Review Summary: Built to Spill return to remind us why they're still one of the best acts around.
Built to Spill have earned the respect of the indie community and beyond since starting in the 90's. From the beginning they had sound that was fun and chock full of great melodic interplay. The now famous switch to a more mature and layered sound with their magnum opus Perfect From Now On
, endeared them further to the indie crowd. They also held one thing over most of their contemporary’s of then and now– they’re actually good musicians. Doug Martsch can shred with the best of them and both Scott Plouf at the drums and Brett Nelson on bass are no slouches either. So, at the announcement of a new album I was intrigued as to just what it was going to be like. Sprawling schizophrenic song structures like Perfect From Now On
" Glorious, sunny, but still complex guitar rock like Keep It Like a Secret
" Or perhaps the jam band sound that was both a blessing and a curse on their last effort, You In Reverse
" The answer: all and none of the above. Just like Yo La Tengo’s earlier 2009 release Popular Songs
, There Is No Enemy
is a clear exhibition of what has made Built to Spill an indie staple and how they are still able to make relevant records this far into their career.
At its core, There Is No Enemy
is pure Built to Spill. Shifting song structures, layered guitar riffs, shredding solos and a solid rhythm sections are the dominant qualities of the record, but it’s the small touches that make the record shine a little brighter. The horns that blare out in the middle of “Life’s A Dream” or the trumpet solo in the middle of “Things Fall Apart” are totally unexpected and add such a rich texture to the songs. Another deviation from past Built to Spill is the lack of noise and fuzz in the guitar work. While past guitar solos often had to be picked apart through a wall of noise, this album breathes with a cleaner, more energetic sound. The up-tempo indie rocker “Pat” is a prime example of this and features some of the best guitar work on the album. It also happens to be a shining example of the economical approach to length employed by the band on this album.
Built to Spill have always been known for their sprawl, but their last album wandered too often into jam band territory and songs began to drag. The songs on There Is No Enemy
seem far more focused, like the breezy and dreamy “Hindsight”. Even on the longer cuts the band seem to be more focused, which means every second of the song is earned. They don’t ever drag on and they usually have a direction that progresses the song to a destination, instead of just adding a three minute jam session onto the end. Every part of the slow burning “Oh Yeah” seems perfectly paced, so once the song finally spills over into its album highlighting guitar solo climax, you’re left thinking, “*** yeah Built to Spill.” Finally the sprawl comes in spades from the epic album closer, “Tomorrow.” It shoots for the stars with big guitars, good bass work and solid drumming. This keeps it in line with the traditional Built to Spill album closer by adding some extended, layered guitar soloing to bring the album home.
Return to form is a bit of a misnomer considering Built to Spill have never really been out of form. Rather, There Is No Enemy
feels more like a tightening of the screws. Instead of trying to rewrite a winning formula, they evolve it slightly as if to say, “yeah, we’re still here and this is why you love us.” It’s classic Built to Spill with some slightly uncharacteristic diversions thrown in. We still have Doug Marstch’s wonderfully melodic vocals delivering pondering’s of eternity, as he states, “And if God does exist / I am sure he will forgive.” But these familiarities seem to breathe a certain vitality that was missing from the past few records. I mentioned in my review of You In Reverse
that the band seemed to be missing a certain x-factor. Well, they must have found it once again as they create their best record in years. It might not be quite up to the standards of say Perfect From Now On
or Keep It Like a Secret
, but you know what" It really isn’t all that