In T+L’s November issue I railed against the creep of background music into every corner of the traveler’s world, from airplane cabins to hotel lobbies to spa waiting rooms. I may have been, I now realize, a little harsh. True, most piped-in music functions like sonic novocaine: a fitting sound track for getting your teeth bleached. But there are bright spots. More businesses are realizing that background music need not be anodyne or obvious; that, in fact, a compelling sound track can elevate (pardon the pun) one’s experience of a place as effectively as smooth service or flattering lighting.
So maybe background music is improving. We’d better hope so. Given the sorry state of radio and the recording industry, hotel lobbies and day spas and the like are often the only places people hear new music nowadays. Bebel Gilberto sold a million-odd copies of Tanto Tempo, but how often was she played on commercial radio or MTV? Ditto Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, Madeleine Peyroux, and Nouvelle Vague: many if not most listeners were introduced to these artists, consciously or unconsciously, at their favorite sushi bar or Sephora store. (Or, in the case of Feist, via an iPod ad.)
No doubt you’ll discover some new favorites of your own in these three themed playlists, created exclusively for T+L readers by Audiostiles.com. Not only does Audiostiles’ Jeremy Abrams have impeccable taste, he knows what music works perfectly with what environment—from a beach getaway to a country retreat to a weekend in the city. Plus the songs are great. (I can’t get that Empire of the Sun tune out of my head: pure synthalicious eighties-style pop.)
The question remains: do we really need music in public spaces? Plenty of dining have complained about being aurally abused by the Stones’ Black & Blue at Mario Batali’s restaurants. And since then, at Babbo and the hottest New York restaurants (Momofuku, DBGB, The Spotted Pig), the volume has only gone up.
Silence, however, is usually no better. On a recent visit to French Laundry—where Audiostiles playlists are used in the bar but not in the restaurant—the dining room was so quiet you could’ve heard a cork drop. Except all I heard was the blowhard at the next table droning on about hints of elderflower in the Opus One. What I wouldn’t have given for a muzzle, or a few rowdy bars of “Spill The Wine.”
Enjoy the playlists.
Peter Jon Lindberg is Travel + Leisure's editor at large.