R.E.M.: Complete Rarities - I.R.S. 1982-1987

The legendary band allocates the oddities of their underdog years, shining a light on the scrappier side of R.E.M.


Complete Rarities - I.R.S. 1982-1987

Label: Rhino / Warner Bros.
US Release Date: 2014-05-16
UK Release Date: 2014-05-16
Label website
Artist website

You are looking at a large digital package of mostly previously released material. These 50 tracks spanning two hours and 45 minutes qualify as "rarities" in the sense that they were not initially included on the five LPs and the one EP that R.E.M. released for the I.R.S. label. Apart from that, many of these have seen the light of day before now. The odds and sods collections Dead Letter Office and In the Attic: Alternative Recordings 1985-1989 doled out covers, b-sides and a few alternate mixes while the I.R.S. summaries Eponymous and the bonus disc for And I Feel Fine...: The Best of the I.R.S. Years 1982-1987 plucked out the occasional lost song in a sea of alternate takes, demos and live recordings. Combine that with what on Complete Rarities - I.R.S. 1982-1987 wasn't accounted for until now and it's hard to imagine R.E.M. cupboards being any more bare at this point. Don't get too used to the idea of a "new" R.E.M. release, because this and its companion release Complete Rarities - Warner Bros. 1988-2011 might be all there is left.

Unlike one of their English counterparts at the time the Smiths, who released b-sides that could rival their a-sides in quality, American college radio favorites R.E.M. often used the flipside of a 45 as an excuse to screw around. Guitarist Peter Buck even admitted to this in the Dead Letter Office liner notes. All of the hard work, spinning of southern myth and frustrating tension went into Fables of the Reconstruction and Murmur. The Floyd Cramer and Aerosmith covers landed elsewhere. Complete Rarities - I.R.S. 1982-1987, the ultimate elsewhere, runs more-or-less chronologically, neatly laying out another side of the band's history. It's starting point even predates their I.R.S. contract -- tracks one and two are both sides of their Hib-Tone single that managed to draw the attention of the Village Voice reader's poll in 1981. A-side "Radio Free Europe" is the punked-up version that greets you at the door of Eponymous while the b-side "Sitting Still" sounds comparatively closer to its brother recording on Murmur . "Gardening at Night" appears four times. While it's debatable to say that this is one of R.E.M.'s greatest I.R.S.-era songs, its prominence in the compilation shows the listener just how many transformations a band can impose to just one song.

If you're looking to slim down your CD collection, this package includes everything from Dead Letter Office, everything that was exclusive to Eponymous and everything from In the Attic with the exception of one track (the radio edit of "Can't Get There From Here", if you really wanted to know). It's even got their cover of "All I Have to Do Is Dream" where Bill Berry botches his entrance, their cover of "Femme Fatale" where Michael Stipe overshoots his note in the chorus on the word "please", and their cover of Roger Miller's "King of the Road" where someone drunkenly shouts out the names of the chords. The three tracks from a 1983 show in Boston -- "Ages of You", "We Walk" and "1,000,000" -- can give listeners a good shot of regret for 1) never catching R.E.M. live at this time and 2) realizing that many of these shows were delegated to the status of the lo-fidelity bootleg. This release goes just part way in making up for that. The three songs from the Boston show along with live versions of "9-9", "Catapult", "Gardening at Night" and live "in the studio" takes of future album tracks like "Just a Touch" absolutely pummel the illegally recorded and distributed shows that my brother and I used to pick up from the underground stores near the local university. Why, oh why didn't R.E.M. release a legitimate live album during their I.R.S. tenure?

Because R.E.M. could also be sloppy live. Some of the live "in the studio" tracks find Michael Stipe struggling to hit the right notes, especially on their cover of (gulp) "Moon River". Stipe seemed to be particularly vulnerable in intimate settings. Live acoustic takes of "Disturbance at the Heron House", "The One I Love" and "Maps and Legends" find him just hanging in there for most of the time, but the biggest error is saved for last. Track fifty is a live medley that I distinctly remember from my "It's the End of the World As We Know It" CD single. It's just Stipe and an electric guitar, presumably played by Buck, quietly taking their time through the Reckoning tracks "Time After Time" and "So. Central Rain" while paying a brief visit to Peter Gabriel's "Red Rain" in between. Buck must have given Stipe the root note for his a cappella start, but Stipe mistook it as his starting/pickup note. By the time Buck enters with his guitar at the 0:20 mark, it's clear that these two men are in two different keys. Stipe realizes this at the 0:26 mark and mutters his way down to the correct key by 0:34. It's kind of funny because this live medley sounds so deathly serious otherwise.

I haven't even addressed the goofiest moment of this collection, which is R.E.M.'s cover of Archie Bell's "Tighten Up". It's not that bad, as far as R.E.M. covers go. Michael Stipe uses the moment to chew the microphone, announcing Mike Mills as "Mr. Bass!" and Buck as "Mr. Guitar Man!" He introduces the vibraphone player as "Mitch", leading me to believe they are in Mitch Easter's studio at this point. Speaking of tightening up, those who got excited about the Warner Bros. collection In Time will recognize looser cousins of "All the Right Friends" and "Bad Day", the latter being previously known as "PSA". "All the Right Friends" would grow significantly more concise by the time it made it to the Vanilla Sky soundtrack and "Bad Day" would receive just enough polish to warrant a single for R.E.M.'s casual fans circa 2003.

And that's not who this collection is for. This collection is for the people who want to hear the songs that never made it past the demo stage like "Theme from Two Steps Onward" and "Mystery to Me". It's for the people who don't mind sitting through four different versions of "Gardening at Night". It's for those who would rather hear Michael Stipe hit ten flat notes before hearing anyone else hit the right note. It's for the people who embrace the band's blemishes just as unconditionally as they embrace their classic moments. In other words, you have to care more about R.E.M. than you care about your own family. You don't have to be that fanatical to buy the thing, you just need to be that fanatical to love it. For everyone else, it's pretty good.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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