[Abby’s Road] What’s Your Frequency?

“Radio… It’s all right once in a while. Otherwise it tends to induce bad values, false dreams, lazy habits. Listening to these stories of foolishness and violence… this is no way for a boy to grow up.” Rabbi Baumel to Joe, Radio Days, 1987.

Is it a lost vehicle, radio? Have we been […]

Hidden Pictures

Please believe me when I tell you I was not compelled to write about Hidden Pictures simply because of the male part of the duo’s striking resemblance to Elliott Smith. I mean, it certainly helped (and it’s pretty eerie), but their music struck me in a sweet spot as well. It’s simple, pop-infused […]

Abby’s Road postponed ’til Monday

[Insert your sad face image here]

Hello loyal readers. Please excuse me for not being prepared with my usual Friday column. Wish I could say that I was kidnapped by a flock of rabid pterodactyls and only returned this afternoon after an astronomical ransom was paid by my husband… but alas, I […]

[MP3] Sam Owens: “How To Build A Clock”

Sam Owens’ fourth album, How To Build A Clock, is making some serious rounds after his first few albums were only heard by a select few. Which is a shame, really, as Owens knows how to craft head-boppers. Nowhere is that more evident than on the title track off the album, which he’s […]

Tim Cohen croons odd pop on Magic Trick and Bad Blood EP

There are few things in this world I hate more than bland solo projects that just sound like a weaker version of the full band (I’m looking at you, Joe Perry Project). Just do something DIFFERENT, you know? So you can imagine my relief when I pressed play on the new material from […]

Puro Instinct gets sweet, dreamy, Gaussian on Headbangers in Ecstasy

There’s a filter in Photoshop called Gaussian Blur, and it’s basically a one-stop-shop for enshrouding a photo in a dream-like mist. Although it’s mostly used on pictures of galloping horses and glamor poses, the filter looks like it could have been what made the cover of Headbangers in Ecstasy so dreamy. And given […]

Forget chillwave, Toro Y Moi takes us on a unique journey on Underneath the Pine

We all remember Toro Y Moi, don’t we? No need to reintroduce the moniker of South Carolinian Chazwick Bundick? Who last year was one of the handful of artists branded with the now-infamous “chillwave” classification? Who received critical praise for his debut album Causers of This? Ok, great.

Bundick’s second album, Underneath the […]

Radiohead has their cake and eats it too on The King of Limbs

I can’t even fathom the number of Radiohead reviews that start with: “How do I begin to pen a review on a new album from one of the greatest bands of all time?”. Come on, hyperbole! Yet, here I am, laptop in hand, with a keyboard begging to be mashed…and my thoughts escape […]

[The Past Presents] R.E.M. – “Monster”

The Past Presents revisits revered albums from the past 20-25 years to ask the question, “Is this album still a classic, or has it lost its edge over the years?”. Was it a great record for that particular time and place, or is it something we’ll be passing on to our kids? It also looks at the “lost classics” – countless albums that should have earned more attention but for one reason or another fell through the cracks.

It is a sad but true fact that greatness often outshines mere excellence. Did you ever know a family of extreme overachievers? Take the example of a highly successful couple who raised three sons. The first-born son attends Oxford, earns two PhDs, and goes on to be a highly regarded scholar and writer. The second son gradates from Harvard and becomes a ground-breaking research physician. The youngest son graduates from Duke University and starts a successful sports management consulting firm. Taken individually all three would be considered successful; however, when placed side by side, the youngest son pales a bit to his older brothers. Such is the case with R.E.M.’s 1994 album Monster.

Monster’s big brothers Out of Time and Automatic for the People are undisputed gems of the R.E.M. catalog, showcasing the band at the peak of their abilities. These two albums show R.E.M.’s complete mastery of the pop song while also crafting their most polished lyrics. Monster took a different turn. While R.E.M. lit up the airwaves with “Losing My Religion,” “Shiny Happy People,” and “Everybody Hurts”, the rest of the early ‘90s alternative rock scene was deeply ensconced in fuzzed-out grunge and driving guitar rock. Looking back at Monster, it seems that this album was a reaction to the trends of the early ‘90s.

So, was Monster R.E.M.’s desperate attempt to stay relevant in the face of changing tastes? I don’t think so. In 1994 R.E.M. could have released Out of Time 2 and it would have sold millions of copies and had every critic under the sun searching for new adjectives to describe the band’s genius. Instead, I think Monster was R.E.M.’s attempt to reinvent themselves. Monster was to be a reworking of the band’s sound while they were at the top of their game. I believe that Monster was supposed do for R.E.M. what Achtung Baby did for U2. This album was supposed to kick open the door to a new realm of creativity for a band firmly into their second decade. Unfortunately R.E.M. failed to make a landmark album here because they didn’t blow the whole thing up and start fresh. They simply swapped their clean guitar and well-placed mandolin sound for overdriven guitars and effects. Monster fails to be the seismic shift that Achtung Baby was; and as a result Monster was viewed by critics as a good album, but not a great one. Fans bought millions of copies of the album, but after a few years it was regarded as the dog of the R.E.M. catalog. By the start of the new millennium, Monster was a staple of bargain bins everywhere.

I recently dug Monster out of my local bargain bin, wondering, 17 years since its release, if Monster remains bargain bin fodder, or has it blossomed into a bargain bin treasure?

Continue reading [The Past Presents] R.E.M. – “Monster”


It’s a folk-americana/folk-rock song-cycle that was largely written after I quit my job in Moscow and went off alone into Siberia, and was recorded almost exclusively in one day this past December in New York.

I don’t think I’ve ever started off a post before with a pull quote, but this seemed too […]