta Band leader.

Hesiod James is a Nashville sideman. He plays bass.