Day Off Record Club: R.E.M.'s 'Murmur'

Sat, Jun 18, 2011 at 9:15 AM

This week, Kristian launched Day Off Record Club, his take on a book club for music lovers. You can read his introduction to the series here.

Today, he presents the first Day Off Record Club selection: R.E.M.'s Murmur.

Time to drop the needle and read on for his thoughts...

I woke up one day in seventh grade and felt an intense pain in the front right side of my body every time I tried to stand up straight. I remember it first happening when I was reaching for my toothpaste in the bathroom. I couldn't do it. I hobbled down the stairs like a hunchback, plopped down on the first sofa I saw, and promptly told my mother that I was sick and might not be able to go to school today.

She was pretty suspicious of me. I had tried something like this earlier in the month to get an extra day on a term paper, and I knew she thought I was trying to go back to the well. My mom was a nurse, so you had to really know your biology in order to make a plan like that work. This time, though, it turned out my appendix was about to rupture.

Fast-forward the story to a hospital where I went under anesthesia, and then back out to the first bite of ice cream after my first surgery. I could hardly move and hardly think. My mom was there when I woke in the hospital. She asked if I wanted anything. I answered, "My Walkman and some tapes."

For those of you that remember, the Walkman was a pretty mind-blowing technological development at the time. You could listen to music on headphones on a portable device! I had saved for a year to buy one. My brother was charged with bringing it to me, and somehow brought me R.E.M.'s Murmur when he returned to the hospital. My Walkman had the "auto reverse" option which "flipped" the tape head to play on an endless loop, one side and then the other. Murmur played for a long time, over and over, as I laid in a hospital bed.

I had heard one of the songs on the album before, "Radio Free Europe." They were playing it occasionally on Album88, the local college radio station, and I'd wondered who the band was that played it. There was something magical about the album. The album cover (even on cassette) was murky, almost blurry, even though I knew it wasn't a blurry picture. The music was clear, but I couldn't make out exactly what the singer was saying. The melodies and harmonies were beautiful but I couldn't really tell where the phrases began and where they ended. I heard a southern accent on a song that wasn't by Skynyrd or Dolly Parton. I'd never heard anything like it before. So began my discovery of R.E.M.

I've learned to play most of the songs on this album. I learned the bass parts first, then the guitar parts. I still don't know the lyrics, but I make up what I can't clearly understand, rather than go online and see other people's guesses. The liner notes are really short. You can see who produced and engineered it (Don Dixon and Mitch Easter); where they did it (Reflection Studios, Charlotte, NC); and who was in the band. They were listed by first names only: Bill, Michael, Peter, Mike. An address at the bottom listed a P.O. Box in Athens, GA.

There was no internet to look up the band, and no TV show or press junket that followed to help me learn anything else... so I just listened.

I eventually figured out that the album cover was a picture of dormant kudzu covering something.

This album still spins maybe once a month at my house, or on the bus. I like it in the morning or afternoon.

Things that I learned from this album:

How important the bass player and the bass line is. It defines the song.

Listen to "Catapult." It's a brand new way to imagine harmony singing. Harmony is in the foreground, not the background, and they don't have to sing the same words. Many times they sing across each other in melody and in lyric. I'd never heard a band try this.

Also, I learned that albums don't need traditional ballads to feel complete. They need to wander, but not get lost.

Favorite songs:

"Sitting Still" (sometimes on our walk-in music at shows)
"Talk About the Passion"
"Moral Kiosk"
"Radio Free Europe"

(This list is not truly fair, since I've claimed other songs as my favorite before.) 

Coolest moments on the album:

The first time "Sitting Still" builds and then goes to the second verse instead of the chorus.
The first chorus on "Shaking Through."
The strange noises the top of "Radio Free Europe."
The French lyrics in "Talk About the Passion."

Since that day in the hospital bed, I've continued to follow R.E.M., signed up for their fan club, bought their albums, and listened to them over and over. I am grateful for their ability to define and redefine (to me) the role of the modern Southern recording artist and songwriter. They are proud of where they're from -- as am I -- and their example is one that I try to follow every time I pull out my pencil or my guitar. They are from the country, the red clay, the kudzu, the small town, the edge where music grows on the other side of that field in the distance, past that fence you see.

This is the album I try to give to people first if they do not own an R.E.M. album. Also, I recommend the 33 1/3 book about Murmur as a listening companion for new and old fans alike.

Now: In Day Off Record Club fashion, take a listen, all the way through. 

Tell me what you like. Which songs or moments stand out to you, and why?

How does this album make you feel?

If you already know this album, do you remember when or where you first heard it?

Also, If you are a superfan, did anyone go see Don Dixon at the Attic this spring? If so, was it awesome?

Also, when you listen to the new Decemberists album, do you recognize any sounds from this album?

We will discuss… 

- Kristian

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  3. SAStoner7984 avatar

    On Wed, Sep 28, 2011 at 1:21 PM, SAStoner7984 said:

    ...On pins and needles waiting to see what the next D.O.R.C. Album is going to be... Can't wait to be introduced to (and/or) bring back a memory of another kick ass record!!

    Also... on another musically related, yet totally off topic subject.. is it wrong that I am getting overly excited for Thanksgiving/Christmas season to get here so that while I'm listening to Christmas music I don't feel so "out of place"?! lol (b.c I have to admit.. I've been pulling out the Gold and Green album lately here and there... and my daugher has been pulling out her "light-up, singing, Christmas toys lately and I sort of secretly want to put up lights..??! Is this so wrong to get so excited, so early?! Haha!)

  4. Malina avatar

    On Wed, Sep 21, 2011 at 8:52 PM, Malina said:

    R.E.M calling it quits !! Sad sad face.. :(

  5. AnnaB avatar

    On Fri, Aug 26, 2011 at 1:49 AM, AnnaB said:

    Mind blowing- I just realized that same local public TV music video show that introduced me to R.E.M. introduced me to Kristian in the form of Billy Pilgrim's "Get Me Out of Here" several years later! An awesome song that I never knew was done by Kristian, and that also takes me back to those early days of discovering the music I love like R.E.M. does. This Record Club is bringing back serious nostalgic memories - is there anything better/more effective than a song to take you right back to times and feelings you had long forgotten about?

  6. SAStoner7984 avatar

    On Thu, Aug 25, 2011 at 4:28 PM, SAStoner7984 said:

    OK... This comment has to do with music.. just not R.E.M... it involves what I just heard on You guys' "Sugarland Radio"... & alllll I can say is.. Gogol Bordello!! ;) If I had not won the CMA Fest tickets from you guys for that wknd (& still a million thanks again b.c it was AMAZING & I had never been!!) :) But... I would def. have been @ Bonaroo as well!! I was introduced to Gogol Bordello's "live" show about 2 yrs ago when I went to see Dave Matthews band live in 3D concert @ the theatre (which I also must say.. that if you are unable to make it to live concerts... 3D in a theatre is DEF. a cheaper and interesting twist, NOTHING like the real deal, but a good experience... you guys should consider!)

    But I digress... long story short.. Gogol Bordello (along with Ben Harper) opened the show and I had never heard of them... well they DEF. caught my attention and put on one hell of a show!! Something I have never seen and I highly recommend all of you to look them up! I would LOOVE to see them live @ Bonaroo someday for sure.. maybe I'll run in to you some yr soon.. now THAT would be my ultimate dream come true: to rock out @ Bonaroo with you two for SURE!!! :-P
    Thanks so much for sharing your story Kristian!

    Much Peace & Love

  7. AnnaB avatar

    On Sun, Aug 21, 2011 at 5:39 PM, AnnaB said:

    I love the Day Off Record Club idea! I had not heard the entire album before, but had heard Radio Free Europe and Talk About the Passion. What I feel most about the entire album is the mood it sets with it's cohesive calm, dreamy, wandering quality. I agree that I cannot make out a lot of the lyrics, so it is the vibe of the vocals/performance that speaks. It really takes me back to those days when I was 13 or 14, hearing REM for the first time on a local public television music video show, and discovering alternative music and my love of music in general. I love the heavy strumming, slightly jangling guitars that sound like they are JUST about to take off and "swirl" like a Cure song. The bass line in Radio Free Europe is awesome and something I never noticed before. I like the faster feel to Moral Kiosk (more upbeat or more aggressive - not sure which as I can't make out the lyrics). I love the melancholy and sweet vocals on Perfect Circle, with it's alternating high and low notes. I can't wait to discuss more albums with Kristian and the club!!

  8. Malina avatar

    On Sun, Aug 21, 2011 at 4:09 PM, Malina said:

    Personal favorites, Talk about the Passion & Swan Swan H ( would the The Decemberists even exist without this song ?)

  9. sandralovesmusic avatar

    On Sun, Aug 14, 2011 at 3:04 AM, sandralovesmusic said:

    Moral Kiosk – odd song I must admit. But interesting nonetheless. I love the bass in this song. Mike did an awesome job on all the songs. Very different style of playing. Would love to hear the bass track of all the songs! But back to Moral Kiosk…Love the pre-chorus leading in to chorus to this song-- It's so much more attractive inside the moral kiosk. Inside, cold, dark, fire, twilight. Love to hear the vocals on those lines. Good selection Krisitan. Can't wait to hear of other suggestions you may have--sandra

  10. SAStoner7984 avatar

    On Wed, Aug 3, 2011 at 1:49 PM, SAStoner7984 said:

    Awsome! Thanks so much for the heads up on finding a good one Kristian, I wouldn't have known what was a good one to go with! One of these are DEF. going on my christmas list this year! ;) ..Also thanks for opening me up to some new sites to find some rad new vintage stuff! (after I googled it, I found a few dif. things I really like!) :)

    Much Peace & Love~

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