Nine-Minute Road Trip

Five Miniature Masterpieces For A Very Short Drive

exit sign 300
Vasha/via Flickr

Road trips allow us to mope, celebrate, ponder and even spend a few hours not thinking about anything, save for a nondescript succession of signs and lines. But all of that takes time, and time on the road takes gas money. For those in search of catharsis on a budget, Stephen Thompson has compiled a playlist for your brutally efficient, environmentally sound, jarringly brief road trip — five songs in nine productive minutes. Here, Thompson talks to host Renee Montagne.

This "Nine-Minute Road Trip" mix is carefully crafted to function as a microcosm of longer road mixes: It opens and closes on a reflective note to mirror the ambivalence surrounding a trip's beginning and end, while going full-bore for those fleeting minutes when you've found a patch of open road. It's a vital soundtrack for when you want to leave your house, hurry to an on-ramp, roar down a short stretch of highway, and abruptly take the next exit to your extremely nearby destination.

For more entries in this summer's weekly Road Trip: Songs to Drive By series, click here.

Nine-Minute Road Trip

Golden Smog CD art

Please Tell My Brother

  • Artist: Golden Smog
  • Album: Weird Tales
  • Song: Please Tell My Brother

It's best to ease into a road trip with something thematically rich and thought-provoking; to drift out of town on a lengthy song cycle about alienation and estrangement. But in a nine-minute road trip, you've got to dispense with the reflection in a hurry, and take the first on-ramp available to you. Golden Smog is a supergroup of sorts, but 1998's virtually forgotten "Please Tell My Brother" is really a solo turn for Wilco's Jeff Tweedy; here, he brilliantly compresses one man's uneasy and unbalanced relationship with his family into 2 minutes and 10 seconds of evocative exposition. The opening couplet -- "Please tell my brothers I love them still / Over the mountains on their phone bill" -- speaks volumes about its narrator, in roughly the time it takes to pull out of the driveway.

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Song
Please Tell My Brother
Album
Weird Tales
Artist
Golden Smog
Label
Rykodisc
Released
1998

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Tallahassee CD art

See America Right

  • Artist: The Mountain Goats
  • Album: Tallahassee
  • Song: See America Right

Short of Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen, it's hard to imagine a songwriter better suited to every road-trip playlist than The Mountain Goats' John Darnielle, who's become an expert in romanticizing awful behavior. Equally gifted at soul-stirring anthems ("This Year") and soul-shredding confessionals ("No Children"), Darnielle seems to record his songs strictly for car-stereo speakers -- if the sound isn't great, then so much the better. "See America Right" distills a movie script's worth of character analysis into 1 minute and 54 seconds, and throws in vivid action and copious drunkenness to boot. "See America Right" is ideal for that moment when you merge onto a hectic highway: The song careens uneasily, a little recklessly, building on the emotions of "Please Tell My Brother" while adding a dollop of portent: "My love is like a cyclone in a swamp / and the weather's getting warmer."

Purchase Featured Music

Song
See America Right
Album
Tallahassee
Artist
The Mountain Goats
Label
4AD
Released
2002

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Blur CD art

Song 2

  • Artist: Blur
  • Album: Blur
  • Song: Song 2

You're far enough from home to consider your soul-searching complete. It's time, instead, to stomp on the gas and stop reflecting for at least… let's say 2 minutes and 3 seconds. Like a wall-shaking stadium anthem without all the homoeroticism, Blur's "Song 2" provides all the inspiration you need to roll down the windows and weave around the slowpokes. If you must pause to parse the message that frontman Damon Albarn has in mind, consider this one: "Dun-nun dun-nun-nun dun-nun-nun-nun / Wooooo hoo!"

Purchase Featured Music

Song
Song 2
Album
Blur
Artist
Blur
Label
Parlophone
Released
1997

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Electric Six CD art

Nuclear War (On the Dance Floor)

  • Artist: Electric Six
  • Album: Fire
  • Song: Nuclear War (On the Dance Floor)

Whoa! Less than three minutes left! Good thing the first exit is in 1 1/4 miles, because you'd hate to have to navigate or slow down during Electric Six's sublimely idiotic "Nuclear War (on the Dance Floor)." Those with 40 minutes to spend shouting along and spazzing out on the road will want to make room for the band's 2003 gem Fire in its entirety. Those with 1 minute and 16 seconds to spend shouting along and spazzing out on the road can do no better than "Nuclear War (on the Dance Floor)" and its signature moment of sweet talk: "You're a pretty pretty pretty pretty pretty pretty pretty pretty pretty pretty pretty pretty girl." It's like a nice, cleansing blow to the head.

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Song
Nuclear War (On the Dance Floor)
Album
Fire
Artist
Electric Six
Label
XL
Released
2003

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Neko Case CD art

Outro (With Bees)

  • Artist: Neko Case
  • Album: Blacklisted
  • Song: (Outro) With Bees

Assuming you're feeling wistful about your destination -- perhaps you're leaving the comforts of home to visit a former love in an adjacent town -- it's best to radically shift gears and reflect on a lifetime of mistakes in the 1 minute and 37 seconds that remain. Fortunately, Neko Case's devastating "Outro (With Bees)" is powerful enough to send all of that heartbreak and humiliation flooding back. Listening to it is like getting shot in the chest at close range with a cannonball made of wistful melancholy: "There's no sure footing," she sings. "No love I believe." "Outro (With Bees)" is all weary resolution and resignation, giving your road trip the dose of self-pity it desperately needs. It's enough to make your journey, from driveway to nearby driveway, feel like you've really traveled.

Purchase Featured Music

Song
(Outro) With Bees
Album
Blacklisted
Artist
Neko Case
Label
Anti
Released
2002

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