NME Recommends: the best road trip albums

The soundtrack to your next driving adventure

There’s something about having the perfect soundtrack that turns a dreary hack down the motorway into an adventure. You may not be zooming along a scenic coastal road or navigating a winding route through lush forests, but stick on the right album and you transform even the dreariest journey into a road trip.

Whether it’s turning your car into a karaoke booth accompanied by Whitney Houston or Lorde, or recreating a moody music video with Japanese Breakfast or Waxahatchee, some albums are perfect for blasting on the road.

Here NME writers go deep on the best road trip albums.

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever

‘Hope Downs’ (2018)

Restrained and hushed doesn’t really cut it when bombing down the motorways – at least not in a featherweight Toyota Aygo with a patchy soundsystem – so it’s gotta be loud, and it’s gotta be fast. You might only hear half the song, but hey, shouldn’t you be focusing on the road? Anyway, ‘Hope Down’s is an album custom-built for this listening experience – energetic, buoyant and a sense of forward momentum, the Aussie five-piece nailed it on their speedy debut.
Thomas Smith
Listen: Spotify | Apple Music

Whitney Houston

‘Whitney Houston’ (1985)

If you ask me, there are exactly two good things about road trips: highly romantic notions on paper, a belching tangle of traffic and motorway closures in reality. Firstly, the tantalising possibility of visiting either Tebay or Gloucester service station along the way; truly, the finest roadside beacons in the nation. Secondly, being in a car is essentially like renting out your own personal karaoke booth, except on wheels. And in this life there’s no purer joy than sticking my scratched-to-fuck copy of Whitney Houston’s self-titled debut album in the CD player, smacking the dashboard like a bass drum, and belting out ‘Saving All My Love For You’, ‘How Will I Know’ or ‘All At Once’ with the feverish air of an X Factor auditionee who didn’t get Simon Cowell’s memo about it being a dangerous game taking on a Whitney banger. The man’s correct: my rendition of ‘Greatest Love of All’ sounds like a lilo squeakily deflating; but luckily enough, I’m not planning on giving him a lift any time soon.
El Hunt
Listen: Spotify | Apple Music

Japanese Breakfast

‘Soft Sounds From Another Planet’ (2017)

It ranked among many best of the year lists at the end of 2017, but the beauty of the second full length record from Michelle Zauner is that it reveals itself more and more over time – especially when you’ve got the space to explore. From the widescreen ‘Road Head’, to the floaty romance of ‘Boyish’ and the aching lullaby of ‘Till Death’, this adventurous collection of star-gazing dream-pop gems is the perfect companion for gliding down the highway and losing yourself while getting a little lost.
Andrew Trendell
Listen: Spotify | Apple Music

Fleetwood Mac

‘Rumours’ (1977)

‘Rumours’ reflects every part of the perfect road trip. Close your eyes while listening to ‘Dreams’ and Stevie Nicks’ vocals will instantly transport you to the Pacific Highway – the sun beating down on your back as you travel across one of the most scenic stretches of road in the world. But by the time you get to ‘The Chain’, a sense of relaxation is replaced with pedal-to-the metal power, with a foreboding bass line preluding a burning urgency to just floor the damn thing. For 40 years, this magnus opus from the ‘Mac has been the ultimate soundtrack for dreamers everywhere – and Christ knows we’ve never needed it more than now.
Nick Reilly
Listen: Spotify | Apple Music

We Are Scientists

‘With Love And Squalor’ (2005)

Precisely how long do you need to be in a car before you’ve embarked on a ‘road trip’? I grew up in an area of east Yorkshire so rural that the quaint city of York seemed like a gleaming, limitless cosmopolis. Hull might as well have been Los Angeles (although I’m told there are key differences). When my mates and I turned 17 and were unwisely granted driving licenses, hour-long ‘road trips’ to Scarborough and Bridlington seemed like sprawling odysseys across desolate flatlands and harsh, uninhabitable plains. Really we were just passing through Driffield. And there was only ever one thing on the stereo: the debut album from Cali alt-pop quirksters We Are Scientists. History has not been kind to this quintessential slice of mid-‘00s indie, but as we often found upon arrival at those seaside towns, the journey can be more fun than the destination.
Jordan Bassett
Listen: Spotify | Apple Music

Lorde Melodrama Cover

Lorde

‘Melodrama’ (2017)

When you think of the perfect road trip you usually picture zipping down the Pacific Coast Highway or trundling through the English countryside; but even a hungover trek to the closest McDonald’s drive-thru can be romanticised into road trip if you have the perfect soundtrack. Stuffed full of effervescent hooks, pithy lyrics and choruses that require you to sing along at full belt, Lorde’s ‘Melodrama’ will transform even the dreariest commute into your next great adventure.
Hannah Mylrea
Listen: Spotify | Apple Music

The War On Drugs

‘Lost In The Dream’ (2014)

Road map? Check. Ample supply of snacks? Check. Adam Granduciel’s 2014 masterpiece as The War On Drugs? Big Check. Next time you head out on a long ol’ drive, stick ‘Lost In The Dream’ on: Granduciel and his band’s carefully assembled brand of pysch-meets-indie Americana will ensure the next hour of your journey flies by. The record’s soaring ambition and dreamy, cinematic soundscapes are certain to light up even the most hum-drum of road trips for years to come.
Sam Moore
Listen: Spotify | Apple Music

Kacey Musgraves

‘Golden Hour’ (2018)

Unapologetically retro, ‘Golden Hour’ finds harmony between honeyed country-pop and disco-lite arrangements. Filled with nostalgia, songs are sunlit and reflective, and there’s an offhand sense of vulnerability that’s central to each breezy tune. Musgraves’ velveteen delivery completely immerses you in her wide-screen feelings of love, loss and hope, providing the perfect soundtrack to stare out the window from the backseat next time you hit the road.
Sophie Williams
Listen: Spotify | Apple Music

Waxahatchee

‘Saint Cloud’ (2020)

Lockdown may have offered minimal chances to put Waxahatchee’s 2020 album to the (driving) test, but it’s easy to imagine that ‘Saint Cloud’ would make a wonderful long-haul passenger. Written as frontwoman Katie Crutchfield found her way to sobriety, it’s the sound of a fresh start, with free-wheeling americana storytelling used to conjure up romantic notions of setting off into the sunset with nothing more than the clothes on your back and a pocket full of change for the tollbooth. In a time of COVID claustrophobia, it’s a true headphone adventure – just slap on ‘Lilacs’, close your eyes and feel that imaginary sun beating down…
Jenessa Williams
Listen: Spotify | Apple Music

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