Saturday, February 20, 2016

Track of the Week: REM "Carnival of Sorts (Box Cars)"

We've now entered a strange and liminal part of the year that I usually just refer to as "late winter," but whose effects are more profound than that mundane moniker suggests.  There are signs of spring, but it's not here yet.  Winter has just about worn me down by now.  Growing up it was always rotten because I was usually depriving myself of something I liked because of Lent. For a sports-obsessed kid it was the pits because football was over, baseball hadn't started, and in basketball March Madness and the NBA playoffs hadn't arrived yet.  I also tend to get sick this time of year, and this year was no exception.  Just as I recovered from a wretched bout with the flu, my wife contracted it, and has been laid up for three days.

The air is filled with a mysterious ennui, but also a faint whiff of the green blast of spring life just over the horizon.  That mood has always been the perfect one for listening to REM's early music, which has a similar air of mystery and anticipation about it.  I find this to be the case especially with Chronic Town, their debut EP, released in 1982.  Fitting the title, "Carnival of Sorts (Box Cars)" starts with the sound of a faded carousel calliope, before the punky guitar and driving drums come in.  The chorus has one of Peter Buck's best descending, jangly guitar figures, a real beauty.  Like most early REM songs, the lyrics are intentionally vague and sung in a way as to be incomprehensible.  That, of course, only adds to the mystery, one just as ineffable as the strange stirrings in my soul on a late February day when the chill wind carries just a hint of verdant warmth.

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