It’s a general rule in the music industry: a b-sides and rarities compilation is disposable. Oh sure, you might get that one really cool off-shoot of a song off a Japanese import single, but aside from that, you get demos, half-baked melodies, and—worst of all—the dreaded demon known as live recordings. Such a release is generally used as a clearing house of lesser songs, a disc to fulfill a record contract, etc. No, BT, we don’t need to hear your inferior remixes of songs no one cared about in the early ‘90s. However—every once in awhile—a band fully seizes the opportunity and makes a collection of lesser songs a disc actually worth hanging onto. When Fountains of Wayne released their rarities collection, Out-of-State Plates, they made it a two-disc affair, cramming it full of good-to-great numbers. Oasis’ collection, The Masterplan, ranks in some circles as the finest album they’ve ever released.
Enter indie stalwarts Pinback. Enter rarities collection Nautical Antiques. Enter one of the finest additions to their catalog.
Though Armistead Burwell Smith IV and Rob “See How Many Side Projects I Can Do” Crow were initially a hardcore (and arguably emo) outfit, they’ve mellowed into a dense, powerful, and incredibly melodic rock sound. Their incredible Summer in Abaddon remains a highlight of post-millennial indie guitar pop, but their earlier, more edgy LPs hold a rogue’s gallery of highlights. We get two demo versions of some of the better tracks off of the 2001 release Blue Screen Life (“Seville” and “Concrete Seconds”), both of which remain remarkably polished, and differ only slightly from the album versions. We then receive seven new songs (two of which are in stripped-down and full-band incarnations), all barely rising above mid-tempo, which is just fine. The solo version of “Avignon” features gentle keyboard twinkles followed by simple guitar plucking, yet the full band version amps up the tempo significantly—two versions of a good song. The difference between the two versions of “Messenger” (which opens and closes Antiques) is less distinguishable, aside from guitar string resonance in the mic. Of all the new songs we’re treated to, however, this is the weakest.
The gentle and almost soothing “Byzantine” features Crow’s typically cryptic lyric style (this time comparing spinning a dreidel to spinning a bottle), but with a sleeping under a full-moon atmosphere to go along with it. It’s a gorgeous song that, for many, keeps on proving that the band doesn’t need to be flashy to be good—subtlety is one of their best tools. Yet, leave it to “Anti-Hu” to steal the show. Like a watered-down version of a track from their electro Offcell EP, this beautiful and simple number, with its sliding fret guitar and simple-yet-beautiful chord structure, stands right along the original “Concrete Seconds” and “Fortress” as one of their greatest all-time songs. Your ear cocks at the sound of a whistling kettle at the start of the second verse, but it’s an element that builds up the velvet hammer of an impact the song carries—an offbeat little ditty that almost any band could write, but only Pinback could pull off.
There are only a two reasons why a band should ever let their unheard of demos and off-shoots get released to the public: to get them out of a terrible record deal, or to really give their fans a quality clearing of all those hard-to-find goodies. Thankfully, Pinback has good fans. Thankfully for their fans, Pinback is a great band: this collection just re-confirms that fact.