October Music Recs | hold back the river

October 17, 2014 § Leave a comment

My friends could use a break from the endless guided tours of my procrastination-driven, painstakingly curated iTunes playlists to which they are routinely subjected. In the spirit of sharing with a wider (read: less exasperated) audience, I’ve put together a mix of my October ‘14 favorites – stuff I’ve been listening to in Seville and Bucharest, on the subway and on planes, on the shores of the Mediterranean at sunset and on the way to the club after class this week. Think of it as an amuse-bouche for the heavier films/books headed our way now that we’ve got the sunscreen and blockbusters out of the way. That, or a terrifying glimpse into what it’s like to spend time with me in meatspace.

Open a Google tab and settle in for 45 minutes of “did people really used to pay L.I. to write this for their magazines?” (They did. I replaced my professional decorum with enthusiasm at some point in the intervening years.)

hold back the river



Pa Pa Power – Dead Man’s Bones

Ryan Gosling released an album as part of a duo in October 2009, and it’s possibly the best thing he’s ever done in the public eye. Don’t take my word for it, hit Play.

House of Winston – Shakey Graves

This blog got its name from a song from Shakey Graves’ first album. The second album, released a few days ago (five years to the day after Dead Man’s Bones self-titled effort, for those keeping track at home) has been on constant rotation at Built to Roam HQ.

Battles – Hudson Taylor

Irish pop-folk brother duo Hudson Taylor, previously known as Harry & Alfie, have been hard at work since before being signed by Polydor: Battles is from the eponymous EP that came out back in 2012, when they were still teenagers. Their first full-length album is slated for a February 2015 release. You do the math on how long I’ve been waiting.

Patriarch – Delta Spirit

Texas-based Delta Spirit’s Into the Wide (Sept. 9) is their fourth record, and they just keep getting better. It’s cohesive and self-aware, driven and bold, something closer to the Killers’ Hot Fuss than anything in recent memory in their genre. It’s no surprise that they’re amazing live.

Hold Back the River – James Bay

One to watch. When this song came up on BBC Radio 1’s breakfast show earlier this week, I actually forgot I was in the middle of eating for four solid minutes. The word poignant comes to mind.

Someday (The Strokes cover) – Oh Mercy

Beautiful cover of what is surely a classic by now, from an Australian band that got its name from a Bob Dylan album. I think they’re drinking PBR in Portland these days.

Thirteen Thirtyfive – Dillon

Brazilian-born Dillon (Dominique Dillon de Byington) isn’t a household name, but should be, considering how much she’s grown since 2011’s This Silence Kills. If you like Lykke Li, you’ll love her.

Pools – Glass Animals

Glass Animals are a newish band hailing from Oxford. In the brief time they’ve been playing together they’ve been signed by Paul Epworth (the producer behind Adele, Florence and the Machine, and Bloc Party), toured with St. Vincent, and performed at SXSW this year. Quite the resume for four guys who took a year off from music to focus on their degrees after 2012’s Leaflings EP.

Their album Zaba (June 10) is a treat from start to finish, as you can sample in Pools, but my favorite thing they’ve ever put out is Holiest, a collaboration with Brooklyn singer Tei-Shi from GA’s remix EP Gooey (April 8).

Floor of the Ocean – Mark Lanegan

The latest from musicians’ musician Lanegan, he of pre-Nirvana Kurt Cobain, Queens of the Stone Age, The Twilight Singers, and Isobel Campbell collaborations. This guy started his career in 1984 and spent the past thirty years developing his distinctive style in a dizzying array of acts. Phantom Radio, his forthcoming record, is out on October 21 on Vagrant Records. I’ve been listening to it on repeat.

Off & On – Findlay

Here’s what I know about Natalie Findlay, since there’s not a surfeit of information about her floating around and music trivia sticks to me like chewing gum to your best jeans: she’s based in London, has a hilariously dirty mouth, supported Miles Kane and Jake Bugg, has recently toured in western Europe (I have vague recollections of her playing in Paris when I was there last year), once named the Velvet Underground as her band-on-a-pedestal, and favors vocal distortions that bring Julian Casablancas to mind.

Last I heard she was releasing EPs and working on a full-length album, but with no release date, I’ve been tiding myself over with Off & On, a furious romp of a song that first appeared in a BMW commercial. Like Hudson Taylor, Findlay’s signed to Polydor.

Foreigner’s God – Hozier

It’s no secret that Andrew Hozier-Byrne is one of the best new acts around. His first album, the eponymous Hozier, was released in his native Ireland in September and globally earlier in October.

This guy has the sort of voice, presence, and sensibilities that could raise an army in an apathetic crowd – or score an Irish Gothic film, a la Southern Gothic, depending on which song you’re listening to. He’s got genre-straddling down pat, which is impressive for someone who’s nominally a singer-songwriter that could’ve fit comfortably in the new wave of Brit folk.

He blew onto the stage last year with Take Me to Church, possibly the most intense relationship-related song I’ve heard in years (with a video that drew attention to homophobic hate crime, because clearly it wasn’t bold enough for Hozier to sing what amounts to a sweeping sacrilegious hymn of devotion to a girl who laughs at funerals and punctuate it with amen) and followed it up with From Eden, an equally intense number that has the narrator slithering down from Eden to hide outside the door of an idealistic girl who’s “familiar like [his] mirror years ago.”
Long story short, it was nigh-impossible to pick just one of the seventeen mind-blowing songs on the album for the mix. I settled on Foreigner’s God because it’s the one I’ve been playing most often during my latest trip, and it showcases Hozier’s lyrical strength at its purest and more poignant. (There’s that word again.)

That’s all, folks. I plan to do this lengthy playlist/review combo every month, or more often if the mood strikes and academia permits, so stay tuned if music’s your thing.


the travel-self

September 25, 2014 § 1 Comment

Malaga at night

I was hanging halfway out the window in the dark, dimly aware of the sea in the distance as I watched the C-1 line trains rattling past on the way to Malaga, when I realized that I would’ve been doing the same thing in any number of places. I’d actually been there before three times this year alone, and this is my first time in Spain. Not only that, but it was possibly my favourite part of traveling.

How extraordinary, I thought, and promptly forgot about it.

Three hours and too much food later, I circled back to the idea of routines on the long walk up the hill to my hotel. I remembered other nomads telling me that they travel in search of new experiences and then explaining their rituals in the same breath, even the most scatterbrained and last-minute of them; I thought about people who need checklists when they leave for work but, as frequent travelers, know exactly how their days abroad will go. Was it possible that those of us who find ourselves when we’re the only familiar thing around stumble upon patterns when we’re adrift, patterns we can’t find when we’re surrounded by constant familiarity? Is our travel-self our favourite self? Is that why we’re so often on the road? And if that’s the case, is it necessarily a bad thing?

My ritual is taking time to enjoy being transient. It’s isolation that I crave – an unfamiliar view I can’t retrace from memory, somewhere I won’t leave a mark. I could be watching trains or the sea, a busy restaurant or clouds beneath an airplane: there’s a thrill in being a stranger with nothing to fall back on but myself. There’s an even bigger thrill in stillness and silence, being alone with the knowledge that I only need to reemerge and act upon the world on my own terms.

There are worse things than being a creature of habit – mine brought me to the Mediterranean coast to figure this out, then kept me up late to write it down before a day trip to Seville.

Spain, and What Comes After

September 21, 2014 § Leave a comment

The thing about being a writer who loves to travel and trying to blog about it is that both travel and writing are time-consuming. There’s little room for looking ahead when you’re, say, spending five weeks in Paris in the spring. (It was lovely, even though it was work.) I didn’t have time to blog when I went to the Black Sea coast with my friends, and I probably won’t have much to say over the next two weeks, when I’ll be on Costa del Sol. I’ve been working on short stories, but they’re not blog fare; the muse is fickle and the wifi is spotty away from home.

I’m starting grad school in October. It might make traveling harder – I’m already daydreaming about summer hols – but it’s a cultural studies degree that’ll help me be a better nomad down the line. I chose it at 24 for the same reasons I chose sociology after my gap year at 19: culture is endlessly fascinating, and having a toolkit to better understand it brings a measure of discipline to curiosity. Working in the travel industry, while invaluable as an experience, can only get me so far.

So where does this leave the blog?

I’ve been trying to answer that question ever since it came up in my grad school interview. The answer came to me when I considered deleting the account and found I couldn’t bring myself to do it: I’ve been a blogger since 2006, and it’s as much a part of my identity as everything else I love, from talking about songs well into the early hours to putting the map away and venturing into new cities like I have all the time in the world. Built to Roam should reflect all of that.

Going into specifics is trickier, but here goes. The thing that came up the most is how much I miss writing about music. I used to review something every day, but that was when I had the workload of a highschooler. A good way to go about it now would be to talk about the music I recommend to my friends, which I’ll be starting as soon as I come back from Spain. I won’t be doing much traveling because of school, but half my time online is spent on travel websites and inspiration boards; I’ll share my findings and bucket list entries here instead of sighing and clicking out of the tab. Art, of course, will take up a good chunk of future posts, because when left to my own devices I’ll somehow wind up either in a museum or on a gallery’s artists page. There’s a whole world of wonderful stuff out there, and there’s no reason to hoard any of it.

Above all, I want this to be an adventure, because that’s how I live and what I want to inspire in others. In that spirit, I’ll leave you with this photo of gorgeous Costa del Sol – I have a plane to catch!

Nerja Beach

At home with Edward James

April 4, 2014 § Leave a comment

A wonderful look at the great eccentric (and nomad) Edward James. An hour well spent for such a wealth of inspiration, though perhaps it’s best that we’re not all so fabulously rich as to indulge in such follies as James seemed powerless to avoid.

Strange Flowers

So yesterday we paid a brief visit to the far-flung digs of Austrian artist Alfred Kubin, and while we’re on creative spaces I thought I should pass on this video which I only came across recently. It’s a 1978 documentary concerning, and extensively featuring, Edward James, described by the narrator as “a legendary man most people have never heard of” and “the last of the great eccentrics”. That narrator, by the way, is no less a personage than jazz singer George Melly, of whom Quentin Crisp famously said “Mr Melly has to be obscene to be believed”.

Of course being “at home” with Edward James is a multinational undertaking. And people, what wonders the journey brings! James describes the travelling menagerie that is his life in the high, piping voice which contemporaries always remarked upon. His irascible temperament and bitterness are also much in evidence. There is little to…

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Robert Mapplethorpe in Paris: Grand Palais, Musée Rodin

March 27, 2014 § Leave a comment

Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé may have spotted Robert Mapplethorpe’s talent early on, but for a long time France failed to give the legendary American photographer the institutional recognition he deserved. Not anymore.

Today the Grand Palais in Paris is unveiling the artist’s first retrospective in the country, while the Musée Rodin is gearing up for an intimate presentation of his photographs, shown alongside works by the great French sculptor Auguste Rodin.


Robert Mapplethorpe, Thomas, 1987

The exhibition marks a new direction for the Grand Palais, which has only recently started to dedicate major solo shows to photographers. It began with the 2012 Helmut Newton exhibition, also curated by [Jérôme] Neutres.

Opening on April 8, the Musée Rodin exhibition will gather 102 photographs presented alongside 50 Rodin sculptures. Italian curator Germano Celant was the first to link the two artists. But it was the French art critic Judith Benhamou-Huet who suggested the idea to the Musée Rodin—she’s co-curator of the show, associate curator of the Grand Palais retrospective, and the author of the monograph Dans la vie noire et blanche de Robert Mapplethorpe, out this month.

“We chose Mapplethorpe’s most sculptural photographs, then looked for pieces that would resonate with them in our collection,” explains co-curator of the Musée Rodin show Hélène Pinet. “It’s very much Mapplethorpe-Rodin, not Rodin-Mapplethorpe.”


(via ARTNET: http://news.artnet.com/art-world/robert-mapplethorpe-takes-over-paris-are-the-french-ready-7417)

Travel Series #2 – A Soundtrack for Parisian Hotel Rooms

March 23, 2014 § Leave a comment


Brassai – Morris Column in the Fog, 1932

Paris is one of the cities I know best, so it comes as no surprise that my first assignments this season will have me guiding there for much of April and all of May. I’ve been busy with research for the past couple of weeks, and there’s a series of posts on the City of Light in the works for this spring, but I thought I’d start with a little instant gratification: a mix I listened to last year when I stayed in various Parisian hotels for a few weeks.

The thing about traveling for a living is that you don’t get to make your own schedule very often – at least that’s the case in my line of work, which has me accompanying groups of up to fifty people all over Europe on a strict schedule. I love my job, but there’s no mistaking it for a holiday. The exception? Those couple of hours in the evening, just as the sun is setting over whichever city I find myself in, when I can have a glass of wine and write. This mix is my go-to soundtrack – I hope it inspires you as much as it inspired me.


Edward Hopper – Hotel Room

TRAVEL SERIES #2. Living out of a suitcase: A cinematic mix for long mornings and slow nights [click here to stream]

01. Cigarettes – Russian Red
02. Champagne Coast – Blood Orange
03. Misery Loves Company – New Build
04. Pretty Face – Soley
05. Pure Shores – All Saints
06. Toxic – Yael Naim
07. Man with the Movie Camera – The Cinematic Orchestra
08. Un, deux, trois – Saint Privat
09.  Low Battery – Jaga Jazzist
10. Le prochain amour – Jacques Brel
11. L’ombre et la lumiere – Coralie Clement
12. Ever Fallen in Love – Nouvelle Vague

To Climb the World – Nat Geo Live

March 16, 2014 § 2 Comments

Climbing dream team Alex Honnold, Mark Synnott, and Jimmy Chin face rugged cliffs, knife-wielding thieves, and deadly waters as they traverse the globe searching for the next great rock to climb.

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