Monday, March 7, 2016

Hidden Gems: Part 1 - Career Highlight B-Sides

I've always been positively fascinated with B-sides, tracks that just didn't make the cut for one reason or another. Either because of time constraints or maybe not fitting in with the theme of an album. Sometimes it's the band trying something experimental they think just won't cut it on an album, or  may piss off fans. It kind of feels like you can get away with more with a B-side. A group can try something different or simply not overthink a song; if it gets flack you can shrug your shoulders and say "eh, it's a B-side". Or it's for something more specific. Often I think a one-off in a studio to record a song for a soundtrack or tribute album is just an awesome little snapshot of your art between phases.

In this day and age B-sides are kind of becoming a thing of the past. Casual listeners don't need singles when you can purchase a single song off any album on ITunes. And pretty much anything can be dug up with an ample youtube search. The following is a not-too-thought out list of bands whose B-side track - not available on any of their own regular discography (including Greatest Hits albums and B-side collections) - is arguably one of the best things they've ever done.  I tried to stay away from the independent bands ripping up the underground because who can even keep track? Splits, demos, independent compilations, a burnt CD of new material only being circulated at shows... Sure Agoraphobic Nosebleed's 'Assault Rifle' is one of their catchiest and most sonically crippling and can only be found on the vinyl only split with Insect Warfare, but at that point where do you draw the line?  For the most part I kept the following list to the more mainstream acts that actually got asked to contribute to something or had a single to sell: In no particular order:

Silverchair - Ramble
Album: Without You Single

Diorama is one of the best albums I own. Silverchair ripped themselves from the herd with that one, even with the weight of a couple of really sappy ballads that record is still amazing.  'Ramble' is one of the best pieces from those sessions, and I've always thought it could easily replace either 'Luv Your Life' or 'After All These Years' and only add to that records greatness rather than possibly run your ears down with more symphonic balladry by album's end. And while both 'Hollywood' and 'Pins In My Needles' are other b-sides from those sessions most definitely worth mentioning, Ramble stands above them both with it's uplifting vibage and over-all composition. (The shitty quality version of the song above was the only vid I could find).  Unfortunately, as it turns out the label told Johns to write a radio friendly song for Diorama after hearing the finished product. By this time the record as we know it was done and the band's vision was completed, this song remained a B-side due to Johns' resentment of it being forced on him.

Anthrax - Poison My Eyes
Album: Last Action Hero Soundtrack

As a huge fan of the Bush-era of Anthrax back in my early twenties this track was king. Sounding like it was recorded during or around the Sound Of White Noise sessions, the slow-burn intro and outro help this 7-minute hard rock-fest reach near epic proportions. While most late-80's thrash dudes who haven't listened to anything outside of the Big Four in the last 20 years pine on about how much better the albums were with Belladonna on vox, I can't help but feel like the group stood out more and better as a hard rock / heavy metal band away from the watered-down thrash rat race their peers were all involved in. The Anthrax of today are nothing more than money-hungry sell-out iconoclasts cashing in on nostalgia tours and shitting down the throats of the fans that lifted them up. Also check out their B-side to the 'Nothing' single from the criminally under-rated  Stomp 442 sessions 'Grunt & Click'.

Korn - Proud
Album: I Know What You Did Last Summer Soundtrack

Goddamn... What a great example of how awesome these fuckholes used to be. The song speaks for itself, written and recorded before they became the clich├ęd rock n' roll joke they are now. No! I'll keep it positive! Still speedballing, methed out, and dealing with a whole shitload of childhood abuse issues, 'Proud' is an unplayful, ditch-the-hip hop twinge, straight up purging; bolstering possibly the best build-up to climax they've ever done in a song - and considering that that was kind of their thing back then is saying a lot. There are many complicated questions we may never know the answers to with which this tracks existence only adds to as parabola: What happens after we die? What is Stonehenge? Who really murdered Teresa Halbach, HOW DID THIS SONG NOT MAKE IT ONTO AN ALBUM!?

Pig Destroyer - The Octagonal Stairway
Album: Adult Swim Singles Soundtrack

Bookended by ominously industrial tones that fade in and out, 'Octagonal Stairway' presents itself as truly a stand-alone track amongst a genre whose short controlled bursts of belligerence often depend on the collective momentum and strain of an album's worth of material to deliver it's summed blow. 'Octagonal Stairway' also bolsters a much more visceral production style than it's closest peer session for 2012's Book Burner - whose much cleaner sound was a castigation point for Grindcore elitists. In the grand scheme of the band's discography this song is epic in terms of it's straightforward battery of the senses as well as it's length; at almost four minutes long, it retains it's Grind traits while defying traditional durations by extending itself with thrash like breakdowns and dizzying guitar riffs - basically an all-encompassing stamp of everything PxDx has evolved into and continue to masterfully execute. 

Radiohead - True Love Waits
Album: Unreleased

This one is kind of interesting because it sort of breaks my own rules for this time around. The original version of 'True Love Waits' to be released was on the live E.P. I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings, which contains a version of Yorke singing the ballad acoustically by himself. This version here is the unreleased studio recording of the same song. It's fairly straightforward considering the late paths into electronica Radiohead have taken in the latter half of their career. Those of you jonesing for more material that harkens back to the days of The Bends may find this off-the-radar song some kind of wonderful.

Foo Fighters - A320
Album: Godzilla Soundtrack

This was released somewhere between The Colour and the Shape and There Is Nothing Left To Lose, and guessing from both the sound, songwriting and most definitely the budget,  I can assume it was recorded closer to the former. This was a flash of things to come from the Foo, but at the time it was something so seemingly out of their league that it became one hell of a hidden gem and a half. A gentle monologue that builds to a soaring instrumental latter half, sonically painting it's theme onto our imaginations as our narrator's plane comes gently plummeting to the ground, disappearing into the clouds below during the fade out. A mature and well written number that scoffs at mainstream rock song structures and actually includes, strings? Are those strings I hear from the band in 1998? I typically wave the flag for this band's earlier, simpler efforts, but while this kind of thing is just another spoke in the wheel for Foo Fighters now,  back then it was, in their catalogue, a beautiful and epic movement - and remains so for me. This may not be my personal favorite B-side from the Foo, but it is the most agreeable of their non-album works in terms of it's awesomeness.

Chris Cornell - Sunshower
Album: Great Expectations Soundtrack

I suppose I can understand how some may roll their eyes at this song, voiding it pretty high on the possible cheese factor - it's inclusion and role in the movie that presents it doesn't help it's case any. A steamy scene where a young adult Ethan Hawke bangs the young adult Gwyneth Paltrow for the first time after longing for her for most of his childhood. For me it's a five star track. The melodies, lyrics, sound and over-all flow of the song just seemed to come along at the right time and add to the perfect storm of self-induced feelings of worthlessness I once got off on and being 20 years old. Having never seen the movie until 2013 may have also helped me enjoy 'Sunshower' for what it is as a stand-alone track and not a relation to the format of it's source. Following the acoustic version of 'Like Suicide' that floated around (another gem found on the S.F.W. soundtrack as well as amongst Soundgarden B-side collections) and 'Seasons', which slept on 1992's Singles soundtrack - 'Sunshower' seemed to be the final and most verifiable promise of a phenomenal solo career for Cornell. Unfortnately nothing that followed on 1999's Euphoria Morning, 2007's Carry On, or the utterly abominable Scream (2009) compared to this or anything he scarcely did before.

Pantera - Avoid The Light
Album: Dracula 2000 Soundtrack

Pantera was a band that prided themselves on not having B-sides. Typically, when a song didn't work that shit was flushed or the pieces that did work were worked into another song (see 'Piss' and 'Use My Third Arm'). 'Avoid The Light' is a song that really is it's own animal. Experimental guitar tones and riffing that could pass on a Meathook Seed album teeter over a tripped-out soft to heavy structure reminiscent to the kind of stellar shit that helped lay the foundation for the bandwagon killing The Great Southern Trendkill. More akin to TGSTK's 'Living Through Me (Hell's Wrath)' than anything else they'd done previously or since, 'Avoid The Light' is a very uncommercial effort that remains a sleeper amongst fans today. That being said it's a difficult song to fit on an album without bringing momentum to a damn near halt. The occult-tinged lyrics indicate that the song may have even been recorded specifically for the soundtrack itself. There's not a lot of info out there about this one, except that it's arguably one of the best things they've done.

Nine Inch Nails - The Perfect Drug
Album: Lost Highway Soundtrack

I'm not a huge fan of Nine Inch Nails, I dig them alright but I haven't followed so closely the last decade or two - though I will say 2013's Hesitation Marks sort of brought my attention back. That's not to say I don't think that what Reznor does isn't great. I can think of a handful of tunes that are actually better than The Perfect Drug - 'Something I Can Never Have', 'A Warm Place', 'Hurt', and 'The Frail' all come to mind - but they're all also more along the lines of slower, more orchestral, closer to the heart types of movements. A niche' I believe he burns the strongest in. 'The Perfect Drug's frantic energy and pace, however, puts it more akin to his faster, more metal-tinged staples like Wish, and Head Like A Hole - only better - and for me makes this one of the few NIN songs that actually makes me want to move.

Type O Negative - Haunted (Per-Version)
Album: Life Is Killing Me (Bonus CD of European Import)

The original version of Haunted had always been my favorite Type O Negative song; the idea that it could be improved upon seemed like an effort in futility to me; the "Per-Version" version showcases the same slow-moving titanic rhythms draped in the soliloquy of a desperate man in love and lust with a ghost. The vocal patterns are different and arguably improved upon with an almost Gregorian Monk-like delivery, and ear-wettingly eerie keyboard effects are sparsely added to the composition amongst other very subtle changes here and there - including a much more appropriate fade-out to the song rather than the abrupt Beatles-esque stoppage in the original. I can only imagine the soul-tearing creative decision making process singer/songwriter Peter Steele must have endured in determining which version would make the October Rust LP... Who am I kidding, it was probably just a flip of the coin.