|Deftones - B-Sides and Rarities|
|Music Disc Reviews Audio CD|
|Written by Bryan Dailey|
|Tuesday, 04 October 2005|
I have followed the deftones closely since their humble beginnings as a young skateboard punk/pop band playing little clubs in Sacramento. Their demo tapes were coveted like golden tickets to the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory. When I caught wind that the band was going to be putting out a B-sides and rarities album, I was hoping they had gone back to these old demos and remixed those songs that my friends and I used to flock to see them play at little clubs around Sacramento and the Bay Area.
But this album ended up not being what I expected, as crucial tunes like “Some People,” “Hump” and “Linus” were left off. However, a handful of tracks I had never heard were included, so I was like a kid in a candy store unwrapping the cellophane from this cool-looking black package with a gold embossed deftones logo emblazoned across the front.
Part of the fun of deftones shows has always been to see what cover song they might throw into their set list. Deftones singer Chino Moreno has always set himself apart from the Jonathan Davises and Fred Dursts of the world by not being afraid to mix some sensuality in with his aggressive, screaming vocals. No artist is more sensual than Sade and when Chino takes on the song “No Ordinary Love,” it is a perfect match for his versatile voice. A fat beat from Abe Cunningham that is so precise it almost sounds as if it were made by a drum machine kicks off the song, and bassist Chi Cheng puts a little extra funk into the baseline but keeps it pretty true to the original. Keyboards are replaced by guitar swells and bends, courtesy of Stephen Carpenter. Carpenter is their resident metal-head who has crafted some of the sickest and most hardcore guitar riffs in the last 10 years, and you can almost hear him salivating, wanting to somehow make this Sade tune rock a little harder, but he resists the urge. He hits a huge chord mid-song that resonates seemingly forever as the number hits its outro. It’s probably the best song on the album and will make those who think deftones are just a hard core nu-metal band realize there are many sides to these skateboarding punks from Up North.
Around the time the deftones were starting to make waves and sell out larger venues around the state, another Sacramento band called Far, led by singer and all-around sensitive nice guy Jonah Matranga, was starting to catch the ears of A&R guys as well. On B-Sides and Rarities, we get the rare treat of hearing both bands together in the studio jamming on a cover of Jawbox’s “Savory.” This tune stays remarkably close to the original and the jangly overdriven guitar strumming of the main riff allows the rhythm to open up and rock so hard, and they even pass the drumming duties between Far’s Chris Robyn and someone who Stephen Carpenter calls “It,” as he notes in the album’s liner notes.
Sacramento is a bit of a cow town, with a lot of undeveloped land, and before the recent influx of Bay Area, Starbucks-drinking, SUV-driving yuppies hit the scene, you’d be more likely to see a raised pickup truck with a gun rack in the back than a hybrid Lexus SUV. Deftones, despite their very mixed racial backgrounds, all shared a love for good ol’ southern rock, and one of their favorites was Skynyrd. They decided they would metal up their tune “Simple Man” at the famed Pus Cavern, a little recording studio where many Sac bands (including Tesla and Cake) recorded demos. It was a little blast from the past for me to hear that signature Pus Cavern sound again on this awesome Skynyrd cover. Carpenter took the southern twang and modified it to work with a crunchy, distorted guitar tone, and Chino, who has Asian and Latino roots, did white boys in Alabama proud with his best country fried rock vocalist impression.
The deftones do a little name-dropping on this album in the form of longtime friend and rap superstar B Real from Cypress Hill, who did three verses on the rap track “Black Moon.” In the always entertaining and educational liner notes, Chino tells the story of how this track came to pass. B Real had asked Chino to cut some tracks for the spoken word intro to the Cypress song “Rock Superstar,” and called Chino at the studio to see if the tape was done yet; Chino said, “Yeah, I'm done with it,” even though he had procrastinated and hadn’t recorded a thing yet. Turns out that B-Real was right around the corner and said he’d come over to pick up the tape. Chino rushed into the vocal booth and recorded the little rant you hear on the studio version of “Rock Superstar” and finished up right before B-Real walked through the door. As a thank you to Chino and the rest of the band, B-Real sat down and penned three complete verses to “Black Moon,” and spent a few hours in the studio with the band laying the tracks down. The result is not the best rap song ever put on tape, but one that could hang with anything that was on the airwaves in the late ‘90s. The signature B-Real sound mixed with live instrumentation from the deftones, plus some digital programming, makes for yet another standout track.
As much as bands like Metallica and Iron Maiden were influences on the deftones, so were alternative pop bands like the Smiths, Duran Duran and The Cure. Chino says his vocals are more inspired by singers like Morrissey, PJ Harvey and Robert Smith than by the heavy screamers of the late ‘80s-early ‘90s. The band pays homage to the Smiths on a metal-ish version of “Please Please Please, Let Me Get What I Want” that they recorded at the original Maverick Records building. They take on goth rockers Cocteau Twins’ tune “Wax and Wane,” as well as ‘80s pop supergroup Duran Duran with an esoteric cover of “The Chauffeur.”
The deftones’ original tracks, including acoustic versions of “Change (In the House of Flies),” “Be Quiet and Drive” and “Digital Bath,” are all interesting and a nice departure from the more aggressive, electric versions. Moreno’s complex voice is showcased on these songs and he changes up some of the melodies significantly, which gives the songs an entirely new life.
The deftones have shown their versatility with B-Sides and Rarities and have given fans who have been extremely loyal and patient something substantial to tide them over until the next studio record. To date the band has put out four studio albums in eight years, not a bad average, but two years per record can be a long wait for real fans. This killer package also includes a bonus DVD that features all of their videos, as well as some live and in-studio snippets, including a complete live version of “Root.”
This album is comprised of stuff recorded in the finest recording studios in the world with topnotch producers, as well as stuff recorded in little production studios with hardly any budget. The sound is all over the place, but everything has been well preserved and mixed for release. There are dramatic differences in the tonal quality of many of the songs, but even the ones recorded at little Sac studios like Enharmonic and Pus Cavern rock pretty hard. Moreno’s vocals sound amazing, whether he is singing through a tin can or a $10,000 Neumann microphone. Stephen Carpenter, always a nut for tweaking his guitar tone to get that unique sound, has really evolved since their early days and it’s interesting to hear the progression on this album. The rhythm section of Chi Cheng and Abe Cunningham are the most consistent-sounding throughout the record, with seemingly an “If it ain't broke, why fix it” attitude, but some drum programming mixed in with the live drums on some of the tracks, as mix master Frank Delgado joined the band a few years into their career, adds yet another element to this multi-layered band.
Some of it sounds so good it will give you chills, and some of it is like looking at a Polaroid of a supermodel who you knew was going to look great on the cover of a magazine someday. She still looks hot in that Polaroid, but just wait ‘til she gets her big break. The deftones made their own big break by touring hard and passing tapes out to everyone who would listen, and on B-Sides & Rarities, you get to have a little history lesson about the band while you wait to see what they dish out in the studio next. I can’t wait.