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Mitch Easter and Let's Active
By David Altman
C AR STEREO is the only device
man has ever dreamed of that can
keep people awake on M-14 driving into
Ann Arbor. Car stereos, capable of
producing poppy, upbeat music, keep
the eyes open and the speed increasing.
For 20 years, long drives have been
the sole domain of mid-'60s popsters
such as the Beatles and the Byrds,
whoseasongs move the car just a little
faster and make the drive a little shor-
ter. The 1984 driver has a problem,
though. After 20 years, simple pop songs
wear pretty thin and become almost as
boring as Michigan's highway scenery.
Music fans and drivers have been for-
ced back to the market place to look for
a replacement. Up until relatively
recently, substitutes have been elusive.
Now, though, a crop of American pop
bands have appeared at the record
stores. These bands all share a common
sound and in fact, a common leader,
America's major proponent and
messiah of pop music: Mitch Easter.
Out of his North Carolina drive-in
studio, aptly named The Drive-In
Studio, have come discs from some of
the best American bands: The D'Bs,
REM, and recently, Easter's own band
Let's Active. These bands are putting
America back on the map musically -
or maybe for the first time.
The Easter sound is a bouncy, stringy
one. The songs are short, well crafted,
each with three refrains of the chorus
and all of them leave you humming the
tune after one listening. They are
driving songs, perfect for sunny sum-
mer Saturdays. Hearing one in the car
makes you understand what white con-
vertable Mustangs are for.
The DB's started the trend with
Easter as a member of the band.
Although not playing on their two
albums, Stands for Decibles and
Reprecussions, Easter picked up some
tricks from the work on these albums
and has since produced solo work from
members of the DB's.
Easter's prowess and significance to
American music is not as a musician
but as a producer. His most well known
production so far has been for the
Athens, Georgia band REM. This band
has been getting major attention and
air play both in the U.S. and abroad.
Their first extended play, Cronic
Town defines the Easter, sound. The
tracks are stringy and busy. The music
moves forward and all the licks are
borrowed from mid-'60s innovators.
The EP opens with the song
"1,000,000" and displays the REM
trademark multiple guitar and deem-
phasized vocals. Easter also chooses to'
bring out the drums in the mix of the
songs making them more of an in-
strument than just a rhythm keeping
device. The tunes are light and
The best song on the EP, "Carnival of
Sorts," features a very interesting lead-
in. The song begins with subdued organ
playing carnival music. This stops after
a short passage, giving way to a slightly
muffled drum sequence. After a few
seconds of this, the drummer hits the
cymbals and the guitars slice in, adding
treble to the mix and completely
obliterating the lethargic tone set
previously. From then on, REM
produces a great, hummable tune.
Musically, this EP is strong.
Lyrically, though, it is very obscure.
Easter has chosen to under-produce the
vocals on all of the tracks on the disc.
The effect would seem to be the
creation of a mood around the music
rather than a tangible meaning. The
songs all have lyrics, and they are
being sung. You can hear them, but
they are undiscernable. The voices are
drony, Jim Morrison-ish, but the singer
spends too much time emulating Jim
Morrison and too little time making
Clearly, Easter's production em-.
phasizes this effect. Perhaps he chooses
to subdue the band's message, opting
for a more esoteric sound. Perhaps they
have nothing to say and wish to hide it.
When REM decides where they stand
on this issue and tells us what they
mean, they may become a great band.
After this first effort, they are certainly
a good one.
Very recently, Easter has spread out
a bit and surrendered to the urge to
ted. Twenty-nine of the selections are*
1cked iinifrom either conference cham-
pions or post-season tournament cham-
pions, leaving just 24 at-large bids.
Also, quite often the best team in a
given league does not receive the
automatic bid because it lost its
league's tournament-North Carolina
in the ACC this year, for example. It
also means that weak conferen-
ces-like the Mid-American or the
Midwestern City Conferences-send
their champions despite the fact there
are better teams available in the coun-
try. So even if the committee agreed
that Michigan was among the nation's
top 53 teams, it still could not grant it a
bid. All things considered, probably the
best 35 teams in the nation reach the
NCAA. Even the most ardent
Wolverine fan would have to agree that
Michigan does not lie safely within that
But it was a good season for
Michigan, nonetheless. The Wolverines
defeated every team in the Big Ten ex-
cept Purdue, losing in overtime to the
Boilermakers at Ann Arbor and in the
final seconds at West Lafayette. They
were 4-5 against teams chosen for'the
tournament-not outstanding but two of
those losses came in overtime affairs
and two others were lost in the waning
seconds. True there were the usual
collection of patsies in the pre-
conference schedule, 'but there were
also victories over good teams like
Georgia, Dayton and Toledo.
BUT THERE were dark moments,
too. At times it looked like the young
Wolverines would not mature fast
enough to even make the NIT, much
less the NCAA tourney.
But when the Wolverines were not
hitting on all cylinders, junior guard
Eric Turner and sophomore center Roy
Tarpley gave them the spark they
Plagued by back spasms and erratic
play earlier in the season, Turner came
alive midway through the -Big Ten
season. In a span of five games during
that period the super-slick guard
averaged 19.8 points per game, leading
the team in scoring in every battle.
Even though the Wolverines won just
two of those five games, the knowledge
that their two-time leading scorer was
back on track gave Wolverine fans'
fading tournament hopes new life.
WHILE TURNER eventually cooled
down, the sinewy Tarpley heated up.
Surprising some observers with his
steady inside play, Tarpley, who was
last year's forgotten freshman, played
well and never stopped getting better.
Tarpley led Michigan in rebounding
and blocked shots, and was third behind
Tim McCormick and Turner in scoring.
Continued on next page
THE MIDEA ST
Let's Active: Reactivates pop radio
record his own music. Forming his own
band, Let's Active, he has released an
EP called Afoot. On the tracks of this
disc Easter exerts his personality and
philosophy towards music. As with
most of the music he is associated with,
the band is a traditionally based three-
piece ensemble with a drum, bass, and
guitar. His two partners in the band are
competent and particularly the bass
player contributes some nice fills;
especially some interesting lines on
"Room With a View."
No-one will accuse Easter of in-
credible originality in musical style af-
ter hearing this disc. The first song on
the EP, "Every Word Means No"
borrows directly from the Monkeys,
particularly their song "Stepping
Stone," with a similar tune and backing
Unlike REM, Let's Active's lyrics
are readily discernable. Unfortunately
they are pure pop lyrics i.e. no sub-
stance. At least they
dre fun. However, after a few songs, a
problem develops - Easter sings most
of the songs here and after a while his
voice proves rather grating. He sings in
a very nasal, high-pitched tone. In the
songs which his female band members
sing the sounds are more esthetically
pleasing and easier on the ears.
One, of these songs, "Room With a
View," is great, and alone, makes the
album worth having.
Basically, Easter's influence on the
popular music scene has been major.
His basic message seems to deem-
phasize the late 1970's tendency to take
themselves too seri usly and recoro
overdone and pretentious music. In fact,
in his video for "Every Word Means
No," Easter sings his love song to a
puppy. This attitude, pop for pop's
sake, is Easter's significance and im-
portance.to American music as well as
a refreshing change.1
Pencil Kentucky into the Final
Four. It will be mighty tough for
anyone to deny the Wildcats a Mideast
As if Kentucky's superior talent,
height and .depth weren't enough,
schedule-makers placed the regional
final on the Wildcats home court -
Rupp Arena in Lexington, KY.
Supercenters Sam Bowie and Melvin
Turpin can dominate any court. Put
them at home and like the guy in the
razor commercial, they have an un-
Alabama-Birmingham might have
the best chance to knock off-the big
boys from the Blue Grass State. If
UAB survives its first-round match
against Brigham Young, it will host
Kentucky in the second round.
Intrastate-rival Louisville could
also eliminate the Wildcats. The Car-
dinals still hold a grudge against Ken-
tucky for the Wildcats' refusal to
schedule a game against the neigh-
boring school. Emotion could carry
Louisville to an upset victory. Talent,
however, could prevent the Redbirds
from advancing to a third-round mat-
ch with Kentucky.
Louisville should breeze past its
opening-round opponent, the winner
of the Morehead State-North Carolina
A & T (NCAT was a 16-point loser to
Michigan) preliminary. The Car-
dinals will run into stiffer com-
petition, though, from Tulsa and high-
scoring Ricky Ross.
In the other half of the regional, the
seeded teams should advance with
relative ease. Neither Oregon State
nor West Virginia has the strength to
match Maryland. The same holds
true for Villanova and Marshall
This side of the regional should boil
down to an excellent battle between
Maryland and Illinois.
Maryland's Adrian Branch and Ben
Coleman, formerly of Minnesota, pair
up well against Illinois' Bruce
Douglas and Efrem Winters. Illinois
can win with its defense, but its lack of
depth could be its downfall.
DARKHORSE : Alabama-
Frieder: Trying to make the best of it
Nobody will have to worry about a
homecourt edge in Pauley Pavilion
for regional finals. Not only is UCLA,
Pauley's regular season host, vacant
from the NCAA tourney, but none of
the top seeds out West are within 1000j
miles of the site.
Should the selection committee go
f .R EM
pieces of technical mastery and
production genius that have gone into
making that album the rock critic's
most heralded disc of 1983.
As an album of melodies it stands
firm by itself. Vocalist and main
songwriter Michael Stipe possesses an
uncanny ability to turn sentence
fragments and miscellaneous mum-
blings into viable melodies with per-
tinent and pungent modulations. The
result is 12 catchy tunes that are (if not
singable, thanks to the incomprehensible
lyric) at least hummable and, most im-
As an album of absolute music it is
incredibly well-crafted. The musicians
didn't just pick up their instruments for
the first time last year; it is obvious
from the fills and tricks that each is
well-trained and experienced. Even
Stipe, who shyly stands by the
microphone throughout the show and,
when his eyes are open, stares at his
shoes, demonstrates skilled vocal
prowess. He rarely sings a refrain the
same way twice and cleverly fluctuates
between gutteral whisper and belting,
operatic song for a more serious,
Every tune contains about five vocals
tracks, in which he reserves one for
lyrics, one for background repititon,
and three for modian, medieval chants
that lend a Gregorian feel to the album.
Guitarist Bill Buck and, of course,
Mitch Easter, came up with an in-
teresting punch that affords the listener
an alternative to the stamp-your-feet-
and-grind Mick Jones style or the when-
in-doubt-use-harmonics technique of
U2's The Edge. Almost every track con-
tains both acoustic guitar and a
Rickenbacker dubbed together side-by-
side and lends the music a very stringy
In addition, Buck doesn't strum, but
See REM, Page 5
By Andrew Porter
F YOU'VE read the above article,
then you're already familiar with
both Mitch Easter and REM, his
favorite gang from Athens, Georgia.
But what you're probably not familiar
with (even though you may possess the
REM LP, Murmur) are the bits and
Ewing: Reaching for the pinnacle
REM: Laudable lyrics?
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4 Weekend/ triday, March 16, 1984
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