10 Albums to Fill the REM-Shaped Hole in Your Life


Over the last couple of years, when our favorite bands have broken up, we’ve written a couple of posts suggesting new(ish) bands whose work you might enjoy if you like the work of the band who’ve just split. Being as we’re big REM fans, we figured we’d do the same when we got the news they’d gone their separate ways. So we sat down and started thinking and… well, it’s harder than it looks, really. You’d think there’d be heaps of bands that sound like REM these days, but curiously enough, there aren’t. Or not good ones, anyway. Sure, there was the slew of bad ’90s-era REM imitators like Live, and there are bands like Coldplay citing them as an influence. But beyond that, it’s something of a struggle. Still, we’ve soldiered on manfully, choosing ten of our favorite REM records and pairing them with ten newer records you might enjoy if you like them. (And let’s be clear here — we’re not suggesting the records we’ve chosen necessarily sound like the REM albums, just that they may appeal for similar reasons.) Your ideas are, as ever, welcome.

If you like Murmur, try… Part Timer’s Reel to Reel

One of the many delights of REM’s wondrous debut album was the way it created its own self-contained world. While its influences were clear, it sounded like nothing else — and it still doesn’t. As such, it’s pretty much impossible to find a direct musical parallel with Murmur — but there are a couple of records that have had a similar effect on us over the last couple of years, the sense of being drawn into a completely immersive musical experience. One is Carapace, the debut album for Australian duo Children of the Wave (which we highly recommend checking out). But a closer parallel is probably the gently beautiful sound of English musician John McCaffrey, aka Part Timer, whose debut album shares Murmur‘s hard-to-understand vocals and chiming guitars, although it’s a far more downtempo and quiet proposition than REM’s album.

If you like Reckoning, try… The Decemberists’ The King Is Dead

This may be cheating, given that Peter Buck played guitar on three of the songs here, but there’s definitely a lot of REM about The King Is Dead. Before this album’s release, The Decemberists’ Colin Meloy spoke of wanting to “[look] back into more American traditions [and] reconnect with more American music” with The King Is Dead, and the two records definitely share both conceptual and sonic resemblances to one another — Reckoning soundtracks a trip across the country, and is also to our ears REM’s most distinctly American album. Songs like the country-influenced “(Don’t Go Back to) Rockville” and the closing “Little America” couldn’t be anything but American, whereas albums like, say, Up or Automatic for the People could have come from anywhere.

If you like Fables of the Reconstruction, try… Midlake’s The Trials of Van Occupanther

Fables is often described as REM’s most “Southern” album, and with good reason. Its folk-inflected music evokes the lush and faintly claustrophobic verdance of the region, while Stipe’s lyrics were based on characters both real and imagined. Van Occupanther occupies a similar landscape inhabited by similar characters — the title track, in particular, would fit beautifully onto Fables, perhaps as a companion piece to “Wendell Gee.”

If you like Lifes Rich Pageant, try… The Walkmen’s You & Me

Lifes Rich Pageant represented REM’s first great musical shift, away from the understated nature of their first three records and toward the sound that would eventually find its full expression a decade later with Monster — a big, balls-out rock sound, with Stipe’s vocals emerging from the depths of the mix to sit front and center. But for all its newfound energy, it’s not a particularly happy record — “Cuyahoga” was the most directly political REM song thus far, lamenting the destruction of Native American culture, and the mood elsewhere was one of discontent. For a similar mix of raucous energy, latent angst, and guitars that sound big while never being overly distorted, we give you: The Walkmen’s You & Me.

If you like Document, try… Gaslight Radio’s Good Heavens Mean Times

Like REM, Australian band Gaslight Radio slogged in relative obscurity for the early part of their career, although in the case of the latter, globe-conquering success has yet to arrive (and may well never do so), which is a shame, as they certainly merit a wider audience. Document‘s lyrics cemented Stipe’s conceptual shift from the impenetrably personal to the political, although being Michael Stipe, he was never given to being overly literal — the album’s messages come wreathed in allegory (the Animal House-esque “Disturbance at the Heron House”) or metaphor (“King of Birds”). Good Heavens Mean Times addresses similar subject matter in a similar manner, and there’s a certain blue collar-ness to the band’s work that recalls the likes of “Finest Worksong.”

If you like Automatic for the People, try… Bon Iver’s Bon Iver

The Bon Iver backlash seems to be in full swing, something that’s probably not helped by his ranty blog and his work with hip-hop übertwat Kanye West. At his best, though, Vernon has a way with a melody and a deftness of songwriting touch that’d doubtless appeal to those who cite Automatic for the People as their favorite REM album.

If you like Monster, try… Love of Diagrams’ Nowhere Forever

In which art rock band makes big ol’ rock ‘n’ roll record, full of fuzz-toned guitars and surprisingly hummable melodies. For a band who started as a purely instrumental proposition and who were too artsy for Matador, Love of Diagrams’ third record was remarkably accessible, and all the better for it. The distinctly ’90s-influenced production of Nowhere Forever definitely recalls the era in which Monster was recorded, and standout single “Forever” is the same sort of unexpected guitar rush that “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” was all those years ago.

If you like New Adventures in Hi-Fi, try… Dark Night of the Soul

New Adventures in Hi-Fi was an unexpectedly wonderful contractual obligation record made largely while the band was on a massive world tour. That means that its closest parallel is probably U2’s Zooropa, but in terms of its music and atmosphere, we reckon that you could do much worse than the David Lynch/Sparklehorse/Danger Mouse collaboration Dark Night of the Soul. Both are records that don’t really have a coherent sound — instead, they’re disparate collections of songs that explore a large variety of musical ideas. And yet, there is something indefinable that holds them both together — a general mood, perhaps.

If you like Up, try… Dean & Britta’s 13 Most Beautiful

We may be in the minority, but we love Up. If there’s a recent record that echoes its sound and its atmosphere, we reckon it’s Dean & Britta’s collection of soundtracks for Andy Warhol’s screen tests. The instrumentation on 13 Most Beautiful is definitely reminiscent of Up — in both cases, you have what are essentially guitar bands relying heavily on drum machines and synths. The mood is occasionally broken by relatively uptempo tracks, but both albums are generally reflective. And of course, there’s the fact that Stipe is a filmmaker, and that REM were big Velvet Underground fans (cf. the three VU covers included on Dead Letter Office), so we suspect they’d rather appreciate the 13 Most Beautiful project.

If you like Reveal, try… Atlas Sound’s Parallax

As we mentioned when we discussed Reveal recently, it’s definitely our favorite late-period R.E.M. album, and also a record that always shouts “summer” to us. So too does Bradford Cox’s latest solo record, which has a similar ability to evoke the feeling of long, humid nights and lazy, empty days. If skinny white dudes making summery music is your thing, then we suggest you get a copy of Parallax post haste. (When it’s released November 7th, obviously.)