People ask me how I deal with driving such long distances nonstop. I tell them, nothing compares to the feeling of rocking out to some tunes while driving into the sunset. I must’ve gotten so many weird looks at stoplights and from people passing me, but what can you do when the freedom of the road gives such impetus for song.
Here are some of my favourites that I must’ve listened to hundreds of times throughout my trip. I’ve omitted a lot of the road trip classics (Lynyrd Skynyrd, Journey, Zeppelin, The Who, The Eagles, etc.) and more popular music in favour of some lesser known artists. My tastes are also pretty eclectic so there’s many different genres here. Hope you enjoy these tracks.
15. Sly – The Cat Empire
A ska band from Australia, their music is dominated by boisterous brass and percussion, a mix of jazz and rock and a slinky latin vibe (though less so in this song). I’ve seen them live and would definitely recommend it. The energy, the music, the improvisation, the lyrics, everything about them is just so much fun. Other songs I’d recommend by them are The Chariot, Two Shoes, and Wanted to Write a Love Song.
14. The Town – Macklemore
So Macklemore isn’t exactly a ‘lesser known’ artist, but this song and his earlier stuff differ radically from his newer hits in The Heist with Ryan Lewis. While I love his new stuff (the darker tracks like Otherside and Wings, as well as the fun, more upbeat Thrift Shop and Can’t Hold Us), I really like the slower, cooler, more subdued sound in his earlier music. A lot of rap is too sensationalistic, too brutal, and hard. It’s often about drugs and guns and money and status, and while some of it’s very good, I think listeners become numb to the violence because there’s just so much of it out there. I like this song because it shows the lyrical side of rap, that it can be constructive, poetic, and even celebratory. It’s a love letter to Seattle and it’s also what I call perfect sunset music.
13. Soundtracks and Comebacks – Goldfish
A pair of DJs from Ibiza, my friend Carl introduced me to this funky synth duo. While I usually don’t really like electronic and synthesized music, these two are a definite exception, probably due to the fact that they incorporate live instrumentation into their music. All their tracks are a funky, jazzy, upbeat blast of fun, and I would check out the videos to their other songs as well. They are all cartoonish and hilarious and awesome.
12. Into the Wild – L.P.
I was introduced to this lady by my couch surfer friend in Edmonton. He’d seen her perform at a concert there just before I got there, and showed me some of her stuff. What really gets me is her unusual voice – it’s low and her vibrato is very fast, and when she sings, it sounds like freedom. This is my favorite song of hers, but I also really like her cover of Beyonce’s Halo (she manages to give that song a depth that isn’t present in the original) and Tokyo Sunrise.
11. Breathe – The Cinematic Orchestra
Another track of what I call sunset music. I actually expected a single DJ that was mixing stuff together, but when I looked up the video, I saw that it was a live orchestra. Breathe is a slow song, relatively simple. But it works so well. It’s ebb and flow along with the simple lyrics make it a relaxing track that still holds weight.
10. All My Best Friends Are Metalheads – Less Than Jake
Another ska band, though this one has a much heavier punk rock leaning. Or should it be a punk rock band with a ska leaning? Either way, you can definitely expect some attitude and brass horns from this song, as it takes you back to times of adolescent debauchery.
9. I Still Believe – Frank Turner
Upon a recommendation from my friend, we went to see these guys live a couple of times in Montreal. They’re a great group, and the folk rock sound is always fun and entertaining.
8. Be Mine – Alabama Shakes
I definitely have a thing for women with strange voices. Brittany Howard has a style that reminds me of James Brown: a bluesy, powerful soul sound that can turn delicate and coy so fast it hurts. Her voice is mixed oddly with the band’s southern, bluesy rock, and the result is very innovative and new. I like them a lot. Be sure to listen to the end as the song builds up, where Murphy really shines.
7. Righteous Smoke – Monster Truck
I had the good fortune of seeing these guys live when they played before Guns ‘N Roses in Quebec City. They’re classic, hardcore rock, and this song is extremely awesome to blast with the windows down while alone and speeding down a sunny prairie road.
6. Once There was a Hushpuppy – Composed by Benh Zeitlin and Dan Romer
The only fully instrumental track I’ve included on this list, though definitely not the only instrumental stuff I played on my trip. It was composed for the movie Beasts of the Southern Wild (an enchanting moving in and of itself), but make no mistake, the soundtrack might just steal the show. The piece captures a fairy tale quality in cadence and rhythm, but the melody and instrumentation (which includes a banjo and an accordian) is pure Americana. Truly a gorgeous piece of music. I’d definitely recommend the entire soundtrack, but if you like instrumental, I’d also recommend the soundtrack composed by Austin Wintory from Journey, the PS3 video game. It’s also another enchanting composition.
5. Reveye – Nomadic Massive
These guys are a staple of the Montreal Hip Hop scene, and man are they good. They’re truly an international group, with songs often featuring three or four languages, and influences from African rhythms, Latin brass, RnB, jazz, and all kinds of hip hop. They’re also great to see live too, being such musical veterans, they are especially adept at improvisation which is always a good time.
4. The Backseat – The Gaslight Anthem
The Gaslight Anthem is a punk rock band hailing from New Jersey, and remains one of my favourite bands. Their music has a heavy Springsteen influence, and just reminds me of classic Americana, the stuff of Kerouac and Kesey. I think they’ve since come out with a new album, but I much prefer their old self-titled album, and the ’59 Sound. They’re albums also vary a lot: you’ve got songs similar to this one (The ’59 Sound), some lighter stuff (Miles Davis and the Cool, The Diamond Church Street Choir) some more punky than this one, and you’ve also got soft ballads like Here’s Looking at You, Kid. Wherever you land on the spectrum of rock, though, these guys deliver.
3. Polka – Yves Klein Blue
You might recognize the tune from a Mitsubishi Lancer commercial from a couple years back; that’s where I found this track. It’s got a fun, folksy polka feel that evolves into more intricate rock riffs. The band hasn’t come out with much else though, which is a shame, but I still listen to this song constantly since I first discovered it.
2. Nosebleed Section – Hilltop Hoods
Another recommendation from my friend and roommate, Hilltop Hoods are a rap group from Australia. Again, they represent a less hardcore, and more lyrical form of rap that I really seem to like. And this song is one of the best. Rarely in hip hop is the tone so positive and celebratory, which is what makes this track so great. Needless to say, the lyrics are clever and fun as well. Although not representative of all their music (which is more serious, though still lyrical), this song is probably their best known, and for good reason. Also, kinda random video, but the bike tricks are pretty cool.
1. Feeling Good – Nina Simone
Another member (and probably queen) of the unusual voices club; Nina Simone’s sound is often confused for a man. She actually started out wanting to be a pianist, and auditioned well for Juilliard, but was allegedly rejected because of racial discrimination. She was bipolar, was diagnosed with schizophrenia and had multiple run-ins with the law as a civil rights activist. She led a difficult life, I think, and did some questionable things, but when she sings, it’s like magic. People say when she performed, it wasn’t a concert, it was a happening. She channeled so much of her life into her music that it felt spiritual.
Nina Simone is my favourite artist, and I’ll tell you why. My definition of art is fairly broad – you can find art in many forms, and anyone can create it. It can be outside the accepted norms and conventions: a commercial, a video game, a woman vomiting paint onto a canvass, or even literal trash – as long as it’s put together with intention, with purpose. Good art, however, forces you to think. It challenges your preconceived notions and alters your perspective. It may even teach you something new about yourself or the world. But great art – great art taps into the audience’s universal humanity, and makes them feel something. And when I hear Nina Simone sing Feeling Good, I can’t help but.