Review Summary: Consistent, catchy, thought-provoking and very fun to listen to, “Keep It Like a Secret” is a valuable asset for Built to Spill fans.
Built to Spill are like a very small vase. You put plants in them, but they keep spilling! What’supwitdat?
Yeah, confession time. It’s no secret a lot of my reviews start with lame/unjustified comparisons. Well, reading over my past reviews, I can’t help but wonder why I thought they were good intros at all. So, I tried my best to come up with an intro that’s actually somewhat suitable.
It’s summer. Yay. The most relaxing time of year for most, and the only time of year worth mentioning for others. I’ve been lately discussing with friends and acquaintances about what makes good summer music. “Summer music has a vibe that you can swing to!” “It’s fun and youthful!” Other tattered clichés! Apparently, light heartedness is the secret to good summer music. Ever listen to a blink-182 album in the winter? It’s just not the same. Built to Spill are a band that, frankly, I haven’t been into for a long time. Actually, since October ’06. Less than a year. I can live with that. I bought their 2006 release, “You In Reverse”, and sung its praises within a week. It didn’t in fact seem like summer music to me. It seemed like progressive indie rock that you’d sit and read to on a rainy day, not music that could provide the backdrop for picking up a surfboard and tearing up those waves. So, I was introduced to Built to Spill in the wrong atmosphere.
Buying “Keep It Like A Secret” a small time later, I was initially disappointed. It seems that back in 1999, they had a much more light-hearted approach to their music, still incorporating the same techniques of very rhythmical prog-indie, but in a much lighter and slightly under-whelming atmosphere. Maybe the cold and dark winter wasn’t the best setting for this album. Now, after months of sunshine and shorts-n-sandals weather, I can see my mistake.
“Keep It Like a Secret” is probably Built to Spill’s poppiest effort, made in-between the phases of the very deep “Perfect From Now On” and their more progressive phase, it seemed that the band (or, rather, the mastermind Doug Martsch) wanted to make a neutral zone for the band and bring a new audience of fun-loving youngsters to the table. Take songs like “The Plan”, “Center of the Universe” and “Bad Light”, all very woozy-doozy, almost childish pop songs that could bring a smile to anybody’s face, while maintaining a slight touch of poetic wonder best displayed through the witty and sarcastic lyrics (“I don’t like this air/But that doesn’t mean that I’ll stop breathing it.”). But the pop side of the album reaches perfection with “Temporarily Blind”, probably as dark as any fun-loving pop song dares to go, but without losing any loveliness, rhythm or even catchiness. It picks up pace about halfway, and becomes more of an ode to melancholy rather than taking on it’s characteristics. It’s fun in a different way.
But that doesn’t mean that Built to Spill has completely turned their backs on their more shoegaze style rock, and in fact it’s more evident and beautiful here than it’s ever been, even if in small doses. “Sidewalk” is probably the most subtle of these pieces, seeing as it starts off deceivingly, with it’s poppy attributes and fast pace. But it soon becomes a very thoughtful rock piece, one of the best of Built to Spill’s very thoughtful-rock-piece career, which is quite an achievement. “Carry the Zero” if the album’s highlight, combining droning vocals over a hammering rhythm section, jangly rhythm and a skipping-stone lead guitar, to a point of breathtaking earnestness and bitter delicacy. But the eight minute ending piece “Broken Chairs” is not far behind, following the methods of “Carry the Zero”, but giving it a more progressive touch, whistling and adding a corker of a guitar solo, it’s the perfect way to end the album.
Despite being the band’s poppiest effort, and practically only “summer-suitable” album, “Keep It Like a Secret” delivers as the rest of their (albeit different) discography does. It balances elegance with sadness on many occasions, all with wonderful results, and is a promise that the band has a very catchy and uninhibited side to them. The band sounds as sharp as they ever have on this album, especially on “Carry the Zero” and “Broken chairs”, despite the somewhat lazy sounding vocals and somewhat timid production, which somewhat muffles together instruments, but makes them distinctive enough to dissect them, almost as easily as you can take it all in as one massive wave of noise. It’s certainly the most light-hearted music that Built to Spill has done, but that is, by no means, a con.
Consistent, catchy, thought-provoking and very fun to listen to, “Keep It Like a Secret” is a valuable asset for Built to Spill fans and is a more than recommended starting place for the band, seeing as it is most likely easier to get into before you get into the band’s weightier and moodier stuff. But all in all, an incredibly solid release from a band that has yet to put out anything sub-par by their own standards, much less by indie-rock standards. Excellent.