Review Summary: Built To Spill is the greatest tease in the music industry. Will they ever actually spill?
Similar to their transition from Perfect From Now On to Keep It Like A Secret, Built To Spill have once again traded in the sad guitars for a distortion pedal. The lyrics, the production, even the album art has taken a complete 180 from There Is No Enemy, and to great effect. Doug Martsch is happy again, and that translates to a much more accessible album.
Within the first moments of Untethered Moon, the album settles itself right in with the rest of Built To Spill's works, learning from the past without dwelling on it. Any long-standing fan of the band will not be disappointed nor surprised by the quality of the work here; guitar-driven indie rock with Doug Martsch's barely-meeting-the-pitch vocals floating throughout. The most important distinction this record makes from past efforts is how light-hearted it is. The songs are sarcastically meta at times ("All Our Songs" and "Some Other Song," for example), and others are the most up-beat tunes we've heard since Keep It Like A Secret. As much as I love the "Oh Yeah"'s and the "I Would Hurt A Fly"'s of Built To Spill's discography, the lighter songs will always sound like a breath of fresh air, and it's refreshing to have another album dedicated to that saturated, sun-bleached sound.
All of that being said, it is hard to rate this album as highly as some of their past landmarks. It is nice to not be disappointed by a new Built To Spill album, but that doesn’t mean this will blow you away. The band doesn't get as big as There Is No Enemy, as introspective as Perfect From Now On, and while songs like "Another Day" are catchy, they don’t have the staying power of Keep It Like A Secret. Once you get past all of Built To Spill's trademark guitars and amazing production value, you get the feeling by the time the tenth track rolls around that they’re cashing it in a little. At a 45 minute run-time including 8 minute closer "When I’m Blind," it really isn’t too much of a complaint, Martsch and company clearly trimmed the fat to avoid filler.
Untethered Moon is a Built To Spill album, and there are songs here that I cannot wait to see live. The change of pace is commendable, I just wish this album was more memorable. Built To Spill is still one of the best acts in the Indie community today, but in their efforts to lighten their sound they lost an anchor. Untethered Moon is good, really good even, but it is fated to be pushed behind the band’s earlier works.