Murderecords, 2010

A belated accompaniment to their A-Sides Win collection of 2005, this digital-only compilation from Canada’s greatest pop combo brings together all officially recorded extras that have found their way onto limited b-sides and extra tracks for the diligent Japanese contingent. All 26 tracks and 94 minutes worth, including a superb set of track by track liner notes from the boys themselves.

Having been an active band since the very early 90’s, Sloan are still something of an anomaly in the music world. Highly regarded, and rightly so, in their home country, but never the recipient of that commercial break which paves a yellow brick road to universal recognition. For a band of four talented and diverse songwriters, Sloan were the epitome of the great guitar band that evolved into a secret musical handshake.

This collection, and indeed their recent 5 track download-only EP Hit & Run, is evidence of Sloan’s foray into the digital download world, something that I perceive every band who owns their own recordings will eventually, and positively should, aspire to do. B Sides Win is a release that fans have been chomping at the bit to secure for many years now, and while there’s the odd absent obscurity, it does unearth many hitherto unknown/unheard gems. Props go to the “Hear and Now” version of the solid gold Sloan classic “Underwhelmed” that fits somewhere inbetween the shoegaze drone of the Peppermint EP track and the grunge-ified Smeared re-recording. Whoever would have known an acoustic guitar track lay lurking?

Assembled in chronological order, the collection follows the band in their various musical guises and stages of development. Listening to tracks from the Smeared era is akin to looking at baby photos, watching Sloan take their first steps and making one hell of a racket, from the fertile guitar pop of “Amped” to the 8 rangy minute dirge of “Sleepover”. B-sides are generally known as the repository for the homeless or abandoned track, but Chris Murphy’s “Laying Blame” is an exception to the rule. It suffers from overdoing the overdrive in the bridge (the liner notes accede an obvious nod to My Bloody Valentine), but it’s a track that could easily stand on its own. The latent Sloan probably could (and should!) revisit this one day.

The blending of harmonies and Sloan’s move into a melody-driven beat group solidified around the time of their second album Twice Removed but is unfortunately under-represented in b-side form here. Still it’s the quality of later period tracks like  “At The End of the Scene”, “Will You Ever Love Me Again?” and “Even Though” which show that quality control in the Sloan camp could be a little too stringent, but it’s proof positive that if this is what gets left on the cutting room floor, Sloan’s best work is still ahead of them, just as long as parenthood and broken bones don’t get in the way.