Friday, July 31, 2020

It Starts With a Birthstone - Albums For July

It Starts With a Birthstone - Songs For July

50 Days of R.E.M. # 3 Harborcoat

The sound of the road. R.E.M. always excelled in first songs on albums. This is the second of three in a row here. Nobody has ever been quite sure what a Harborcoat is. But as with most of early R.E.M. what does specific meaning matter.? Post Punk Byrds. But Byrds, great as they were, really had as much fire in their belly as R.E.M. do here.

Song of the Day # 2,389 Romero

You really can't help thinking of the first time you ever heard The Strokes when you hear this, the debut single from Melbourne's Romero. It's virtually them with Julian pushed off the mic by a shouty Aussie woman. Not much wrong with that it my book. Plenty of vim and energy and gone in less than four minutes though it feels like less.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Songs About People # 1,146 Big Star

This must surely be about Big Star, in addition to being called Big Star. For from start to finish it's drenched with jangly heartbreak, yearning and wonder. The signature trademark of that wonderful band.

50 Days of R.E.M. # 4 Feeling Gravity's Pull

'I fell asleep and read just about every paragraph...'

The undertow and scope of this always drag me in. Unlike any other R.E.M. song in some respects. No jangle here, the song is edgy and fraught and though, like so many songs in their catalogue it focus on the dream state, here there's a sense of foreboding and complete disorientation that's really nowhere else.

It will also always remind me of the time I saw them in Autumn 1985 at the Hammersmith Palais and they opened with it. Still the most exciting gig of my lifetime.Deliberately opaque, and to my ears deeply moving.

Song(s) of the Day # 2,388 The Oracle Sisters

'Lewis Lazar is a painter, Christopher Willatt is a mathematician. They both have been writing music since they were kids and friends in Brussels, Belgium...They reunited in Paris in 2017 to begin writing anew together and reinvented themselves as The Oracle Sisters...Julia Johansen, from Finland, who had just landed in Paris with a guitar and songs of her own, joined them with harmonies and her secret talent on drums.'

The Oracle Sister's Spotify page.

The Oracle Sisters are so great that if they didn't actually exist, they would probably need to be invented. Just read the description above. Just listen to the songs posted here. They embody an idea and sensibility of life as the purest, limitless fun, in a way I haven't quite heard expressed so fluently, outside the debut Bananagun album, so far this year.

Like Bananagun, or a Wes Anderton film, they're definitely in the here and now but have a very well developed feel and understanding of the past. Their latest, six track collection of songs, Paris I is a pure breeze of efortless singing, playing and indeed harmonising. It's something I've very much enjoyed listening to on repeat over the past few days.

Nothing particularly stands out, or flops into the high jump bar. It's all of a consistent, excellent quality. They remind me most of all of the Alessi's Brothers Seventies hits Seabird and Oh Lori. Waves lapping,  seagulls circling  and an altogether perfect day on a hot, sunny beach. Should be interesting to see what happens next.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Primal Scream, Go Betweens & Others

50 Days of R.E.M. # 5 So.Central Rain

This naturally follows:

'Did you never call. I waited for your call...'

For its thrilling guitar figure. For its brevity. Not a moment is wasted. For its wonderful title,  So. Central Rain is not mentioned in the lyric. Because its chorus refrain is simply 'I'm Sorry...' not a common Rock sentiment, at the time or since. For its almost biblical tone, cities washing away, building things on rocks, which reminded me of The Band, The Byrds and Creedence when I first heard it. Not common denominators in 1983. For Mike Mills extraordinary wordless backing vocal towards the close of the song which convey the ultimate, most incredible desolation. It's a song that still regularly makes me cry. I applaud my youthful taste.

Also because it was clearly an important song to the band as they played it before it was recorded on both their debut TV appearances on US and UK television. On The David Letterman Show before it even had a title. Because they were clearly very proud of it. With good reason. I'm not remotely tired of it, almost forty years on after relentless playing and replaying of it down the years. It, along with so many of the band's early songs, brought back some eternal verities that were in danger of being forgotton. One of Michael's favourites.

Song of the Day # 2,387 IDLES

I haven't posted much IDLES over the last few years of their rise. This is new from them and I think it's pretty good. Like something of a socially committed, liberal hearted Joy Division. From a forthcoming new album. The promo accompanying this captures something of the mundane profundity of modern existence. Called Hymn.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

50 Days of R.E.M. # 6 Talk About The Passion

A song of wide-eyed wonder, political conscience and some inherent sadness. Great for pale, literate teens, looking to construct themselves as I was at the time. This is probably where my journeywith R.E.M.  really began. Late 1983 and Kid Jensen playing this on his Radio 1 evening show and asking John Peel whether he was playing them. Peel was non-committal. He never took to them. I did though. Bought Murmur soon afterwards.

The Byrds influence on the band, which was brought up a lot in their early days, probably came largely from this song. It was built on a signacture riff and general ambience, (a taste for the quieter things in life, a search for beauty), that could easily have been them. Peter Buck was always slightly defensive about this, saying there was much more of an influence from Soft Boys on his playing. 

I always found this slightly disingenuous. The Soft Boys sound was completely saturated in The Byrds. Still, it was certainly an update. But it drew on the Sixties, and something that had largely been denied in Punk and Post Punk. This was an act of recovery, and for me discovery.

Song(s) of the Day # 2,386 Elephant Stone

'Picture yourself on a boat on a river. With tangerine trees and marmalade skies.' Canadian rockers Elephant Stone have certainly done just that on more than a few occasions down the years. Locked almosy entirely forever in the Summer months of 1967 *, a cursory listen to one of their records is like bumping into a bunch of Hari Krishna devotees sashaying down your high street on a gorgeous sunny Saturday afternoon. Or else watching the opening sequence of the first Austin Powers where he starts doing cartwheels down Carnaby Street one more time.

Busting a lung  to re-capture a moment that is now so far long gone, and only lasted a few months anyway, is a slightly odd thing to want to do, but it doesn't make Elephant Stone's records any less likeable or infectious. Latest album, Hollow, their sixth in all, is no exception. Attempting to encapsulate the lysergic energy of the original dawn of the Age Of Aquarius could fall flat if played for laughs or as pastiche.  It certainly doesn't here because the vibe is obviously so sincere and the songs are so damned good.

All proper cults need a leader, and in Elephant Stone the guru is Rishi Dhir, who is blessed with very George like vocal tones as well as doubling on sitar and bass. I'm not well enough acquainted with the band's previous albums to know where this sits within their canon but that's neither here nor there, Hollow is just fine and dandy in itself.

It's abundantly clear that the Psychedelicised Beatles of Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour and Yellow Submarine is the well Dhir and his pals go to whenever they really need to quench their thirst. I have no problem with that  and they do a damned fine act of aural osmosis here. Hollow has a celestial psychedelic choir ringing in its ears and its not difficult to imagine George Martin nodding his head in approval at the console.Top marks all round.

* Though there is a very odd moment in track 3 when they go strangely 1972 Prog for a few moments

Monday, July 27, 2020

The Clash - Clampdown

Denise Johnson 1966 - 2020

Songs About People # 1,145 Jeremy Bentham

One for Panoptican Man. Long lived Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Philosopher, general thinker  and social reformer..

50 Days of R.E.M. # 7 Sweetness Follows

'It's these little things that can pull you under. Lived your life filled with joy and wonder.'

Another song that resonates more with the passing years for me. This was the band's William Faulkner moment.

Song(s) of the Day # 2,385 Nelson Kempf

Nelson Kempf's debut album Family Dollar, just out, is an inspiring and surprising record. A reflective, insular record in search of serenity. It reminded me of Blue Nile, Talk Talk, Peter Gabriel and David Sylvian records from yesteryear but has plenty of its own thing going for it.

Self-consciously arty at times but in essence a quest for stillness and beauty. It touched me in a way that the last couple of albums from Bon Iver, which I suspect were striving for a similar effect simply haven't.

Observational, in terms of its attempts to capture the fragmentary sensations that life offers us, there are plenty of moments of small beauty here. Kempf is an American artist and if an American comparison point were needed I'd probaly come up with the films of Terrence Mallick and the sensory experience they convey and inspire. 

Family Dollar invites a precious review but I won't make one here. It's just all rather lovely, pure and simple. Moments of wonder stitched together to fashion something greater than the sum of its parts.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Chris Frantz & Tina Weymouth

Music Critics # 1 Lester Bangs

'One of life's great gurus.' Julian Cope.

Start of another occasional series. During the week a piece of news came through, marginal of course, as there are a lot more important things happening right now. But I found it rather sad anyway. The news was that Q Magazine was going to fold after almost 35 years on Newsagent's racks. Another victim, though an indirect one, of Covid 19.

I was never a huge fan, and rarely bought it, but Q's death is symptomatic of something that has been happening in Rock Music for the last thirty years or more. The slow death of a culture. It joins a long list of once venerable titles from NME, Melody Maker, Creem, Sounds, Smash Hits and numerous lesser titles that have been seen off over the decades by changes in consumer taste and the absorbtion of music into the mainstream entertainment market.

It wasn't always thus. There was a time, particularly from the mid-Sixties to the early Eighties when many of the best writers naturally gravitated instinctively to writing about music because it was genuinely at the heart of counter culture and was saying something thrilling and important about the changing world.

Probably the big daddy of this school of thought was Lester Bangs. Genuinely revered by his contemporaries and probably feared by musicians, largely because he always wrote as if this stuff actually mattered. It still does of course. However, there are fewer and fewer magazines or newspapers who write about it as if it does and many of those that do, Pitchfork or Quietus for example, do so in such a pious and humourless way that it all makes it seem rather bloodless to me.

Bangs was never bloodless. Sometimes perhaps he wrote himself into a corner but you could never doubt for a moment that he genuinely cared. That he was sweat, blood and talent.  Psychotic Reactions & Carburetor Dung, the collection of much of his best stuff is probably the place to start.

50 Days of R.E.M. # 8 Cuyahoga

One that has gone up the list of my favourites over the years. Partly because of the loping bassline. Mike Mills is practically playing lead here. Partly because of the utterly heartfelt sentiment.Apparently Mills and Berry largely wrote this one together. 

R.E.M. were historians and archivists. The Cuyahoga is one of America's most polluted rivers. It has caught fire on several occasions. But the band manage to put a positive spin on things as they generally tried to do. 'Let's put our heads together and start a new country up.' In Buck's words, 'a metaphor for America and its lost promises.'

The World's Worst Record Show - Kenny Everett # 20 Raphael

You get Light My Fire and Something in addition to a snippet from Goin' Out Of Head which is the one on the record. Another one sails into the sunset.

Song(s) of the Day # 2,384 Lido Pimienta

Pure South American riotous colour. Lido Pimiennta has plenty of the flamboyance and passion you'd associate with that continent. Her latest album Miss Colombia has all the vivid ritual you could possibly want.


Saturday, July 25, 2020

Peter Green 1946 - 2020

50 Days of R.E.M. # 9 Sitting Still

An abiding favourite. Definitive early R.E.M. and  the B side of their debut single. Difficult to hear a single line which was one of the things that made them so special back then. Pure emotion and youth from start to finish. As Michael says here - chestnut.

The World's Worst Record Show - Kenny Everett # 19 Skip Jackson

                                                                Sadly no link to this.

Song of the Day # 2,383 Georgia

Friday, July 24, 2020

Thursday, July 23, 2020

50 Days of R.E.M. # 11 7 Chinese Brothers

'When I get to heaven, the angels will be playing not harps but Rickenbackers. And they will be playing songs by R.E.M.' Matt Snow's NME review of Reckoning 1984

I can't remember the act of buying of many records that became important to me from my youth. Reckoning R.E.M's second album stands out for me in this respect. I had been enthralled by Murmur more than any album before or probably since. I'd missed seeing them at a sold out gig I'd arrived at too late at in Wardour Street at The Marquee. I'd pored over their interviews and begun to soak up their influences. Now Reckoning was out.

I walked with my sister on a hot Saturday  in April 1984 along the straight road that ran alongside our house from Teddington to Kingston bordering Bushy Park. Across Kingston Bridge and to the independent record store where I would later converse with the owner about the spate of American guitar bands that were making their way to the UK's shores.

The cover in itself was enough. Painted by local Georgian artist Howard Finster it was like some dream evocation of the Mississippi. I bought the record. My sister and I got a couple of cans of what as I'm now relocated to the north would be called pop (7 Up if I recall). I dared her to resist from opening hers 'til we'd made it home. It was a very hot day for April. She didn't get very far before she'd finished the whole can. I didn't open mine until we arrived home. It's been an anecdote between us ever since. One of those small, trivial episodes of life that will stay with you forever. Because it's tied in with the memory of purchasing this remarkable record.

When we arrived I went up upstairs and I put it on I was non-plussed. It didn't sound like Murmur Part 2. I didn't really know what to think at first. I'd expected the unfamiliar sound of Murmur that had become familiar through non-stop immersion on my part. Now I'd have to start listening and learning again. This was what made R.E.M. such a standout band. They never ever stayed still. Their career, for me at least until Billy Berry left, was a driven quest. I came round to the record within a few plays as I teased out its hooks, then began to adore it and it's stayed with me ever since. Always pretty close to the top of the whole damned heap. There are greater and lesser songs on it. I'd divide them into two. Songs as great as any in the band's whole set of work and other slightly lesser tracks with a great feel. The great songs to my mind are the first four tracks on the first side Harborcoat, this, So. Central Rain and Pretty Persuasion, plus Don't Go Back to Rockville and Camera from the second side. The second track on the album Seven Chinese Brothers is up there with any of them.

The song is built on a beautiful Peter Buck three part riff, I imagine played on a Rickenbacker. There's a slight eerie echoey sound before the song begins which I love as much as anything in the track. The lyrics are clearer than Stipe's often are but meaning is utterly elusive. The chorus refers to the Five Chinese Brothers story written by Claire Hutchen Bishop in the 30s and an American bestseller and childhood favourite ever since.

'Long ago in China lived a family with five brothers who resembled each other very closely. They each possessed a special talent. One can swallow the sea; one has an iron neck; one can stretch his legs; one can survive fire; and the last can hold his breath forever. When one of the brothers, a somehow very successful fisherman, agrees to let a young boy accompany him on his fishing trip, trouble results. This brother holds the entire sea in his mouth so that the boy can retrieve fish and treasures. When the man can no longer hold in the sea, he frantically signals to the boy, but the boy ignores him and drowns when the man releases the water.

The man is accused of murder and sentenced to death. However, one by one, his four brothers assume his place when subjected to execution, and each uses his own superhuman ability to survive (one cannot be beheaded, one cannot be drowned, one cannot be burned, and one cannot be smothered). At the end of the story, a judge decides that the brother accused of murder must have been innocent, since he could not be executed, and the five brothers return home.'

There's something about the eternal sentiment of the lyric that gnawed itself deep within me. R.E.M.'s staging and arrangement of their early records was just masterly, they really captured some of the tense joy of later teenage years and early adulthood. I'm so glad they soundtracked mine.

They were immersed in the Southern literary tradition of Faulkner, O'Connor and McCullers but also of Brer Fox and Huckleberry Finn. Stipe's own recalling of it's lyric years later when he came out in terms of his sexuality was slightly different and rather less noble.

There are songs I wrote in the past that were gender-specific. “7 Chinese Bros.” was about me breaking up a couple — and then dating both of them, a man and a woman, which is a terrible thing to do, but I was young and stupid.”

Not so stupid. I think he and the rest of the band were remarkably smart and I thank them now for myself and what they gave me. Among them, three of the best gigs I'll ever see over the following four years. They played this song at a couple of the shows.

Peter Buck used the phrase 'Spooky Gospel' to describe Chronic Town's Gardening at Night. I think it applies here. The backing vocals, the assured momentum, repetition and build will always make it a very special four minutes for me. I'll listen to it and love it until I die. R.E.M created a great companion piece called Voice of Harold which they stuck on their odds and sods compilation Dead Letter Office (great name for a record) a few years later. It has Stipe reciting the liner notes of a gospel album over the backing track to the song. It's pretty great too.

Just a footnote to a Pavement song released on a compilation round about the time of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. It's a tribute to R.E.M. and this album. As good a direct tribute from one group to another as I can think of and says as well as anything what a wonderful, visionary band R.E.M. were, particularly for me in the first seven or eight years of their existence.

'There's some bands I'd like to name-check
And one of them is R.E.M.
Classic songs with a long history
Southern boys just like you and me


Flashback to 1983
"Chronic Town" was their first EP
Later on came "Reckoning"
Finster's art...
Titles to match "So. Central Rain"
"(Don't Go Back To) Rockville,"
"Pretty Persuasion,"
You're born to be a "Camera"
"Time After Time"'s my least favorite song
"Time After Time" was my least favorite song

The singer, he had long hair
And the drummer, he knew restraint
And the bassman, he had all the right moves
And that guitar player was no saint

So let's go way back to the ancient times
When there were no fifty states
And on a hill, there stands Sherman
Sherman and his mates...

And they're marching through Georgia
(They're marching through Georgia)
They're marching through Georgia
They're marching through Georgia
(They're marching through Georgia)
They're marching through Georgia

And there stands R.E.M..'

*P.S. I've just put on that same piece of vinyl that I bought nearly thirty years ago. This article of course is as much about Reckoning as a whole as it is about Seven Chinese Brothers itself. It's still wearing well. It still sounds like one of the best friends I'll ever have.

The World's Worst Record Show - Kenny Everett # 17 Tub Thumper

Again, not I'd say a terrible record.

Song of the Day # 2,381 Duval Timothy

Interesting, chance start to my Thursday morning. An album called Help is forthcoming.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Ringo & Bowie

50 Days of R.E.M. # 12 I Believe

'When I was young and full of grace. And spirited a rattlesnake...'

One of the finest couplets Michael Stipe every wrote. A barnstorming song too, there are moments when it really soars. A transitional one too. Originally begun by the band on the Fables sessions, it became something quite different, though still essentially rooted in where they'd been before when they recorded it for Pageant. Beefed up with Don Gehman's fabulous production. They were on their way to the stadiums. But in their case, unlike so many, that was not necessarily a bad thing.

The World's Worst Record Show - Kenny Everett # 16 Eamonn Andrews

Song(s) of the Day # 2,380 Ora Cogan

A new album that came out a couple of weeks back but which passed me by until I saw a review of it in the current edition of Uncut Magazine, which I bought yesterday.

Anyhow, better late than never, because this is an immediately arresting record. Bells In The Ruins,Victoria B.C.Ora Cogan's seventh album in all. She's a new artist to me, but once again, better later than never, because I'll certainly be listening out for her from now.

So how to describe what's going on? It's the music that dreams are made of, somehwere between Jane Weaver, Broadcast and Mazzy Star, which should give you some idea of the texture and mood of this. Much of it has a strong electronic pulse to it, but Cogan's voice takes it elsewhere, into a mythic dimension.

As the record unwraps, the spell gets stronger. There are elements of Psych and elements of Folk here aligned with the pulse but really categories don't matter, it's just a gorgeous record.

An album that received little fanfare and perhaps will not get the attention it deserves from others. At least that's my perspective.This is so often the case, in music, as in life, but that means little to me. I was drawn in by the first song, fascinated by the third, utterly sold by the fifth and transfixed from there on. 

Eight songs that go for one word titles. One that adds the definite article. Songs that flit between two and five minutes. Not one of them puts a foot out of place. One of my favourite albums of the year. And there have been some damned good ones already. It finished too soon for my liking. Like the very best books. Hear it if you can. Now, if only we can find some way to get her off that rock!

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Goose Lake Park Festival August 1970

Probably best remembered now for The Stooges performance. Original bassist Dave Alexander was sacked immediately thereafter by Iggy.  The live recording of their performance will be released shortly.

50 Days of R.E.M. # 13 Carnival Of Sorts

After Murmur I worked my way back to Chronic Town, which wasn't initially released in the UK. Carnival Of Sorts was the song that initally stood out as indicating a kind of R.E.M. signature sound and sensibility. The whirring, fairground intro, the distinctly Southern sound and imagery. The way it built to a moment of release with Michael's 'Out of Town...' cry as the song faded. Recognisable, but not quite like anything I'd ever heard before.

The World's Worst Record Show - Kenny Everett # 15 Jess Conrad

Jess Conrad back for a third throw of the dice.

Song of the Day # 2,379 Los Planetas

The New Normal.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

50 Days of R.E.M. # 15 Driver 8

Michael Stipe introduced this song onstage in Buenor Aires on 1st November 2008 by saying, 'This is a song that represents great hope and great promise, a song that represents the dream of The United States of America and what it may become in the next three days.' Three days later Barrack Obama was elected President.

Train travel is the most glorious experience. Here it's represented as utopian dream. In its simplest terms this is just a great rock song. Signature Peter Buck riff, full on momentum, a band in motion, Michael twisting at the mic, Berry and Mills backing him up as they did so often and so gloriously on those early albums.

But it's also a hopeful one. That we can reach our destination. Almost twelve years years after that night in Buenos Aires Trump has succeeded Obama and it seems we're still a ways away.

The World's Worst Record Show - Kenny Everett # 13 Steve Bent

Song of the Day # 2,377 Inner Oceans

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Songs About People # 1,144 MC Escher

While getting round to a review of Momus's Lockdown Concept Album, (it should turn up at some point, it's not bad), here's another for this particular seies from him. A rather ludicrous ditty for the Borges of graphic art.

Protomartyr - Ultimate Success Today

In 2017 Protomartyr and Big Thief pretty much ruled my world. I thought the two of them had everything you could possibly want from a band. Intent, purpose, passion, tunes. Make your own list and whatever's on it I thought these two had in spades. I was blessed in that both of them, in addition to releasing quite storming albums that year, also came to play in the city that I live in and I got to see them. Neither of them let me down. They were two highly memorable nights.

That year was not an easy one for me. I suffered a major bereavement at the tail end of it. One of those moments in life for which you can never be fully prepared for. It was also a rather bleak year for the world too. While neither Protomartyr nor Big Thief consoled me in either respect particularly, (they're neither of them particularly cheery bands), their music seemed very much of the times. Sometimes you need to stare the world in the eye for good or ill.

Now we're three years on and I'd still say that the two of them were the best 'young' bands in the world right now. I say that guardedly, Joe Casey, Protomartyr's frontman is well into his forties.. But both still have an intensity, an edge and flair that few can match.. While Big Thief at last seem to be  lying low, at least temporarily,  having released not one but two fabulous albums last year, it's just grand to have Protomartyr back, with Ultimate Success Today, the follow up to Relatives In Descent, which I chose as my album of the year three years back.

And I'm delighted to find on its first few spins that this new one is every much the equal of its remarkable successor. Given a few more I might decide it's even best it. This is rather a pleasant surprise to me as I hadn't been blown aware by any of the tracks that came ahead of its release. But all of these suddenly make perfect sense in this context. Ultimate Success Today is another blinding statement.

Though not for a moment one of consolation, if you, like me are disquietened by the state of the world right now. It's difficult not to be. Because Protomartyr, both musically and lyrically are unneringly dark and unflinching, consumed in dread in terms of their degree of scrutiny. There's plenty of irony and mordant humour at play but still, this is never easy listening. The band get fed up with being pigeonholed in this respect but I'm afraid given the briefest exposure to what they do this conclusion is inevitable. This is end times music. Fight Club or Cormac McCarthy's The Road. The musicals.

The well that they draw on is essentially Post Punk in terms of its nuts and bolts. Its DNA. From that brief window of musical history from about 1978 to 1981 where bands like PiL, Pere Ubu, Gang of Four, Joy Division, The Pop Group and The Fall explored some of the darkest areas of the human psyche. Casey is often compared to Mark E. Smith and though he shares some features of Smith's absurdist charisma, I'd suggest he's actually closer to Ubu's David Thomas in terms of his intent and delivery. David Thomas fronting Joy Division.

Protomartyr are a Detroit band. A metropolis of decaying, essentially dead manufacturing legacy. Ubu meanwhile hailed from Cleveland, another urban powerhouse of America's industrial past. Another band I'm minded of are The Stooges who were also spawned in Detroit. This comparison is strengthened on Ultimate Success Today by them adding squalling sax to their musical armoury. Reminders of Steve Mackay and his contribution to Funhouse. The Stooges like Protomartyr, like Ubu were notoriously ill at ease in the America that they found themselves in.

This is the band's fifth album and Casey has already suggested in interview that the world and the state it's in may dictate that it's their last. Of course they are unable to tour in support of this record. This is a great shame because it showcases them in the rudest musical and emotional health. They're a veritable powerhouse here.

This certainly feels like an end station in terms of this kind of musical expression for both Casey and the band. It's difficult to imagine how they could top this. Then again I thought the same about Relatives in Descent. But certainly in terms of the themes explored they may need to go somewhere else from here. Or else risk repeating themselves. In the meantime, this is very much more than enough.

PS For a more explcit review of the themes explored on the record, please read Alex Petridis' excellent Guardian article.

50 Days of R.E.M. # 16 Find The River

In many respects Automatic For The People sounds increasingly like Michael's album. He never really sounded quite so upfront, centre stage and utterly assured within himself before or probably since. There's a moment in the final song on the record, Find The River, that I still find unbearably moving. It comes one minute and forty seconds into the song when he opens his throat fully and sings 'I have got to find the river...' and just nails it perfectly.

This is the endpoint to a record where the band explore most fully the basic state of being alive and the place where we are all inevitably bound. It's a very simple song in terms of its structure, always reminiscent to me of Nick Drake. It's a case of less is more.