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Built to Spill Makes No Enemies with New Album

Alex Kilpatrick | Thursday, December 3, 2009

Well known among the indie rock crowd for their off-kilter yet influential musical style and a woodsy sound contrasted with heavy, catchy guitar hooks, the Boise-based band Built to Spill has been an influence on several other alternative rock bands in the Northwest, including, but certainly not limited to, Modest Mouse and Death Cab for Cutie. Built to Spill’s front man Doug Martsch has cited Dinosaur Jr., Neil Young and Pavement as his own influences.

The rock band produced some of the most ambitious, creative and inspiring indie rock albums of the 1990s. From their debut, 1993’s “Ultimate Alternative Wavers” to 1997’s “Perfect from Now On” to 1999’s “Keep It Like A Secret,” Built to Spill could do no wrong in the realm of genuinely inspired and critically acclaimed records.

The 90s brought such singles as “Car,” “I Would Hurt a Fly” and “Carry the Zero.” Since then, the band has seemed content with aimless jamming with not much of a foreseeable purpose.

Martsch’s guitar playing is still laudable as always and the tunes are somewhat catchy in an offbeat way, but the newer albums have had something lacking in terms of the authentic creativity that Built to Spill was known for in the 90s.

And the lyrics, as always, are not meant to be a reflection of Martsch’s personal experience. According to Pitchfork, “his lyrics contain no personal meaning … they are chosen more for their meter and suggestiveness than anything else.”

The album starts off strong with opening track, “Aisle 13,” a rocker which begins with loud electric guitars but slows to a steady beat with lead singer distinctive vocals, much akin to that of Modest Mouse front man Isaac Brock’s, and the well-crafted lyrics, “Every day / Something strange / I can’t explain / What happens to me / Often I / Am called by name / To clean up.”

The next track, “Hindsight,” has a catchy tinge of pseudo-twang on the guitars and somewhat insightful, somewhat nonsensical lyrics with lines like, “Hindsight’s given me / Too much memory / There’s too much never seen / It’s always there” contrasted with “What about Canada / It’s paradise with pines and ice / Morning comes in freight ships while you’re sleeping / Battling two ideas with no surprise.”

“Nowhere Lullaby” is more of a slow dreamy piece with a steady soft guitar melody and soothing vocals with insightful lyrics, “Another nowhere lullaby / You can rest or you can try / And this waste it shines in every way,” and “Good Ol’ Boredom” has Martsch cueing up the multiple-layered guitar, especially towards the end.
“Life’s a Dream” is more of a soft harmonious piece with endearing “ooh-la-la” backup vocals, horns during the bridge, and quieter but still catchy guitar hooks. The lyrics give the impression that the speaker is content with defeat: “Finally decided, and by decide I mean accept / I won’t need all those other chances I won’t get.”

The next track, “Oh Yeah,” starts out with a somewhat slow, eerie guitar and transitions into low heavy vocals, which are similar to that of a Pink Floyd ballad. The questioning lyrics add a more philosophical element to the piece, “And if God / Does exist / I am sure He / Will forgive / Me for doubting Him / For He’d see / How unlikely He / Made Himself seem.”
“Pat” begins with fast-paced rockin’ guitar riffs and even faster-paced seemingly desperate lead vocals, but the guitar solo in the middle is very well-executed. The lyrics channel the same blistering sense of desperate urgency with, “Nothing’s worse than never / Falling in a dream’s where / We can see together.” In contrast,

“Done” is a typically laid back slow-paced ballad, with ambling guitar melodies and drawling vocals, with the lyrics, “It’s forgiven it’s for you / All the problems will come true / Said it once I’ll say it once again / It’s all forgotten.”

Altogether, the album is a creative effort on Martsch’s part, back up to par with the Boise band’s albums of the 90s. With the emotional level added to the intriguing lyrics and instrumentation, “There Is No Enemy” leaves the audience with better expectations for albums to come.