Best of R.E.M. – 1982-1996 (playlist)

Somebody asked me what I thought was the best R.E.M. album. They had several great albums so it took some deliberation to come up with a worthy and well considered response.  But I did know that R.E.M.’s three best albums are easily Murmur, Reckoning and Automatic For The People, so I could start there.

Murmur is amazing.  It is an album that is out of time.  It sounded like nothing else when it came out.  It sounded like nothing before it and, actually, like very little after it.  It is a masterful and enigmatic debut from a band with a new sound that was fully formed when they arrived.  Murmur’s influence on music then and contemporary popular music since is profound and inestimable.  For all the great albums out there, not all of them can claim that they changed music.  Murmur is definitely one of the albums that did.

A year after their auspicious debut, R.E.M. amazingly soars to new heights with their follow up, Reckoning.  Here they craft their sound into pop songs that are at once catchy like you’ve known them all along but that also sound like absolutely nothing that came before.  The songwriting is unique and memorable and the band plays with a propulsive drive that is unequaled on any of their other albums.  Reckoning’s influence on almost all alternative music since is as far-reaching as Murmur if not more.

Five albums and a switch to a major label later, R.E.M. deliver their most transcendent masterpiece, the haunting and elegiac Automatic For The People. It is a timeless album from a band at the height of their powers.  Moving away from the pop of their two previous albums, Green and Out of Time, Automatic harkens back to their roots but their ruminations on life and loss make it epic in scope. Automatic may not be as exciting as Murmur or Reckoning but it has the edge on them because of its emotional depth and what it lacks in importance it makes up for with greatness.

Here’s how R.E.M.’s top five albums shake out for me:

1.  Automatic For The People  (1992)

Automatic for the People

2.  Reckoning  (1983)


3.  Murmur  (1983)


4.  Life’s Rich Pageant  (1986)

Life's Rich Pageant

5.  Document  (1987)



With a band like R.E.M. it is always good to revisit their albums in their entirety from time to time because it reminds us of how great their body of work actually is, where they were at the time and a little of how it felt when each was released.  They were truly a great band. They arguably had thirteen years or so of greatness – which were basically the years with Bill Berry – and then thirteen years that were good but, unfortunately, never attained the same level of greatness.  They definitely made some very good music in the second half of their recording career but Berry’s departure feels like something from which the band never quite recovered.  It was like there was always something missing and some of the magic was lost.  That drummer was more of an integral part of the band than anyone could have realized.

Here is my playlist of the best R.E.M. songs from when they were a quartet (1982-1996), presented chronologically.  In some instances, especially for the first couple of albums, I chose the best version of the song I could find when the version I would have preferred was not available.

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Film Festivals Favorites – 2013

When at film festivals, I often don’t get a chance to watch a whole lot of films.  What I do get to watch mostly depends on what is available when the opportunity presents itself or what is playing at the theater I’m running.  I may not always see the movies that get a lot of the attention but I usually end up catching an interesting assortment of memorable films.   These are some of my favorites from this last film festival season.



Frances Ha is directed by Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Margot at the Wedding) and stars Greta Gerwig as Frances, a twentysomething New Yorker whose dreams may not exactly be coming true but she gets by with an irresistible lightness of spirit.  In one way, it is yet another film about someone of that age group trying figure things out but Gerwig, who started out as a supporting actress in a series of mumblecore films and played opposite Ben Stiler in Baumbachs’ Greenberg, gives a charismatic and kinetic performance that makes the film.  It is not only her best performance yet but she co-wrote the screenplay as well.  The film is often reminiscent of some of Woody Allen at his best and it demonstrates just how influential of a filmmaker he really is.  It is shot in beautiful, high contrast black and white (again calling to mind Woody Allen).  Frances Ha is an endearing and funny film about growing up and finding your way and about friendship and hope.

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A Post-Punk Playlist

For this playlist, I concentrated on the period right after punk blew up, roughly 1978-1982. With less emphasis on the nihilism and anarchy of punk music, it gave way to an interesting, very creative and unique period in music. Many of the roots of New Wave, Goth, Industrial, 80’s dance music, some Alternative, etc. are found in this period.

Several of these bands continued to make post-punk music for many years.  Also, there have been lots of bands since who make music that is post-punk in style.  I focused on this time frame specifically because this is a snapshot of what took place right after punk had peaked and because there was such a concentration of great bands.  Some bands, like Pere Ubu, were already making music that belongs to the post-punk aesthetic even before punk music came to prominence in 1976 and 1977.  Other bands, like Television (who are great though not included here), were playing post-punk music while being closely connected to the punk scene itself as it was happening.

No Wave was in many ways a post-punk movement but is only represented here with James Chance and The Pop Group (I may do a separate No Wave playlist later). Joy Division is featured rather prominently because they are arguably the most influential of these bands.   Of course, some great bands got left out and there can always be discussion about what is and what isn’t Post-Punk but, overall, I tried to do justice to a great period of time in music.

Spotify: Post-Punk Playlist
Please add playlist to your favorites on Spotify! Shuffle & play for best results!

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Wendy & Lucy

Director: Kelly Reichardt

The simplicity of Wendy & Lucy, a modest but powerful portrait of human suffering, is strikingly unadorned while at the same time being deceptively simple; a testament to the adage that less is more. It is naturalistic and contemplative, with little or no meaningless imagery and, while minimalistic, it has an excellent sense of proportion.  It is unvarnished; nothing in it is romanticized or overstated.  It’s an example of everything that is right with independent film in this country.  We know how mega-blockbusters spend millions of dollars to get movies to feel like exhausting carnival rides but, in the end, it is far easier to pull off bombast than delicacy.  You can hide imperfections in an avalanche of stimuli and frenzied rapid movement and this is a considerable part of what makes Wendy and Lucy feels even more perfect and exquisitely realized.  It has not a scene or word out of place and not a scene or word more than it needs.  Every word matters, every shot counts – there is nothing that is non-essential in it.  The film is perfect at its 80 minute running time and we are reminded that long doesn’t necessarily mean important or short trivial. Continue reading