Review Summary: A very pleasant surprise
Handling B-sides is a bit of a tricky subject matter for most bands. There’s usually a reason why the material wasn’t pushed out as part of the album that was being worked on, and quite often that reason is sheer song quality. In that case, it’s usually best to let them stay buried. Sometimes tracks get left out because of stylistic or thematic reasons, which increases the chances of them surfacing later when circumstances are more forthcoming. “Transparent” got dropped from Taproot’s Welcome as there was a saturation of similar sounding material in the track list already and the band was striving for more diversity and maturity. Dinosaur Jr penned “Watch the Corners” when working on their comeback album, but shelved it due to its complexity until the more textured I Bet On Sky came around half a decade later.
United We Stand is a B-side EP accompanying Flaw’s last year effort padded with some live cuts for run time, and it’s unexpectedly solid given the quality of the worst moments of Divided We Fall. Of the four songs featured, only “My Style” fails to deliver, its trite riffage never really taking off the ground. “I’ll Carry You” is gorgeous in its proper studio version, with the beautiful guitar parroting of the vocal melody really helping drive home the song’s progression from a “there, there, let it all out” hug to picking you back up and placing you into an upright position. “Such Is Life” has a rhyming premise, and somehow manages to do it even better – the distortion kicks in at just the right moment, and a quick harmonized fretboard flurry gives way to a cathartic vocal melody. The song is downright unbelievable, even more so when repeated listens reveal the same two-chord base persisting through its numerous arrangement jumps. “Fall Into This” is a re-recording of a cut from the band’s early independent days, and manages to balance the guitarist’s penchant for offering simple distorted parts by outsourcing the verse’s nuanced chord shapes to the bass, a move that pays off in dividends.
So why in tarnation were these three tracks left off Divided We Fall? Each one of them is superb, with “Such Is Life” in particular standing head and shoulders above the rest, and they would have formed vital anchor moments on the record in terms of song quality. However, they’re just too different from what that album ended up doing. The very moment in “Such Is Life” that sends shivers down my back every single time would have melodically stuck out like a sore thumb in the context of the record, ruining the immersion if the song was rightfully given the closer spot it obviously wants to occupy. “I’ll Carry You” is an even more obvious exclusion, as it almost sounds like another band. The pre-chorus vocal part, so wonderfully mimicked by the guitar, has a weird faux-Kings of Leon vibe to it, and the verse’s root plus melody pattern feels like an evolution of the somewhat expansive styling of Homegrown Studio Sessions. It serves as a very sturdy memento to what the reunited line-up was experimenting with circa 2013/2014, but the band ended up going in another direction for the album proper. “Fall Into This” would slot in effortlessly, and provide some much needed dynamic variety if placed smart in the track list, but the song is from a time when the singer was troubled and I can easily imagine him wanting to keep the record free of the song’s very negative lyricism. Nevertheless, the material at hand is very enjoyable, with the songs deserving the proper release they got.