Career In Brief: REM’s IRS Years

from Amazon.com

Career In Brief: REM’s IRS Years

REM are to indie rock what Rome was to European civilization. Arising out of an unlikely, cultured-though-backwoods town (Athens, GA), achieving early, sweeping victories (their entire IRS catalog), ascending to epic and glorious hegemony of mainstream popularity (Out of Time through Monster) and then coasting into curiosity ever since, they are undoubtedly one of the greatest rock bands of all time, at least in the top 50 and maybe in the top 20. For what it’s worth, they are definitely in my personal top 10.

While their major label career has been strong and certainly spectacular at times, in this post I will be focusing on their “IRS years”, the string of recordings that established them as one of the greatest indie bands of all time and, in all reality, have held up best over time. You’d be hard pressed to find an unbroken streak that strong anywhere in popular music (maybe Elvis Costello’s early years, or the Rolling Stones’ 1960’s albums), and I will strongly recommend that anyone who dares call themselves a fan of rock music should own everything they released on IRS, with the exception of the puzzling and incomplete sampler EPONYMOUS.

20-Track Sampler
Wolves, Lower
Gardening at Night
Stumble
Radio Free Europe (Murmur version)
Sitting Still
Catapult
Talk About The Passion
Harborcoat
So. Central Rain
Rockville
Maps & Legends
Driver 8
Life and How to Live It
Can’t Get There From Here
Cuyahoga
These Days
Fall On Me
Finest Worksong
One I Love
Exhuming McCarthy

MAJOR/NOTABLE RELEASES

Chronic Town EP [1982] (A+): Now found on the “odds n’ ends” collection DEAD LETTER OFFICE, the 5 songs that make up CHRONIC TOWN reveal a band heavily influenced by the angular post-punk of bands like Television and Gang of Four, all the while hinting at that “something else” that can only be described as the sound of the south. I’m a sucker for a strong extended player, and this is one of the best I can think of. “Gardening at Night” is the acknowledged classic, but I’ll put a plug in for my personal favorite, the frantic “Wolves, Lower.” (R: “Wolves, Lower”, “Gardening at Night”)

Murmur [1983] (A+): Instead of speeding into their debut full-length, MURMUR is the sound of a band taking their time to craft a record both precise and pastoral. The result is a masterpiece. “Radio Free Europe” eschews a classic rock brilliance, the sound of a band making music history, while plaintive tracks like “Moral Kiosk” and “Pilgrimmage” create a template for the band’s future commercial success. Lesser known tracks like “Catapult” and “Sitting Still” re-introduce some of the CHRONIC TOWN angularity without feeling retro-fitted. A must own. (R: “Radio Free Europe”, “Talk About the Passion”, “Catapult”)

Reckoning [1984] (B): Where MURMUR’s strength was found in taking its time, RECKONING accelerates into brilliance and then slowly and inconsequentially fades out. RECKONING announces both the end of the band’s formational era (“Rockville” and “Pretty Persuasion” both pre-date CHRONIC TOWN) and the inauguration of their early “experimental” era. Side One would have made as strong an EP as CHRONIC TOWN. Side Two, though decent (and briefly excellent in the countri-fied “Rockville”), pales in comparison. Still, RECKONING is more upbeat and poppy than MURMUR, and hints at the commercial direction the band would take in years to come. (R: “Harborcoat”, “Seven Chinese Brothers”, “So. Central Rain”)

Fables of the Reconstruction [1985] (A): The most obtuse album in the band’s IRS catalog, FABLES is the band’s experimental detour on the way to stadium-filling anthemic glory. “Feeling Gravity’s Pull” is an incredibly strong statement from a band that had opened their two previous albums with their hookiest songs, but it is also an epic re-casting of the band’s artistic vision. It becomes clear throughtout the record that the band has mostly grown beyond its post-punk roots, but the jangle and southern gothic vibe are still firmly in place on tracks like “Driver 8.” I once bad-mouthed this album. I’d like to retract that here, and one day I’ll get around to writing a full-blown salute in reparition. (R: “Feeling Gravity’s Pull”, “Life and How To Live It”, “Driver 8”)

Lifes Rich Pageant [1986] (A): PAGEANT, in hindsight, comes across like an Americanized version of Oasis’ debut DEFINITELY MAYBE. Reaching back to the self-assured “taking my time” approach of MURMUR while turning the guitars up to “11”, LIFES RICH PAGEANT contains some of R.E.M.’s most recognizable songs, especially the classic alterna-folk of “Fall On Me.” “Hyena” and “These Days” rock with fiery conviction, while “Swan Swan H” points ahead to the hushed acoustic aesthetic the band would explore on both OUT OF TIME and AUTOMATIC FOR THE PEOPLE. All in all, another classic record, if not altogether perfect. (R: “Fall On Me”, “Cuyahoga”, “What If We Give It Away”)

Document [1987] (B+): DOCUMENT is the most earnestly political record in the band’s catalog. If there were a large American Socialist Party, “Finest Worksong” might as well be its anthem. Simultaneously, the catchy, grooving “Exhuming McCarthy” rails against the mid-80’s political environment by recalling the political environment of the 1950’s. But for all of the album tracks that go unnoticed, DOCUMENT will always be the record that gave us “It’s the End of the World As We Know It” and “One I Love”, classic rock radio staples to this day. Not their best, but no slouch of a record either. (R: “Finest Worksong”, “Disturbance At The Heron House”, “The One I Love”)

Rarities: Most of these can be found on the collection DEAD LETTER OFFICE, but there were a few (forgettable) found on EPONYMOUS. Additionally, their IRS catalog is being reissued with early live performances and unreleased demos. I think it is easy to say that early live REM is worth hearing. (R: “Crazy”, “There She Goes Again”, “Burning Down”, “White Tornado”, “Toys in the Attic”, “Ages of You”)

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Best Breezes: 5/31/10 – 6/6/10

Been away for a little while. Should be pretty consistent this week…

NPR: Best Opening Tracks?

(via NPR Music) If you follow this blog, you know by now that I am a music obsessive. So I love lists, especially when they discuss things like “best opening tracks.”  NPR’s editorial list can be found here. Interesting stuff. I’d have to include:

REM (“Radio Free Europe”, “Harborcoat”, “Finest Worksong”)
Radiohead (“Airbag”, “Everything In Its Right Place”, “15 Step”)
Wilco (“Misunderstood”, “I am trying to break your heart”)
Crain (“Car Crash Decisions”)
Slint (“Breadcrumb Trail”)
Rodan (“Bible Silver Corner”)
Belle & Sebastian (“Stars of Track and Field”)
Innocence Mission (“Keeping Awake”)
My Morning Jacket (“Mahgeetah”)
Mark Knopfler (“What It Is”, “Why Aye Man”)
Elvis Costello (“Accidents Will Happen”, “Clubland”)

in my own long list.

New Sun Kil Moon

(via onethirtybpm) I have a friend who was really into Mark Kozelek’s Red House Painters in high school, back when it was hard to get your hands on their stuff. I never got into them myself, but after hearing these new tracks from Kozelek’s Sun Kil Moon project (awesome name by the way), I might just dive headfirst into the world of “the other” MK.

GY!BE + “Weird Al” = WHAT???

(via Pitchfork) File this one under strange, even by the standards of both artists. Dear Lord, let there be a collaborative effort in the future.

New Superchunk On The Way

(via onethirtybpm) New Superchunk on the way. Superchunk is hit or miss with me, but when they hit, they knock it out of the park. (See “Driveway to Driveway”, “The First Part”, “Hello Hawk”, “Burn Last Sunday”)

CD Review | Counting Crows: August & Everything After

Counting Crows
August and Everything After; 1993
Geffen Records
My Rating: 96/100
I do believe I’ve been through every feeling imaginable with AUGUST. There’s been delight; admiration; contempt; nausea; and, finally for some time now, settled amazement. There’s just no denying that this is a CLASSIC record, even if there was a point in my youth where I thought I was too hard for the pathetic tenderness it unashamedly wears. Although I’ve given most of the songs flawless scores, there’s five tracks here that are quite simply iconic, the rock and roll equivalent of pitching a perfect game. “Mr. Jones” may have been so overplayed at one point that you rolled your eyes, but you know you LOVE that song. “Round Here” opens the album like “Thunder Road” opened BORN TO RUN, while “Murder of One” would land in my top ten closers of all time. And “Rain King” – what can be said – one of the top ten greatest pop songs of the 1990’s, hands down. En masse, AUGUST ties it all together like no other record from the era, even besting the monumental AUTOMATIC FOR THE PEOPLE as an overall artistic statement. As AUGUST demonstrates, the Crows proved from the start that they could make the ghosts of roots rock past and present dance like none other. A must have for any record collection.
Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consequence (5/5)
Consistency (5/5)
Tracks:
1. Round Here (5/5)
2. Omaha (5/5)
3. Mr. Jones (5/5)
4. Perfect Blue Buildings (5/5)
5. Anna Begins (5/5)
6. Time and Time Again (5/5)
7. Rain King (5/5)
8. Sullivan Street (5/5)
9. Ghost Train (4/5)
10. Raining in Baltimore (4/5)
11. A Murder of One (5/5)

CountingCrowsAugustandEverythingAfterCounting Crows
August and Everything After; 1993
Geffen Records

My Rating: 96/100

I do believe I’ve been through every feeling imaginable with AUGUST. There’s been delight; admiration; contempt; nausea; and, finally for some time now, settled amazement. There’s just no denying that this is a CLASSIC record, even if there was a point in my youth where I thought I was too hard for the pathetic tenderness it unashamedly wears. Although I’ve given most of the songs flawless scores, there’s five tracks here that are quite simply iconic, the rock and roll equivalent of pitching a perfect game. “Mr. Jones” may have been so overplayed at one point that you rolled your eyes, but you know you LOVE that song. “Round Here” opens the album like “Thunder Road” opened BORN TO RUN, while “Murder of One” would land in my top ten closers of all time. And “Rain King” – what can be said – one of the top ten greatest pop songs of the 1990’s, hands down. En masse, AUGUST ties it all together like no other record from the era, even besting the monumental AUTOMATIC FOR THE PEOPLE as an overall artistic statement. As AUGUST demonstrates, the Crows proved from the start that they could make the ghosts of roots rock past and present dance like none other. A must have for any record collection.

Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consequence (5/5)
Consistency (5/5)

Tracks:

1. Round Here (5/5)
2. Omaha (5/5)
3. Mr. Jones (5/5)
4. Perfect Blue Buildings (5/5)
5. Anna Begins (5/5)
6. Time and Time Again (5/5)
7. Rain King (5/5)
8. Sullivan Street (5/5)
9. Ghost Train (4/5)
10. Raining in Baltimore (4/5)
11. A Murder of One (5/5)

REM: Out of Time (1991)

REM
Out of Time; 1991
Warner Brothers
My Rating: 90/100
REM apparently spent three years exploring their options. After producing six albums in as many years, the band catapulted into the national spotlight in a big way with OUT OF TIME. It also marks a huge stylistic shift for the band, featuring a far more acoustic delivery and incorporating rootsy instruments like the mandolin, accordion, and symphonic string arrangments. Although it is common practice to slam this album for its cutesy excesses (witness the silly rapping on “Radio Song” and the delightfully annoying “Shiny Happy People”, both of which are actually decent songs), it’s the lesser known tracks that really shine. While “Losing My Religion” was the song that redefined the band’s sound, “Belong” and “Texarakana” both came out of left field and stand as huge artistic leaps for the band. “Near Wild Heaven” jangles its way into a masterpiece of nostalgic pop (featuring lead vox from Mike Mills), while “Me In Honey” features an irresistibly soaring chorus and classic REM riff. All in all, what’s not to like about this album? It may not be their most influential or the one that all the cool kids talk about, but I can’t think of another time when REM made such irrepressibly joyful music. In a world of pretense and image, OUT OF TIME stands as REM’s boldest musical statement, and one of the most consistently delightful records in the history of rock and roll. OUT OF TIME? Try timeless.
Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (4/5)
Consequence (5/5)
Consistency (5/5)
Tracks:
1. Radio Song (4/5)
2. Losing My Religion (5/5)
3. Low (4/5)
4. Near Wild Heaven (5/5)
5. Endgame (5/5)
6. Shiny Happy People (5/5)
7. Belong (5/5)
8. Half a World Away (5/5)
9. Texarkana (5/5)
10. COuntry Feedback (4/5)
11. Me In Honey (5/5)

OutOfTimeCoverREM
Out of Time; 1991
Warner Brothers

My Rating: 90/100

REM apparently spent three years exploring their options. After producing six albums in as many years, the band catapulted into the national spotlight in a big way with OUT OF TIME. It marks a huge stylistic shift for the band, featuring a far more acoustic delivery and incorporating rootsy instruments like the mandolin, accordion, and symphonic string arrangments. Although it is common practice to slam this album for its cutesy excesses (witness the silly rapping on “Radio Song” and the delightfully annoying “Shiny Happy People”, both of which are actually decent songs), it’s the lesser known tracks that really shine. While “Losing My Religion” was the song that redefined the band’s sound, “Belong” and “Texarakana” both came out of left field and stand as huge artistic leaps for the band. “Near Wild Heaven” jangles its way into a masterpiece of nostalgic pop (featuring lead vox from Mike Mills), while “Me In Honey” features an irresistibly soaring chorus and classic REM riff. All in all, what’s not to like about this album? It may not be their most influential or the one that all the cool kids talk about, but I can’t think of another time when REM made such irrepressibly joyful music. In a world of pretense and image, OUT OF TIME stands as REM’s boldest musical statement, and one of the most consistently delightful records in the history of rock and roll. OUT OF TIME? Try timeless.

Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (4/5)
Consequence (5/5)
Consistency (5/5)

Tracks:

1. Radio Song (4/5)
2. Losing My Religion (5/5)
3. Low (4/5)
4. Near Wild Heaven (5/5)
5. Endgame (5/5)
6. Shiny Happy People (5/5)
7. Belong (5/5)
8. Half a World Away (5/5)
9. Texarkana (5/5)
10. Country Feedback (4/5)
11. Me In Honey (5/5)

Weekly Review Round-Up 8/16/2009

Here’s a list of the CD reviews I did this week:

Monday
Radiohead, OK Computer

Tuesday
Dinosaur Jr, Farm
Modest Mouse, Good News for People Who Love Bad News

Wednesday
Radiohead, The Bends Collector’s Editions Disc 2
Camera Obscura, My Maudlin Career

Thursday
REM, Fables of the Reconstruction
Josh Ritter, The Animal Years

Friday
Tortoise, Beacons of Ancestorship
Radiohead, OK Computer Collector’s Edition Disc 2

Saturday
U2, No Line on the Horizon
Jeremy Enigk, OK Bear

Enjoy!!

August 13, 2009

New Reviews:

Josh Ritter, The Animal Years
REM, Fables of the Reconstruction

Could this be a new track from the suddenly inscrutable Radiohead? You might not believe until Yorke starts singing about 2 1/2 minutes in. If it ain’t, it’s a REALLY good impression. Judge for yourselves:

REM: Fables of the Reconstruction (1985)

REM
FABLES OF THE RECONSTRUCTION
IRS
MY RATING: 49/100
FABLES OF THE RECONSTRUCTION is the album where REM almost lost their way. After the early triumphs of CHRONIC TOWN and MURMUR, the band made some slight adjustments to their formula and delivered RECKONING, a good album with some great songs in its own right, but for the most part a re-tread of familiar territory. So while it’s no wonder that the band went way out on a limb here, it’s also pretty amazing that they end up surviving their own resplendent failure. The album opens in extremely unorthodox fashion with “Feeling Gravity’s Pull.” It’s sort of ugly, to be frank, but the band manages to pull it together and eek out a decent track. Elsewhere, “Driver 8” and “Life and How to Live It” are winners, and “Can’t Get There From Here” is worth a mention as well. Other than that, there’s not much. The band sounds bored on the latter half especially, and the ornate melodies and instrumental interplay of their early work are simply absent. Thankfully, the band would later their way ahead on LIFE’S RICH PAGEANT and knock it out of the park on DOCUMENT. I’d recommend skipping the album and downloading the tracks mentioned above.
TRACKS
1. Feeling Gravity’s Pull (4/5)
2. Maps and Legends (3.5/5)
3. Driver 8 (5/5)
4. Life and How to Live It (5/5)
5. Old Man Kensey (3.5/5)
6. Can’t Get There From Here (4/5)
7. Green Grow the Rushes (3/5) – 7 Chinese Bros.?
8. Kohoutek (3/5)
9. Auctioneer (Another Engine) (2.5/5)
10. Good Advices (2.5/5)
11. Wendell Gee (3.5/5)FABLES OF THEREM RECONSTRUCTION

FablesREMREM
Fables of the Reconstruction; 1985
IRS Records

My Rating: 49/100

FABLES OF THE RECONSTRUCTION is the album where REM almost lost their way. After the early triumphs of CHRONIC TOWN and MURMUR, the band made some slight adjustments to their formula and delivered RECKONING, a good album with some great songs in its own right, but for the most part a re-tread of familiar territory. So while it’s no wonder that the band went way out on a limb here, it’s also pretty amazing that they ended up surviving their own resplendent failure. The album opens in extremely unorthodox fashion with “Feeling Gravity’s Pull.” It’s sort of ugly, to be frank, but the band manages to pull it together and eek out a decent track. Elsewhere, “Driver 8” and “Life and How to Live It” are winners, and “Can’t Get There From Here” is worth a mention as well. Other than that, there’s not much. The band sounds bored on the latter half especially, and the ornate melodies and instrumental interplay of their early work are simply absent. Thankfully, the band would later their way ahead on LIFE’S RICH PAGEANT and knock it out of the park on DOCUMENT. I’d recommend skipping the album and downloading the tracks mentioned above.

TRACKS

1. Feeling Gravity’s Pull (4/5)
2. Maps and Legends (3.5/5)
3. Driver 8 (5/5)
4. Life and How to Live It (5/5)
5. Old Man Kensey (3.5/5)
6. Can’t Get There From Here (4/5)
7. Green Grow the Rushes (3/5)
8. Kohoutek (3/5)
9. Auctioneer (Another Engine) (2.5/5)
10. Good Advices (2.5/5)
11. Wendell Gee (3.5/5)

R.E.M.: Reckoning (1984)

RECKONING (1984) – 8: RECKONING was REM’s quick follow-up to
their debut. The band didn’t make any huge stylistic leaps here.
In fact, RECKONING might easily be written off as an album of
leftovers and re-treads if the songs weren’t so solid. While
half of the songs only achieve moderate success, the other half
register as certified classics. “Harborcoat” kicks things off in
righteous fashion. Full of intricate guitar and bass interplay,
their is no question that the band has coupled their unique
sound with more robust songwriting. “7 Chinese Bros.” and
“Pretty Persuasion” are other excellent examples of the band’s
ability to craft college rock genius. However, it’s “(Don’t Go
Back to) Rockville” that really stands out among the bunch,
truly setting the band’s country undertones to the forefront and
giving REM its first road song. For the most part, an enjoyable
and worthy record.
TRACKS:
1. Harborcoat (5/5)
2. 7 Chinese Brothers (5/5)
3. So. Central Rain (5/5)
4. Pretty Persuasion (5/5)
5. Time After Time (Annelise) (3.5/5)
6. Second Guessing (3/5)
7. Letter Never Sent (3/5)
8. Camera (3/5)
9. (Don’t Go Back To) Rockville (5/5)
10. Little AmericRECKONING (1984) – 8: RECKONING was REM’s quick follow-up to
their debut. The band didn’t make any huge stylistic leaps here.
In fact, RECKONING might easily be written off as an album of
leftovers and re-treads if the songs weren’t so solid. While
half of the songs only achieve moderate success, the other half
register as certified classics. “Harborcoat” kicks things off in
righteous fashion. Full of intricate guitar and bass interplay,
their is no question that the band has coupled their unique
sound with more robust songwriting. “7 Chinese Bros.” and
“Pretty Persuasion” are other excellent examples of the band’s
ability to craft college rock genius. However, it’s “(Don’t Go
Back to) Rockville” that really stands out among the bunch,
truly setting the band’s country undertones to the forefront and
giving REM its first road song. For the most part, an enjoyable
and worthy record.
TRACKS:
1. Harborcoat (5/5)
2. 7 Chinese Brothers (5/5)
3. So. Central Rain (5/5)
4. Pretty Persuasion (5/5)
5. Time After Time (Annelise) (3.5/5)
6. Second Guessing (3/5)
7. Letter Never Sent (3/5)
8. Camera (3/5)
9. (Don’t Go Back To) Rockville (5/5)
10. Little America (3/5)
REM_Reckoning_coverR.E.M.
Reckoning; 1984
IRS Records

My Rating: 8/10

RECKONING was REM’s quick follow-up to their debut. The band didn’t make any huge stylistic leaps here. In fact, RECKONING might easily be written off as an album of leftovers and re-treads if the songs weren’t so solid. While half of the songs only achieve moderate success, the other half register as certified classics. “Harborcoat” kicks things off in righteous fashion. Full of intricate guitar and bass interplay, their is no question that the band has coupled their unique sound with more robust songwriting. “7 Chinese Bros.” and “Pretty Persuasion” are other excellent examples of the band’s ability to craft college rock genius. However, it’s “(Don’t Go Back to) Rockville” that really stands out among the bunch, truly setting the band’s country undertones to the forefront and giving REM its first road song. For the most part, an enjoyable and worthy record.

TRACKS:
1. Harborcoat (5/5)
2. 7 Chinese Brothers (5/5)
3. So. Central Rain (5/5)
4. Pretty Persuasion (5/5)
5. Time After Time (Annelise) (3.5/5)
6. Second Guessing (3/5)
7. Letter Never Sent (3/5)
8. Camera (3/5)
9. (Don’t Go Back To) Rockville (5/5)
10. Little America (3/5)