Guest Selector: Moon Duo
1. Jim Sullivan – UFO (from the album UFO, 1969)
Groovy, dark Americana: mellow strumming and weathered vocals ride a tide of melancholy strings, graced by birdlike flute and horn flourishes. In a way it’s the ultimate song for this list, as the singer himself, here posing the question 'Did he come by UFO?' vanished into the New Mexico desert in 1975, never to be heard from again.
2. MV & EE – Tea Devil (from the album Country Stash, 2011)
Cue the tumbleweeds. This track sounds like it was recorded in a ghost town, possibly by the former inhabitants. An ageless voice croons to an unseen devil to leave her alone while guitars shimmer and writhe over what sounds like old tin walls shaking and crashing in the wind.
3. Peaking Lights – All the Sun That Shines (from the album 936, 2011)
A recent favourite – feels like a sonic manifestation of the waves of heat that steam up from sun-baked ground. This is high noon, when the entire parched landscape around you seems to be rippling as though it’s about to dissolve.
4. Cave – Encino Men (from the album Psychic Psummer, 2009)
Powerful, insistent, propulsive drumming, locked-in bass, inspiringly freaked-out keys, and urgently incoherent chanting roil and pulsate until the whole song goes up in flames halfway through, only to be reincarnated as something both same and other.
5. Chrissy Zebby Tembo & Ngozi Family – Trouble Maker (from the album My Ancestors, 1974)
Sometimes things get heavy. The sky seems to bear down on the parched earth, and the air goes dry and magnetic. There is no wind, no movement. The tyres might be melting, leaving behind a hard screed of rubber. There is a lot of amazing Zambian rock from the 70s, but this is in a class by itself.
6. Charanjit Singh – Raga Megh Malhar (from the album Synthesizing – Ten Ragas To A Disco Beat, 1982)
A crash of synthetic thunder before the air splits and unleashes a sparse, hypnotic, electronic arrangement of Indian raga; it pours out into a slow, steadily building intensity before receding into the vast distance.
7. Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Cowgirl in the Sand (from the album Live at the Filmore East, 1970)
If you spend a lot of time in the car – desert-wise or otherwise – Neil Young is your friend. He understands the sky and the asphalt and the dry riverbed; how they blend together with the past and the present and the future until all delineations liquefy. This version of Cowgirl, which closes out the set and lasts just over 16 minutes, is among his very best.
8. Stereolab – Metronomic Underground (from the album Emperor Tomato Ketchup, 1996)
Cruise control. Not too fast, not too slow – just the right speed to take in the landscape. Horizons again, endlessly receding in all directions simultaneously. Haven’t seen another car in hours. The westward sun is slowly sinking. Soon it will thrust blinding rays through the windshield.
9. CAN – Mother Sky (from the Deep End Soundtrack, 1970)
Evolutionary chapters bleed into one another, each spawning the next; oscillations of fire, stone, and something unnamable and subterranean are driven constantly forward by the great primordial constant. This is essentially the perfect desert song.
10. Kandodo – Lord Hyena, 3am (from the album Kandodo, 2012)
At 3am the still-empty road stretches into infinite, epic blackness, met by an ocean of stars at the horizon. The only sounds are the subdued roar of the engine and the hundred-miles-gone howling of a guitar. Shadowy dinosaurs lurk in the distance. Or maybe they’re hills.