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The Method Actors - This Is Still It

In my spare time I have been spending time on a comprehensive piece on the Athens Scene in terms of R.E.M. As of course, I have such a detailed history of being down there. . .
(insert laugh track here)
However, when albums such as this pop out of the woodwork they do need some extra listening.
The Method Actors to me were just a name. I had never been able to spend any time actually listening to their music at any real depth and so this album's release came with a bit of apprehension. Am I just buying this album because they came from Athens? My answer to that was 'Yes'. In fact, I failed to read any reviews on it but based my knowledge on the fact that Pylon has posted it on their Facebook fan page.

And getting back to the R.E.M. piece I was writing earlier on their 30th Anniversary gave me a second reason to purchase it. I concluded the purchase was for “Research” which I have now decided is an apt reason to purchase any music whatsoever. 

(Not that this has ever been a problem with my own wife as she has always encouraged me to write, write and write some more but for those of you out in the real world looking for a way to purchase more music, what better than to start a blog and tell your significant other that the purchases are blog expenses.)
Of course this is what happens to music. It is born and has a day and a life whereby it fulfills our fantasies and then we move onto the next one. For these songs they were trapped in time and once again released to a different time and audience. The Method Actors have been trapped in a vacuum waiting for the perfect moment to put their name in the news again. 

The Method Actors were a duo consisting of Vic Varney on Guitar and David Gamble on drums. Their sound, however, is in no way minimalist in nature as what they are able to accomplish as a two-piece will astound the listener. 

What of course has shocked me from this purchase was that the music was surprisingly good. The list of names that they put together regarding the Athens scene is not just an overblown pile of trash. As I read off the name “Method Actors” they will be firmly supplanted as one of the true treasures of the Post-Punk movement.
It would appear that both Drowned In Sound and Pitchfork would agree.
But in terms of their sound compared to R.E.M., I see that they are much more of an influence especially guitarwise as Peter Buck admits in the liner notes.
The Athens music scene was very vibrant in the late 70s early 80s. Everybody is familiar with the B-52s and REM and to a lesser extent Pylon and Love Tractor, but one of my favorite bands and most innovative was the Method Actors, a band that I must have seen play 100 times.
To me the Method Actors really had it all. Their unique two-man lineup, guitar and drums (both sang—weirdly, marvelously), was unheard of at the time. David Gamble used thunderstick that must have weighed at least a pound each, had the deepest voice I ever heard and looked like a brick shithouse version of Jeff Chandler in boxer shorts; Vic looked like a cigarette with a guitar. Anyone who has seen the White Stripes knows how much can be gotten out of that configuration but at the time it was considered strange and extreme. They were incredibly prolific, with new songs every time you saw them, single releases, European EPs, and new albums consistently.
They were a propulsive live band with a full sound that belied the two-man lineup. And in Vic Varney they had an extremely talented guitar player who rewrote the rules on rhythm guitar, at least as far as I was concerned. I stood in front of Vic night after night watching his hands and trying to figure out how he did what he did. In his use of drum notes, broken chords, modal harmonies, and dissonant rhythms, he created a template for some of the things I did later with my band.
These records have been out of print for a very long time. I recently rediscovered them on vinyl and was surprised to see how much of an influence Vic had cast on my playing. I’m extremely happy to finally see these records back in print. They amount to a kind of secret history of the Athens scene and their re-release is something to be treasured. Maybe this release will be a good introduction to the career of Vic Varney, who is still making great records 25 years later. - Peter Buck
Ok, so Peter Buck is a fan. Why should you be a fan? When I hear the first track “Do the Method”, it brings upon all the elements of what I would expect out of the early Athens Dance scene.
In fact, if I was not denied entry of a certain club in Chicago on the night of my Bachelor party, that plays retro 80s music on Thursday night, I would argue that they could just play this album straight through and it would be a rip roaring event.
As you scan through the album on first listen, however, you will notice a plethora of sounds that are not just lined with hooks. We do hear some of the more artsier moments of the Athens scene. ‘You’ slightly danceable awkwardness reminds me more of a band like Pylon.

'Rang-A-Tang' sounds like a song that should have been placed on a John Hughes movie from the 80s. Most definitely the most poppy track on the album, the part of the song is pop bliss before Varney goes into a David Byrne-spiel halfway through before the songs is brought back to form.
This 19 track album is full of other surprises, as pscychaedelica makes it’s appearance later on.  On tracks such as ‘Pigeons’, the longest track clocking in at 6:55 that take you back to the late acid rock bands of the 60’s with little vocals and Varney but his rhythm guitar and the persistent drumming of Gamble. 
Point being, you should not just get this because it’s from Athens, nor because Peter Buck likes it but rather this is genuinely great music that if you appreciate this scene will no doubt be listing this among the better re-released albums of the year.

Podcasting the Early Years

Thought I would get into the 30th Anniversary Festivities and post a podcast with yours truly playing some of the early tunes and chatting it up with myself.
So sit back and relax to my sandpaper voice as I lull you all to sleep, Rapid Eye Movement style.
Seriously, this podcast is done completely from recordings from 1980 their inaugural year as a band. What I try to examine is the very premise that even at their infancy that R.E.M. had the talent as well as the gumption to be an amazing act.

New Music Coffee Break

 Taking a small break from the R.E.M. posts to discuss the best albums so far this year. I bring this up because I am sitting here working on my vacation mix and find myself digging into the 2010 releases and noting my preferences for the trip. Since my wife and I typically spend quite a bit of time driving around on our vacations, what’s better than creating a nice-sized playlist for the trip and then exploring the music together and to be honest, it’s a great way to involve your significant other in the process.
While some of you purists out there prefer the idea of playing albums straight through, as do I, a playlist at random allows for the trip to be more enjoyable for both parties because as much as I might want to listen to an R.E.M. album straight through, your significant other might prefer Phish and an hour of Phish is, in my honest opinion, mind-numbing.
Compromise allows for our minds to expand in the peace and relaxation of company and good music. Onward and Upward.
Ok, onto the best so far….
1. Beach House – Teen Dream
Best release so far this year by a mile. Quaint, dreamy and reflective. While I would hate to call this album a folk album, because I think it would give the wrong impression but in many respects it reminds me of the Fleet Foxes.
2. Charlotte Gainsbourg – IRM
With the help of Beck, Gainsbourg’s album is reminiscent of St. Vincent’s ‘Actor’ in allowing for her to explore different personas.
3. Owen Pallett  - Heartland
This feels a little bit like what Zach Condon, with Beirut is doing albeit with strings and keyboards and crooning.
4. Spoon – Transference
Somehow Spoon is finding a way to sound fresh by coming out with solid rock and roll albums.
Some of the more disappointing albums so far include:
1. Massive Attack – Heligoland
Massive Attack is another band that has not been the same in the 21st century. I feel this album feels inconsistent, in some respects, featuring too many disparate lead singers to backdrop their sound.
2. Peter Gabriel – Scratch My Back
I found this album depressing and a headscratcher. Gabriel decides to come out with an album of covers but does so only with his voice and a symphony which is a headscratcher.  Standout tracks like Bon Iver’s ‘Flume’ and Magnetic Fields ‘Book of Love’ are not worth the forgettable tracks like David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ and Radioheads ‘Street Spirit’
3. Surfer Blood – Astrocoast
I found this album to feel like your typical “Indie Rock Flavor of the Week”; an album that tries too hard and ultimately is pretty bland.


Everybody Spends Money For Haiti Relief

It would appear that the Simon Cowell-Produced ‘Everybody Hurts’ has been a hit. The 453,000 copies of this single that were sold in the first week in the UK set a record.
For those fans out there very much upset about this, the entire single, etc. I just hope that you hang in there. All I can say is that everybody hurts. Everybody cries sometimes. So just hold on. That’s what I said, hold on.


Warner’s Retreat From Music Streaming Not Necessarily Bad

Spotify, for those that are not aware is a Peer-to-Peer service that allows for users to listen to streamed versions of approximately 6 million-plus songs that are contained within its library.  Think about it simply as going to iTunes, picking a song from it’s library and streaming it to play on your computer, over your cell phone, etc. Of course the big key to this service is that it is free.

Simon Cowell’s Charity Single ‘Everybody Hurts’ Is Not Slaughtered After All

 The recent development in Haiti would appear that more than 200,000 have been killed due to the earthquake in Haiti. I write this because it is all the more imperative why I write this article.


Over the years I have sat and listened to countless R.E.M. bootlegs. Countless moments where Michael Stipe would tell the audience that as they were leaving to visit the booths that were set up on the way out of the venue. These “Booths” were set up as a means for the public to become proactive and be informed.


Now, I never thought that the band did this to improve their shtick among fans. It was never a public relations gesture, a moment where you could just say, ‘Wow, those guys in R.E.M. are awesome because they support such great things as the environment, old buildings, progressive causes. Hot, damn, I think I will go and buy their album.”

To be honest they genuinely care about the issues they support and by putting their name around a project they are supporting that cause as well. Of course they are quite aware that having a fanbase they can promote those causes, both directly and indirectly.


As fans, we should not just blindly support causes cause Michael Stipe says to. But I do not think that the cause is the issue here. The question has never been about not giving money to Haiti but rather ruining a song.


Sampling Music on Independent Lens

 Independent Lens on PBS recently broadcast a nice program about ‘Copyright Criminals, Can You Own a Sound’.


What is your opinion of music that is sampled? Before you answer that, I want you to listen to this. It’s the first part of the ‘Grey Album’ by DJ Dangermouse, a mash up of Jay-Z and the Beatles. 

Independent Lens on PBS had a good episode on “Copyright Criminals” dealing with the sampling issues in hip hop, and other genres.  Sampling is simply the idea of using a borrowed sound or recording and using it in a different recording, as in the example above.


What the ethical question of course the program revolves around is the legal aspect of taking that recording and using it in a different recording. Who owns that sample, which might only be a second or two.


Fox Uses U2’s ‘Bad’ to Bring to Light NASCAR’s Heroin Problem

 That could be the only explanation for having this little ad make its way to the television.



I am not sure that there is a hardline policy that bands should follow when allowing their music to be used in advertisements.  In some cases, I would argue that the properly placed song with the perfect product is alright, such as the use of  U2's ‘Vertigo’ to promote the Ipod.


‘Bad’ is a different story. The song, as told by Bono on countless live shows, related to heroin addiction. So for it to be offered in such a fashion makes me want to counter with “WTF”. Does Dale Earnhardt, Jr. have a drug problem that we were not aware of?


While the lyrics might not suggest that the song is about Heroin, the fact that Bono has provided that nugget of detail to U2 fans everywhere, you would have to wonder who in the U2 camp dropped the ball on this one. Or are they so hard up for money they will try to attract NASCAR Dads with this promo.

What bugs me is that the song turned from being one of my favorite U2 songs to one that bleeds of cynicism now. 



Open Letter to Fans on 'Everybody Hurts' Tribute Song

For those that are not aware, Simon Cowell, of American Idol (and other reality entertainment show) fame has arranged to have R.E.M.’s Everybody Hurts to be covered by a slew of all-star musicians and acts.
In reading the reaction on Murmurs left me pretty sick to my stomach.  It’s very difficult to pick out a winner from all the reactions from fans.
“Everybody Hurts may well be murdered by Cowell's ego”
“On a purely selfish note, this will probably bring REM a lot of exposure to a new generation of music buyers.”
“I'm very torn about this... do the ends justify the means??”
“I cannot help but think that the 'Stars' who have signed up for this are also doing it for their own egos.”
Of course there is plenty of reaction to the actual singers that are performing on this which I have chosen not to add. 
R.E.M., for all it’s said and done is a progressive act that for the last, what will almost be 30 years, has supported either publicly or not so much social causes both with their own money and to raise awareness for those causes. Putting their support behind a cause like this is noble and should not be taken any other way.

Being Shackled To Your Bed with R.E.M.

We have begun a new year and as I stare at photos of the lead singer known as Stipe, I am noticing that we have another thing in common and that is that we both have beards. His has a fair amount of gray in his; mine is still brown-black saving the gray for my temples. He is balding, I need a haircut. He’s wearing glasses. Mine are in a case somewhere. He is 50. I am 37. We both know the lyrics to Driver 8.

However, the staring is just staring and not any ‘longing’. Staring at him and then a white screen wondering what I am going to write about next.
It is not just any new year but the beginning of another decade (although not technically but that is for another site).
Of course if you have been reading this site in the recent past you would admit that things have been pretty quiet around here. If I was Johnny Rotten I might say, “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”
Honestly, I do too although I am not sure you can just sit to write. I do not get paid to be a fan, the home office is not on speed dial; I do not get backstage tickets, no free albums, no gimmes or anything,  but rather when I do this it’s my little place.
Hitting submit on an R.E.M. post is knowing that somewhere out there, a bot is looking for it and wants to respond with a Viagra advertisement and that I find pretty humerous that I am probably talking to more “Code” than anything.

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