Posts Tagged ‘Chronic Town’

R.E.M.’s debut EP, “Chronic Town”, was released on August 24th, 1982. It’s safe to say music was never the same, upon the release of the five-song record.

That’s because “Chronic Town” EP feels as if beamed in from another planet — a planet shrouded in murky atmospheres, Southern mysticism and post-punk eclecticism. There’s a faint psychedelic vibe running throughout, notably shading the jangly, Peter Buck riffs coiling through “Wolves, Lower” and the wistful grooves of “Gardening at Night,” while the taut tempos of “Carnival of Sorts (Box Cars)” and “1,000,000” give the songs vibrating velocity. The nearly six-minute “Stumble” feels like deconstructed dance music, as repetitive guitar embellishments do battle with Bill Berry’s percussion bursts.

Beneath the surface lurks layers of sounds and effects; these add barely perceptible, but mysterious, texture. Yet with the cryptic Michael Stipe’s lyrics and vocals. Phrases leap from the music here and there, giving off the air of a faded watercolour more than a crisp portrait. This is particularly effective in “Wolves, Lower,” which features quizzical notes-to-self (“Suspicion yourself, suspicion yourself, don’t get caught”) and interesting arrangements. The verse is a call-and-response: a questioning chorus sings the phrase “House in order,” while Stipe follows with yearning, wordless crooning.

“Gardening at Night,” a song dating back to summer 1980 that is allegedly inspired by Buck seeing a man gardening while wearing dress clothes, is also a puzzle, as Stipe employs a vocal technique that’s gorgeous yet indistinct. And then there’s “Stumble,” which begins with a brief clip of Stipe laughing, saying “Teeth!” and then chomping his choppers. “Chronic Town” is such a compulsively listenable because listeners are compelled to try to figure out its secrets.

As per usual with R.E.M. in those early days, sessions for “Chronic Town” were quick and efficient. The band wasted no time getting back into the studio after the July 1981 release of its debut 7-inch, the Mitch Easter-produced “Radio Free Europe.” According to the R.E.M. Timeline, the group headed to Easter’s Drive-In Studio during the first week of October. “The instruments were recorded on Friday, vocals on Saturday, and it was mixed on Sunday,” Buck recalled in 1983. “We didn’t have the money to take any longer.”

On October 3rd, 1981, the band tore through close to eight songs, some of which appeared on “Chronic Town” (“1,000,000,” “Gardening at Night,” “Carnival of Sorts (Box Cars)” and “Stumble”), and others which would later surface on “Murmur” (“Shaking Through”) or as early B-sides (“Ages of You,” “White Tornado”). R.E.M. also cut an abstract, collage-like song, later dubbed “Jazz Lips” or “This Is Jazz (Blow Nose),” that featured Stipe reading a 1959 magazine article above the cacophonous fray.

The EP’s lead-off track, “Wolves, Lower,” emerged after this initial session. The song was recorded twice in 1982, with R.E.M. tracking a fast version (heard below) in January, along with the take on “Carnival of Sorts (Box Cars)” that made the EP and then re-cut a slower version in June.

Looking back in 2007 with writer Fred Mills, Easter had clarity on the “Chronic Town” sessions. “By now, I was a bit more comfortable with them so I threw in suggestions involving tape loops, backwards sounds, etc. and they loved it all. The sense that we were doing something good was really energizing. We even had the good sense and confidence to go back and re-do ‘Wolves, Lower’ at something less than the speed of light.

“Most of my sessions were so low-budget and rationalized according to the ‘Rules of Punk Rock’ that taking the time to reconsider something was really posh and unusual!” he adds. “It struck me that the band had actually gotten better — everybody sounded bigger and better and clearer, somehow.”

Still, around the release of 1983’s “Murmur”, Buck described a slightly more freewheeling experience saying the band made “Chronic Town” “for our own pleasure, as a learning process. We used lots of backwards guitars and weird sound ideas. We tried anything we’d ever wanted to try, so a lot of things on there are too busy. We didn’t edit ourselves the way we did on [Murmur].”

Part of that experimentation had to do with Easter and his love of Kraftwerk. In R.E.M.: Fiction: An Alternative Biography, David Buckley wrote that Easter was “always ready to try something more mechanoid in the studio. Part and parcel of this were to use rudimentary musical concrete techniques — any means to distort the fabric of time, or to layer slabs of ‘found’ elements.”

Among the experiments: The bridge of “Wolves, Lower” contained both backward elements and a tape loop, giving it a back-masked, disorienting sound. Stipe also recorded some of his vocals outside, giving his vocals an intriguing (if somewhat intangible) ambience.

Although “Chronic Town” came together fast, the EP didn’t see the light of day until August 1982, owing to the fact that R.E.M. was working out terms of a contract with I.R.S. Records. This deal wasn’t necessarily on the radar when recording began — “Chronic Town” was actually meant to be released on a new indie label called Dasht Hopes, run by an Athens transplant named David Healey. However, life intervened, and R.E.M. also did demo sessions for RCA Records with producer Kurt Munkacsi in February 1982 before signing with I.R.S. in May. (Healey, however, is dubbed as “ex-producer” in the “Chronic Town” credits.)



Image result for earliest photo of R.E.M

In what’s believed to be the earliest pro-shot footage of R.E.M in concert: a 50-minute live set filmed on October. 10th, 1982, for broadcast on TV by a South Carolina station about six months before the release of the band’s debut, Murmur.

As you can see below, the setlist, to no surprise, is heavy on songs from the Chronic Town EP and Murmur, and includes “Ages of You,” which wouldn’t surface until the Dead Letter Office compilation was released in 1987.  Watch for the band’s producer, Mitch Easter, and future fifth member Peter Holsapple to pop on stage, and certainly stick around for the reggae-like jam labeled as “Skank” that closes the set.

Watch the full performance from The Pier in Raleigh, N.C.

This was filmed less than two months after “Chronic Town” was released on I.R.S.Records and it’s an outstanding document. It is also the earliest known professionally show footage of an R.E.M. show.
The setlist:

1. Wolves, Lower 0:52
2. Laughing 5:41
3. 1,000,000 9:46
(NOTE: Mitch Easter, who produced “Chronic Town” as well as “Murmur” and “Reckoning” (with Don Dixon), joins the band on guitar)
4. Moral Kiosk 13:07
5. Catapult 16:25
6. West of the Fields 20:14
7. Radio Free Europe 23:15
8. Ages of You 27:59
(NOTE: Originally intended for “Chronic Town”, replaced by “Wolves, Lower” at the request of Miles Copeland, later turned up on “Dead Letter Office”)
9. We Walk 31:45
10. Carnival of Sorts (Box Cars) 35:38
(NOTE: As identified by peechpanda in the comments section, Peter Holsapple appears to join the band on guitar for this song)
11. Skank (Jam) 40:25

R.E.M.-Chronic-Town

On this day (August. 10th) in 1982: Athens, Georgia alternative rock band R.E.M. released the ‘Chronic Town’ EP, the first result of their signing with IRS Records the previous May; the tracks had been recorded with producer Mitch Easter back in October, 1981 when the group was considering setting up their own label; the disc provided the first extended illustration of R.E.M.’s signature musical style – jangling guitars, chords played in arpeggio, murmured vocals & obscure lyrics – & introduced such early, lo-fi classics as “Gardening At Night” & “Carnival of Sorts (Box Cars)”.

I.R.S. released Chronic Town in August 1982 as its first American release. Reaction to the EP varied; one I.R.S. radio promoter said that many of his contacts at universities radio didn’t know what to make of the record, but added, “The Georgia stations and some of the more together college stations across the country jumped on it.” The band filmed its first video for “Wolves, Lower” to promote the record. The EP sold 20,000 copies in its first year.

“Chronic Town” is five songs that spring to life full of immediacy and action and healthy impatience. Songs that won’t be denied.” NME praised the songs’ auras of mystery, and concluded, “R.E.M. ring true, and it’s great to hear something as unforced and cunning as this.

The debut 5 track EP from R.E.M. titled ‘Chronic Town’ was the beginning of a long love affair for many of us with the boys from Athens, GA. The original vinyl EP R.E.M. labeled the A side (tracks 1–3) as the “Chronic Town” side and the B side (tracks 4 and 5) as the “Poster Torn” side.

 

All songs written by Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Michael Stipe.

Side one – “Chronic Town”
  1. “Wolves, Lower” – 4:10
  2. Gardening at Night – 3:29
  3. “Carnival of Sorts (Box Cars)” – 3:54
Side two – “Poster Torn”
  1. “1,000,000” – 3:06
  2. “Stumble” – 5:40