Hyena (Athens Demo)
Label: Capitol Records
This is easily the band's most powerful, cohesive album from its indie days. R.E.M.'s first few records demonstrated they had their own sound; this one proved they could ride that sound anywhere they felt like. Peter Buck's unforgettable guitar licks drive Michael Stipe's otherworldly voice deeper into that mystery he always sounds seconds away from revealing, then Mike Mills distracts you with an unexpected harmony and everything starts all over again, only better. Every track's such a stunner that listening straight through will leave you breathless.