I have a completely-filled 120 GB iPod classic, the record crate of the digital age, containing my entire music library. I’m listening to each release in alphabetical order by record title – kind of a virtual archaeological dig. These are my findings.
So, what, is a Mark Robinson band going to inaugurate every letter of the alphabet for this Crate-Digging project? I mean, does Air Miami have an album called Caaaats or something that we’ll look forward to for the C’s?
All sarcasm aside – I just find a little bit interesting that Flin Flon started the A’s off, and now Unrest begins the B’s. Go figure – a quirk of my collection.
B.P.M. – or Bridget (Cross), Phil (Krauth), and Mark; or, understood in musical terms as the acronym for “beats per minute” (Unrest’s are occasionally high for a pop group) – is a collection of B-sides and outtakes from the end of the initial Unrest era. (They’ve since regrouped for a reunion tour.) Let me state right away that I love B-side collections, and B-sides in general. They offer a glimpse into the band’s process of creating an album. B-sides can be mere toss-offs, but at other times they’re hidden gems for the listener to unearth, made ever more substantial when discovered in the tracklist of a rare single, EP, or compilation. Of course, releases like B.P.M. allow us commoners – those who don’t actually dig through record crates at the remaining tiny punk shops in major cities – to experience the growth process with the band that we aren’t naturally included in. It’s a “thank you,” really, a set like this. So, Unrest, thank you.
That doesn’t mean all B-sides are created equal. No, unfortunately, even Unrest – the Mighty Unrest! – falls victim to uninspired noodling, poor composition, and half-baked ideas. The biggest offenders are the tracks that go nowhere – “Imperial (Remix Excerpt)” is nothing … literally. It’s an unpleasant drone that baffles as to its inclusion on anything. Interludes have no place in B-sides comps, I say! (I’ve taken a similar stance with Sufjan Stevens’ The Avalanche.) “Wednesday and Proud” features murky production and is best left at the back end of the album where it belongs. (Actually, it doesn’t belong anywhere.) “Vibe Out” begins promisingly enough, but stretches for nine minutes – trust me, song lengths are best left short with Unrest. After what begins on a similar note to Imperial Teen’s “Alone in the Grass” (also of greater length, but manages to stay interesting), the mid-tempo beat and progression remain unchanged for an interminable amount of time. It’s a shame the band couldn’t tease something more out of it. And two versions of a song called “Winona Ryder,” one sung by Mark and one by Bridget, are two too many – there’s a kernel of a really good song there, but the transitions are terrible (and intentional). Mark’s version is the better of the two, but that’s not saying much.
Fortunately, Unrest has a few hits on their hands here, the 4AD and Factory Records influences clearly showcased in some excellent tracks. The band’s take on Miaow’s “When It All Comes Down” is power pop genius, and Robinson’s worship of Mancunian ingénue/singer Cath Carroll’s former band is here fully realized. (The song “Cath Carroll” appears on swan song Perfect Teeth, along with her stark visage which graces the cover. It’s remixed here, and lands in the middle of the pack, quality-wise.) “So So Sick” features dual-tracked guitars lurching not quite in sync with each other over a bouncy bassline – an interesting touch. “Folklore (Remix)” is a gorgeous ballad, with the unlucky-in-love Robinson summing up an entire career with the line, “The only way I learn is put the fist in and get burned.” And it wouldn’t be an Unrest album without high-energy, low-runtime melodic workouts, like “Cherry Cherry (7” Mix),” the awesome “Bavarian Mods,” “Hi-Tec Theme,” gorgeous “June,” and hidden and untitled track 16. (There are three hidden tracks, this being the only interesting one. And for what purpose?)
As a B-side collection, B.P.M. doesn’t have the consistent highs of something like, say, Smashing Pumpkins’ Pisces Iscariot, or even The Avalanche – any record with a 44 percent skipability rate is going to fall somewhat short. But the highs are really worth it, and prove that following Unrest’s thought processes as far down the rabbit hole as you can may yield worthwhile results. As it stands, this set is really for completists only, but I highly suggest tracking down Imperial F.F.R.R., Perfect Teeth, or the Isabel Bishop EP. Odds are you’ll enjoy those more.
RIYL: Miaow, Imperial Teen, The Wedding Present