Friday, December 30, 2011

RIB's 2011 Album of the Year:
PJ Harvey -- Let England Shake

Happy (Almost) New Year! To those of you who read, this pick may not be a total surprise. To the rest of you, this is the first year I didn't read this to someone, or make the announcement in a private ceremony, prior to the big unveiling on the blog. It's been that hectic this holiday season. Anyway, here goes ...

Some years, choosing my Album of the Year is a difficult process that requires a lot of soul-searching, not to mention listening to two or three albums incessantly throughout late November and December until I get sick enough of one of them for a winner to emerge.

Some years, choosing my Album of the Year is an easy process, often decided before I've even announced my nominees.

The hard years are more thrilling, and usually make the announcement all the sweeter -- out of sheer relief if nothing else. But the easy years are fun, too, because they are years where not a shred of doubt lingers that I've made the right choice.

This year is an easy year.

Only time will tell if PJ Harvey's Let England Shake is truly a top-tier Album of the Year winner -- in a year R.E.M. broke up, I'm still listening to Monster and Up as much as ever -- and I'd be lying if I told you her runner up, John Maus, didn't get some consideration.

But I can pay it this compliment:

Harvey's record, a rock-n-roll epic about World War I, is by far the best album of 2011 -- and, more importantly, in this context at least, my absolute runaway favorite.

Harvey is the second solo female artist in a row to take home the prize (and third overall). Though she and Laura Veirs couldn't be much more different, like July Flame, PJ's record came out early and stuck with me all year long. In fact, in a year marked by dramatic change in my personal life, I still think of last winter when I hear it, and the sense of emerging from the doldrums that was so palpable back then, especially over a weekend in Boston when I had it practically on repeat.

But while Veirs' record is a quiet, personal masterpiece, PJ's is grand, sweeping, the kind of work fanboys like me get all giddy over when we see her playing it live in front of the British Prime Minister on chat shows. There are cavalry horns, bodies falling to the ground like lumps of meat, ironic, sonically familiar pleas to the United Nations, folk sing-alongs about deformed children (featuring backing vocals from John Parish), and so on, but while it's disturbing at times, it never feels morbid, and even comes off as sentimental -- a terrible time worth remembering, and singing about.

You don't need to know a lick about its subject to get it -- it's not a Ken Burns miniseries. Let England Shake lives and breathes, relevant anywhere where there's war or the threat of it. And, as I'm apt to say in these year-end writeups, it just rocks.

I've been a Harvey fan for some time -- I came late to the party on Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea, but Uh Huh Her was an AOTY nominee and I nearly drooled all over her score as I ogled Mary-Louise Parker as Hedda Gabbler on Broadway. Five or 10 years ago, I expected her to win this award, or at least make a very near run at it, but I have to admit this record caught me almost completely by surprise.

It hasn't let me go.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

RIB's 2011 Album of the Year Nominees

Happy almost Turkey Day!

With the big feast nearly at hand we bring you our annual tradition -- the nominees for this year's Album of the Year. Continuing a recent trend, we have pared down the list to just five.

So, without further ado, in iTunes-alphabetical order:

The Nominees

Fleet Foxes -- Helplessness Blues

Fleet Foxes isn't messing around on its second full-length release, from the very opening verse on: "So now I am older, than my mother and father, when they had their daughter, now what does that say about me? Oh how could I dream of such a selfless and true love? Could I wash my hands of, just looking out for me?" Now maybe that floors me because I'm 33 with a near-marriage under my belt, but I don't think I'm alone here -- ours is a generation of extended adolescence after all. While I can see how some might argue that this highly personal approach is, in a way, a detriment to the album, perhaps that over-internalization actually says everything that needs to be said about these times of ours. At any rate, with Robin Pecknold older now that his parents were all those years ago, and with two classics under his band's belt, one can only hope Fleet Foxes' best work isn't behind it.

John Maus -- We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves

At first, it seemed little more than a novelty to me. Wouldn't it be hilarious to nominate for Album of the Year a record with an entire song that revolves around the single line, "Pussy is not a matter of fact"? And yet, John Maus, for all his Joy Division-tinged anachronism and reverb kitsch, has actually crafted a record that is indeed worthy not only of a nomination, but of strong consideration for the grand prize. There's not a song here I don't like, but a few -- Quantum Leap, Believer and Hey Moon -- are easily among the best songs of the year. And yet this album is still better than the sum of its parts, with an equal measure of I-don't-give-a-fuck and no-actually-this-shit-may-be-kind-of-important.

PJ Harvey -- Let England Shake

Who writes a rock 'n' roll epic about the effect of World War I on Great Britain? PJ Harvey does, and thank God for her. Not only that, but she positively nails it. And if songs about dead bodies crashing to the ground, complete with the soounds of cavalry horns and sing-along backing vocals from John Parish aren't enough to make her a national treasure, the sight of her performing on British chat shows in front of UK Prime Minister David Cameron certainly fulfills the requirement. Harvey won the 2011 Mercury Prize -- just another reason they have it just a bit more together across the pond.

R.E.M. -- Collapse Into Now

Say whatever the fuck you want. R.E.M. is my favorite band of all time and Collapse Into Now, while nowhere near their best work, is a more than worthy coda on 31 years of amazing music. But even anticipating the eye rolls you're giving me now, I had to put this record in my top 5 -- not just as a lifetime achievement award, or because the band signed off on its own terms, but because this record deserves it. Yes, there are several cringe-inducing, late-period Stipean lyrical gaffes here, but there are also some of the best post-Bill Berry R.E.M. songs, too: UBerlin (which, in my opinion, is enough on its own to justify their entire last decade) on the dreamier side, Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter and That Someone Is You on the rockier one. At the very least, since that is indeed Stipe waving goodbye on the album cover, you won't have to indulge me in this regard ever again.

Radiohead -- The King Of Limbs

Radiohead is so great, really good albums by the band seem so-so. Or do so-so albums by the band seem really good? Either way, The King Of Limbs might not be the first record I hand to newbies and non-believers, but it does contain a few of the band's greatest songs -- even if you have to be more patient than you'd expect to be with an album only eight songs long. I could listen to the guitar licks in Little By Little all night and Codex might be the single most beautiful thing in the Radiohead canon, if it's not eclipsed by Give Up The Ghost, the very next track.

Honorable Mention

ADELE - 21
Apex Manor -- The Year Of Magical Drinking
Beirut -- The Rip Tide
Bill Callahan -- Apocalypse
Bjork -- Biophilia
Bon Iver -- Bon Iver
The Decemberists -- The King Is Dead
Florence + The Machine -- Ceremonials
Garland Jeffreys -- The King Of In Between
Gillian Welch -- The Harrow & The Harvest
Girls -- Father, Son, Holy Ghost
Iron & Wine -- Kiss Each Other Clean
Julianna Barwick -- The Magic Place
Laura Marling -- A Creature I Don't Know
Lykke Li -- Wounded Rhymes
Mogwai -- Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
My Morning Jacket -- Circuital
Wye Oak -- Civilian

Saturday, October 22, 2011

We All Go Back To Where We Belong

Mr. Zimmermann,

Speaking of pleas being answered, I'd like to congratulate you on the recent news of R.E.M.'s breakup. When I learned that the Athens-based rock band loved by millions had decided to call it a day, I immediately thought of you -- and what I'm sure must have been your squeals of delight, no doubt audible through much of the greater Chicago area. Who says wishes don't come true?

As for your analysis of the new (last) single, I am amazed to find it a nuanced argument, and not at all as full of bile as many of your latter-day R.E.M. rantings. Good for you. As I might have said once in the past, if you keep finding things to like about the band's music, you may someday become a fan. How ironic now that the band is no more!

Regardless, I strongly agree with your assertion that, "The last chapter is often an Epilogue long after the climax has already occurred." That is surely the case with We All Go Back To Where We Belong [iTunes link], though, unlike you, I did get a few goosebumps listening to it.

There's something about the subtle brass part poking out throughout, the harmony between Stipe and Mills, even the spaghetti western guitar part, that, while perhaps not climactic R.E.M. moments, do have that last-chapter feeling of knowing you're slowly coming to the end of a great book, wishing that, somehow, the final few pages, then the final few paragraphs, then the last word, will never come.

Like much of R.E.M.'s last decade of output, WAGBTWWB is a ghost of what the band once was. But listening to the song, even with Stipe's voice barely able to power through it, there are reminders here of what the band did better than any other, enough so that not only does the song work, it works well enough to be a worthy coda. It's hard to put into words exactly what that R.E.M. signature was -- I've been trying to for years, with various amount of failure -- but it's a sort of pairing of melancholy and hope that brings both comfort and inspiration.

If the band had stayed together, they'd likely have never written another hit song, never reached their '80s and '90s heights, and, barring a Bob Dylan-style comeback, would have continued to fade into artistic oblivion. But listening to WAGBTWWB, I'm not thinking about that.

I'm thinking about how songs like R.E.M.'s, no matter how often they may be imitated, and even in their 2011 state of decay, will never be put to tape again.

At the end of a great book, to continue with your metaphor, the characters we've grown to believe in presumably continue on, but we'll hear no more from them. We've shared the time we're going to share with them, and now we must move on.

With music, it seems even more real. I'll never be 16 years old again. Monster will never be brand new again, never be No. 1 on the charts, never be the latest release from the world's biggest rock band. But I could feel 16 again every time a new R.E.M. song or record came out, or every time I got to see them in concert.

Now all I have are memories.

Great memories I wouldn't trade for anything.

But memories.

That's not to say that I dislike being 33, or that there isn't new music to cherish, new stories to be written and told.

Still, a new R.E.M. song, save for a select few (cough, Around the Sun), is always better than none.

WAGBTWWB is better than a new R.E.M. song, though. It happens to be a good new R.E.M. song -- a resource that once seemed to be in never-ending supply, but has now run out, forever.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

R.I.P., R.E.M.

When I heard the news about R.E.M., I was in the Canadian pavilion at Epcot Center, about to watch the ridiculous 360-degree Martin Short movie that serves as a glorified travel brochure -- and which, like just about everything in the World Showcase, I love unconditionally.

Nothing can get me down at Disney World.

Not even the breakup of my all-time favorite band.

I wasn't going to get bummed out the week after, either, a week I spent in Tampa watching baseball and reading A Game of Thrones on the beach.

But now, with my vacation over and the playoffs here, and with my life about to get as hectic as it's been all year, which is saying something, I'm finally sitting down to reflect, and to write a blog post some people were probably expecting a long time ago.

And still, I am not sad.

I have R.E.M. playing on repeat as I type this. Up now: Uberlin, which I made a point to listen to that first afternoon in Tomorrowland, and which I'd argue is enough, on its own, to make the often shaky last decade of the band's work worth it.

It's by no means a perfect song, a mere shadow of their once vast powers. But I am so heartened every time I hear it -- and now that it's their last great song, I feel so at peace with their breakup that not only have I never let myself turn into a pathetic puddle of fanboy tears, I can say that I am as happy to be an R.E.M. fan as I have ever been.

If you don't get R.E.M., I can't change your mind. But if you get them, you know how remarkable their catalogue is, how many emotions they touch upon -- and you know, that for every song the unwashed masses call "wimpy," they have five more that have more balls than just about anything to come out in rock music during their 31-year existence.

There's one line in Uberlin, which sums up not only the song, not only their last album, but also I think their entire career, and which I keep coming back to these past two weeks. Initially, it didn't grab me. But a month ago or so, on a MetroNorth train, headed south along the Hudson River, it suddenly said everything:

"I don't mind repeating," sings Stipe, "I am not complete."

R.E.M. spent the great majority of their 31 years pushing themselves and their craft, reshaping their sound, often to their detriment, but creating moments for 16-year-old kids like me, picking up Monster at Media Play in the South Hills Mall in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., after school, 17 years now almost to the day, expecting Automatic For The People II and having my head blown clear off my shoulders by what I found there instead.

And yet, despite all of their many masterpieces, they always felt like a work in progress, changing and evolving and growing into something new and different and, more often than not, exciting.

As their sound shifted through the decades, R.E.M.'s best songs not only admitted to the stumblings and bumblings and fumblings along the way -- the feelings we all have of vulnerability and fear -- they reveled in doing so, becoming a source of comfort, solace and confidence.

Perfect Circle, shoulders high in the room. Harborcoat, a handshake is worthy, if it's all that you've got. Can't Get There From Here, but I know the way. It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine). Everybody Hurts, so hold on. Find the River, I have got to leap to find my way. Walk Unafraid, I'll be clumsy instead. Imitation of Life, this lightening storm, this tidal wave, this avalanche, I'm not afraid.

And those are just the songs that have popped up now on shuffle, as I sit here writing.

In truth, we're all just walking works in progress, and R.E.M.'s music reminds us of that. Even on their very last album, the band is still trying to make it through the day … and the day becomes the night.

Michael Stipe, Mike Mills, Peter Buck and Bill Berry -- and all of the R.E.M. fan friends and countless memories I've gathered because of them (from that day buying Monster, to Stipe wearing my Burger King crown on stage in '99, to meeting him, two other times, in equally bizarre circumstances, to seeing the band play in front of 70,000 fans, under an open sky and a gothic cathedral in Roncalli Platz in Koln, Germany, to the cherished moments of my life that rush back to me through practically every one of their songs) -- helped me make it through the last two decades, and they'll be helping me, and a whole lot of others, I trust, for many more to come.

For that, I will be forever grateful.

The story is far from complete.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Things I Want That I Can't (&^&*%! Find

So lately it seems like there a ton of things I want to buy but can't for the life of me actually find. I've decided to post a running list here on my blog in the hopes that some kind soul will stumble upon it and send me these things. Come on Internet!


1. Maps from inside the metro cars in Prague

This one seems so simple, and yet has proven to be so maddeningly elusive. I even wrote the Czech transit authority offering to buy them. No dice. My friends in Prague haven't been able to get them for me, either.

Haven't the Czechs embraced capitalism? Don't they know EVERYTHING is for sale?

Actually, as this list proves, not everything is for sale, after all.

Two examples:


2. A print of a Max Svabinsky painting I saw once but don't know the name of

I saw a particular painting by the celebrated Czech artist at an exhibit when I was living in Prague. It was of a couple (I believe) walking around the bend of a hill. It was perfect.

Apparently, it doesn't exist on the Internet -- and maybe even anywhere else anymore, for that matter.

Now I know what you're thinking: Perhaps, idiot, if you knew the f-ing name of the painting, you'd be able to find it. But that wouldn't help me, I can guarantee you.

Because I would GLADLY SETTLE FOR A PRINT OF "The Poor Region" -- shown above -- which is also awesome, and which I can't even get a hi-res jpeg of for smazak's sake.


3. A print of my favorite Ed Ruscha painting, "Home Power"

I saw this one live in Atlanta and the High Museum:

It rules.

It also cannot be purchased.


4. A vintage Panasonic model RC 6025 alarm clock

I believe this is exact model Bill Murray wakes up to in the movie Groundhog Day.

Which is why I want it.

I was looking for a cool, arty, conversation-piece of an alarm clock so I didn't have to sleep next to my iPhone anymore. I did a lot of searching -- and then it occurred to me. Groundhog Day!

Can't find one, though.

Of course.


5. An awesome vintage wireframe record shelf

When my parents were cleaning out my grandparents' house in the Bronx during their move to assisted living, they asked me if I wanted any of their stuff. I pawed through their record collection, was mostly unmoved, and said no.

What I failed to notice was the wire shelf they were stored on. Which makes me a moron.


Because, as I've since learned, they're extremely tough to find.

I want and need one (maybe two) and preferably -- nay, definitely -- one with vintage/ironic genre labels, sort of like the one below.

That's it for now, but feel free to keep checking back here. I will add more stuff as I think of it.

If anyone has any leads on the current crop, please let me know!

Friday, July 08, 2011

This Year In Music Is Awesome (So Far)

I've been told I say it every year. I've admitted, on more than one occasion, on this blog and in the flesh, that I say it every year. But who gives a fuck. This year has been especially great for new music. And why not be enthusiastic about it?

I'm far too lazy to put much real thought into this post, but I now have to try to keep up with the Joneses on The Bashionista's blogroll, so I'd like to post, in iTunes alphabetical order, the records I've been (virtually) spinning this year, with some brief words on each.

ADELE -- 21

Her name is in all caps in iTunes, and she sort of deserves it so I'm using that style here, too. Look, you probably have figured out at this point that I don't like pop music, and that when I find something in that vein that moves me, I get all giggly like a 13-year-old girl (See: West, Kanye). ADELE isn't going to win album of the year -- she's no Ella Fitzgerald (who had no need for caps) -- but Someone Like You is a stop-everything-you're-doing-and-listen kind of song.

Bon Iver -- Bon Iver

My arch rival Eric Zimmermann told me this record would change my life. It hasn't yet. And I'm not even sure I like it as much as his/their debut, which I nominated for my Album of the Year in 2008. I think what hurts this one, even more so than the first, is that I can't make out most of the words when he sings them. Does that comment make me old? If so, so be it. But still, great record.

The Decemberists -- The King is Dead

No, this is not going to be Colin Meloy's second Album of the Year. And to an extent it deserves some of the criticism it has been getting. But there are a couple songs that make it worthwhile, especially the Peter Buck-driven Calamity Song and the Gillian Welch-peppered June Hymn.

Fleet Foxes -- Helplessness Blues

The only thing that could keep this album out of the Album of the Year running would be for the mp3s to become corrupted and for me to have some sort of head injury that erased the record from my memory. Still, I think I'd find a way to re-discover it, and be charmed all over again.

Garland Jeffreys -- The King of In Between

Rolling Stone's Best New Artist in 1977 has been mostly laying low for decades. Then he comes out with this love letter to New York City -- Coney Island Winter being the highlight -- and all of a sudden I'm listening to happy roots rock. What's happening to me?

Gillian Welch -- The Harrow and the Harvest

I'm going to be honest with you -- I'd love to say that the eight-year wait for Gillian's new record (released on my birthday!) was worth it. It wasn't. Don't get me wrong, I am digging this album quite a bit. But I wish I had three of four more to mix in with it at my leisure. That being said, there is nothing like falling asleep to the perfect dance that is Gillian's and Dave Rawlings' guitars making love on tape.

Iron & Wine -- Kiss Eachother Clean

Poor Iron & Wine. Once Fleet Foxes' new one came out, my thirst for bearded folkies was quenched elsewhere. But, you know, once those mp3s become corrupted and I have my head injury ...

John Maus -- We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves

If you don't like the song Quantum Leap, well, I guess I can't blame you. Fuck that, I do blame you. The '80s are alive and well.

Julianna Barwick -- The Magic Place

I ripped this on Twitter the day I bought it. And yes, it can try your patience if you're not in the mood. I'm not sure if I've gotten through any one track more than one time. But it's gorgeous and we're probably going to get married, so don't tell her.

Lykke Li -- Wounded Rhymes

Is it already too late to be cool for liking the song Get Some? "Like a shotgun/needs an outcome/I'm your prostitute/you're gonna get some." The window on everyone on planet Earth not knowing this song is closing very rapidly.

Mogwai -- Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will

All year, whenever an awesome instrumental track pops up on shuffle, I wonder who it is for only a split second before realizing -- duh! -- it can only be Mogwai. Actually, that's been happening for years.

My Morning Jacket -- Circuital

I haven't given this one nearly the time it deserves. But the song Victory Dance alone is worth the $9.99 or whatever I paid for the full album on iTunes. (And the album art reminds me of Bioshock.)

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart -- Belong

Speaking of the '80s being alive and well, My Terrible Friend is this year's best Cure song not by the Cure. Cure fans: Do you like this song or does it annoy you? I'm a Cure fan, but not an overprotective diehard, so more of this stuff in the world doesn't bother me one bit.

PJ Harvey -- Let England Shake

I can't say enough about this record, which totally kicks ass, so I won't even try. Check this space again in November for a certain list of nominees.

Radiohead -- The King of Limbs

Subtle, gorgeous, the best rock band on the planet doing what it wants any way it fucking wants to. Glorious.

Wye Oak -- Civilian

They had me at hello when I saw them live. Get the title track if nothing else.

Other stuff I've been listening to this year but don't feel like writing about tonight:

Aperture Science Psychoacoustics Laboratory -- Portal 2: Songs To Test By
Apex Manor -- The Year of Magical Drinking
Bill Callahan -- Apocalypse
Death Cab For Cutie -- Codes and Keys
Eddie Vedder -- Ukelele Songs
Figurines -- Figurines (with a song named Poughkeepsie!)
The Mountain Goats -- All Eternals Deck
Okkervil River -- I Am Very Far
Panda Bear -- Tomboy
R.E.M. -- Collapse Into Now

Sunday, May 08, 2011

RIB's (Early) Spring 2011 Mix

I finally have Interwebs at my new place, so I can, at long last, get around to a post that's a couple months old at this point: RIB's (Early) Spring 2011 Mix.

The mix is a hand-crafted and immaculately designed product -- conceived during a weekend trip to Boston in March and signifying the slow, hopeful climb out of a brutal winter and using only songs released in early 2011 -- which was shipped to a handful of friends who made me the best offers on Facebook.

To those of you who have reciprocated or are reciprocating now, I thank you.

Those of you who still owe me arancini, GET A MOVE ON IT!!!

Here are some more photos and the (brief) track list.


1. You're Lionel Ritchie -- Mogwai (8:29)
2. The Glorious Land -- PJ Harvey (3:35)
3. Little By Little -- Radiohead (4:27)
4. Love Out of Lust -- Lykke Li (4:44)
5. That Someone Is You -- R.E.M. (1:44)
6. Calamity Song -- The Decemberists (3:48)
7. Half Moon -- Iron & Wine (3:16)
8. Helplessness Blues -- Fleet Foxes (5:03)

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The Ghosts of New R.E.M. Records Past

I'm listening to the new R.E.M. album, Collapse Into Now -- released today -- on my old CD player, and it occurs to me that it's the exact same CD player I played Monster on the day it was released nearly 17 years ago — still my favorite New R.E.M. Record Day ever.

Which got me thinking: Can I remember where I was living, what I was doing, and where exactly I bought every R.E.M. album on the day of its release? I admit it’s much easier for me than for some people; I only started buying brand spanking new R.E.M. albums on that same day back in 1994, when a 16-year-old high-school Matt hopped into his shit brown 1980s Monte Carlo hand-me-down and ... wait, I'm getting ahead of myself.

MONSTER (Sept. 26, 1994): I’ve told this story many times, so many that I wouldn’t be surprised if you Googled “Matt Marrone” and “Monster” and found 40 different retellings of it. The basic gist is this: I couldn’t sit still all that day in school. I think “R.E.M.” was every other word I said (“Monster” was the other). I had heard What’s The Frequency, Kenneth? and, like many recently converted R.E.M. devotees, I was wondering why the fuck it didn’t sound like Automatic For The People. In fact, I hated it on first listen. After school, I drove to Media Play in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and couldn’t find the damn CD anywhere. I almost left the store dejected until I took one last peek at the New Releases section and, being that my desperation was bordering on panic, I figured I’d pick up the neon orange CD with the cartoonish bear head on it and see what the hell that was. My life as a music fan has never, ever been the same. I took Monster home, marveled at how brash it was, how gruff and distorted and loud, how it seemed like a great big fuck you to the Grammy voters and casual fans they’d picked up the previous few years. It was glorious. I listened to WTF,K? every single day after school for at least six months.

NEW ADVENTURES IN HI-FI (Sept. 9, 1996): Maybe my one-time blogging partner Geoff can remember specifics, but we were college roommates at NYU at the time, and I almost certainly bought it at the Tower Records that used to be (essentially) on campus. I recall just a few days before, we attended a record promo party a few blocks away at Astor Place (it was a parking lot then, now it’s a high-rise), and along with showing Road Movie and handing out album cover stickers, they tossed a few promo copies of the album into the crowd. I would have given my left nut for one. I got a million stickers, but no CD. Turns out a guy on our floor (at Brittany Residence Hall on 10th and Broadway) got a copy. We heard a bit of it emanating from his room, but were too shy to knock on his door. Oh the follies of youth.

UP (Oct. 26, 1998): I remember this one like it was yesterday. The record was released not long after serendipity struck; I had sent away for David Letterman tickets that summer and the very week I found out R.E.M. was going to be on, my parents called and told me I’d gotten some type of letter from The Late Show. Turns out it was two tickets to the same night R.E.M. was appearing. The night of the show, I sang along to Daysleeper to Geoff’s embarrassment/horror and the fascination of one CBS page. Good times (I also scored tickets and saw them on Conan not long after, which is when I met the band for the first time). Anyway, the night before the record was released, they had a Midnight Madness sale at the aforementioned Tower Records. We were living near South Street Seaport at the time, and Geoff, to my shock and dismay, decided it was too much work and went to sleep. He later came to regret it, but for me it turned out to be one of my most memorable first listens. Not that anything crazy happened at the sale; it was just the subway ride home, reading the lyrics (printed lyrics? gasp!) and then listening back in the apartment, on the 27th floor of Clair Huxtable’s law offices, all of Manhattan glittering around and below me. I remember calling Liz, then my girlfriend, in the wee hours of the morning to tell her about the record. I was so moved by it I literally felt sick. To this day, it’s my second favorite R.E.M. album, eclipsed only by Monster.

REVEAL (May 14, 2001): I decided, with the Internet changing music buying forever — in ways that seemed more bad than good, at least back then -- that I’d refrain from downloading any tracks or reading any advance features/spoilers/what have you prior to the album’s release. I was living in Prague, and my roommate Ryan would read articles and not tell me what they said so I could live vicariously through him. Just before Reveal came out, Ryan, my student Petr and I drove to Cologne, Germany, to see R.E.M. perform live in a square next to the city’s gorgeous gothic cathedral. We stayed overnight at the home of some wonderful fellow fans — who tormented me by trying to show me the album cover — then joined 70,000-plus others for one of the greatest (free) concerts of all time. Not only would it be the first time I had heard the new songs, but just hours before the band took the stage, I heard my name being called from across the square. “Matt! Matt!” It was my German friend, Charis, who had been there for my famed Burger King crown incident in ’99, and with whom I’d completely lost touch. Later, I had a baseball catch with a Brit on a suburban German street ... and the drive home, was, well, that’s an entirely different, and yet even more legendary, story. (For the record, I eventually bought Reveal at Bontonland in Wenceslas Square, where I got all my music during my two years in the Czech Republic.)

AROUND THE SUN (Oct. 4, 2004): I’d rather forget this album, entirely, but I’ve given myself the task, so here goes. I was back in the U.S. at this point, living with my uncle in the Bronx and commuting to my then part-time job at the Daily News, having just returned from my graduate school thesis work in Scotland. I hate hate hate this album, and I can’t remember where I got it (probably Virgin Megastore in Times Square or something like that). I actually enjoyed my first listen that night, lying in what had once been my grandparents’ bedroom, because I had already heard it — and hated it — prior to the release and was in that New R.E.M. Record Day haze that makes even a shiny turd seem shinier.

ACCELERATE (April 1, 2008): Another all-time classic release day. It started with waking up before dawn and making my way from my old apartment in Hoboken, N.J., to Rockefeller Plaza to see R.E.M. perform on the Today show. As it turned out, I got to see them do a soundcheck as well as perform live, and I ended up getting caught on camera (screen grab here). I also met fellow fans Jen and MaryLou on line and the three of us later went to a nearby Best Buy and bought the album. I had this blog back then, so here is the full account.

COLLAPSE INTO NOW (Today): Kind of anticlimactic since so much of the record was released by the band beforehand, and the entire thing was streamed on NPR over the weekend. Plus, I had to work (ESPN New York) and couldn’t buy it (at Tunes in Hoboken) until I got home (my second go-around in my fifth Hoboken apartment). I bought it on both vinyl and CD (I don’t buy CDs anymore except for R.E.M.) and then played it on my aforementioned CD player, which was also the first CD player I ever owned. And it sounded great -- once I was able to rip the long-stuck CD tray out so I could get the damn thing in there.

Okay, I could go into more detail but I have Mr. Geoff on the phone and we’re talking about how old we are.

Happy New R.E.M. Record Day!

Sunday, March 06, 2011

REMRing's got a lot to learn

It seems my sparring partner, Eric, despite his stated dislike for the soon-to-be-released R.E.M. album, Collapse Into Now, is far more excited about it than I am.

How do I know this? Somehow he managed to skip ahead and write track reviews for All The Best, Everyday Is Yours To Win, Walk It Back, the video for Uberlin and the song Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter before I could get around to responding to even his first post, let alone listen to the latter track enough to remember its name (I had to copy and paste it from his site).

Eric, I implore you, sit back, take a deep breath, enjoy a White Sox spring training loss and a nice slice of deep-dish pizza (I need a recommendation for my upcoming trip, by the way), and relax. The blogosphere can survive a few hours without you.

Anyway, as a result of your verbal barrage, I am forced to condense my response into a single post. Here goes:

Dearest fellow R.E.M. enthusiast,

Let's take your rarely lucid points one by one:

1. All The Best: A broken (tick tock) clock is right twice a day, as they say, and since there are two tracks on this album that do nothing for me, All The Best and Walk It Back, you come off like a fine piece of precision Swiss craftsmanship here. The song is filler, little more, and while it doesn't tarnish their legacy, it likely won't get many spins from this diehard fan.

2. Everyday Is Yours To Win: It really surprises me that you like this song as much as you do. Still, your clear inability to form reasonable opinions of new R.E.M. songs has grown to near-epic proportions, so I'll once again have to humor you with a response. You're right, Everyday Is Yours To Win is one of the best songs on the album. And yet it still has some of its corniest lines (the aforementioned tick tock, plus cherry pie and I've got a bridge for you). Where on other songs, that would immediately disqualify it from your esteem, you're willing to look past it, accept it for what it is, and enjoy it. With all due respect, why can't you fucking do that with the rest of the album? Your mysteries are vast (though not at all intriguing).

3. Walk It Back: I don't hate it as much as you do -- the music itself is decent enough. But yes, Stipe is no longer a deep, nuanced lyricist. Again, you'd hate this song a whole lot less if you could accept that. Still, I'm not gonna fight you here. Stipe mailed this one in, so why shouldn't I follow suit?

4. The video for Uberlin: I really like the song, and the video is fine. Does anyone even give a crap about music videos anymore? As long as it doesn't result in the band facing criminal prosecution (snuff film, kiddie porn, terroristic threats), I really don't care much either way. That being said, I was taken aback by your claim that the R.E.M. fan community loathes it. Why? At worst it's simply forgettable (perhaps a valid criticism of the record as a whole), but after a couple views I think it's just good fun.

5. A_A_A_A: There a few songs on CiN that, while they may not be essential R.E.M., simply rawk. This is one of them. Peaches is great, and Stipe sounds like he's woken up after a nice 3:24 nap. While, yes, the lyrics are nonsensical, this is a prime example of a song you should be praising. What group of 50-somethings still make music that sounds this alive? #Winning.

Okay, I think we're caught up. If not, my dinner's ready anyway so feel free to continue your assault on the the Internet's collective intelligence.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Records You Should Buy: PJ Harvey's Let England Shake

I've only had it a day, but PJ Harvey's Let England Shake is already my favorite record of 2011. That will quite possibly change come Saturday, but for now it's on repeat in my apartment.

This is one of those instances where I wish I had the liner notes, for reasons not the least of which being that Let England Shake is a World War I epic and I don't know nearly as much about World War I as I probably should. I'd love to see what she's got going on in print, if only to read the lyrics (yes, yes, I'll get them online and read them right after I finish this post; plus I'm planning to Instapaper just about any review I can find).

But the lyrics that have hit me so far -- soldiers longing to see a woman's face, the dead falling like lumps of meat, "England's dancing days are done" -- put you right in the trenches of some long-ago, black and white battle, a surreal feeling heightened by the infectious musical accompaniment in the title track (see below), the cavalry bugle in The Glorious Land -- even the callout to Eddie Cochran's golden oldie Summertime Blues in The Words That Maketh Murder (also below, though not quite the album version).

If you've ever been interested in PJ Harvey -- her Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea record is a modern classic, and she also did the haunting score for the Mary-Louise Parker production of Hedda Gabler I had the pleasure of seeing on Broadway a couple years back -- I'd say pick this one up.

I'm really just starting to dig into it myself -- there's a lot to digest here, and I'm basically still on the appetizer course -- but it's already clear this is a journey worth taking.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

It Happened Eddie

What would R.E.M.'s It Happened Today sound like if Eddie Vedder had sung lead? Probably better than this, but it's 5 o'clock in the morning and I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing.


It Happened Eddie by matthew_marrone

Join the R.E.M. remix project here.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Stop and Smell the Roses

R.E.M.'s new single, Mine Smell Like Honey, is now available on iTunes. As usual, my sparring partner Eric is up in arms. Let's see if we can talk him off the *(&?!*%^@#( ledge already.

Dear Eric,

Usually, your monologues are a monument to ignorance and illiteracy. This time, while those traits are present as usual, your commentary takes on a new quality: desperation.

You seem to want, so terribly, for me to tell you that you're wrong, that Mine Smells Like Honey is indeed classic R.E.M., that the band is on top of its game, that Stipe & Co. still represent the very pinnacle of rock and roll. You compare Collapse Into Now to the latest record by Arcade Fire, an A-list band in its prime, and you wonder why Arcade Fire's songs sound better to you than R.E.M.'s new ones do.

I'm sorry to disappoint, but you're absolutely right. Arcade Fire is a better band than R.E.M. is right now. I feel like a broken record on this, and perhaps I am, but The Suburbs is Arcade Fire's third record. Collapse Into Now is R.E.M.'s 15th. There simply is no real basis for comparison between the two, and holding one up to the other is sheer madness. You're dooming yourself to disappointment and despair -- but to what purpose?

What do you gain by holding R.E.M. to such an impossible standard? Moreover, why does R.E.M. have to be the best, most important band in the world for you to love them? You've discussed on Facebook the possibility of shutting down your site -- a site devoted as much to the early history of the band as is it dedicated to the present -- because the band's recent output no longer thrills you like it did 20 years ago. But I think you owe it to yourself to relax your standards a bit. Imagine listening to the new songs and finding joy in them instead of disappointment. When I listen to Mine Smell Like Honey, I'm not anticipating the sudden realization that Collapse Into Now is gonna end up as the 2011 Matty Album of the Year. It's Arcade Fire's turn to vie for such honors. And yet I can still put new R.E.M. on and feel good about it. The new record isn't the be all and end all of my music collection -- nor does it need to be.

As much as you might want me to, I can't convince you that the new songs are good and I can't force you to like them. I'm a pretty stingy, stubborn critic myself. But in my initial disgust over Around the Sun, I realized in horror that my worst fears had come true -- R.E.M. was no longer truly relevant. At first I was angry, bitter, resentful -- and all around a pretty miserable son of a bitch on certain message boards. But, as the weeks and months passed, I came to terms with it -- and, like many things in life, the worrying was far worse than the reality. I've since found new artists to take R.E.M.'s place on the pedestal, and ever since, I've been perfectly fine winning small battles with the band, without worrying about the greater war.

In other words, a new R.E.M. record doesn't need to be Monster. I'll never be 16 again, and R.E.M. will never be 14. And that's okay.

At the same time, I feel reasonably confident, if not wholly convinced, that there is no way in hell Arcade Fire's 15th album will be as good as R.E.M.'s 15th. In fact I'd consider it a worthwhile wager that Arcade Fire will never even release a 15th record. You may consider that a good thing, but I disagree. I'd much rather have a decent bunch of songs to look forward to -- I've been playing the tracks from Collapse Into Now nonstop for weeks, singing along like I actually was 16 again -- and the new set of happy memories that go along with them, than be limited to their no-less brilliant back catalogue.

For this reason among others, I consider myself fortunate to be an R.E.M. fan. I think if you accepted reality, you'd feel fortunate too.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

R.E.M. Warms A Cold, Cold Heart

My ongoing conversation with continues today with the unveiling of a new R.E.M. song, Oh My Heart, which you can now hear at NPR's website.

I suggest you listen to the song -- and peruse Eric's surprisingly positive reaction -- before you read my response below:

Derek Sanderson Zimmermann,

It's nice to see you've recently become a fan of my favorite band, R.E.M.

I promise, as you set forth on your new adventure, that you won't be disappointed by the great majority of the band's back catalogue. If you're looking for something lovely and brooding, Automatic For The People is a good starting point for the casual fan, as is its Grammy-winning predecessor, Out Of Time. There may even be a song or two you recognize on those records from your favorite pop station back in the early '90s.

Perhaps you caught a verse of Shiny Happy People as you feverously twisted your FM dial in the hopes of hearing Kris Kross' anthem, Jump, which saved your ass on your first day of junior high, when you inadvertently showed up at homeroom with all your clothes on backwards. Or maybe The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite was sandwiched between a CeCe Peniston song and Eric Clapton's Tears In Heaven, to this day the most touching expression of love for a 4-year-old who fell to his death from a window ever to hit Top 40 radio -- as well as your first real foray into "grownup music."

I, and the reader(s) of, look forward to your thoughts on such hits as Losing My Religion and Man On The Moon; I suggest, as a fun experiment, that you post your immediate impressions when you finally hear them, so the blogosphere can experience the raw sensation of discovery along with you.

Moving on, I applaud your positive response to Oh My Heart, despite your caveats, which I will address now. I happen to agree that Oh My Heart is a strong song, and, while yes, it may have been better had the band recorded it during their Stipe-as-master-crooner, Out Of Time-era heyday, that would have actually been impossible, as the song hadn't yet been written.

As for the lyrical reference to Houston, well, I would agree with you wholeheartedly if it weren't for the simple fact that the lyrical reference actually works here. It revisits a character and a time, updating a memorable phrase with its aftermath. That's very different from simply adding "part two!" to the lyrics -- which, by the way, is essentially what Metallica did for the song The Unforgiven II, their follow-up to another classic of your youth that helped shape you into the music fan you are today.

In all, I think we agree that Oh My Heart is a solid effort. I'm not sure if it is, as you assert, the best of the three tracks we've heard so far, but for me, that would be more of a compliment than it is for you. Still, I'm glad to have you on board. If you have any questions about the band, please don't hesitate. I suggest you try to see them on their next tour -- they put on a fantastic show, and I have a feeling you'd become a great enthusiast of their live oeuvre.

Love always,

Saturday, January 01, 2011

RIB's 2010 Album of the Year:
Laura Veirs, July Flame

This year's race for Most Important Album, at least in my mind, came down to two records: Arcade Fire's The Suburbs and Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Of those, the overwhelming edge goes to Kanye, who so brilliantly transcended his own genre he easily won over a hip hop hater like myself.

But there's just one thing: My Album of the Year isn't intended to be given to the year's Most Important Album. It goes to my favorite album. And that, beyond the shadow of a doubt, was Laura Veirs' July Flame.

Kanye West's record was, and is, a megaton of fireworks and a landmark achievement that deserves all its accolades -- I picked it as Unwinnable's Album of the Year, after all -- but no record has meant as much to me as July Flame, which stayed fresh, spin after spin, all year long, finding new ways to hold onto me at every turn.

I bought July Flame when it came out last January, and it's been the record I've listened to the most just about every month since. While it only appeared on a few other people's year-end lists -- I know, because I've been looking for it -- it doesn't matter. July Flame tops mine.

Song after song is its own tiny treasure. I Can See Your Tracks is about knowing what path to avoid, and resigning yourself not to take it no matter how much it hurts. The title track treads similar ground, though this time it's about reaching out instead of falling back. Life Is Good Blues is about finding the right dance partner, while Summer Is The Champion is about rolling around in the grass with her (or him, if you're Laura Veirs). Carol Kaye is a fan's ode to a musical hero. Make Something Good, as I wrote in my nomination entry last month, is a prayer from creator to Creator -- a mission statement for an artist (or a human) of any stripe.

Each of July Flame's songs is so perfectly realized it stops mattering that the record lacks both the bravado and ambition of Kanye West's masterpiece. After all, an Album of the Year doesn't have to want to be an Album of the Year. Sometimes it's just right, as it is with July Flame -- start to finish, a record that feels like home. And that's something you can't measure intellectually.

Most Important is a title to strive for; Most Loved is something far less tangible, and, at the same time, all the more valuable.