Review Summary: Bravely shortens tracks compared to previous critically acclaimed release resulting in an immediate & borderline poppy indie-rock album which still includes quality guitar playing & intelligent song structures.
Indie Rock has always been a strange beast for my liking. It is by no means my most preferred genre and in all honesty I find it difficult to get into for the most part. Sure, a few tracks here and there are always pleasurable to listen to, but I struggle to stay involved for a full album which is where this kind of music is supposed to excel.
With all the magnificent reviews of Built To Spill's 3rd release 'Perfect From Now On', I simply had to check it out to see if the (for want of a better word) hype was warranted. While I found the album pretty good, it was by no means classic for my liking and hadn't exactly changed my mind towards the genre. I could hear the band's talent (especially front man Doug Martsch) and understood why fans of the genre would appreciate them so much, but it just wasn't for me.
What also made that album fairly unique was the length of its songs as it only included 8 tracks in total with all of them going over the 5 minute mark and some nearing 9 minutes. So I approached their follow-up 'Keep It Like A Secret' with only so-so expectations. Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised, and in more ways than one! In what I term a brave move, Built to Spill practically halve the running time of most of the tracks here, almost making it sound like this is a totally different band. Yet, they keep enough of the components that made them what they are to keep everyone from the fans to the critics pleased.
While it is nowhere near the best track on the album, Built To Spill's approach to this album is decently summed up in the opener 'The Plan'. It begins as a nice and simple harmonic song for the first 2 minutes or so before breaking down with some distorted guitar effects that eventually result in the pace being slowed markedly for the final minute. Yet, it's all kept under 4 minutes in length meaning very little wasted time. Follow-up 'Center of the Universe' is even shorter (too short in fact) but contains a contagiously feel-good melody as it's main strength.
Album highlight 'Carry The Zero' comes in at track 3 and this is the song which may best describe all the parts which make Built To Spill such a successful band. Always in motion and with nice subtle changes in pace, the guitar and melodies mix perfectly resulting in a memorable song all up. While some length is added here (the song lasts 5:45), it isn't over the top in any way.
In fact, the 2 other album highlights are only fractionally shorter than 'Carry The Zero', which suggests to me that the true genius of this album is practically in the song durations. The band have the intelligence here to keep the tracks as short as possible, but not so stubbornly that the songs are not allowed to reach their maximum potential. The only exception is the near 9 minute closer 'Broken Chairs’ which appears to be almost there as a shout-out of sorts to the previous album.
'You Were Right' is clever lyrically in using its song title in conjunction with other famous song titles of the past. But it is more than that in that it contains the stock-standard effective guitars and subtle changes of pace. Meanwhile, penultimate track 'Temporarily Blind' includes excellent musical effects that are borderline mesmerizing and hypnotic initially, before the song effectively changes pace into a melodic piece. Just when you think it has run out of tricks though, it is turned on its head again with a fun romp during the last minute.
While the middle 4 tracks may be the weakest on the album, there are basically no bad songs to be heard during the 47 minute duration of 'Keep It Like A Secret’. This is therefore a quality 4th album for Built To Spill and one which they should be proud of in more ways than one. The band has practically reinvented themselves here, while not totally ignoring everything that made them critical favorites in the past. More poppy and immediate than ever before, there is still the trademark quality guitar playing as well the intelligent song structures contained on this album. All in all, this is a recommended album that even listeners who struggle to get into Indie-Rock should enjoy.
Recommended Tracks: Carry The Zero, Temporarily Blind, You Were Right & Center of the Universe.