Stereogum - Automatic For The People Tribute
Download: The Wrens - "Nightswimming"
Stereogum posted their tribute to the R.E.M. album Automatic For the People yesterday. The original was released 15 years ago on Friday. The Stereogum tribute features all 12 tracks covered by different artists.
I can't even tell you how absurdly cool this is. I got into R.E.M. when I was 14, after reading that Michael Stipe and Kurt Cobain were friends. As someone who got into R.E.M. right at the same time that I was first starting to open up to the wider world around me, their music and worldview had a pretty serious impact on my own views.
To hear the fantastically creative re-imaginings of R.E.M. songs is amazing. Dappled Cities take "Try Not To Breathe," a folk ballad concerning death, amongst other things, and make it completely electronic, delving into the art of synthesized emotion. Rogue Wave's version of "Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight" is almost completely unrecognizable, but provides a nice window into what would happen if R.E.M. existed in a parallel universe where new wave was considered artier than folk.
It's had to find commonalities between the songs, but if I had to pick something, I would say that for the most part, the original intent of each song is remarkably well-preserved. Sorrow is the mood of the original album, and that's largely present on this tribute. The Figurines take on the mournful tones of "New Orleans Instrumental No. 1" at first seemed to betray the song's gloominess, but after a few listens, I feel like that's only partially true. The vocal mix definitely vacillates between anguished and soaring, and I like that. The Forms are a little light on the venom in "Ignoreland" and Sarah Quin and Kaki King don't convince me of poignant anguish on "Sweetness Follows," but the rest of the album is stellar.
The highlights are, by far, Dappled Cities "Try Not To Breathe," The Wrens "Nightswimming," which highlights the bravery involved with skinny dipping and Blitzen Trapper's version of "Star Me Kitten," which gives the original a run for it's money.
And Stereogum isn't done yet. More artists will be adding their covers in the next few weeks. There's an .mp3 up top, but please go to Stereogum to hear the full tribute. Notes on each song that were made by the contributing bands, as well as R.E.M. bass player Mike Mills, can be viewed on the site as well.
Click here to listen to Drive XV.