MUSIC HAS A WAY of engaging with travel that few other art forms can replicate. Musicians are the wanderers of the art world; whether your band is living out of vans or buses, sleeping on floors or in nice hotel rooms, and playing in basements or amphitheaters, dedicating your life to music requires a certain degree of transience.
This works out nicely, because making a road-trip playlist is much safer than trying to balance a book on your dashboard.
These particular songs are less about travel directly and more about the stages surrounding it — restlessness, anticipation, and the pure rush of energy at the prospect of getting away.
1. Belle And Sebastian – “Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying”
“Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying,” off Scottish twee-pop stalwart Belle & Sebastian’s second album If You’re Feeling Sinister, perfectly captures the formative itch of restlessness that should be familiar to most travelers. Born out of quiet desperation, it’s the itch that says, I don’t know what’s wrong, but I need to move.
When the title line kicks off the song, it’s a breezy suggestion. By the time it’s repeated at the end, it’s become a plea.
2. Big Tree – “Move to the Mountains”
Big Tree, formed in the Northeast, now based in the Bay Area, have mastered a quirky laid-back folk-pop sound that nods both to nostalgic folk and catchy indie pop. Freewheeling swing and whimsical lines like “I would risk my life for Sunday morning pancakes” will remind you that moving to the mountains is the perfect antidote to the stagnation blues.
3. Baths – “You’re My Excuse to Travel”
Baths, the stage name of Californian Will Wiesenfeld, released his debut album Cerulean in 2010. A “bedroom” album in terms of production values alone, Cerulean was full of jittery, nervously giddy glitch-pop songs always ready to jump out of the bedroom studio and into the world, as summed up best by the refrain, “if you still want me to be there, I’ll be there in a minute.”
4. Japandroids – “The Boys are Leaving Town”
By now, Japandroids have hit their rock star stride. On this year’s album, Celebration Rock, the Vancouver duo are all about macho road warrior boasting — titles like “Fire Highway,” lyrics like “If they try to slow down, tell em all to go to hell!”
But back in 2009, on Post-Nothing, they weren’t so sure. The first track off the album, “The Boys are Leaving Town,” is all about being on the verge of something big — vocalist Brian King keeps asking, “Will we find our way back home?” and while he doesn’t know the answer, Japandroids keep rocking out hard, annihilating anxiety and building stoke. At this stage, they might not know where the road is going to lead, but they’re sure as hell going to power through it.
5. Girls – “Carolina”
Christopher Owens has been around. Born in Florida to a family that was part of the traveling Children of God religious community, Owens was taken all over Asia and Europe as a kid, then came back to the States where he bummed around for a while before eventually forming Girls in San Francisco. His globetrotting background factors heavily in magazine blurbs, but his music is purely American, informed by an unabashed love for pop, fifties rock, and country.
His take on travel is also pretty American. “Carolina,” off the Broken Dreams Club EP, is a road song that really feels like being on the road — clocking in at eight minutes, it starts with lost guitar-driven psychedelia and builds steadfast forward momentum until, four minutes in, Owens declares “I’m gonna pick you up baby, throw you over my shoulder / take you away, I’m gonna carry you home / to Carolina, Carolina / away to Southern Carolina / and then I’ll never let you go.” Southern Carolina is an unlikely candidate for the promised land, but by the time Owens reveals his destination, I’d follow him anywhere.