B-Sides Win: Extras, Bonus Tracks and B-Sides 1992-2008
By David Ritter | 20 February 2010
Sloan has always been kinda retro, so it’s been fun watching them transition into a full-on internet band. The fuzzy nostalgia for analog tape has given way to twitterings, Blip.fm, and a website filled with fan content and savvy giveaways. The webstore launched last November with the Hit & Run EP, a digital release featuring five slices of the occasionally great late-career pop offered on recent albums like Parallel Play (2008). The band’s second digital-only release, B-Sides Win: Extras, Bonus Tracks and B-Sides 1992-2008, is a very welcome addition to the band’s internet presence. The title does a good job of summing things up: what we have here is a generous helping of tracks not included on the band’s North American LPs. While not entirely complete, B-Sides Win gives us most of what all but the most die-hard Sloan fans need, including one or two of the best songs they ever put to tape.
Beginning, as most Sloan stories do, with a version of “Underwhelmed,” the compilation serves up six songs from the Smeared (1992) era. Though the band has a tendency to be self-deprecating about their early work, characterizing it as a grunge cash-in or a My Bloody Valentine rip, “Rag Doll” and “Laying Blame” are reminders of what made Sloan stand out in the overstuffed alt-rock landscape. Noisy and golden-throated, these early forays showcase the band’s energy and their harmony-laden take on early ‘90s alternative.
“D Is For Driver” opens the series of tracks related to Sloan’s run of peerless ‘90s power-pop records from Twice Removed (1994) to Between the Bridges (1999). “Stood Up” and “Same Old Flame,” recorded around the time of One Chord to Another (1996), offer classic Chris Murphy/Patrick Pentland melodicism and wordplay over clean but chunky guitars and compact beats. They’re among the best examples of the tight, small-scale pop Sloan practiced before the arena-rock shift of Navy Blues (1998).
At the centre of the collection lies its highlight, the wondrous “Summer Is My Season.” One of the best-written songs in Sloan’s mighty catalogue, it’s the apotheosis of Chris Murphy’s unique knack for words. Never one to shy away from a good pun, Murphy’s songs are full of whit and whimsy, at times teetering on the edge of cloying. Here, however, his flair for the absurd lends the song a grand, tragic air, full of loss and regret. With a playful, nihilistic despair at the possibilities for expression, the song refracts and obscures whatever it is about through words as futile as those used to express straightforward sentiment.
The back half of the album is rounded out by an awesome Russian Futurists remix, some riff-heavy pop, and several fine Jay Ferguson songs. It comes with an impeccably designed digital booklet filled with personal reflections on the genesis and recording of each track. The whole thing streams for free on the band’s website, and is available for download in MP3, Apple Lossless, and FLAC formats. It’s a deftly remastered and flawlessly packaged digital release, with tons of information and options to reward the purchase. It may not change your opinion of this venerable Canrock institution, but what a coup for Sloan fans to have these songs (many of them essential), in this package, sounding so good. Completists be comforted: Sloan promises that omissions will be redressed by future digital releases, and there has even been a twitter tease about how much remains in the vault (some 40-odd demos from the sessions for Twice Removed alone). If this collection is any indication, fans have much to look forward to.