Review Summary: "I wanna see-ee it when you find out what cometsstarsandmoons are all about."
An ominous figure looms over the landscape, and makes its lofty presence known by growling loudly and lucidly. The burly snarl emanating from the creature, distinguish its personality, even though it blends in serenely to the scratchy drapery of the purple backdrop. If only Built to Spill had managed to follow the footsteps of this mysterious, regal, entity on the album art, they could have had another Perfect From Now On
or Keep It Like A Secret
up their sleeves. Instead, There Is No Enemy
resembles much more closely the small house, the secondary character. Like the house compared to the creature, the aesthetic on There Is No Enemy
resembles previous Built to Spill work very closely, but doesn’t even come close to distinguishing itself in a distinctive, positive manner. The latest from 90’s indie heroes is a disappointment, a reason to lose faith in the Martsch crew. While they retain many of the same characteristics that made them so special 10 years ago, unfortunately it’s the negative factors that are so outstanding on There Is No Enemy
The pop-infused gems that practically defined their previous work are semi-present on There Is No Enemy
. “Aisle 13” with a quirky, catchy melody is an grand start to the album, and would have been a welcome addition anywhere on Keep It Like A Secret
. “Hindsight,” though, acts like gravity, propelling There Is No Enemy
back towards the harsh reality that this is not another masterpiece. The alt.-country twang that embodies the song is certainly a step to the left for Built to Spill, but it’s impossible to call it a step forward because of the apparent lack of progress. The plodding, unenthusiastic song is riddled with laziness and even boredom (not just for the listener, but even by the band, also), at times. And already, it becomes obvious why Built to Spill’s latest is a failure of poor quality: the songs rely on a lazy atmosphere and non-charismatic delivery that ultimately results in a painfully unmemorable listen.
One key departure that Built to Spill exhibits here comes through the production. The lack of fuzz and noise gives way to a much cleaner style. “Good ‘Ol Boredom,” with its Perfect From Now On
-length is a nice exhibit of this. Clocking in at over 6 minutes, the song has many of the same characteristics that made Built to Spill great- the layered guitars, a dreamy atmosphere, and a jam session tacked onto the end. Instead, the result is entirely off-base, as Built to Spill forgets a key component, the percussion. The drumming is repetitious and unimaginative, serving as another reminder that Built to Spill has fallen from their lofty pedestal.
But remember, Doug Martsch and his delightful songwriting is still here, so how bad can this really
be? He does manage to save There Is No Enemy
from ultimate doom, with his dreamy and superior vocals. They mirror the instrumentation at tmies, though, with his lackadaisical presentation (i.e. “Done,” “Tomorrow”). Also, refer to “Pat,” if you will, to take a gander at where Martsch (and finally something a bit more inspired) provides this album with some life. His songwriting is scarily consistent, and provides as a centerpiece for the unstable album to balance upon. He’s becoming a bit older, and along with age comes a little newfound cynicism. This is on full display on “Things Fall Apart,” “Stay out of my nightmares, stay out of my dreams/ You're not even welcome in my memories / It doesn't matter if you're good or smart-- goddammit, things fall apart.”
It takes more than a few listens to sink in, but there’s definitely something to be said about the definite maturity on There Is No Enemy
, and the more genuine feel than the more contrived faux-maturity of bands of 20-somethings straight outta college that wear their psychology on their sleeve.
While charisma and charm are difficult to quantify and judge albums by, I feel like this album is certainly devoid of them. There Is No Enemy
is a mish-mosh of qualities that make former projects successful (prolonged, free-flowing “jams,” pop sensibilities, and catchy melodies). But, Built to Spill seems to forget to add energy to the equation, and the songs have Martsch, along with the percussion and guitar lines, feeling wearisome and tired. It’s as if they’re content (well-deserved may it be) with their former work and decided to give a half-assed effort on There Is No Enemy
. The album is presented in such a way that feels like Martsch’s heart isn’t in the project, especially compared to BTS’s former days. And if the band can’t get excited about their latest release, it make wonder why I should.
With There Is No Enemy
, it’s impossible for me to claim that Built to Spill have evolved. Changed-yes, but the definite lack of compelling material on There Is No Enemy
isn’t anything desirable. The album is truly the sum of its parts (especially in the sense that it warrants an all-album listening experience), it’s just a shame that so many parts are missing. Absent is the enthusiasm, gone is the excitement, missing is the charisma, and what’s left is an experience that at best is relaxing and at its worst is painfully unmemorable. Much like the little house in the corner, There Is No Enemy
will essentially be forgotten in the obscurity, a lost piece of the puzzle that is Built to Spill’s discography.