Crash Chords: Driving Beats (music to travel to)

Interstate Love Song

Interstate Love Song (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In this age where dubbing mix tapes has been largely usurped by burning mix CDs which is gradually being supplanted by composing MP3 playlists, it’s easier than ever to cook up a tailor-fit musical program to suit every activity. There’s little better than going all meta while on a road trip, plane ride or boat voyage and listening to songs about modes of transportation and travel destinations. There are old, reliable chestnuts like “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” or “Get Here” (lyrically they’re practically the same song), “Leavin’ on a Jet Plane”, “Sailing”, or “Ocean Deep”; the usual FM radio suspects such as Sheryl Crow’s “Everyday is a Winding Road” or Stone Temple Pilots’ “Interstate Love Song”; Heavy Metal spark plugs like AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell”, Meatloaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Lights”, and Steppenwolf’s hog-rider anthem “Born To Be Wild”; or country classics like Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” and Hank Williams’ “Lost Highway”.

Hardcore travelers may choose to ditch the tunes and concentrate on the native sounds of their chosen location. But there are sure to be instances where cocooning one’s self in music, ANY music, will be much more preferable to snores or vapid chatter.

As far as I’m concerned, travel music has to be non-nauseating, non-irritating, and non-repetitive. You do NOT want to suffer from Last Song Syndrome while in transit. Nor do you want to develop a headache or a hard-on. So thematically, it’s best to stick to geography and commuting to keep your mind out of the gutter and in the right groove.

Deutsch: Logo

Deutsch: Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To set the scene, it’s useful to look to the continental landmarks such as “Africa”, Toto’s number one 1983 hit about their safari-slash-spirit-quest on the Dark Continent. Appropriately enough, this song was included in the soundtrack to Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Then there’s Men At Work’s 1982 wonder “Land Down Under”, which I think lay the groundwork for our future tolerance of Crocodile Dundee, Russell Crowe, and the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Folk icons Simon and Garfunkel are both patriotic and pensive in “America” their dramatic ballad to Western wanderlust. Paul Simon was also later inspired by that enduring mecca of musical Americana with “Graceland”.

The band named America on the other hand, burst onto the scene with “Ventura Highway” the lead track and first single from their aptly titled album Homecoming.  As recounted by composer Dewey Bunnell, the song is about leaving, escaping the cold Omaha winters by moving to California.

Artwork for Michigan by Sufjan Stevens

Artwork for Michigan by Sufjan Stevens (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In terms of geographical ambition though, Sufjan Stevens just can’t be topped. With plans to come up with an album for each of the 50 United States, Stevens started off with Michigan, a collection of folk songs, instrumentals, and odes to the cities and landmarks of his home state that is loaded with vivid imagery, characters, and sentiments on faith, humanity, and hope for the future. Illinois explored even weightier subjects, including such native sons as serial killer John Wayne Gacy and poet Carl Sandburg, and ended up as one of the most highly acclaimed and awarded independent albums of 2005. Up next, fans are speculating between Oregon, Rhode Island, Minnesota, and Arkansas on the Sufjan state list.

Across the pond, Scottish band Ballboy penned the glorious strings-and-spoken-word piece “A Europewide Search For Love”. Set to swooning cellos and a shuffling beat, we hear front man Gordon McIntyre speak-singing verses such as “someone once told me ‘the world is moving because you are’, and tonight there are people travelling through Europe on trains, looking for something that they’ve never had before, wondering if they’ll find it and if they’ll recognise it if they do” in a warm Scottish burr that makes you want to line up for tickets to the Trans-Siberian railroad post-haste.

A personal favorite, the criminally underappreciated The Wedding Present, produced Mini – an EP celebrating the Michelin lifestyle, sort of like a more muscular and masculine musical version of Stanley Donen’s “Two for the Road”. Mini contains songs bearing such titles as “Drive”, “Convertible”, and “Sports Car”. These naughty rock confections feature enough fun raspy engine noises to get one’s motor running and drive purring. The Weddoes’ most recent album, Take Fountain, was greatly inspired by front man David Gedge’s own transatlantic/transcontinental romance thus featuring tracks like the jangly “Ringway to Sea-Tac”, the dense epic “Interstate 5”, and the bouncy “I’m from Further North Than You” (formerly entitled Edinburgh).

On the OPM front, we can always hum “Tayo na sa Antipolo” while taking Ortigas Extension or belt Sampaguita’s “Laguna” as we cruise down SLEX. Just a parting suggestion, if ever The Amazing Race producers were to look for a new song to base the show’s theme on, may I respectfully propose the Flaming Lips’ “Race For The Prize”?

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published under music column Crash Chords in Manual magazine, 2006

Crash Chords: Music for the Mod and Manor Born

You’ve got the money, the education, and you’re starting to climb the social ladder. You’ve read the books, slipped into the suits, and made the connections. Now you’ve got to learn to set the mood for your upwardly mobile life. What sounds should you be playing on your sophisticated system?

You need music to sip martinis to, background noise for sinking into thick shag carpeting or lounging on plush leather upholstery, a soundtrack for elegant seduction scenes and leisurely rounds of foreplay, NOT for “getting it on” or “shaking your booty”.

Burt Bacharach in concert, 2008.

Burt Bacharach in concert, 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Forget rap, rock, hip-hop, R&B, and folk. We’re focusing on the recording industry’s upper crust here. Common opinion would also encourage you to turn to jazz. But honestly, all those unpredictable bursts of melisma and improvisations can sometimes set your teeth on edge, not the best match for feeling suave and debonair. It’s tricky to slow-dance to besides. We’re looking for songs that sound good even at half-volume, with lyrics that whisper sex as a suggestion, not a declaration. Burt Bacharach is the undisputed master of this style, no man swung as groovily as the Burt. Dismissed as elevator music for decades until pre-millenial tension nurtured the retro lounge music scene of the 1990s, Bacharach’s deceptively subtle compositions continue to influence today’s groovemeisters.

Cinerama came about when The Wedding Present’s David Gedge crossed over from abrasive punk rock into melodic groovy pop. Gedge carried over his knack for crafting honest, understated songs and enhanced them with a lovely 1960s Phil Spector/Burt Bacharach sensibility. The resulting retro pastiche sounds like a homage to classic pop as influenced by the movie soundtracks of Ennio Morricone and Isaac Hayes. Charming orchestral flourishes and lush production wrap each sublime pop nugget, ripe with lyrics revolving around the usual comedy of errors that takes place between men and women in love or lust. Gedge still snarls and growls a bit, but here he also croons and makes you swoon.

The Aluminum Group are not your parents’ easy listening music. Fronted by John and Frank Navin, two brothers from Chicago whose icy-cool voices blend silkily over words that reference postmodernism and urban life. Their sound is a mellow mix of acoustic guitars, strings, banjos, brass, and synths, sounding something like crystallized pocket symphonies retrofit for digital music players. Although their post-rock dabblings tend to teeter close to the brink of style-over-substance, the Navins manage to give an edgy high-gloss twist to the high pop radio sound of their inspirations: Jimmy Webb, the Carpenters, and Bacharach of course.

The Essential Michael Nyman Band

The Essential Michael Nyman Band (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Classical music doesn’t always mean stuffy instrumental shit that sounds like it belongs in a museum, or a mausoleum. There’s a ton of stuff out there that’s exciting and moving, and just happens to have been recorded with classical instruments. British composer Michael Nyman coined the term “minimalism”, a form of composition that relies on simple patterns and repeated figures, where the musical skill lies in subtle progressive or cyclical alterations to this tapestry to achieve its effects. In other words, this is deep stuff, man. Nyman’s music sounds eerie and dangerous, and can easily hypnotize you with its elegance and poignancy. Although fellow minimalist Philip Glass has a substantially higher profile, it’s Nyman who has the most cred with the intellectual-and-indie crowd.

Neil Hannon

Neil Hannon (Photo credit: sjrowe53)

Just to add to the mix, anything French from the 1960s-70s is also a good bet. Check out Michel Legrand and Francoise Hardy, they’re the sonic equivalents of champagne and silk stockings. If you’re the patriotic type who plans to stick to the KBP radio code of 4 OPMs per clock hour, then 1980s-era Kuh Ledesma and Ric Segreto are quite respectable choices, as long as you stick to their songs that have yet to be covered (and good luck with that) then you’re sure to astound the ears of any date younger than 24.Michael Nyman has greatly influenced the work of The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon. Blending minimalist orchestration with witty lyrics sung in Hannon’s warm tenor, their music sounds grand but cozy, intricate but intimate. Hannon’s subject matter ranges from fairy tales and famous books to playboys and international travel, all delivered in an earnest yet hip tone seemingly voiced by the probable lovechild of Rex Harrison and Nico. These are complicated songs about complicated things that will appeal to anyone from geeks to Goths.

Now that you have all these idea for software, how about hardware? Even among audiophiles, vintage gear suggests a certain flair. Analog outclasses digital in the realm of luxury listening. Among these circles, vacuum tubes and vinyl rule, not microchips and compact discs. And lastly, don’t forget to hide your Magic Sing microphone somewhere safe but inaccessible.

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved

Toti’s Ten

Music guru Toti Dalmacion lists 10 luxurious LPs

Luxurious is a word I don’t often associate with the music I listen to, but I suppose my interpretation for it would be either it’s lush sounding or just an all-around great release and I never get tired listening to it.

1. The Blue Nile – Hats
The quintessential TBN album for me. (although I love the other 3 albums as well) The Blue Nile at their most depressing best. Picturesque and moody.

Cover of "And She Closed Her Eyes"

Cover of And She Closed Her Eyes

2. Stina Nordenstam – And She Closed Her Eyes
The first album Memories of Color made me listen but this album had me wanting to bring her in (commercial suicide yes but it would’ve been really be soul  satisfying. Unfortunately, she is said to have stage fright so forget that). Just plain beautiful, combining ambient, jazz and THAT voice.

3. David Sylvian – Brilliant Trees
I have been a fan since his Japan days. This debut solo effort made me worship him all the more. Just check out “The Ink in The Well” and “Nostalgia”… and you’ll know why.

4. Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach – Painted from A Memory
This has got to be one of, if not the best ever, collaboration in decades. It also highlights Costello’s vocal prowess as well as the arranging genius of Bacharach. No dud track whatsoever.

5. Paul Weller – Paul Weller
Weller at his funkiest. A great comeback/debut album that has allowed him to go on and be the Modfather that he is.

6. XTC– Skylarking
My all time favorite band. There are lots of other great XTC albums but the flow and songs of Beatle-esque proportions make this such an enjoyable listen despite of the conflict between producer Todd Rundgren and the band during the recording of this album.

7. The Wedding Present – George Best
It could be the title or the album cover but I’ve always found this album to be well worth it.  David Gedge may write songs about the same thing over and over again and they still come out enjoyable and fresh.

8. Gene – Olympian
One of the most underrated British bands to ever come out and the guitar work of Steve Mason is sadly overlooked as well. This debut is a classic for its swagger and Englishness post-The Smiths but fortunately not too Britpop.

9. Terry Hall – Home
Another striking, underrated album and artist. Great tunes from start to end for hopeless romantics.

Swoon (Prefab Sprout album)

Swoon (Prefab Sprout album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

10. Prefab Sprout – Andromeda Heights
A misunderstood, often criticized Prefab Sprout album due to its lush production and sappy tunes of love. While it is smooth and not as gritty as “Swoon” nor with the feel of their other equally great albums, it’s still not your average love themed ridden album and just with “Steal Your Thunder”… it’s already “LUXURIOUS”

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published under music column Crash Chords in Manual magazine, 2005

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