I was very sad to hear that REM was splitting up. REM has been one of my favourite bands for many, many years. Every playlist I have has REM songs on it. There have been REM albums that have defined substantial periods of my life.

The first song I can remember hearing by REM was “It’s the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine).” When “Out of Time” came out in 1991 it became the theme music of my undergrad. I loved the whole album. “Shiny Happy People” and “Me in Honey” are still in regular rotation on my iPod. I can remember reading the REM fans could be divided into 2 groups those who liked material before “Out of Time” and those who became fans after. I definitely fall into the second group.

Very quickly, REM followed up with “Automatic for People.” I do not have words to describe the effect this album had on my life. So many songs from it spoke to me at different times. My absolute favourite was “Ignoreland.” Having lived through the Reagan years, REM’s lyrics captured the frustration of a generation. “Nightswimming” is one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard. I have no idea how many times I listened to this song – I am sure it must be over a thousand.

The next album, “Monster” was not my favourite. However, I did have some favourites. The stand out for me was “What’s the frequency Kenneth.” Somehow I missed “New Adventures in Hi-fi.” I think I was busy having my post Masters degree melt down when I realized I was not going to be able to find a decent job. I digress.

I absolutely adored “Up.” If I remember correctly, it was billed as a concept album, best listened to from the beginning straight through. I loved almost the entire album. “At my most beautiful and “Falls to climb” are the standout tracks for me on “Up.” In “Falls to climb,” Stipe’s vocals are outstanding. He holds a note for so long it almost seems impossible. Yet there it is.

I mostly didn’t engage with 2001’s “Reveal.” “Around the Sun,” which came out in 2004, was another great album. REM’s ability to capture complex political systems and ideas was evident again on this album. In particular, “I wanted to be wrong,” which astutely captured the state of American foreign policy was almost as powerful for the Bush Jr. years as “Ignoreland” was on the Reagan years. “Accelerate” is another album I didn’t really like. One song, “Hollow Man” was the only one I really liked. I found the album too heavy.

Clearly no band or artist can continue to churn new, creative material year after year. Many bands fade into obscurity after only a few a mediocre albums. REM’s brilliance has spanned over 4 decades. I think this speaks to the creative genius of REM. I think I will spend some time in their back catalogue where I am sure I will find some more gems.

What about you? How has REM affected your life? What are your favourites? Leave your recommendations in the comments!

The Musical Imperialist – Understanding Music

I know a little about music but not a great deal. I often find myself driving in my car and a song I really like comes on. Take tonight, one of my all time favourite songs is ‘Me in Honey’ by REM. From the first strains of Kate Pearson’s vocal introduction to when Michael Stipe begins singing, that song affects me. I immediately begin to feel my mood lift and the song makes me smile.

Other music, like jazz, where the singers scat it makes my ears bleed. I can’t stand it. I also can’t stand music that is over-produced and sounds too smooth. I really don’t like R & B or boy band type music. It doesn’t do a thing for me.

I am curious about why certain songs affect me the way they do. Another example of a song that really works for me is ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ by the Rolling Stones. The opening guitar has effects me much in the same way as the REM song. There are many songs that do the same thing. Some new songs like Dan Mangan’s ‘The Indie Queens are Waiting’ starts off with him singing and then the harmony of a female singer[1] comes in and I melt. I feel the same way about the  Indigo Girls and their harmonies – they touch my soul.

I am pretty sure that there are reasons why people like certain kinds of music. I wonder if there are some mathematical reasons. Or maybe it has something to do with cadence or iambic pentameter. Anyone have any ideas?

[1] I don’t know her name.

Chris’ iPod

So those who know me well know that I love music. Those who know me even better know that I can be a musical imperialist. In short, I try to get other people to like my music. Anyone who has ever roadtripped with me can attest to this aspect of my personality. I have been known to inquire several times if my captive is ‘enjoying’ my music. I am not into reciprocity either when it comes to listening to other peoples’ music, I will do it but it is not my favourite thing.

So, I thought – I have a blog and what better place to pontificate about the music I like and why. Chris’ iPod will be  a semi-regular feature of my blog. I will write about what is currently inspiring me musically. It may be new music, it may be old but it will all mean something to me.

Currently, I am discovering tracks on REM‘s new cd Accelerate. Overall, this is not my favourite REM cd. I think REM is at their best when they are doing quieter songs that showcase Michael Stipe’s voice and the outstanding lyrics REM produces. I find Accelerate is too hard-hitting for me. Hollow Man and Until the Day is Done are the standouts on this recording.

Hands down my favourite disc is Automatic for the People. Political songs like Ignoreland got me through the Regan and first Bush years. I love that song. There are so many great lines. I also adored Find the River and Nightswimming. My other seriously favourite REM cd is Up. I never get tired of listening to it from start to finish. In my opinion it is one of their best discs.

Here are the lyrics to Until the Day is Done by REM:

the battle’s been lost, the war is not won.

an addled republic, a bitter refund.

the business first flat earthers

licking their wounds

the verdict is dire, the country’s in ruins.

providence blinked, facing the son

and where are we left, to carry on

until the day is done

until the day is done

so we’ve written our stories to entertain

these notions of glory and bull market gain.

the teleprompt flutters, a power surge brings

an easyspeak message falls into routine

providence blinked, facing the son

and where are we left, to carry on

until the day is done

until the day is done

a voice whispers, “son.”

the blessed vision comes.

what have i done? what have i done?

so hold tight your babies and your guns.

forgive us our trespasses. father and son

providence blinked, facing the son

and where are we left, to carry on

until the day is done

until the day is done