Music Rewind: 12 Years Later Built to Spill Fulfills it’s Self-Prophecy
Colin Rich | Friday, September 25, 2009
Every great album possesses a certain timelessness to its artistry. The ability of a listener to place an album in its decade of release should be somewhat offset by a sound that transcends immediate musical popularity. Flagrantly identifiable albums borne out of an era in vogue often lack the staying power, or replay value, inherent to those more permanent additions to the catalog of truly great works.
For those out there who believe the best days of music are long behind us, I counter with Built to Spill, the paragon of post-adolescent indie craftsmanship. Contemplative and confident, the best Alternative rock this side of the Atlantic springs from these middle-aged, bearded Boiseans who grew from cult to critical fame during the 1990s.
Built to Spill’s cannonball of electric jams and harmonic dissonance plunges headfirst into the deadening ripple left in the wake of mainstream American rock bands that barely toe their creative waters. The band commands an assaulting guitar arsenal (up to three electrics on some albums) adding an uncommon bang to their pop and an enthralling complexity to their heavier tracks. Their loose balance of forceful and intelligent balladry with sprightly singles reflects not just the mature songwriting but also the skilled musicianship of the Pacific Northwest’s best rock quartet.
In 1997, Built to Spill released its untidy masterpiece “Perfect From Now On.” Lyrically astute and vibrantly oscillating, this brisk jam reaches greater sonic depth than any rock album of the past 12 years. Receiving much critical acclaim at the end of the 1990s, it remains the focal point of an illustrious discography (they have yet to produce a truly un-enjoyable, un-engaging album) that will grow in October following the release of their seventh studio album “There Is No Enemy.” The length of the songs on “Perfect” (averaging upwards of six minutes) allows for blended psych trances, post-punk airiness and front man Doug Martsch’s tender, affecting singing to emerge in one elegantly crafted expression.
“Perfect” derives its eminence from inspiring riffs, a quiet emotionality, and seamless track transition. Martsch’s high tones and guitar passion help fuel comparisons to Neil Young, as the feedback peeling out over the rhythm and strings of the closing minutes of “I Would Hurt a Fly” justifies any such comparison. Selecting standout moments from such a solid disc almost defeats the purpose, but many examples still deserve notice.
“Stop the Show” builds to a dramatic, but not in the least bit phony, shift from a roaring wash to a quick, clipped pace. Martsch’s vocals and sudden tempo switches throughout the album are the icing on the cake. “Velvet Waltz” consists of an entrancing bass line and Martsch’s heartbreaking lyrics, proving it to be, musically, the best song on the album. Finally, “Untrustable Part 2” affords one final head-bobbing, foot-shifting jam in concluding a top-to-bottom great album.
Like almost any excellent album, one listen does not do “Perfect” justice (nor does reading this review, really). Repeated listens unravel the thick layers of sound and emotion wrapping this gift to the world of modern rock. Perhaps this explains why one cannot tell upon hearing it exactly when in the last 20 years it was produced. The title of the album proved mysteriously predictive of its resonance, while the album itself remains a pivotal testament to the scarcity of timelessness in modern music.