If there is one thing you can count on from Canton, Ohio’s Relient K, it’s consistency — and having the ability to back that consistency up with an uplifting bravado that comes off as generosity rather than ego. Last winter, they graciously provided their fans with a Christmas record to sit by their fires with; this summer, the band has put together a lengthy double-set of new and old tracks alike for the cleverly-titled The Bird and The Bee Sides. While you could claim it’s a double-album, really, the band recorded 13 new songs (entitled the Nashville Tennis EP) and remastered some old gems from their various singles and EPs (dubbed The Bird and The Bee Sides). The entire set is a 26-track jubilee and clocks in at just over an hour, never succeeding as a cohesive whole — but that really isn’t the album’s purpose.
The Nashville Tennis EP half showcases the band’s ever-growing pop-based sound, steering further and further away from their initial punk-rooted style found on earlier records. The new material and the b-side collection are interesting to compare, as they both have a glossy production and sound wonderful, but are essentially counterparts in the dynamic they each present to the listener (listen to the delicacy vocalist Matt Thiessen puts in his voice in the new songs as compared to, say, on “For The Band“). Part of this is due to the fact each band member writes and sings one song on their own, each one different than any other track. “No Reaction” has new drummer Ethan Luck trying out punk-infused reggae and guitarist Matt Hoopes serenades on the gentle and sweet-natured “You’ll Always Be My Best Friend.” Laid-back and very down-home, the new material continues to branch out from the songs on Five Score and Seven Years Ago and deliver piano-driven, harmony-fueled numbers.
Don’t be fooled, though — it’s not all hammock-riding music here. “The Lining is Silver” is classic Relient K, both encouraging and toe-tapping, and “The Scene and Herd” contains some of Thiessen’s best tongue-in-cheek lyrics (“And I’m sorrowed that you probably / Magically got this song for free / I’m not sure if it bothers me, it seems fine / ‘cause I’m having a good time”). “Beaming” and “Bee Your Man,” (performed by second-guitarist John Schneck) while short, serve up a dose of the good-natured humor the band is known for, side by side with “There Was Another Time In My Life” and “I Just Want You To Know,” two mellow songs in an autobiographical narrative Thiessen is more apt to sing these days.
The b-side disc is a plethora of hard-to-find tracks from the band’s early EPs, as well as a couple demos and acoustic cuts thrown in for good measure. “Here We Go” sounds like an leftover from Mmhmm, and “The Stenographer” is a quirky piece that changes tempo three times and contains a lower-pitched Thiessen singing, “Smith & Wesson Jr. was a son of a gun / He pressed his nose up to my head / Yeah I was sweatin’ bullets but I dodged the one / That was not as much sweat as was lead.” Lyrical puns aside, the album is a nice evolutionary consultant of the band’s career, one that has careened from lyrics about “Thundercats” and horses to emotional, gut-spilling confessionals.
Relient K has perfected the art of remaining completely engaging and whimsical to more than just a Christian audience, expanding their positive sound and songwriting to a broader pop canvas, and if their newly-recorded material proves anything, it’s that this band is no longer going to be largely focused on wearing pink tuxes to the prom. The lining is definitely looking silver not only for fans, but especially for Relient K themselves.