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20 pop culture picks from this half of 2013

by Matt Carney Modified: July 4, 2013 at 10:05 am •  Published: July 4, 2013

This week marks 2013’s halfway point. Here are the albums, songs, movies, books and stuff I haven’t been able to put down.

20. Tame Impala at Cain’s Ballroom, February 28
Australia’s most exciting recent export (and former tourmates of local psych-rockers Stardeath and White Dwarfs) were every bit as awesome as billed, and joined an impressive brotherhood of rock bands that have blown minds at Cain’s.

19. Daft Punk featuring Panda Bear — “Doin’ It Right”
In terms of scale and ambition “Doin’ It Right”’s far from the best song on “Random Access Memories”, the robots’ first proper album since 2005. But it does rival the inescapable disco jam “Get Lucky” in its catchiness and manages to channel the “Right now’s the perfect dance party” vibe of their best-loved hit “One More Time”, all with little more than a few recorded drums and an incredible rising melody. Pound for pound, it’s the best in its class.

18. Out of Print
How much critical thinking do you outsource to technology? The 54-minute documentary Out of Print —which I caught thanks to June’s deadCENTER Film Festival— prompts you to self-examine and ask much bigger questions like “How are we going to convey information democratically in the future when communications are becoming cheaper and people are being conditioned to consume them instead of examine?” You don’t leave the theater scratching your head though, as Out of Print has the good sense to offer as many answers as questions, instructing without moping for the next generation of learners.

17. Beau Jennings and the Tigers at VZD’s, February 9
This was a fun, blurry night that Matt Jewett and Black Canyon opened before Beau came through and hammered it home with the material on “Sweet Action”, his new EP. I seem to recall everybody in the opening bands and about half the crowd jumping up on stage for the last song but I don’t recall being mad ‘bout it.

16. Laura Marling — “Once I Was an Eagle”
Still just in her early 20s English folk poet Laura Marling’s new work’s taken on a mystical, Eastern sort of lilt that reminds me of Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks” in all the best ways. It’s free-ranging, gorgeous-sounding, and rich in lyricism.

15. The Muslims Are Coming!
If you get your news from Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert (or even find them remotely funny) then The Muslims Are Coming! (which also screened at deadCENTER this year) might just be your new favorite documentary. It’s built on a great premise, has a lot of heart and, most importantly for a comedy-doc, it’s regularly hilarious.

14. House of Cards season one
How much fun was Kevin Spacey, huh?

13. Deafheaven — “Dream House”
Once I slept on a rocky terrain under a tarp to wake up at three in the morning to hike a couple miles up a mountain to watch the sun rise in northern New Mexico. When that beautiful Explosions in the Sky guitar chime melody finally shows up about seven minutes and 25 seconds into “Dream House” I’m immediately reminded of that view, and how it validated all that hard-to-stand stuff.

12. Jessie Ware at Bowery Ballroom, New York City, January 17
I got to visit New York shortly into the new year and made it a point to go see one of my favorite new pop singers play one of her first few gigs on American soil. Her band was tight and her pitch right-on, but the thing that stands out was how modest and gracious she was, and how genuinely Ware’s songs affected some people in the audience. It was more than the usual “I love you!”s and “Will you go out with me?!”s. There were tears and one fan even brought her flowers.

11. Deerpeople at some garage in south Austin, SXSW
My computer got stolen at South By this year, which sucked. What didn’t suck was getting to see Oklahoma’s freakiest rock band unleashed at a random house party late in the fest. While Prince and Justin Timberlake played for the industry select and wristband holders lined up to gawk at the latest buzz bands, Brennan Barnes thrashed and writhed on the ground in the outskirts of south Austin while his band beat all hell out of whatever they could get their hands on.

10. Kacey Musgraves — “Blowin’ Smoke”
Big Nashville may be an old, conservative machine, and Musgraves may be the latest product off its assembly line, but goodness, she’s got that Miranda Lambert sizzle and sass.

9. John Moreland — “In The Throes”
The Springsteen influence is what kills me but how much I feel like I know the characters in these songs keeps me coming back.

8. Savages — “Silence Yourself”
We’ve heard bits of what Savages are doing before in U2, Siouxsie, and some PiL, but nobody’s ever made it sound so anthemic and empowering. Paired with that message to unplug from your social networks and think for yourself, this band’s probably gonna blow some kids’ minds.

7. Ace Hood featuring Future and Rick Ross — “Bugatti”
A few weeks after this thing dropped somebody I follow on Twitter tweeted “Song of the year?” with a link to an edited version of “Bugatti” that was just Future’s hook and guttural frog ribbits, looped ad infinitum. It was beautiful.

6. Majical Cloudz — “Turns Turns Turns”
You’re doing this song a severe injustice by cooping it up in your headphones. Blast it from some speakers and let that woozy low end surround you.

5. George Saunders’ Tenth of December
Saunders has this ability with short stories to channel some greater meaning out of the mundane and just devastate you with it. Tenth of December’s got ten of them so buckle up, or buy a couple boxes of tissues, whatever you need to do.

4. The music video for Janelle Monáe’s “Q.U.E.E.N.” featuring Erykah Badu
Kevin Durant declared this the song of the playoffs, and that was even before this ridiculous video hit. For the longest time I associated Jack White with Monáe in my head and recently a friend pointed out the obvious reason why: They’re both fiercely dedicated to their aesthetics. This video takes the Kansas City singer’s living android thing into, like, ‘80s Devo art-vid territory and I couldn’t love it any more.

3. Mad Men season 6
Will Mad Men wind up as the standard-bearer for the TV period piece? Those fancy suits fit so well on Roger Sterling that you rarely remember how truly despicable he is. Season six was less subtle in the big plot ways: Don’s affair with his neighbor’s wife, SCDPCGC’s growing pains, Ted and Peggy. But the attention to detail that Matt Weiner’s staked his name on only got sharper. (Also, please check out my new favorite Tumblr Mad Men With Things Drawn on Them.)

2. Vampire Weekend — “Modern Vampires of the City”
Isn’t it awesome when the best-selling record turns out to be the best record? “Modern Vampires” debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200, but there’s still something brooding and sad underneath “Diane Young”’s youthful fits and spurts. You don’t write words like “Age is an honor / It’s still not the truth” unless you’re asking serious questions and looking hard for answers.

1. Robin Thicke featuring Pharrell and T.I. — “Blurred Lines”
Pharrell’s giddy, breathy half-screams. T.I. fiddling with that model’s hair in the video. That cowbell. “What rhymes with ‘Hug me’?” It’s the randy pop anthem for the self-aware generation. “The way you grab me. Must wanna get nasty.”

Matt Carney is the night editor of NewsOK.com and the pop music columnist for LOOKatOKC.

by Matt Carney
Online Editor
Matt Carney is the night editor of NewsOK.com and a 2011 graduate of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication. He was born in Tulsa, lives in Oklahoma City and misses QuikTrip every day.
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