It’s about that time of year to pack up and hit the road, facing both the stress of the freeway and the doldrums of a long car ride. Carmageddon may have passed, but the summer traffic isn't going anywhere.
Ah, but I’ve got the remedy for you, my dear friends. It’s a mix of the best songs to cross my path in 2011, a pretty fruitful musical year so far. This mix is guaranteed to make those long hours on the road just a bit more bearable.
“The Valley” by Okkervil River: Let’s start this off with a cathartic rocker, guaranteed to get your trip off and rolling with authority. Okkervil front man Will Sheff sings about traversing “the valley of the rock and roll dead,” just as you’ll be weaving effortlessly between all of the zombies blocking your path.
“Velcro” by Bell XI: I’ll cop to being not too familiar with this band, which has been very popular in their native Ireland for some time now. This is an invigorating slice of dance pop a la Phoenix, and you might not hear a more romantic line all summer long than “I’ll be your Velcro.”
“Tree Down By The River” by Iron & Wine: You might consider bearded folkie Sam Beam more of a winter artist, with his hushed voice and acoustic renderings. Here, however, he spins off a gorgeously nostalgic summer reverie, complete with falsetto-backing vocals to capture a Beach Boys-vibe.
“Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall” by Coldplay: I don’t know if this upcoming album is the one that will be the group's first truly classic full-length. What I do know is that, until Bono and The Edge get untangled from their web, Chris Martin and company have cornered the market on effortlessly uplifting singles.
“Codex” by Radiohead: You’ll have to be careful not to get too transfixed on the beauty of this composition from The King Of Limbs while at the wheel, or else you might hurtle over a guard rail or two. At least you’ll do it in the most tranquil way possible.
“Dimming Of The Day” by Allison Krauss & Union Station: Tell the significant other that you’ve got some dust in your eye when this one comes on, because I guarantee you’ll be a bit misty when you hear Krauss’ take on this Richard & Linda Thompson classic.
“Time Spent In Los Angeles” by Dawes: This band hails from LA, so it knows from whence it speaks on this song about a girl with a “special kind of sadness.” The song joins the proud lineage of melancholy songs about the West Coast, a la the best offerings of Jackson Browne or Don Henley.
“Villains On The Moon” by Cold Cave: Do you remember that brief point in the 80’s where Depeche Mode was cranking out weirdly captivating songs like “Enjoy The Silence” and “Policy of Truth” with regularity? This song is just like one of those, courtesy of a New York City band to watch.
“Yonkers” by Tyler The Creator: I’m not condoning anything that’s going on this song, but it is impossible to deny both the captivating power of its Pac-Man-run amok rhythm and the inventiveness of the lyrics, as raw as they might be.
“Codeine” by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit: The former Drive-By Trucker has carved out a nice little niche as the head of this new collective. This song is a quintessential piece of alt-country, with fiddles and pedal steel that accentuate Isbell’s tale of wayward former flame.
“Someone You’d Admire” by Fleet Foxes: The Foxes new album is definitely a contender for the finest of the year so far, and this unabashedly pretty song might be the highlight. Substitute anything from the latest Bon Iver album if you’re looking for something equally soft and luminous.
“June Hymn” by The Decemberists: OK, it’s a month late, but this sublime offering from The King Is Dead, the best album of the year in my opinion, encapsulates the season in perfect fashion. No traffic jam would be complete without it.