Wolves, Lower

March 8, 2008

Despite all of Michael Stipe’s shyness and mumbling,  if the individual tracks on both Chronic Town and Murmur had to be filed into genres like movies at a video store, many of the songs would fit comfortably in the action/adventure section.  “Wolves, Lower” is a fine example: It immediately establishes a tone of mystery and suspense that eventually shifts into a rush of adrenaline, as if the protagonist has suddenly been thrown into a fight-or-flight scenario.  Peter Buck’s crisp arpeggios do much of the work, but the thrills come courtesy of Bill Berry’s percussion, which keeps a jumpy, nervous pace without pushing the tone of the piece too close to that of outright panic. There’s a fine balance of paranoia and courage in “Wolves, Lower,” and a sense that the tune’s strange, vague nocturnal adventure is much more thrilling than it is terrifying.

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Carnival Of Sorts (Box Cars)

November 24, 2007

“Carnival of Sorts” doesn’t give the listener much in the way of context, but it is very generous in terms of imagery and sensation. Its aura of danger and mystery is seductive, and the chorus has a way of sucking you in despite yourself, as though you’ve suddenly found yourself sucked into a life-threatening adventure against your better judgment. Like a majority of the cuts recorded with Mitch Easter and Don Dixon, “Carnival of Sorts” is stark and clean, and the bright treble notes set against the bass gives the piece a distinct “late night” feeling, which is key to the success of the song overall. Peter Buck’s notes play out like bits of man-made light in the darkness of night — street lamps, carousel lights, neon signage, and headlights pass by, blurred by speed and panic.

1,000,000

September 19, 2007

Choose the interpretation that suits your needs:

1) The character in “1,000,000” is walking through a graveyard, and he can’t stop thinking about the failures of previous generations, and arrogantly imagines that he — and presumably the rest of the people living in that moment — are more advanced and evolved.  He could live a million years, but he definitely will not.

2)  All of us will die, and most likely be forgotten before too long. However, those headstones, crypts, and ruins will stick around forever. It’s basically a funeral home jingle: “Get a nice monument in the graveyard, and you could ‘live’ a million years!”

3) Shouty shouty shouty rhythmic shouty punky verse, not only deadlier but smarter too! Iiiiiiiiiiii could liiiive a milllllllion years!  (And then you hop around a bit.)

Gardening At Night

May 30, 2007

Michael Stipe’s voice on the Chronic Town version of “Gardening At Night” coats the song like a patch of damp, soft moss. The words are there, but he seems more intent on conveying the images of his lyrics through texture and ambiance rather than clean enunciation. The alternate version found on Eponymous trades the soft-focus femininity of the EP mix for a louder, punkier take that comes closer to how Michael sang the song live, but isn’t much of an aesthetic improvement. The change does little to damage the essential appeal of the song — simply put, the melodies are gorgeous — but the more aggressive vocal shakes off a bit of the mystery and the romance.

Stumble

March 31, 2007

“Stumble” is the only song on Chronic Town that obviously comes across like a track from a debut EP. This isn’t to say that it is weak or without its charms, but more that it seems like a showcase for the band’s style rather than a fully formed composition. “Stumble” is like passing through a musical fog that just so happens to contain a melody and a beat, and though that may sound like a complaint, it’s not. The song may be the purest example of the band’s original murky, dreamy aesthetic, and so it’s a bit fascinating and overwhelming. Even compared to other songs from the same era, the lyrics of “Stumble” are extremely vague and mostly indecipherable, though they reinforce the hazy, disoriented feeling of the arrangement by implying a drunken late night stroll through a “hipster town.”