I’m changing all my strings I’m gonna write another travelling song


One arm rests awkwardly on the narrow ledge that chunkily surrounds the window. The other lies somewhere to one side, uncomfortable with lack of support and chrushed slightly in an attempt to avoid contact with the person in the next seat. The eyes look hazily out into the middle distance, vaguely trying to determine patterns within the passing blur of concrete interspersed with brief flashes of green. The legs doze lazily. The back hangs and sags, avoiding posture as if it were a common street mime.

But the ears, and the mind. They are busy. Whilst all other parts of the body are engaged in a haze of confusion as they undergo the effects of relativistic movement, the ears are converting waves propogating from a pair of dodgy cheap headphones into something else. The mind picks up this something else, and wills it to life, causes it to become an experience beyond its function. Suddenly, the sounds are special.

Travel seems to bring out my wistful side. Especially when good music is involved. I can escape from the world, cacooned as I am in a steel pod of motion. At the same time I can watch the world passing me by, and allowing me just a microsecond of judgement on each of the things that it contains. I combine this with the right sort of music and suddenly metaphors become inescapable.

So what constitues good music for travel? It has to be stimulating, to start off with. There are many tracks that work well in relation to their surrounding tracks, but often albums are difficult to enjoy whilst travelling. So we have to look at what individual tracks do, and those individual tracks must have an impact on their own. An ideal travel track must feel like an event, like a culmination of something. Intensity is important, and if some parts of the song feel climactic that is a bonus. There has to be something special in the air.

This is why closing tracks of records are often good for listening to on a train. “Wash The Day” from TV On The Radio’s Return To Cookie Mountain is a prime example, the clever instrumentation maintaining a mood best described as epic, and keeping the glorious experience up by eight minutes. It sums up what has come before it with grand, broad statements. Watching the world sweep past is not about small talk or inconsequential fleeting emotions.

I have tried to compile CD 1 (or playlist 1 if you’re all “Eww… CDs, go home Grandpa”) out of songs that are applicable to this sense of a large-scale event, so that while listening to it you will get a constant stream of intensity. The order is irrelevant, because the mood is by definition the same on all these tracks. Although seeing as it’s a compilation, there will be odd messed-up changes between tracks (although there won’t, because there is only one genre of music I listen to).

CD1:

Muse – Take A Bow

The Verve – Bittersweet Symphony

Blur – The Universal

Andrew Bird – Fake Palindromes

Neutral Milk Hotel – Two Headed Boy

Broken Social Scene – Lover’s Spit

The Decembrists – The Wanting Comes In Waves / Repaid

Arcade Fire – Wake Up

The National – Lucky You

TV On The Radio – Wash The Day

Modest Mouse – 3rd Planet

Mumford & Sons – Thistle & Weeds

Laura Marling – Your Only Doll

LCD Soundsystem – All My Friends

Pink Floyd – Eclipse

I have set up this “album” (which I shouldnt call it since it’s actually over 80 minutes long…) as a playlist on my last.fm account, so if you want to listen to it, all the songs should be at:

http://www.last.fm/user/TheCapu/library/playlists/3hv2h_transport_music_1 .

The other playlist I have relates to songs that are about travel, or at least have a title that allowes me to tenously connect them to a blog about travel for the sake of filler. Travel is often used as a metaphor in music, whether it refers to a spiritual journey as referred to in R.E.M.’s “Electrolite” with its cries to fly to Mulholland Drive to escape the previous century, or to a journey where some great event will occur such as Bright Eyes’ “Train Under Water”. It allows for the songwriter to tell a story, as it can track the middle between a defined start and end point.

Travel is also good as it allows music to express a desire for escape, Grizzly Bear’s “Southern Point” having a particularly luscious call for isolation away from the common problems of the world. Music needs to be able to offer some element of escapism, and without a metaphorical journey to take, how could one ever escape?

Even the vehicle itself can be used as a metaphor for grand themes. Arcade Fire’s “Funeral” closes with “In the Backseat”, where a car is figuratively referred to as a family tree, and as the leaves fall off, the people riding along in the backseat suddenly have to take over and do the job of their elders steering the car out of harm’s way. The beautiful song is ruined somewhat by an exasperatingly long outtro, but it still sincerely conveys how this journey of life and our travel through it is fundamental to our experiences, thus justifying this blog. Cheers, Arcade Fire!

CD2:

Grizzly Bear – Southern Point

The Guillemots – Trains To Brazil

R.E.M. – Electrolite

Bright Eyes – Train Under Water

TV On The Radio – Halfway Home

The Beatles – The Long And Winding Road

Bob Dylan – I Was Young When I Left Home

Radiohead – Airbag

Feist & Ben Gibbard – Train Song

U2 – Where The Streets Have No Name

Arcade Fire – In The Backseat

Tenacious D – The Road

Vampire Weekend – Walcott

Radiohead – Killer Cars

Bob Dylan – Like A Rolling Stone

The playlist for this one is also on my Last.fm account, at:

http://www.last.fm/user/TheCapu/library/playlists/3hv7e_transport_music_2 .

So yes, next time you have a long journey and your mp3 player, why not give some of these tracks a try? They’re damn good after all. I think that was the point of this exercise.

Enjoy your journey, people. Because after all, it’s just a ride.

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About Alex Pavitt
I work in the field of emotion. My tools are instinctual feelings and my laptop is the medium between my brain and the outside world. I deconstruct and rebuild. I imagine. I steal other people's lyrics because somtimes, my own words aren't enough. I spend all of my time somewhere inside my head. I worship Douglas Adams, and in the back of my mind I am always painfully aware that I will never be as good as him or, for that matter, anybody else.

One Response to I’m changing all my strings I’m gonna write another travelling song

  1. Alexandra Evans says:

    This is a damn epic blog. I will make this double album up at some point.

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