Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, R.E.M.’s debut EP ‘Chronic Town’ is out now for the first time ever as a standalone CD with extensive liner notes by the original producer Mitch Easter (Let’s Active). It’s available in three different formats: CD, Picture Disc, and Cassette via I.R.S./UMe.
Featuring classic tracks including “Gardening At Night,” “Wolves, Lower,” and “1,000,000,” the five-song EP, as Rolling Stone noted, “served notice that R.E.M. was an outfit to watch.”
As a debut release, R.E.M.’s ‘Chronic Town’ was an anomaly… a record that didn’t quite fit into the constraints of what was played on the radio. So instead of trying to fit into a genre, R.E.M. helped create their own: College Rock. The follow-up to their breakthrough single “Radio Free Europe,” which was released in 1981, ‘Chronic Town’ served as the entry point to what would become one of Alternative Rock’s biggest bands. “One might fancifully say that Chronic Town was the sound of an expedition, ready for anything, setting forth,” says Easter fondly about the EP. “If R.E.M. “Radio Free Europe” single was a signpost, the ‘Chronic Town’ EP was the atlas.”
Introducing their arpeggiated guitar playing, cryptic and often indecipherable lyrics, and radiant choruses that would soon emerge as signatures of the classic R.E.M. sound, ‘Chronic Town’ is the sound of a restless band, chock full of ideas, operating on a post-collegiate budget. Charmingly ragged and refreshingly immediate, it established the band indelibly upon impact. “Wolves, Lower” opens the EP with Michael Stipe’s trademark impressionistic and idiosyncratic lyrics, while Mike Mills’ rubbery bass lines and Peter Buck’s jangly Rickenbacker keeps Bill Berry’s unpredictable drumming in check.
It’s this combination that would not only fuel the band for subsequent decades but make them equally as dependable as songsmiths. Serving as a template for ‘80s college jangle pop, “Gardening At Night” forged a style that combined heartily strummed rhythm guitars with a meandering bass line that proved to be a solid blueprint for college bands to come.
Critically hailed both upon release and in retrospect, ‘Chronic Town’ heralded “a great band planting their flag in the ground, a historic landmark that portended great things that actually came” (Stereogum). The EP’s impact and influence on the future of alternative music is uncontested and described by Magnet Magazine as “essentially a template for the entire indie-rock movement.”