Monday, September 26, 2011

R.E.M.: Revealing Murmur

OK crap post title, I get it.  Mostly because I buck the common trend and place not Around the Sun in the esteemed "worst R.E.M. album" position, as that rarefied spot is held for Reveal.

Anyway... as referenced the other day, a whole stonking pile of Murmur session mixes, outtakes and the like from Reflection Studios, late 1982/early 1983 recently came to Dime.  OK you say, so what.

1) We got the Stephen Hague "Catapult", for starters.
2) There are different mixing/recording sessions for the Murmur tracks here
3) Some of the vocals appear to be different Stipe takes, sometimes with more legibility
4) The mixes are (for the most part) much more experimental than the final album would portend
5) "Romance"!

Don Dixon (L) and Mitch Easter (R), Reflection Studios, early 1983
I'm not going to go out and list out all the differences from track to track, because that's boring, and because it removes the suspense.  Each track is different to the final mix, and you know, had the band used these mixes (or a combination thereof) for the final record, I don't think it would have been as strongly received.  Not that they're shitty, because they're not, it's just that the band, Mitch Easter and Don Dixon perfected the mystique so damn well on the final thing that anything less seems more pedestrian (for lack of a better word).

OK that made these seem terrible.  They're not.  They're certainly different, but Murmur mixed like this would be a different record.  Some would like it more than the actual LP, some wouldn't.

These are taken from the recent Dime seed and were used to test some new restoration techniques I've been working on, but not used "in production" until now.  I think anyone who's pulled the Dime seed, and then this, could vouch for how much better this sounds in comparison, in virtually all areas.

So enjoy.

Murmur/Reflection Studios sessions/outtakes/mix candidates
(how's that for an album title?)
Fall-Winter 1982 / Winter-Spring 1983

Fall 1982
01 Catapult (Stephen Hague demo)
02 Pilgrimage (Mitch Easter / Don Dixon demo, mix 1)

Feb. 16, 1983 mixing session with Mitch Easter
03 Pilgrimage
04 Catapult
05 Perfect Circle
06 9-9
07 West Of The Fields

Mid-session live to two track
08 studio chatter
09 That Beat
10 All The Right Friends
11 There She Goes Again

In-session basic and rough mixes (probably very early monitor/guide mixes)
12 Talk About The Passion
13 West Of The Fields
14 Moral Kiosk
15 Sitting Still
16 Ages Of You
17 Perfect Circle
18 We Walk
19 9-9
20 Shaking Through
21 Romance
22 Laughing (cuts at end)

Some observations (even though I said I wouldn't...):

Track 2 is, I believe, the exact version submitted by Easter/Dixon as their demo to produce the LP (and that it was batched with the Hague demo supports this).  According to most sources, the actual demo was liked so much by all parties it was issued unchanged on the LP.  That said, there are minor differences between Track 2 and Track 3 here, but nothing to get excited about.

The 2/16/83 mixing session (tracks 3-7) appear to be near-final mixes.  I say this because for the most part the tracks are basically what we get on Murmur.  There *are* differences, to be sure (for example: click-ins over the bassline intro to "9-9"), but if you're looking for something truly unique, it's not in this part.

Tracks 8-11 (missing "Moon River" / "Pretty Persuasion" / "Tighten Up" due to official release policy on Dime) were recorded after a few beers live to two-track, and the Dime seeder missed that track 11 is actually the same as the B-side track (on Dead Letter Office), with the re-done ending (preserved here) punched in by Dixon/Easter.  The band flubbed the ending, and Dixon had them re-do the final da-da-da-da-da, da da-da-da, da da daaaaa outro, and the entire "do it again" bit is preserved.  We get to be flies on the wall...  "All The Right Friends" from this set was also officially released on the European I.R.S. Years Dead Letter Office CD in the early 1990s.

Tracks 12-21 are where the fun lies.  These are, for the most part, markedly different from the final versions.  The true gems here are "Sitting Still" with some very prominent, GORGEOUS harmonies that are buried (or nonexistent) in the LP version and what appears to be a guide Stipe vocal, and "9-9" which features some truly aggressive guitar/mix "wiggles" (for lack of a better term) which really gives it more bite than the final LP version.  "Shaking Through" also is a different Stipe vocal and truly shines.  "Ages of You" was remixed for B-side release in '84, but the Dead Letter Office version roots from this.  "Romance" never has been released from here; I have no idea if it ever was bootlegged in the past.  If it has, I don't have it to hand and it's not on my various sets of "IRS demos" / "Chronic Town demos" / etc that all collect various Easter session tracks.

The Dime seed also was quite off-pitch, some tracks more than others; that has been corrected here.

Lastly, the Stephen Hague "Catapult" recording is much, MUCH improved from the last version I posted, which was a "bang it up and blog it STAT!" effort just to get it out there.  You need this version though, it's better in all worlds, inclusive.

Grab yer FLACs here, and put that put that put that on your wall...

here's hoping for more stuff to come out of the woodwork!  Elliott Mazer Reckoning demos from the master, anyone?

Friday, September 23, 2011

R.E.M.: did we miss anything?

As expected, closets are opening up, drawers dug through, rare tapes transferred and suddenly freed.

A very cool set of '82/'83-era Murmur roughs, including very early Mitch Easter mixes of Murmur tracks-in-progress, and additional tracks from the same Murmur sessions that - to now - hadn't left the clutches of a very select few, have suddenly found their way onto Dime.

I may at some point put up the balance of the set because there are some gems in there.  But, the coolest part of the trove has to be the heretofore-unknown *full take* of the Stephen Hague "Catapult" demo.  As the story goes, when time came for REM to hit the studio to record that first LP for I.R.S., they wanted to use Mitch Easter (a relative noob, as far as I.R.S. was concerned) after loving what Easter did with them on Chronic Town.  I.R.S. wanted something more commercial, so asked the band to use Stephen Hague.  Now, knowing what we now know about Hague, nothing could be further away from R.E.M.'s mindset than using that guy - he of numerous Pet Shop Boys / New Order / etc club-type sessions.  At the time though he was a fledgling Boston-based producer that was just another guy to consider.

So they set up a deal: the band would record one song with Hague, and one song with Easter.  The winner of the demo-off would produce that critical debut LP.

Hague went first, and recorded "Catapult".  It was, as legend has it, the worst recording session the band ever had; Bill being forced to re-track the drums innumerable times against a wooden click track, and Hague dropping synths all over the track.

The band then went to Charlotte, North Carolina and did a track with Easter (who had brought in Don Dixon to help): "Pilgrimage".  Even I.R.S. had to give up on Hague at that point, hearing both results.  The band (and I.R.S.) loved the Easter/Dixon "Pilgrimage" recording so much it essentially was used as-is on the record.

However, the R.E.M. fraternity hated the Hague recording so much it was essentially erased from the collective memory, except in the occasional interview.  But it *never* saw release, at all.  Only a few years ago, a short snippet was suddenly unleashed, just to give a tasting of the atrocity.

So today we get the whole deal, the full-length Hague "Catapult".  It truly is laughable and a very wonderful find; not that anyone's going to drop it in their Murmur playlist as a direct replacement for the version recorded with Easter/Dixon, but it's a nice thing regardless.

*** EDIT *** I've replaced the targets with the final, best-ever mastering which supercedes anything you may have downloaded previously.  Download it again for the full Hague-orama!

FLAC / MP3 (LAME 320k)

I took the version from Dime and ran it through my wringer, it's a pretty good (read: tremendous) improvement over the Dime version.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

R.E.M. found their river.

Today was difficult with the big news of the day.

We knew this was coming - like Joy Division's Closer, R.E.M.'s final LP Collapse Into Now (a record suddenly seeing a critical revisit 'round these parts) telegraphed more than people would like to admit.

I've been carrying the R.E.M. torch since I first fell in love with Lifes Rich Pageant on a crappy Walkman in 1986.  They really were my gateway drug into a whole universe of unheard musics, cultures and ideas.  While I don't think anyone will disagree that the soul of the band left with Bill Berry in 1997, the band - as a whole - still really meant a lot in this ultra-disposable, profits-or-bust mentality and musical climate of the day.  Four (three) dudes from the Southern sticks, against the world, doing it their way?  Not only did they do it their way, they showed us how it could be done ethically, without compromise, and with honor to the end.

New Order, for one, certainly could learn a lot by studying R.E.M.'s playbook over history.

I like the finality and the tone of the formal announcement.  No "are they or aren't they" nonsense a la the Police, and the announcement speaks volumes for the respect the band has for their fans and peers.  I'm sad, and while (to me) they've not had a clear knockout tune in years, the fact that this little band from Athens was still there was some small comfort in my world.  On the other hand, I didn't want an R.E.M. playing out the string - if they weren't happy, at the end of the day, if they didn't think they had the motivation or want to keep going, I'm glad they had the sense and honor to know it (and say it).

I will miss the anticipation of "the new R.E.M. record" every few years, even knowing that it probably would never reach the highs of records past.  But I still have 15 albums worth of amazing material (even Reveal has a song or two I don't mind), and the memories of some amazing shows, first listens to new records, and lifelong friendships to keep me company as a result of these guys.

I leave you with this post's namesake, perhaps fitting and ending on a positive note...

Find The River (1992)

Hey now, little speedyhead,
The read on the speedometer says
You have to go to task in the city
Where people drown and people serve
Don't be shy. Your just dessert
Is only just light years to go

Me, my thoughts are flower strewn
Ocean storm, bayberry moon
I have got to leave to find my way
Watch the road and memorize
This life that pass before my eyes
Nothing is going my way

The ocean is the river's goal,
A need to leave the water knows
We're closer now than light years to go

I have got to find the river,
Bergamot and vetiver
Run through my head and fall away
Leave the road and memorize
This life that pass before my eyes
Nothing is going my way

There's no one left to take the lead,
But I tell you and you can see
We're closer now than light years to go
Pick up here and chase the ride
The river empties to the tide
Fall into the ocean

The river to the ocean goes,
A fortune for the undertow
None of this is going my way
There is nothing left to throw
Of ginger, lemon, indigo,
Coriander stem and rows of hay
Strength and courage overrides
The privileged and weary eyes
Of river poet search naivete
Pick up here and chase the ride
The river empties to the tide
All of this is coming your way