Built To Spill – [Album]

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Since the late 1980s, with the emergence of every new pocket of alt-rock (or 'indie rock,' or 'college rock' – pick your favorite title) bands that come together and get noticed for their sound as a community, there are always a few bands that get lumped into the mix, but don't exactly fit in. In Seattle, for example, while Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains were drawing a lot of spotlight to their scene, The Factbacks, Melvins and Screaming Trees were skirting around the periphery and getting noticed, but not to anywhere near the same degree. In Minneapolis, while Hüsker Dü and The Replacements were being toasted around 1985, Soul Asylum looked on in relative obscurity; biding their time.

Why does this happen? Mostly, one can assume that it's because while those bands on the fringe are great (and some do eventually get theirs), there are sounds within them that aren't so easy to qualify; they don't fit in because their sound has a certain “otherness” that derails hysteria and makes the same kind of massive appeal that other bands living up the street are experiencing evasive.

Does it still happen? Of course it does! One need look no further than Boise, Idaho's own Built To Spill for proof – but happily, after just sixteen years, it looks like the broader sun might start shining on the band with There Is No Enemy.

Quaking with the same kind of nervous energy that Soul Asylum did around the time of Grave Dancer's Union and Flaming Lips did at the time of Transmissions From The Satellite Heart, Built To Spill crackles to life with no prelude in “Aisle 13” with cross-phased guitars, sleepy vocals and an eery sort of warm dissonance that instantly appeals to any listener's sense of tattered romance as well as any lonesome soul's hope for any sort of attachment or connection. It's the sort of airy and spacious song that, twenty years ago, fans of college rock would have been called an anthem because it's wide open and leaves plenty of room for listeners to inhabit but, because it's not 1989, it's even more endearing because such oddball, heart on its sleeve songwriting just isn't done with any regularity anymore, and never done at all with the sort of genuine hope that singer Doug Martsch lays at the feet of listeners. Those listeners will find themselves hoping for more of the same from him too as the song fades.

Those hopes are answered in kind as the elastic guitars of “Hindsight” swing in and the band puts the final dabs of sauter on its cross-wiring of the love-y side of The Replacements and the Flaming Lips' acid-touched oddity. It's a strange brew that Built To Spill concocts, but also a strangely rich one.

As the record progresses, while there are moments when Built To Spill does get on the move with some more assertive beats and rhythms (“Good Ol' Boredom,” “Pat,” “Planting Seeds”), without fail they always find their way back to their mid-tempo center to further wow listeners with their ambient textures and further explores the plateaus that they discover in this expanse of their own design. On one, they find Butthole Surfers guitarist Paul Leary (“Oh Yeah”) and on the song marked “Pat” Scott Schmaljohn who each chip in some guitar licks but the spaces between – where everything's more subdued and relaxed are the ones that listeners find themselves hoping will be around the corner every step of the way. More than any other band in memory, Built To Spill is able to captivate its audience with relaxation instead of a series of big bangs.



Built To Spill – "Aisle 13" – There Is No Enemy


There Is No Enemy
is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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