Review Summary: Ultimate Alternative Waivers is like a painting that has been violently scabbed in anger and is left a mess, but is strangely beautiful in all its sloppiness
This is a mess
We always knew that indie rock stalwart Doug Martsch, aching with the catchiness and compulsive insistence to mask his song-writing with a monumental jam in the background, was the sole driving force to Built to Spill’s creative output over the band’s career. I’m sure any fan familiar with Built to Spill’s works would be familiar with Martsch, long beard and all, and his antics with his guitar and a few catchy hooks. But this – oh this
. Should I call it a debut, the very meaning of the term? Or is it just a culmination of ideas Martsch had been festering inside of his maniacal skull? For what it’s worth, however, Ultimate Alternative Waivers
is as predictable as Oprah Winfrey’s ever-changing weight or the direction of the current Democratic race. If you’re familiar with any of the irrelevant cultural references seen above or have no idea of the meaning of the word ‘mess’
, then allow me clarify: as close as a mindfu
ck that Built to Spill will ever get to.
Maybe I’ve painted a false image, maybe I’ve exaggerated. Forgive me, kindly if you will. Despite what I have said, still, from all the sloppy guitar ramblings and sudden tempo changes; Ultimate Alternative Waivers
is a deceptively accessible and catchy album. If one were to discard the insurmountable mounds of feedback, guitar noodling and painfully random rhythm changes, the true Built to Spill formula (or the beginning of said formula) can be seen. The aptly titled opener “The First Song” bursts out of its ambulatory drawl with a tired pace laced with guitars bordering on atmospherics. This is a shell and a false representation of the rest of the record as the band slowly - taking their sweet time – looses any sense of direction. The most accessible of the tracks here “Three Years Ago Today” exhibits the trademark Built to Spill vibe. As Martsch reminisces of his past, the song surprisingly maintains a linear sense of direction, with little nods at exuberant displays of solo-ing and the sorts; nothing too left-field, making it quite easily the catchiest song on the whole record.
It’s obvious the group is still very much taking cues from influences rather than shaping a definitive sound for themselves. Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth elements are delicately shaded across many of the songs. Most apparent is the band’s use of feedback and a fuzzy musical direction that is seen in almost every song. The exception to this rule is “Revolution”, an easy highlight as it quickly and sporadically changes directions as Martsch sings the words “Revolution” with the least bit of interest. Assuming the rest of the band was barely aware of Martsch’s sudden tempo changes, the band uses this technique of improvisation to bounce off each other. It’s almost as if Martsch were to instruct to the band as chief leader “Alright, I’ll go west, you go east and we’ll meet in the middle”, and somehow it works. “Get a life” is a sublime mix of both of the 2 prevalent elements of the album, exhibiting the aforementioned noise drenched atmosphere, yet incorporates a lineal song direction that diverges without being incredibly awkward. This makes it the best song on the album and one of the best the band would ever record. Ironically, it solely represents the album and its main themes; evident even in the lyrical department. Lines like “unthink the things in your head”
and “she said that's not what she said”
represent the almost ambivalence of the record’s redeeming qualities. It remains as incredibly catchy yet on the surface is experimental and sloppy and off-kilter and the two conjoin quite easily. There was only one Catch, and that was Catch 22 it seems could never be truer.
Built to Spill’s distinctive niche found its foundation here, however displaced it is; it’s still there. Martsch’s androgynous and lackadaisically soulful vocal delivery helps lyrics like “Nowhere Nothin’ ***up” sound like a campfire ditty. More expansive tracks like the 8 minute plus “Shameful Dread”, the aptly titled “Hazy” and the episodic “Built too long Pt. 1, 2 and 3” show good intent but the ideas are far too exploratory for the group’s obvious strength in creating simple tracks. And for those of the faithful, well the sound Built to Spill has so obviously created for themselves, one in which they remain, is the band’s catchy hooks and building jams. Ultimate Alternative Waivers
is messy, but the kind of messy that’s just right. Almost like a painting that has been violently scabbed in anger and is left a mess, but is strangely beautiful in all its sloppiness. A painting that slowly coalesces into something more meaningful.