Most songwriters create far more songs than will ever see the light of day on a studio album or other conventional release. It's not unusual for bands to craft as many as fifty potential songs for what will end up being a ten track album. So where does all that unused material go? If we're lucky, it ends up on a b-sides project.
B-sides refers to tracks that don't officially release, the "extras" that don't quite fit the creative vision for any particular album. They tend to exist in varying stages of raw--unless a band chooses to polish them up and release a rarities collection. Several bands have taken that route over the years, assembling collections of songs they loved that didn't quite fit the traditional album profile. We've assembled a list of those kinds of projects (focusing specifically on those that were primarily b-sides focused rather than centered on live recordings or remixes).
NEEDTOBREATHE: Hard Cuts EP NEEDTOBREATHE's 2016 album HARD LOVE was such a phenomenal collection that we couldn't get enough of its upbeat, pop-rock tunes. Fortunately NEEDTOBREATHE knew that and released HARD CUTS, a six track collection of b-sides from the recording of HARD LOVE. Two of the track spaces are filled by alternate versions of title track and hit "Hard Love," but the other four are b-sides that both complete the HARD LOVE sessions and stand on their own with spiritually resonant themes and pop melodies paired with raw rock instrumentation. Fans who dive into this collection will find "Walking on Water" to be a borderline worshipful gem, while "Count On Me" evokes community and unity.
Switchfoot: Edge of the Earth EP Switchfoot's Fading West was a massive creative undertaking that included a movie, music and traveling the world. Unsurprisingly, they wound up with more material than could be collected in just one album. While Fading West was easily the most electronic, pop-centric, upbeat project Switchfoot has ever produced, the Edge of the Earth EP provided a home for the darker side of that musical season. Songs like "Against the Voices," "What it Costs" and "Slow Down My Heartbeat" are musically and lyrically more sparse, exploring themes of challenge and loss. I would argue that these songs are necessary to create the full Fading West experience, rounding out the full color palette in a portrait of Switchfoot's experiences as a band.
Disciple: Vultures Disciple's Attack was a pivotal album, positions in middle of their transition from one lineup to the next. The result was a lot of songs created in part by the lineup fans refer to as "Disciple 2.0" alongside some new tracks written by "Disciple 3.0." In order to create a unified release with Attack, a lot of exceptional songs had to be trimmed. Fortunately they found a home on Vultures, a six song project featuring songs from that transitional time in Disciple's history. Many of the songs are darker than those found on Attack, dealing less with empowerment and more with struggles and cries for redemption. Although tracks like searing "Sayonara" or poignant ballad "Bring the Dead to Life" are lesser known in the broad scope of Disciple's work, they are no less powerful.
Downhere: Two At A Time
Canadian rock group Downhere released six studio albums before they disbanded in 2013 as lead singer Marc Martel went on to front Queen's official tribute band. Towards the end of their peak in 2010, they released the two disc project Two at a Time that featured two new tracks and nine older b-sides. "You're Not Alone" serves as a stand-out example of everything that Downhere did best, while some of the more raw b-sides like "Break My Heart" grant a glimpse into their creative process. Now Two at a Time functions as a poignant retrospective into Downhere's musical chemistry.
The Rocket Summer: Of Men and Angels: B-sides
One man band Bryce Avary, known as The Rocket Summer, released Of Men and Angels in 2010. With its standout single "Walls," the album would quickly become an important entry in his discography. The themes of duality and the spiritual meeting the everyday couldn't be fully captured even in a 15 track run time however, so soon after The Rocket Summer would release a set of b-sides. Memorable moments include the upbeat but heartfelt "Say" and the soul-searching prayer song "Peace Come Over You." This wasn't the only time Bryce would offer his creative overflow in b-side form; after 2012's Life Will Write the Words, he released three b-sides as individual singles ("Anna," "Cars and the Pixies" and "Not Right").
Jars of Clay: The White Elephant Sessions Jars of Clay had already seen stunning early success by 1999 due to the breakout success of "Flood." If I Left the Zoo saw the band, in the wake of incredible early success, continuing to try and establish who they actually wanted to be as a band. The White Elephant Sessions, a b-sides collection released alongside that album, provides a clear glimpse into that process. Some of the raw recordings featured on The White Elephant Sessions were early versions of If I Left the Zoo and Much Afraid tracks, while others (like "Fly Farther," a duet with Alison Krauss) would feature on later albums. Some rarities, like the quirky "Coffee Song," would never be found anywhere else. The collection isn't particularly cohesive, but it is a fascinating look into a crucial era in Jars of Clay history. Although copies of the EP are mostly only available used these days, many of the tracks eventually made their home on The Essential Jars of Clay collection.
Jason Gray: Postscript Jason Gray possesses some of the most masterful songwriting in contemporary Christian music, releasing songs infused with a rare honesty and artistic care. He's released b-sides projects more than once in his career, but the most recent is 2015's Post Script. The project begins with the inspiring track "Glow In the Dark" before moving into a collection of remixes and raw demos. The diverse collection shows Jason Gray's soothing voice and complex, personal lyrics in a wide variety of settings. Two of the songs are alternate or sequel versions to tracks from 2014's Love Will Have the Final Word: "Even This Will Be Made Beautiful Part 2" and "I Believe Help My Unbelief Part 2." This unique approach allows Jason to more fully explore the redemptive themes of those tracks.
Anberlin: Lost Songs Anberlin is a band that might be gone but will never be forgotten, leaving behind an impressive discography of soul-seeking alt rock masterpieces. Frontman Stephen Christian has always been a prolific writer, and in 2007 (shortly after the release of their iconic Tooth & Nail records album Cities) some songs that hadn't found a home on previous efforts would make their way to Lost Songs. In addition to previously unheard songs like "Haunting" (arguably one of the best displays in existence of Stephen's unbelievable vocal talent) and "Uncanny," Lost Songs encompasses rare acoustic versions, demos and even a couple 80s covers (see "The Promise," originally by When In Rome). It's an essential addition to the collection of any Anberlin enthusiast.
House of Heroes: The Knock Down Drag Outs House of Heroes has been one of the most underrated bands in Christian rock for years, as is evidenced by the fact that even their b-sides showcase exceptional artistry. The Knock Down Drag Outs is a full 19 tracks long, encompassing b-sides (like the rowdy "Dead"), acoustic renditions ("Serial Sleepers" stands out here) and covers (such as particularly exceptional takes on "Can't Buy Me Love" and "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" by The Beatles, one of their primary musical influences). When I reviewed the project at its 2013 release, I called it evidence that "House Of Heroes is a rock band as rock and roll should be: raw, occasionally tongue in cheek, layered without being overly complex, and always deeply human as it addresses growing up, relating to others, and seeking to know God." It's an assessment that holds up four years later.
Associate Editor Mary Nikkel’s love for writing, photography, videography and rock and roll have all been bound together by her love for Jesus, leading to her role with NRT. Her favorite things include theology and Greek language studies, obscure Nashville coffee shops, all things related to the work of J.R.R. Tolkien and pushing the boundaries enacted by societal norms. She blogs at Threads of Stars.
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