I don’t know why I went into a sudden R.E.M. phase a few weeks back but it could have to do with the fact that a colleague had acquired their new box set of re-mastered (with bonus and live tracks) versions of their first three albums—Murmur, Reckoning and Fables of Reconstruction. I dusted off my old R.E.M. studio albums, all 14 of them, and began listening to them after ages. Then I tried buying that box set but I still haven’t located a music shop that has it.
I became an R.E.M. fan fairly late, getting to properly listen to Murmur only in 1991 on a cassette recorded for me off a friend’s vinyl. Since then, I’ve collected all of their studio albums and few live ones. I like R.E.M. cooked in the studio rather than live, although they are one of the big arena-filling type of band. Their studio albums have always appealed to me more. I like Peter Buck’s guitar style, Michael Stipe’s low key vocals and the often mysterious lyrics (those also depend on whether you can make out all of what Stipe is saying in his characteristic muffled manner).
As I kept listening to their studio discography, I realised that I liked all of their albums. The early trio that has been re-mastered, of course, but also the more recent ones, including 2008’s Accelerate and 2004’s Around The Sun, which has some fine songs, including Leaving New York, which I like a lot. When New Adventures in Hi-Fi came out in the mid-1990s, I initially didn’t care much for it. But now, years later, I can’t seem to get enough of the new techniques and influences, including jazz, which the album is replete with. It also has Patti Smith on backing vocals on at least one lovely track, E-bow The Letter. I heard so much R.E.M. over those couple of weeks that a chap singing R.E.M. songs started appearing in my dreams. Clearly, I was overdosing on the band and decided to put all of those old albums away and delete the playlist that I’d created on my iPod.
That’s when out popped Oh, My Heart, a new single from R.E.M.’s forthcoming album, Collapse Into Now, which is expected in March. Oh, My Heart is a fine song, which recalls and is dedicated to New Orleans. Stipe sounds sweet and quiet and splendid. If this is the sound of their new album, we are all in for a treat. I also read that not only is Patti Smith on the album again but so is Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, another band that I discovered and almost instantly liked in the early 1990s (Caveat: I don’t know about other Pearl Jam fans but 2009’s Backspacer from Pearl Jam didn’t do it for me, though).
While R.E.M.’s new album will be eagerly awaited, I am looking forward to a few other expected releases. Such as Bright Eyes, the American indie-folk band that is fronted by singer-songwriter and guitarist, Conor Oberst. Their forthcoming album is called The People’s Key and a track from it, Shell Games, is available for free download on the net. Conor Oberst has, along with his co-band member Mike Mogis as well as My Morning Jacket’s Jim James and singer-songwriter M. Ward, recorded and performed as part of the engaging folk-rock supergroup, Monsters of Folk. If you like your music to be brooding at times and with a dash of anguish, Bright Eyes are your band.
I’m also looking forward to the new album from Canadian indie-rockers, Destroyer. I really enjoyed their 2008 full-length, Trouble In Dreams. Fronted by singer-songwriter Dan Bejar, Destroyer makes music that is quite clearly influenced by early US lo-fi bands such as Guided By Voices and Pavement. Destroyer’s new album will be called Kaputt. Nice name. But what has excited me most in the very first few weeks of 2011 is called Zamrock. I discovered Zamrock,
which is actually psychedelic rock music of the 1970s from—and here’s the thing—Zambia. I heard a track called Dark Sunrise by Rikki Ililonga and was blown away. It’s psychedelic rock with unapologetic guitar riffs, keyboard calisthenics and punchy basslines. Sadly, many of the Zambian rockers of that era died, many of them felled by the AIDS epidemic that had devastated the country. But there are modern day curators who are re-discovering their music and re-issuing albums. As soon as I finish writing this column, I’m going to get on the Internet and score some Zamrock. I suggest you do that too. It is pure gold.