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The b-sides - Two Beautiful Beaches (single) and Instant Gratification (LP preview "bootleg")

Review by Jessica Brandt

It's obvious what most Squirrel Nut Zippers, past and present, do in their spare time. Frontman Jim Mathus plays dirty Delta country while bassist Stu Cole plays guitar in the Chicken Wire Gang. Vocalist Katherine Whalen sings jazz classics. Saxophonist Tim Smith fronts a ska band and plays with trombonist David Wright's New Orleans party band, the Countdown Quartet. Former vocalist and guitar player Tom Maxwell covers all genres of jazz and other music with his band Samsara. And what does former sax player and guitarist Ken Mosher do? Why, find some of the hippest high schoolers around and play bass in their Weezer-like band.


The b-sides have been together, roughly, since August but already are shaping up to be Chapel Hill, NC's next "thinking man's band" (read: they sound awesome, but most of the UNC frat boys won't get it.) You can't really pinpoint the project to Mosher, who isn't the frontman. He's more the Man-Man. He takes care of things like shows, albums, recording and making dinner. The others, vocalist/guitarist Ari Picker, vocalist/guitarist Noah Smith, keyboardist Travis Horton and brand new drummer Erich Kuhn seem to have their act together, musically, without Mosher. But it is he who will help them get their talent noticed.

Currently working without a label or a net, The b-sides are releasing their first single, Two Beautiful Beaches and sometime after that, their full-length LP Yes, Indeed, The b-sides, Quite. On their Web site, they also are offering a "bootleg" (called Instant Gratification) of the new album (namely, Mosher couldn't wait to get this stuff to the public, so he's burning a bunch of copies on his computer. Buyer be ware!) which is what I got in my stocking this year.

Earlier I compared this band to Weezer, which I am sure you will too. They even go so far as to mention Pinkerton in the song "Megan" and during their live show you can hear their "theme song" which is has parts reminiscent of W's "In the Garage." But that's cool. When I heard Weezer was stopping production, I was actually looking for a new Weezer. Someone suggested Guster but don't believe them. This is it.

These kids (the 4, exclusing Mosher, are between 16 and 19) know their stuff. Augmented, diminished and minor chords. Harmonies, falsettos, percussion instruments, synth sounds. It's all in there. They've even got quite a sense of humor, especially in the track "The Lovely Stewardess" (your lovely locks/your stretchy socks/the blue tray that brought me my cool beverage/I noticed you served me first.)

Some of the songs on the bootleg will grab you as more poppy than the others. "Self Deprication" and "Megan" are definitely about love and teen angst. Others, like "I Wore it Till it Broke" and "Colors" might pass you by or pass you out if you're not ready for their five minutes of musical storyline (although the later has some shoo-wops in it, as well as real audio of an atomic blast. Honest to God!)

The first single from the first EP, "Two Beautiful Beaches," isn't going to grab you at first hearing, and it certainly won't remind you of Weezer. There's a big prog-rock enterance, then some "la la la"s and a break that reminds me of "Here Comes the Sun King." But Ben Folds did all of that stuff, and now he owns a big house in Australia. So stick with them, please. Also on the single's EP are the aforementioned "The Lovely Stewardess" and another prog-rockin' selection, the sequel to the title track, "Two Dead Oceans" (which Picker says is about being at the beach with a 104-degree fever).

If you've absolutely had it with bubblegum pop and Bands Like 3 Doors Creed, and really want to hear some "new" music, then at least go to the b-sides Web site, and get some of their Real Audio clips or MP3s (you've got to look around, for there are more there than listed on the "sounds" page.) Their tour dates are sparse until some of the lads get out of school, but definitely worth checking out.

I overheard one guy say at their New Year's Eve live show "I don't really like their music, but I like what they're doing." I think most of you will at least give them that much.

[88%] B+ (For originality)

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