“The first thing I always did when I got a new single was flip it over and play the other side. I always hoped the B-side would give me another version of the artist, something as good as the A-side but somehow different. I expected great B-sides from the artists I loved.” Robert Smith, Join the Dots – B-sides & Rarities 1978>2001
When a band does it right, a good B-sides collection is almost more exciting than a good studio album. It means they’ve been bleeding so many great songs that they can’t be contained in mere episodic album installments. It means your favorite band is practically giving this stuff away. And it means you don’t have to hunt down too many pesky, overpriced singles. Think of the Smiths’ Louder Than Bombs, or Oasis’ The Masterplan, or Bruce Springsteen’s Tracks. There’s so much buried treasure on those collections. Well, make room for a few Modest Mouse entries as well. The band’s rarities collections - Building Something Out of Nothing, Everywhere and His Nasty Parlour Tricks, and the recent No One’s First, and You’re Next – are just as good as full-length knockouts like The Lonesome Crowded West or The Moon & Antarctica.
Just as Parlour Tricks served as an eight-track complement to The Moon & Anarctica, so does No One’s First serve Good News for People Who Love Bad News and We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. Here are another eight kind of catchy, kind of angry songs from the irascible Isaac Brock and his crew, and not a dud in sight. While it would be great to have a full-length’s worth of rarities, it’s hard to argue with such a solid 33-minute release.
The album opens with “Satellite Skin” and “Guilty Cocker Spaniels,” from a May seven-inch. “Satellite Skin” is reminiscent of the band’s sound circa 2007’s We Were Dead, which isn’t surprising considering it features the same personnel. “Guilty Cocker Spaniels” is a little more spacious – it has fewer instruments after all – with a dreamier, more acoustic bent. But it’s still anchored by Brock’s trademark voice. “Autumn Beds” goes even softer.
Despite featuring material from the last six years or so, No One’s First is expertly sequenced. It comes out big, dips down into mellower territory, and then ratchets back up with “The Whale Song.” This tune features some of the gnarly guitar work of Modest Mouse’s earlier days, earning its title by being a lengthy behemoth of a rocker. It’s arguably the strongest track on the EP.
The EP’s second half starts to resemble Good News more, thanks to the presence of that album’s horn section, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, on “Perpetual Motion Machine” and Good News bonus track “I’ve Got It All (Most).” The keyboard-driven “History Sticks to Your Feet” is straightforward indie rock. Finally, the 2007 single “King Rat” finds a CD release. It’s still a pleasant lil rocker.
And that’s what you get from No One’s First, great B-sides. Perhaps Modest Mouse has hit on a solid formula here: Write another great album, save what’s worth saving from the cutting room floor for an EP, then ship that out too. I think that’s a reasonable expectation.