R.E.M.’s debut album Murmur, released in 1983, seemed like the work of an idiosyncratic band with their distinctive sound fully honed. It makes more sense in the context of this excellent debut EP, where the band’s sound is fully formed, but perhaps in service of material that’s not quite as memorable as their debut, but more energetic. Michael Stipe is already has his charismatic mumbling, Mike Mills provides melodic bass lines and backing vocals, Bill Berry a steady back beat, and Peter Buck’s guitar is distinctive without being overbearing – the band as a whole sounds like a hybrid of The Byrds and The Velvet Underground, with a dose of Southern USA eccentricity.
At only 5 songs, and 20 minutes, Chronic Town doesn’t quite rank among the band’s best albums. The most accomplished song is ‘Wolves, Lower’, full of ringing guitar hooks and memorable vocal lines, while ‘Gardening At Night’ is melodic and pretty. Mike Mills’ backing vocals provide the hook for ‘Carnival Of Sorts (Boxcars)’.
R.E.M.’s initial e-mails are probably more accessible than this EP, but if you love them it’s certainly worth going back to hear the group’s sound almost fully developed on their initial EP.