Friday, July 29, 2016

R.E.M. – Dead Letter Office and Eponymous [Vinyl Reissues] (Album Review)

For the first time since their initial releases in the late-80s, two of R.E.M.’s classic compilation albums are getting pressed again on vinyl for a July 29 release. Dead Letter Office and Eponymous are being reissued with the original artwork and liner note insert sleeves for a sonic and aesthetic presentation that is beautifully faithful to the original releases.

Dead Letter Office was first released in 1987 and marks R.E.M.’s first collection of b-sides, rarities, outtakes, and covers. Showcasing both the band’s unpolished, quirky side, as well as their varied musical influences, Dead Letter Office is a must-have for die-hard R.E.M. fans and functions as an incredibly interesting audio artifact in their catalog for casual fans. The 15-track collection brings together many of the band’s early original b-sides and also includes their left-of-center takes on songs by Aerosmith, Roger Miller, Pylon, and Velvet Underground, the latter of which gets three separate covers (“There She Goes Again,” “Pale Blue Eyes,” and “Femme Fatale”). Dead Letter Office is also memorable for guitarist Peter Buck’s track-by-track liner notes.

Eponymous was first released in 1988 and functions as the band’s first greatest hits collection. The album covers the band’s time on I.R.S. Records and was their last release for the label before they moved to Warner Brothers. Eponymous was actually released just a month before Green, the band’s first album for Warner Brothers. Never known to do things by standard protocol, the band actually included alternate takes of the more well-known album versions of “Radio Free Europe,” “Gardening at Night,” and “Finest Worksong,” as well as “Romance” which was previously only available on the soundtrack to the 1987 film Made in Heaven. Anytime I’m trying to turn anyone on to R.E.M.’s greatness with just a single album at my disposal, Eponymous is my go-to introductory blind date every time (followed closely by Fables of the Reconstruction).

As an added bonus, the band’s fourth proper studio LP Lifes Rich Pageant is also being reissued on the same day to celebrate the album’s 30th anniversary. Lifes Rich Pageant provided the band with their first Gold record and produced hit singles (and stellar videos) for "Fall on Me" and "Superman."

All three vinyl LPs are available for preorder here.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Greatest Hits [US Vinyl Debut] (Album Review)

While most band’s greatest hits album aren’t much more than a few solid singles sprinkled amidst a weaker smattering of fan favorites, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers aren’t most bands. Their accurately titled Greatest Hits album was first released back in 1993 and it quickly went on to become the band’s best-selling release. Currently sitting above the 12x platinum threshold, there’s a good chance that this Friday’s reissue of Greatest Hits – the first time it will be available on vinyl in the US - will provide an even bigger bump in its already impressive sales figures.

Spanning the band’s entire catalog (and Petty’s solo material) up to the point of its initial release in 1993, Greatest Hits is jam-packed with the band’s signature American heartland rock vibe and Petty’s unmistakable vocals. Listening through the album feels like a sonic survey through the heyday of classic rock radio and MTV. From the pulsing intro riff of “American Girl” to the snarling singalong chorus of “Refugee” to the psychedelic slink of “Don’t Come Around No More,” every Heartbreakers’ staple acts as an audible reminder of the band’s lasting impact since their 1976 debut. Plus, anyone alive during ‘80s-‘90s era of MTV will have their iconic videos playing along in their heads as each song plays.

The 18-track playlist features at least one track from every major Petty release except 1987’s Let Me Enough (I’ve Had Enough), as well as the three #1 hits (“I Won’t Back Down,” “Runnin’ Down A Dream,” and “Free Fallin’”) from Petty’s 1989 solo debut Full Moon Fever. Greatest Hits also included two new band recordings: a cover of “Something in the Air” and “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” the latter of which became the first #1 of the 1990s for the band.

This US vinyl debut spans 2 LPs, is pressed on 180-gram vinyl, and is presented in gorgeous gatefold packaging that features a plethora of cool candid photos filling its interior. This is such a stunning collection – both sonically and visually – and it’s incredibly fitting that it’s finally available on vinyl for US fans.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Interview with Letters to Cleo

Letters to Cleo got the band back together and they've got new music on the horizon! In anticipation of their upcoming album, we talked to the band for our newest NoiseTrade One-on-One. Lead singer Kay Hanley, guitarist Michael Eisenstein, and guitarist Greg McKenna detail the band's reunion, their new songs, and the secret behind their Midas touch when it comes to cover songs.

NoiseTrade: First off, to what do we owe the honor of new Letter to Cleo music? What got the band back together?

Michael Eisenstein: Stacy was coming off of several years of heavy touring and we ran into each other at a Johnny Pilonsky show in LA last fall. He asked if we should get together and write with Kay. So we agreed to get together after the beginning of the year and give it a crack. Greg sent us some MP3s of guitar ideas he had and the first one became "Can't Say." We wrote that and "Hitch a Ride" that first day.

NoiseTrade: Once everyone got back into the studio, how was the vibe playing together again? 
Did it take a moment to kick back in or was it like riding a bike for you guys?

Kay Hanley: When someone mentioned that it had been 17 years since the band’s last recording

session, I was really taken aback. Even though we were trading tapes back and forth with Greg in Boston, the process of writing and recording this batch of songs was so focused and easy. It seemed like we’d never stopped. I guess we all just speak the same language.

Greg McKenna: I remember listening to the iPhone takes of the initial writing session recorded on the west coast and just missing the camaraderie we had as a band. So the next writing session, we agreed that I should be there. It was a little spooky how easily we slipped back into writing as a group. But a nice kind of spooky!

Eisenstein: It was even easier than back in the day because we have all been doing so much other music for the last 15 years that the confidence level is so much higher. We didn't feel like we needed to overthink anything or worry too much about any musical decisions. We would record a basic track pretty much right after the song was written with Stacy on drums, Kay singing, and me on electric guitar. It was a few runthroughs to get the arrangement down and then get a take. We would then send that to Greg and he did his overdubs in Boston. Then a month or so later, Greg came to LA and we got together and wrote the rest.

NT: What new songs are you most excited about unleashing on Letters to Cleo fans and playing live for them?

Hanley: There’s a song called “Back to Nebraska” which is probably the most personal and literal song I’ve ever written. I’m excited to play it because it’s the kind of warm, mid-tempo driver that Michael and Stacy are really great at. I’m nervous to play it because I will cry. “Four Leaf Clover” is going to be a blast, too. 100% Letters to Cleo, no striving for maturity.

Eisenstein: All five! If there's one thing I've learned about our fans, it's that just about every song is someone's favorite. So I'm really excited to release them and play them all at every show and see what people respond to. But I think "Hitch a Ride" will be a live favorite when we start gigging.

NT: During your initial run in the ‘90s, the band played some pretty big tours with bands like Sponge and Our Lady Peace. What do you think will be some of the biggest differences between touring life then and when you guys hit the road in the fall?

McKenna: I think everyone has gotten so much better at performing. When we started, we were raw, enthusiastic and didn't really know what we were doing. Everyone has gotten so much better as musicians and performers. That and earlier bed times.

Hanley: More airplanes, less Cracker Barrels.

Eisenstein: Well, even those tours were all clubs and some smaller theaters, so it won't be too different. The biggest difference is that we won't go out for a solid year and cover the county 2-3 times on a bus, as well as Canada and Europe. We will do short regional runs with long weekends here and there and fly and stay in nicer hotels.

NT: Finally, the band has always had a knack for releasing some incredible covers like Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” The Cars’ “Dangerous Type,” Cheap Trick’s “I Want You To Want Me,” and Nick Lowe’s “Cruel To Be Kind.” What do you think is the key to crafting a good cover song and do you guys have any new ones you’re working on?

Eisenstein: Thanks! I think the key to a great cover song is to have Kay Hanley sing it. In all seriousness, she's the main reason those covers are great. She is able to take something like "I Want You To Want Me" which we didn't change at all (other than the key) and make it her own despite the fact that the original is sung by one of the great rock voices of all time. I had an idea for a new cover the other day. I won't say which song, but it's a solo song by a former Beatle.

Hanley: What a nice thing Michael said! As I think back to the when and why of our cover song choices, I’m struck by the total lack of self-consciousness we had back then. I think we approached those songs with enough reverence to stay true to the source, enough balls to try and do it better, and enough humility to know when to quit.

McKenna: Along with Kay's vocals, are the songs themselves. We were careful to choose great songs that we could do justice to. The real credit goes to the original songwriters that wrote such amazing songs!

For an additional '90s flashback while we wait on the new EP, here's Letter to Cleo playing on Late Night with Conan O'Brien in February of 1995.