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The b-sides

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They call it Geek Rock. The five N.C. School of the Arts teenagers who formed the b-sides must have locked themselves away in library carrels and put in the time only a geek would spend studying instruments only an geek would play. Piano? Chimes?

But those guys who went home to practice piano every afternoon instead of playing pickup football always show up in the limelight years later, the bookish heroes. And now they have cool friends like Ken Mosher of Squirrel Nut Zippers fame, who plays bass for them. Powered by a precocious depth of musicianship and knowledge, the b-sides fuse seemingly incompatible strains of music. An intricate layering of pretty chimes and Beatles harmonies, classical guitar rifts and indie power chords, Yes Indeed, The b-sides, Quite! is too manic to call punk or pop, or even indie. So it must be Geek Rock.

In spans of single songs, the band shifts from the audacity of the rock anthem to the mawkish concerns of teen pop, from Queen to The Osmonds. Part power pop ballad, part lilting lullaby, "I wore it till it broke ... " could comprise the score for a musical or the theme song for The A-Team. Lyrically, the b-sides often lean dangerously toward sappiness, as in "Meagan": "Strangers at a party, we weren't even trying, we just sat together, our fire was dying out, but you still stayed." But, backed by synthesized string arrangements and complex harmonies at once charming and pubescent, the album becomes increasingly theatrical and revealing. By "Riddle 'n'," the lyrics have grown up: "I'm so doggone happy, I could cry my eyes out ... I medicate your reality and prescribe society."

The b-sides' adolescence is only a mask for a music that is both shrewd and compelling. They might be the region's best pop outfit since Ben Folds Five, and according to the liner notes (they have enough material for four more albums), this debut is only a sampler of what's to come.

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