Someone recently did a review on Slowdive saying that every genre has that band that towers over everything else in its respective quadrant of musical expression. While I do think this is an accurate statement to make, I often find people who are always searching for the band that is just as good as that overshadowing band, but much lesser known. This usually can be found, The Beatles certainly aren’t the most solid and interesting pop rock band of all time, but they are the most widely known and enjoyed. For indie rock, the choices are numerous; we could say The Pixies’ with their duo of almost perfect albums in the late ‘80s solidifies them as the best indie rock band, but who’s to say the aggressive nature of their music isn’t out shined by the carefree, summer time songs of Pavement and their releases of Slanted & Enchanted and Crooked Rain. While dwelling on what band ultimately fully encompasses the sounds of a specific genre the most is a useless thing to do, Built to Spill is definitely in the upper tier of indie rock bands. With their guitarist and founder Doug Martsch’s knack for creating complex but catchy guitar riffs, and their constantly evolving sound Built to Spill has cast an unseen shadow over the indie rock scene it recent years. They certainly aren’t the most well known band in their genre, but to those that know them Built to Spill are definite favored sounds in their record collection. Like most indie rock bands Built to Spill has two main albums that everyone seems to agree are perfect. While many argue over which is better than the other, my personal favorite is “Perfect From Now On”. Instead of sticking in the realm of three minute pop songs, Doug Martsch and his crew of misfits decided they would take a hint from the progressive rock mind thought and create eight minute indie rock epics. While this doesn’t seem like a good idea, it works wonderfully on this record as you will soon find out.
“Perfect From Now On” lays it support on the effects ridden ability of Doug Martsch’s guitar playing and also relies heavily on the solidness of drummer Scott Plouf and Peter Lansdowne (on Made-Up Dreams). The first track “Randy Described Eternity” begins the album with some slow droney guitar playing that soon builds up into a slow trodding psychedelic tempered indie rock song. Slight embellishments after the first track are what make me finding myself constantly coming back to this album, the cello is featured on six of the eight tracks, mellotron is feature on three and various other unique instruments are found throughout the album. The actual mixing and production of the album makes the foreignness of these instruments sound, come into the songs and positively affect them rather than weigh them down with unnecessary noise. A perfect example of this is the cello “solo” featured at the end of “I Would Hurt A Fly” which completely changes the mood of the song from a jittery indie rock song, to a somewhat depressing alternative rock piece, further more resolving the cello break is probably my favorite guitar solo on the album that really wraps up the song in a very epic way. Did I mention that each of these sections features a different tempo, but due to the excellent ability of the musicians in the band you can hardly feel the shift? This is what makes “Perfect From Now On” so great, the way each track shifts through its motions like liquid. The best example of this effect is probably the epic “Out of Site” which starts off with some simple strumming, that explodes into a full band melody that thanks to a cello slowly works it way down into a quiet section that is flavored with Doug’s vocals. From this quiet section we return to a faster paced uppity section with some keys that leads way into some heavy riffing between Brett Netson and Doug Martsch (The two guitarists). From there it breaks back into a fast paced uppity section that slow sinks it’s way down with some reverb heavy guitar soloing. The end is a repetition of the beginning of the song, but you probably couldn’t follow my description and if you tried to follow it even with the song you’d get confused. That is the beauty of this album; Built to Spill kind of takes a note from the Dillinger Escape Plan and messes around so much with tempo changes that you can barely follow the song, even though it sounds perfectly fine to the ear.
While the playing on this album is very solid, some may feel Doug Martsch’s vocal ability doesn’t contemplate the music that well. His voice is kind of a high pitched squeal that while similar to Stephen Malkmus’ hipster draw, lacks the attractiveness of most indie rock singers. In my opinion, Doug’s voice fits perfectly with the music, but I think if one negative point could be brought up about this album the first point would be his inability to sing without sounding like a teenage girl. Also, some members of the forum may find his lyrics a bit lacking, but really this is all personal preference. Built to Spill is one of the most solid indie rock bands around and to find problems with their music you have to look extremely hard and bring up things that are basically completely opinionated.
“Perfect From Now On” in my opinion is one of the best albums ever made. If I were ever to partake in the slow, endless process of limiting myself to having ten favorite albums, “Perfect From Now On” would be on it for sure. It’s subtle ability of turning easy going pop tunes, into epic tempo changing classics is something that I have not only seen before this release but have yet to see even in Built to Spill’s own material. Some may argue that “Keep It Like A Secret” is a far better release, but the sheer emotional and meticulously song arrangement on this album makes it the best for me, and hopefully will become a favorite for some of the people that read this review too.