The Four Horsemen of the Coffee Shop Playlist

The Four Horsemen of the Coffee Shop Playlist

By Logan Mulholland

Music is really important to any establishment that wants to create a vibe, whether it be a restaurant, a café, or your therapist’s office. The music selection can affect a customer’s mood and even affect their spending habits.

While the playlists are often designed to cater to the customer, the employees also have to listen to them too. As someone who has spent the better part of seven years behind the bar in specialty coffee shops, I know this better than most. This is the music that haunts my barista nightmares.


Band of Horses 

To be honest, I only know one song by Band of Horses and for the longest time my colleagues and I referred to it as “that Band of Horses song”. That song is called The Funeral, and if there was ever a cursed coffee shop song, it is this one. The Funeral makes its way onto most playlists across every cafe in the country and it somehow always comes on during the busiest rush of the day when no one has time to access the iPod to turn it off. I have literally been in a cafe in Portland, OR waiting for my coffee when I hear that haunted arpeggio and I look over to my girlfriend, who is a fellow The Funeral survivor, and say “it’s that *insert expletive* song..”. No one knows how it gets on to these playlists, or at least no one has ever admitted to it. 

Purity Ring

Purity Ring is a great band. There was a time many years ago when I would have welcomed some Purity Ring during a shift but now, everything has changed. This is the music that comes on when you’re on hour ten of your twelve hour shift since your coworker called in sick again. You can’t feel your knees anymore because  you wore slip-on Vans instead of Doc Marten’s, your hands and steam pitchers are both covered in so much syrup that they have practically fused together, and the bottom half of your shirt is permanently soggy from washing so many latte cups in the dish sink. You're lost in a sea of cortados to-go and your grip on reality begins to fade. Purity Ring is the melancholic and dreamy sound track for this type of barista fugue-state. 

“You must be hovering over yourself, Watching us drip on each other's sides

Dear brother collect all the liquids off, Of the floor, Use your oily fingers” 



If you go into a specialty cafe and there is some classic reggae playing, maybe take a moment to ask the barista how their day is going. Reggae in the cafe is a secret cry for help. The combination of “good vibes only” instrumentation and highly politicized lyrics like, “Everybody want to go to heaven, But nobody want to die… I don't want no peace, I man need equal rights and justice”, reggae is the music selection for the barista who has seen too much and is quietly reaching out to anyone who will really listen, while not offending the sensibilities of their customers who may be adverse to more aggressive forms of politically charged music like conventional punk rock.  

Lo-fi Hip Hop

In opposition to reggae, the cryptic beauty of lo-fi hip hop, aka “lofi hip hop radio - beats to relax/study to”, is that it stands for nothing. The never-ending tape loop of filter-scooped 808’s and soft synth melodies exists solely to suppress the barista nervous system. In this sensory vacuum, special requests are less daunting and jammed grinders are of no concern. We will serve to-go cortados for as long as we need to, as long as the annals of lo-fi beats continue to placate us.

Luckily for me, Dave puts a lot of time and energy into curating diverse and eclectic playlists for the Populace cafes, so am I no longer haunted by these four horsemen. Maybe eventually I’ll be able to leave the memories behind me, and listen to one of Band of Horses' other songs.

Check out what we've been listening to in our cafe here.

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