Some bands treat the humble b-side like a fart in a hot car; force it out and hope it passes before anyone retches. For other bands, like Biffy Clyro, it’s an art form. Recording b-sides, that is. Let’s be clear about that…
Such is their belief in non-album tracks that they’ve released no less than six album’s worth of b-side collections recorded over the course of their 19-year recording career, from 2009’s Missing Pieces to 2014’s Similarities.
This list will, no doubt, cause much weeping and gnashing of teeth among longtime fans, but so be it.
Here, then, is our guide to 13 of their essential b-sides.
Yes, we’re doing these in alphabetical order. Straight out of the gates with a track you can get on Missing Pieces, a collection of their Puzzle-era b-sides. Beginning with an intricate riff, the verse crashes in with a sparing use of chords and a chorus that hints at The Dismemberment Plan. The outro is glorious, too, reintroducing the opening line in the loudest of fashions.
…AND WITH THE SCISSORKICK IS VICTORIOUS
This b-side from The Ideal Height, the lead single from 2003’s The Vertigo Of Bliss, switches from delicate moments to all-out stuttering buzzsaw riffs and throat-stripping vocals. The title, however, will leave football fans feeling a little short-changed as there’s no mention of Mexico’s Manuel Negrete Arias’ acrobatic strike against Bulgaria in the 1986 World Cup.
ASEXUAL MEAT KITCHEN
This track started appearing in their setlist in 2005 and eventually found a home on the CD edition of the Folding Stars single. Asexual Meat Kitchen is perhaps an abstract meditation on loss, driven by an agitated riff and a guest vocal by The Bronx frontman Matt Caughthran, whose band shared the bill with headliners Biffy on the Kerrang! Tour in 2007.
Possibly the most radge song in the band’s back catalogue – even more so than There’s No Such Thing As A Jaggy Snake – Bonanzoid Deathgrip was briefly considered for inclusion on the band’s 2004 album Infinity Land. It appeared on the Glitter And Trauma single instead and quickly became a cult favourite. It begins with a shuffle beat, shimmering guitars and soft vocals before erupting into the sort of melee you’d witness on Glasgow’s Gallowgate street at closing time. With lyrics worthy of Obituary’s Slowly We Rot – ‘So, you lay there like a dying worm, brains all gone, dislocate and suffer, fed up of choking on worthless blood’ – Neil’s utterly ferocious delivery makes you wonder whether his vocal cords are made of leather soaked in bile. It’s also the frontman’s favourite b-side.
CITY OF DREADFUL NIGHT
The title is taken from a bleak poem by Scottish poet James Thomson, who often wrote under the pseudonym Bysshe Vanolis, which looks like the sort of half-hearted attempt a Starbucks barista would make while trying to get the band’s name right on their coffee order. Beginning with an attacking bass line worthy of Rush’s Geddy Lee, this Opposites session track is a thrilling five-minute ride.
This track, taken from one of the two Folding Stars seven-inches rattles and judders along with some deft fretwork from Simon Neil. The closing verse, ‘Some people are scared to take chances, got to leave them behind’ speaks volumes about their reluctance to dwell on one idea for too long.
FINGERS AND TOES
‘Ladies ask why I’ve got no fingers and toes, I don’t like holding anything in case I get too close.’ Despite its nightmarish opening lyrics, this song – found on the Victory Over The Sun single – swells with bold, chiming chords which punch you in the gut and throws in a bonus ear worm of a chorus for good measure.
The strident opening riff recalls the mighty Jawbox on this solid track, which appeared as a bonus track on the 2007 CD single Machines. Listen out for the lyric which appeared in a slightly mutated form on Puzzle’s lead single Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies: ‘A spasm in my eye usually makes good sense.’
HELP ME BE CAPTAIN
Before The Captain opened 2009’s Only Revolutions, it was originally a prog-like epic bolstered with a stoner riff, the sort you’d find in an old cannabis grinder. Slower and more heavy-footed than the single that it eventually spawned, its woozy time-signature is as disorientating as a stroll on deck during a choppy voyage.
This first appeared as a b-side to the other seven-inch picture disc version of their 2008 single Mountains, and later on their Only Revolutions companion release, Lonely Revolutions. Why this track didn’t appear on the ‘proper’ album is anyone’s guess; it’s a perfectly-crafted rock song cloaked in sadness, has a huge chorus and satisfyingly kicks up a gear at the song enters the home straight. Don’t drive while listening to this song, because you will run a red light. A Fixed Penalty Notice is but a stamp away.
RELIEF OR FIGHT
Some of the lyrics maybe familiar to those who’ve heard Get Fucked Stud (‘The skyline is burning red… the sun sets on amphetamines’), but this gem appeared on the Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies CD single. Possibly drawing influence from the likes of Burning Airlines and Karate, Relief Or Fight harks back to their earlier releases and twists and turns before a grinding, discordant riff at 2:24 switches up the pace. The closing 50 seconds are sublime. Not the band.
Another example of Biffy Clyro tucking an album-worthy song away on a single. Featured as a bonus track on their 2013 single Black Chandelier, The Rain is a brooding, stripped back affair which is steeped in exquisite melancholy.
TIME AS AN IMPLODING UNIT/WAITING FOR GREEN
Even as a new band, the trio always had an unerring sense of direction when it came to crafting ambitious songs. Clocking in at over nine minutes, Time As An Imploding Unit/Waiting For Green makes fantastic use of quiet-loud dynamics and gradually builds to a fuzzy, juddering climax.
Words: Simon Young
Biffy Clyro are on the cover of Kerrang! this week. It’s in newsagents in the UK now and available to order everywhere via this link. Cool cover, huh?
Check out the band’s MTV unplugged version of Black Chandelier below. It’s taken from their forthcoming MTV Unplugged Live At The Roundhouse London, available on May 25.