This is a really cool article. Go read it, then come back here. I’d probably add that for this to happen, for an artist to capture the essence of a city or a place, the artist (bizarrely) doesn’t even have to be from or even familiar with the area in question (although it helps, obviously). I suppose a lot of it depends on one’s individual tastes and perceptions. Here’s mine, arranged in no particular order; disagreement is encouraged.
- New York: Where to begin? If you want to hear the ungentrified, unhipsterised New York, you have two really good options: Billy Joel at night, Dream Theater (‘specially Scenes from a Memory) by day. The “nice” New York, safe but bland, is best encapsulated by a group which also has these qualities (and a sweet jazz section): Dave Matthews Band. And nothing compares to walking down midtown Manhattan to Bittersweet Symphony.
- New Jersey: The first name that appears here must always be the once and future Springsteen. We also have to mention early Bon Jovi here, too. Also, Newark Airport and all the factories around the Turnpike and the east end of I-78 makes me think of Breaking Benjamin for some reason. But if you’re one of the many who dislike post-grunge and alt-metal with every fibre of their beings, (1) I don’t blame you, and (2) try some How to Destroy Angels instead.
- Los Angeles: There is no nice way of saying this: I don’t really care for LA as a concept. It’s the sprawl, the car dependency, the…fakeness (hello, aughts NYC), it’s the presence of the bread-and-circuses industry. Within Los Angeles breeds in some form everything I dislike about contemporary America. The great Geoff Manaugh loves it, and considers features what I consider bugs, so…whatever. We all have different tastes. Anyway, because of this, whenever I hear Radiohead (whose most famous album was exactly that, inasmuch as it had a concept), I think of LA.
- Baltimore/DC: See “The Sea” below and throw in some Zeppelin. Can’t account for that. The nation’s capital is the only place I know whose suburbs (capital-S Suburbs like Arlington and Bethesda, not established, heavily urbanised places like Jersey City or Cambridge MA that happen to be outside the city limits) can be considered “bohemian,” so the go-to soundtrack for driving along the Beltway is typically (of all things) the Yes greatest hits album.
- Philadelphia: Can’t go wrong with The Wall. As a younger man I’d always assumed that Pink’s hotel room was in Philly, which (at the time) had a dark and depressing character that matched the music perfectly.
- Tokyo: Tokyo is basically what we thought our future would look like in the 80s. So we need something dark and brooding, but too abrasive for noir. Steven Wilson’s heavier stuff (both with PT and solo) fits pretty well. (Special recommendations: Anesthetize and Abandoner) So does Juno Reactor’s darker material, but these are applicable to pretty much any huge East Asian city (City of the Sinful works just as well in Shanghai, Hong Kong, or Seoul).
- Kyoto/Japanese countryside: Anyone who’s spent time in Japan knows that Japan is so built up that the “countryside” is someplace where the mid-size towns aren’t right up against each other. Therefore, we want something a little more acoustic, but not completely devoid of electronic elements. Porcupine Tree’s lighter stuff is also pretty good (think most of the stuff off In Absentia, Lightbulb Sun, or Deadwing). Go farther out, like, in a shrine, and Two Steps From Hell’s more atmospheric offerings work better.
- Montreal: Thanks to the Expo, Canada’s largest Francophone city has tons of 60s and 70s architecture (the Metro is a veritable shrine to the design of the period), so a case could be made for the one group that epitomizes the 60s/70s aesthetic: Boards of Canada. Also, y’know, Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
- Ecotopia: (i.e., San Francisco/Seattle/Vancouver) See “Mountains” below and throw in Enya and Sonata Arctica for flavor. I don’t know, either.
- Sydney: I used to live here. My impression of Australia’s largest city was always “a combination of everywhere” in terms of architecture and geography. Since the JB Hi-Fi at the Strand Arcade had a pretty wide selection of music for relatively cheap, I bought a lot of music. And since my taste in music is pretty eclectic (read: I listen to the most popular bands in a whole lot of genres), it’s only fitting that the music I associate with Sydney is a combination of everything. Think Massive Attack’s Mezzanine, PT’s Fear of a Blank Planet (again), the KA soundtrack, and the Memento soundtrack (esp. the extended version of the Main Theme and the Funkstorung Remix of Bjork’s All is Full of Love). Since Sydney has a pretty sweet collection of historic architecture (like Central Station, the QVB, the Strand Arcade, and the Pitt Street Mall), some atmospheric steampunk music works, too. Try Vernian Process’ Behold the Machine and their earlier, more atmospheric work (if you can find it).
- Mountains: As this is a natural setting, we want as little electronic elements as possible. Once again, there are a few TSFH albums (Dreams and Imaginations/Illumina), but you could also throw in the first two E S Posthumus albums, and just about anything that sounds like it would fit with a flying sequence in a fantasy movie trailer. If you haven’t got trailer music, Sigur Ros also works.
- Deserts: If it isn’t Joshua Tree, it has to be heavy and abrasive. This is not a hospitable environment. Try some post-metal. Or 16 Horsepower.
- Plains: Explosions in the Sky. All the way.
- The Sea: The songs in my library that have the most explicit connection to the sea are all off the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack, surprise. Also, and apparently I’m the only one who thinks like this, I tend to classify Jethro Tull as “pirate music.” It must be the flute.
Anyway, those are my picks. What are yours?