When the pandemic began nearly a year ago, I suddenly found myself unsure how to fill my days — particularly my days off. Overnight, it felt like the free time I’d typically use to relax, rest and reconnect was no longer good for any of those purposes anymore. Inevitably, I slid into depression, a path familiar to far too many these days.
One of my first attempts at extricating myself from this miserable rut was to go on more aimless drives. I don’t have to tell you about the healing powers of the aimless drive — Elizabeth Blackstock has already done so artfully — but I will take this opportunity to reflect on an element of my journeys; a particular collection of songs that has long held this uncanny ability to cause me to forget all my problems, if only for a blissful half hour.
We’ve all got our favorite driving music, and my choice has never required much thought. “Son Of Mustang Ford” appears on the British rock band Swervedriver’s first EP; it later found its way onto the group’s debut full length record, Raise, in 1991. A good driving song doesn’t necessarily have to be about cars or driving, of course, but for Swervedriver, the association comes naturally. Automotive imagery is a recurring theme with this band, however in Raise’s sun-kissed, coastal excursions, cars aren’t weapons of speed, power or destruction. They’re not worshipped for any of those qualities; they’re treasured because they allow us to escape.
I could continue to vaguely grasp at Swervedriver’s particular brand of automotive romanticism, but instead, I’ll just let Adam Franklin, the band’s lead vocalist and one of its guitarists, explain it best:
We weren’t overly angry young men — we’re arguably angrier old men — and we didn’t write so much about the things that riled us up, preferring to conjure up a sense of magic, excitement and escape — to other places, other planes, even other planets — and we mixed up guitar experimentalism with our own peculiar brand of power pop and songs about cars, love and UFOs.
Raise is 44 minutes of blazing, ethereal, hazy rock about leaving. Not longing to leave, mind you, but actually doing it, and fully experiencing all the empowerment the act brings. “Shoegaze” is a label often applied to Swervedriver’s music, and there’s certainly an aesthetic similarity between Raise’s walls of modulated guitars and something you might’ve heard out of a My Bloody Valentine or Ride record. I love those bands too, but Swervedriver was never one I imagined staring at the floor for very long — other than when the guitarists would momentarily glimpse at the grid of pedals at their feet.
That adventurous energy lifts and crashes throughout the album. “Sci-Flyer” is a statement of intent, like all good openers should be (if you listen close, you can even hear a riff that appears again in later songs, albeit with a very different feel.) “Deep Seat” — probably my favorite song in the band’s entire catalog — is a simmering meditation on anger; it’s immediately followed by “Rave Down” and its cathartic, euphoric bridge, that really makes me miss the joy of live music.
But it’s “Son Of Mustang Ford” that leaves the most immediate and indelible impression, with its guitars exploding about every six seconds, relentless percussion and Franklin’s “take me far away” refrain. The words “petroleum spirit daze” have never been applied so fittingly, if at all.
When this song comes on, whether I’m listening to Raise from front to back or within a road trip playlist (it’s a permanent fixture, as you’d imagine), everything else just kind of stops. Nothing matters, and the experience is enhanced especially if it’s warm enough to keep the windows down. If it’s blowing cool out, or if you’re wistfully riding a train, this band has themes for that, too.
The past year has been so hard; the months ahead aren’t going to be easy, either. But at least I know when it gets about 20 degrees warmer and the sun begins to peek through the clouds, there will be yet more therapeutic drives ahead — and this song will always be the soundtrack to my escape.