Three overlapping groups are heard from here, and they revisit the repertoire of the McKenzie & Condon's Chicagoans of 1927 (playing new versions of the four songs originally recorded) and Bud Freeman's 1939-1940 Summa Cum Laude Orchestra. The two septets and the octet feature such immortal Condonites as tenor saxophonist Bud Freeman; Jimmy McPartland and Billy Butterfield on trumpets; trombonists Tyree Glenn and Jack Teagarden (who also takes some vocals); clarinetists Pee Wee Russell and Peanuts Hucko; pianists Gene Schroeder and Dick Cary; rhythm guitarist Al Casamenti (but surprisingly no Eddie Condon); bassists Milt Hinton, Al Hall, and Leonard Gaskin; and drummer George Wettling. The veterans were all still in prime form at the time, and they sound quite inspired.
Recorded during and immediately following R.E.M.'s disaster-prone Monster tour, New Adventures in Hi-Fi feels like it was recorded on the road. Not only are all of Michael Stipe's lyrics on the album about moving or travel, the sound is ragged and varied, pieced together from tapes recorded at shows, soundtracks, and studios, giving it a loose, careening charm. New Adventures has the same spirit of much of R.E.M.'s IRS records, but don't take the title of New Adventures in Hi-Fi lightly – R.E.M. tries different textures and new studio tricks. "How the West Was Won and Where It Got Us" opens the album with a rolling, vaguely hip-hop drum beat and slowly adds on jazzily dissonant piano. "E-Bow the Letter" starts out as an updated version of "Country Feedback," then it turns in on itself with layers of moaning guitar effects and Patti Smith's haunting backing vocals. Clocking in at seven minutes, "Leave" is the longest track R.E.M. has yet recorded and it's one of their strangest and best – an affecting minor-key dirge with a howling, siren-like feedback loop that runs throughout the entire song.