Just like a nice cold beer pairs well with an insanely greasy pizza, music goes down better when accompanied by an amazing experience. I was recently lucky enough to go on a two month journey across Europe. I made my way from Edinburgh to Ukraine and then back around to Paris via Rome, completely by train. I had the unlimited Eurail train ticket, so I was able to hop off and on, in whatever place seemed interesting at the moment. I was able to sample some fine tunes and pair them with some savoury moments.
Tune: “Dissolve Me by alt-J”
Pairing: Playing Boule on a Scottish beach while cooking random meats on an open fire.
Alternate Pairing: Riding the train from London to Edinburgh
Let’s start out with a kind of classic. This is just a naturally beautiful song, especially when you’re watching the waves lethargically push up against seaweed-covered rocks and sitting beside a crackling beach fire, having been unofficially welcomed into one of the warmest families on earth. What makes alt-J special is their ability to take seemingly depressing topics, and produce catchy, and at times abnormally uplifting, tracks. This seems to fit in with the Scottish mentality in general. Paired together, alt-J and Scotland provide a blend almost as smooth and smokey as a nice Lagavulin beside a camp fire.
Tune: “Rich” by Cosmo Sheldrake
Pairing: Watching the sunset from a beach hostel just north of Amsterdam
Imagine if you tracked down a previously undiscovered tribe in the Amazon. You spend a month teaching the locals how to use a small keyboard and microphone hooked up to a laptop. If you went back in a year, you would have a Cosmo Sheldrake album. He mixes odd sounds and loops into something that is beautiful, yet consistently remains out of place. Sheldrake brakes all the rules and comes out sounding more sophisticated and ahead of the game than most. Funny thing is, all of these descriptors fit the Netherlands as well. The two were made for each other.
Tune: “Demain c’est loin” by IAM
Pairing: Riding in the passenger seat of a Mercedes driving through Paris ghettos
There is something inherently cool about Parisian rap. Combining French style with Americanized beats creates something incredibly fluid and effortless sounding. This song just seems to transcend cool and helps to capture a part of the Paris life style that you do not get to see as a regular tourist. Hip hop and gang culture permeate the ghettos that encircle the city of proposals. But IAM reflects something deeper with his style and his words. There is a nonchalantness with which the French approach life. The lyrics have all the swagger of their counterpart across the ocean, but are infinitely more confident as each rhyme blends with an ease the English language just can’t offer.
Tune: “Black River Killer” by Blitzen Trapper
Pairing: Stuck on top of a mountain in a snow storm, alone
Alternate Pairing: Sitting in a hot tub in a nudest hostel after hiking in the Black Forest
Blitzen Trapper is just an odd blend. When listening to their album, you could almost swear that it is a mixed tape. Each song is unique to the point that it seems like several different bands have pieced themselves together and decided to play each other’s stuff. But it works. I love a well written song and Blitzen Trapper delivers some of the most thought-provoking lyrics I’ve come across in a while. It’s not often that you find yourself sympathizing with, and almost rooting for, a murderer, who is prone to blaming his faults on a higher power. But, there is something really primal about the protagonist here. A relatable feeling of longing, searching for something better that seems just out of reach. Definitely a song that deserves multiple listens, which is easy to do when you’re trapped in an abandoned log cabin for a few hours.
Tune: “Susie Q” by CCR
Pairing: A house party in the middle of nowhere Czech Republic (Garnish with an incredibly high ratio of beautiful women)
There is no way you can listen to a CCR song and not picture yourself at a country house party, with a bonfire burning outside for those who just need some fresh air. When attending a house party in any place, bringing a little CCR along is never a bad idea. Even people who have never heard one of their songs will soon be singing along, regardless of their grasp of English. Trust me. It’s an amazing feeling to put on a song, on the other side of the world, and suddenly be transported home. And all the new people around you are your old friends. And maybe a future wife, who knows?
Tune: “Good Times Roll” (Part 2) by RJD2
Pairing: A rave in a cave
Deadringer is the first album that RJD2 had complete creative control over, which he is very clear about in the opening song. For the most part, this is a very chill album. That is why “Good Times Roll” comes out of nowhere. A classic pump up song if I have ever heard one. It even has the expected slow-down-bridge that leads into an insane beat drop. So stylish and carefree. As soon as you put this song on, it’s impossible not to imagine yourself sweating it up in an unseemly place. If you need a good tune to get you off the couch on a Friday night, put this on. Maybe put it on repeat until Sunday morning if you’re feeling that kind of thing.
Tune: “Cuckoo” by Dr. Dog
Pairing: Walking the back streets of London after one Pint too many
Alternate Pairing: Admiring the graffiti of Berlin
Dr. Dog is tied for my number one band to see live (with Zeus, in case you’re wondering). They’re a classic rock band. With two singers and each member alternating between every instrument, their shows are an actual experience without any of the gimmicks. In my romanticizing brain, I feel that this is what London is meant to be as well. Enjoyed for its raw, naturalness. Dr. Dog takes the classic idea of a University jam band and amps up the nostalgia, often playing for hours at a time. They are simply an extremely talented group of individuals who want to make sure the crowd leaves happy and exhausted. On a side note, they are playing a show in Toronto this march. Grab your tickets if you’re in the city.
Just as a final note, here are some songs that just fit, looking out the window of a train:
“Church Mouth” by Portugal the Man
“Float On” by Modest Mouse
“Slow it Down” by The Lumineers
“One” by Ratatat
“Patterns” by Band of Skulls
“Take the Veil Cerpin Tax” by The Mars Volta
“It Will Follow the Rain” by The Tallest Man on Earth
“Necessary Evil” by Unknown Mortal Orchestra
“City in a Bottle” by Shakey Graves
There are many more songs that could be added to this list. But each experience has its own taste, and each person prefers their own particular vintage, be it some aged Merlot or a Smirnoff Ice. In the end, music is really only as enjoyable as the experience that goes with it.