When I was in college, I liked taking long, meandering nighttime drives, just because. Some nights, I’d cruise Ottawa’s deserted streets, and on others, I’d take to the rural two-lanes that criss-cross the city’s outskirts. The one common element was the music I’d listen to on these drives: CKCU, the radio station at Carleton University, played a lot of really weird stuff late at night and in the wee hours of the morning.

These days, I don’t get many chances to get behind the wheel when most people are asleep (and when I should be, too), but the odd time I do, the tunes I take along are still important. Naturally, my iPod makes it easy to choose the songs I want to hear after the stars come out, so here are a few of the ones I gravitate to.

Brighter Hell – The Watchmen

This song seems like it was written for a dark night in the middle of nowhere, from the haunting electric piano intro, to the sparse arrangement and Daniel Greaves’ pleading vocal. The song itself alternates between a quiet, subdued feel in the verses, to an almost-hopeful sound in the chorus, all punctuated by a pumped-up middle section. There’s a disorted snippet of chatter at the end, from a movie or TV show from the sounds of it, that adds an element of creepiness that completes the nighttime-friendly feel of this tune.
Buy: iTunes | HMV.ca

26 Miles by Car – Jim Bryson

Ottawa folkie Jim Bryson has achieved a decent amount of success in the music biz, though to speak to him, you’d think he has no self-confidence at all. Many of the songs on his first album, The Occasionals, speak to that impression, but the truth is that the guy is a great songwriter. Here’s one of the best examples of his early work, and a song whose moody sound, achieved in spite of its stripped-down production values. The crunchy, reverb-drenched guitar solo in the middle sounds great with the windows open on a summer night in the middle of nowhere. Good luck finding this song digitally; you’ll have to discover it at a record store, your best bet being an independent one.

Polaris – Jimmy Eat World

There’s something about a song with a long intro that suits the quiet calm of a solitary late night. It eases you into the song (a sudden start is jarring on a relaxed late-night cruise) and helps you get into the groove, as does the simple, rhythmic bass part. Though this song is about heartbreak, it feels like a romantic ode to the pain of being ditched by the one you love, and remembering the good stuff while trying to figure out what went wrong.
Buy: iTunes | HMV.ca

Cooper – Roxette

I know last week’s list included a Roxette song, but this one is a far cry from the upbeat pop songs they’re known for. Once in a while, songwriter and singer Per Gessle comes up with something really off-the-wall, like this song, from 1999’s Have a Nice Day record. Cooper tells the story of that quiet neighbour who just disappears one day, with no explanation and nothing but a mysterious phone call from someone who apparently knows where the subject of the song is and why they had to leave. The staccato violin part at the end is a stroke of melodic genius, if you ask me. This one’s not available digitally either, but you can listen at the link below.
Listen: Youtube.com

Lunatic Fringe – Tom Cochrane and Red Rider

Two things make this song, period: one is the terrific synth intro, and the other is Ken Greer’s pedal steel guitar work. The pedal steel is an instrument more closely associated with hurtin’ country songs, but feed it through a distortion pedal, and you get this song’s awesome, and haunting guitar sound. There’s something sinister in the lyrics, too, along the lines of what Golden Earring does in Twilight Zone (included on the first Summer Tune Up playlist), but executed better in Tom Cochrane’s poetic hands.
Buy: iTunes | HMV.ca

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