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The b-sides

Thursday, March 14

Any indie band that releases a "best of" compilation of tracks from four unreleased and unrecorded albums is either blatantly presumptuous, supremely confident or possessed of a really messed-up sense of humor.

In the case of North Carolina quintet the b-sides, it's likely all of the above. The liner notes for Yes Indeed, the b-sides, Quite! suggest that the four albums in question will explore different themes, including sad songs, yuletide loneliness, pop songs and whatever else they come up with. Aside from silly attempts at being hip and humorous (see the fourth album theme) and the drastic need for a spell-checker, you have to give these former North Carolina School of the Arts boppers credit for wearing their potential on their sleeves.

The barely-out-of-its-teens band boasts a former member of the Squirrel Nut Zippers in the lineup -- saxophonist-turned-bassist Ken Mosher -- but is utterly bereft of the Squirrel Nut zoot suit sound. This band worships at the altars of Brian Wilson, pulp movie soundtracks, the Turtles, the Undertones and Ben Folds.

The b-sides, bereft of the Squirrel Nut sound: Cheesy, imperfect, maddening, but oddly compelling.
The b-sides, bereft of the Squirrel Nut sound: Cheesy, imperfect, maddening, but oddly compelling.

The three- and four-part harmonies that wash over the 14-track album are both its biggest asset and its recipe for disaster. Even the occasional off-key forays are preserved, as is the startling lack of meter displayed by original drummer Joe McDoe (hopefully the band's third drummer, Scott Carle, can come out of a tom-tom roll without speeding up the entire song). Weird how much imperfection this band allows us to see…

Equally intriguing are the varied guitar sounds offered by co-founders Ari Picker and Noah Smith. They layer bright, effects-free twangs over a bedrock of grunge-lite chording that often knocks heads with Travis Horton's fortissimo piano runs. This interplay instills a sense of nervous anticipation: They split up the pop melodies with elaborate instrumental expeditions that come to a jarring stop -- followed by, for example, the sounds of a frog pond. The disc's final track, the aptly titled "Colors," is a tapestry of beats and sounds, a dysfunctional rock opera that is at times brilliant, at times cheesy and maddening. But darn those kids, it's still compelling.

 
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