Friday, April 16, 2010

I’m Gon’ Wait Till the Midnight Hour – Top 5 Night Drive Albums

I love driving at night. Regular driving generally gets my jollies off pretty good, but I have a special place in my heart for night driving. There's something especially therapeutic about the subtle, steady vibrations of the road, the low rumble of the wind rushing past the hood, and white lines rushing past me and I plow my way through the darkness, occasionally interrupted by an orange burst of streetlight, my music and I enjoying our time together. I can think. I can reflect. I can listen to the tunes, or nothing at all.

I'm not gonna lie, I fresh off of a drive right now, which is why I decided to throw together a list of my favorite albums to listen to while going on a night drive. The conditions of a night drive are as follows:

  1. The road is generally the interstate, highway, or backroad; I like to keep my speed steady on these little sojourns.
  2. Somewhere where traffic is minimal. This isn't always necessary (sometimes you can't help but get caught up in a midnight truckdriver convention), but it's definitely a perk; negotiating other cars can be distracting and otherwise completely uncool.
  3. Away from city lights. This one's pretty important, as I can focus more on the contrast between the brightness of my headlights and the night sky above. Plus, coming up on city lights from far away is pretty awesome.

Without further ado, here are some CDs you can throw on next time you're out!

The Crystal Method – Divided By Night

This is the new one from one of my favorite electronic groups, The Crystal Method, also responsible for previous songs like "Busy Child" (you've probably seen it on a bunch of movie trailers during the late 90's), "Name Of the Game" (that one "Listen all you motherf@$#ers" song that was probably also on a bunch of trailers), and the theme song for "Bones" on Fox.

I'll have to admit, it wasn't really up to par compared to their last album Legion Of Boom, but only in the sense that I had to get rid of a couple of songs before it was in full album-listening mode (there are a few tracks that have awkward singers competing with sampled vocals. Ick). Apart from that, it's some excellent "me and the road" companion music.

The keys and ranges that the songs are in are very subdued, while the steady pace of TCM's beats help me get in sync with the road. This is not an album for "active" (or even out-of-context) listens, but in the right setting, it really shines. Standout tracks include the opening, slinky "Divided By Night," the driving, sample-heavy "Double Down," and the chilled-out, synth-heavy "Sine Language," helmed by LMFAO (of "Shots" fame… yes, that "Shots"). I had to prune it of a couple tracks ("Come Back Clean," "Slipstream," and "Black Rainbows"), but once it was tightened up, it really came into its own; perfect for trance-ing out with the road.

BT – Movement In The Still Life

Another electronic album, but from a different standpoint philosophically. Whereas The Crystal Method is electronic with more on an "American" sensibility (the songs are less based on repetitive phrases than others in the genre), BT is total stereotypical techno. He's got the constant "ump-tish ump-tish" beats, the reliance on repeating samples, and a sort of European flavor to him (which makes sense, because he's English).

However, that being said, BT has always been one of the better traditional techno artists (up there with Fatboy Slim, IMHO), and MITSL is a great, constant road companion. He has several very chill, yet still very active songs on the album ("Madskillz – Mic Chekka," "Smart Bomb"), and several of his songs have a nice introspective vibe to them ("Godspeed" and "Mercury And Solace").

My one gripe with this album is the sheer amount of pruning I had to do to it. Similar to the previous album, there were a couple of songs that needed to be tossed, and it was frustrating to think about why they were there in the first place. Of the four tracks that I trimmed, three of them were momentum-killing slow songs, which not only sound blech at best, but also stop the album dead in its tracks. THREE DIFFERENT TIMES ("Shame," "Satellite," and "Running Down The Way Up"). It's frustrating because the rest of the album is so stark-raving GOOD! Eh. The last one was just a track I didn't care for, despite its relatively-fitting tempo ("Dreaming"). After separating the wheat from the chaff, though, this one's pure gold.

The Roots – Illadelph Halflife

The Roots has been one of my favorite groups for a long time, and this is one of my quintessential "it's night time" albums since I first bought it in May 2005. I remember many a Speech And Debate bus rides, where we'd be on the bus before the sun came up, and I'd be curled up under my blanket and plugged into my DiscMan (my iPod was broken at the time), listening to this fine slice of jazz hip hop circa 1996.

For those unfamiliar (I would guess many), The Roots are a hip hop band, meaning that all of their instrumentation is live (saxophone, bass guitar, drums, etc). This leads to some great, chilled-out sounding songs that lend itself well the road vibe. Heck, even into my senior trip I remember listening to this on the way back from Lagoon and watching the dark road go by.

I think my favorite part about the album is how the whole package comes together. The whole thing is about 1:27 shy of the maximum 80 minutes a CD is allowed, yet the package feels mostly cohesive. I like the interplay between Black Thought and Malik B, the two emcees in the group, and whole group plays well as a unit.

This is definitely a dark-sounding album; the subject matter is generally a bit of a downer (in between big chunks a battle rhyme, which we all know Andrew is a fan of), and everything is played on a low key, chilled out level. These qualities make this album not very versatile, but quite pleasurable to take on a lonely drive.

Circa Survive – On Letting Go

I'm not even a big fan of these guys, and I'm still kinda hazy on where I first heard them (it was probably in Regi's car, which is where all of my unfamiliar music drifts in). All I know is that there's something oddly soothing about their swirling guitars and choice of song keys. The lead singer's voice is strangely highpitched (not necessarily nasally, just highpitched), but this adds to the odd, dreamlike appeal of this album.

There was one trip in particular coming back from Missoula where Regi was uber tired, so I swapped him. He had been listening to some uber aggro music earlier, which always gets on my nerves in a calm situation. He explained that he needed to shock himself awake with the harder stuff. Upon my entering the driver's seat, I switched it to this one, and I was surprised to find that I was even more awake than I was when the heavy music was on. This, similar to Divided By Night, is a great album for synchronizing with the road, about tuning out everything but driving.

John Williams – Return of the Jedi (2-disc Motion Picture Soundtrack)

This is one I simply cannot explain, although I will make my best shot. Last year when I had no car, I would borrow Abi's Accord when dropping her off at her house in Montana City, which is a good 15 miles away from Carroll. This car did not have a tape deck, but it did have a radio. At the time, I had just ordered the ROTJ soundtrack because I was trying to complete the original trilogy soundtrack set. I was so excited to listen to it that I slapped it on my Chocolate 3 (which has an FM Radio tuner on it for listening to music through the car stereo) and would play it on the drive back after I dropped her off at home.

For those familiar with the movie, you will remember that it starts off on the Death Star II as the Imperial dudes welcome the visitation of Darth Vader, after which it then proceeds to following around R2-D2 and C-3PO through Jabba's palace. Aka, during the early portions of this movie, NOTHING HAPPENS. Making this an ideal soundtrack for using as background music while I was thinking and driving.

The soundtrack eventually heats up, but it's this slow burn (and general slowness until the "Battle Of Endor" tracks) that makes the album so appealing to me. It doesn't have to jump out and be flashy for me to communicate with it (more so the better, considering the setting), and the melodies are endearing and enjoyable, especially given the relative calmness of when I'm listening to this sort of stuff.

There you go. Next time you're needing to get out and get on the road, perhaps consider grabbing one of these for the road. Or perhaps you can picture and angsty-looking Andrew driving up and down I-15 listening to techno and John Williams; that should get my point across just as well.

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