Keeping Track: 10 Overqualified B-Sides, Part Two
by Chad Jewett
Welcome to our new column, Keeping Track, a space for us to indulge our inner music nerds with the kinds of pop culture lists we all love to make and the pop culture debates we all love to have. Today’s list: 10 Overqualified B-Sides, Part Two.
Welcome to Part Two of our first Keeping Track list: Ten Overqualified B-Sides. You can check out Part One here.
6.) The Promise Ring – “Strictly Television”
This was a tough one. In the context of the blissful circularity of the band’s masterpiece, Nothing Feels Good, there’s a temptation to choose “American Girl [Version 02]” from 1998’s Boys & Girls EP. Based simply around Davey von Bohlen’s crooned repetition of the words “American girl” over a slow emo trickle, the song feels like the absolute literalization of Nothing Feels Good’s simplified aesthetic. But that choice would mean overlooking the sheer melody and manic brightness of “Strictly Television,” from 2000’s Electric Pink EP. Presumably left off of Very Emergency, a good record that would have taken on an interesting hue with the addition of the everyday charm of its predecessor, “Strictly Television” basically feels like a Nothing Feels Good track with a bit more muscle – i.e. perfect for Very Emergency. Another in a long line of Promise Ring songs to find inspiration in American banality, “Strictly Television” is a hidden gem.
7.) Jawbreaker – “Shirt”
Originally left off the initially misunderstood but now beloved Dear You (1995), it’s hard to say whether or not “Shirt” would have helped or hurt. A little quicker than some of the more dirge-like moments on the album proper, “Shirt” was also essentially a power-pop song, though, like most of Jawbreakers more tuneful moments, a really smart power-pop song. Basically an opportunity for Blake Schwarzenbach to treat the clichéd “my love is like a…” prompt like a sandbox to play in, the song overflows with one-liners (a personal favorite: “You’re like a simile, like totally / You’re like a metaphor for something else”). Now heard in the context of the deluxe reissue of Dear You, one that restores all the album’s B-Sides (and a re-recorded, cleaned-up version of “Boxcar” … imagine how that would have gone over) – all of which have a case for inclusion on this list — “Shirt” just feels like evidence that Jawbreaker had more good ideas than they knew what to do with.
8.) Kendrick Lamar – “Cartoon & Cereal”
Though it’s utterly perverse to complain about a song this good being given away for free, “Cartoon & Cereal,” a bonus track left off of good kid, m.A.A.d city, definitely could have made the cut on Kendrick Lamar’s 2012 masterpiece. Essentially a gloomy mélange of ocean-deep bass, jittery percussion, and Looney Tunes samples (likely pricey to clear, and perhaps why the song was released for free), “Cartoon & Cereal” trades in the same youthful paranoia of the best of good kid, limning a universe where the violence of Saturday morning cartoons are simply an eerie echo of the threatening outside world (“You told me ‘Don’t be like me, just finish watching cartoons’ / Which is funny now because all I see is Wile E. Coyote’s in the room”). The song is basically a collection of patchworked hooks and more of Lamar’s deeply engaging storytelling, including an all-time great sing-rapped line from Kendrick: “Cartoons and cereal, I ain’t felt this good since / Scrooge McDuck, here we go / Elementary hood shit.”
9.) Texas Is The Reason – “When Rock ‘n’ Roll Was Just A Baby”
Like Braid’s “You’re Lucky To Be Alive,” Texas Is The Reason’s “When Rock ‘n’ Roll Was Just A Baby” was actually recorded for a follow-up to their classic Do You Know Who You Are. And like “You’re Lucky To Be Alive”, it was a more melodic, hook-oriented take on the band’s sound that never saw the light of day until the archive-scraping reissue of Texas Is The Reason’s sole full-length. Keeping the band’s guitar-first aesthetic (the harmonized guitar solo in the song’s mid-section is peerless), but matching it with an even stronger sense of song-craft and tunefulness, “When Rock ‘n’ Roll Was Just A Baby” now plays like a fascinating glimpse at a band finding new ways to put together old pieces. On an episode of the excellent Washed Up Emo podcast, guitarist and songwriter Norman Brannon discussed the band’s intensified focus on expansiveness while crafting their follow up to Do You Know. That “When Rock ‘n’ Roll Was Just A Baby” is one of only two artifacts from that era (along with “Every Little Girl’s Dream”) is a shame, but it’s also a very, very good consolation prize.
10.) Owen – “No More No Where”
Ostensibly buried on the interesting but idiosyncratic Joan of Arc compilation/collaboration LP, Don’t Mind Control, “No More No Where” isn’t just good enough to have landed on the roughly contemporaneous At Home With Owen. It actually might be Mike Kinsella’s best song. Combining an absolute earworm of a lullaby sing-song with the gentle gloaming of far-off strings and a plinking glockenspiel, “No More No Where” is an utterly beautiful ode to the mixed feelings of rootedness – essentially the chief concern of Kinsella’s Owen discography. That lines like “There’s no more nowhere and that’s okay with me / In her eyes I see both you and me, and all of the places that we’ve seen” come paired with an all-time great Kinsella melody and a compacted version of the sweeping symphonic folk that made At Home With Owen so perfect, makes “No More No Where” feel like something of a miracle. That more people don’t know about it, hidden away as it is on a humble compilation, feels like something of a disappointment. Though maybe balancing those two possibilities might be perfect for what Owen is – a collection of songs poised between comfort and resignation.