B-side and rarities compilations can be hit or miss. On the one hand, they’re a way to collect and gather non-LP tracks into one place, which is particularly great for non-obsessives who don’t track down every out-of-print 7-inch or promotional flexis with demos. On the other hand, because these songs are from a number of recording sessions, putting them together in one place can give the final product something of a disjointed feeling. AJJ’s Ugly Spiral: Lost Works 2012-2016, released last summer on SideOneDummy, largely avoids the latter while gathering a number of unreleased songs, a handful of non-LP singles, and alternate takes.
As the title implies, these songs only span a four year gap. Specifically, they come from a four year gap in which the band released Christmas Island and The Bible 2– two albums that have a fairly similar sound in a discography that is overall varied from album-to-album. In fact, one of the unreleased songs is the title track from Christmas Island and it sticks very closely to that album’s aesthetic. Opening track, “Space & Time,” similarly sticks to the optimistic side of AJJ shown on The Bible 2 with declarations of “I’m close enough to happy to say that I won’t throw my memories away.”
Out of all of the songs here, the one that sticks out the most is the band’s cover of Pink Floyd’s “The Final Cut.” AJJ has recorded plenty of covers in the past (many of which have made their way onto the band’s previous rarities collections Rompilation and the digital only Rompilation 2) but this is the first one that really feels surprising because Pink Floyd hardly seems like the type of band AJJ would cover. And yet they do an admirable job- you can tell it’s not the band’s usual style but it doesn’t feel out of place even on a collection of songs that are from a handful of different sessions.
Like almost any other b-sides compilation, Ugly Spiral isn’t likely going to turn on new listeners (or win back any former ones) but it still provides access to unreleased songs and a way to tide over fans while the band gears up for their next proper studio album.
4 / 5 Stars