As much as I liked Built to Spill’s 2006 album You In Reverse, I couldn’t help but feel that something was missing. The production was a bit dry, and Doug Martsch’s voice just didn’t have the same life and energy that it once did. Now, I’m not so naive to believe that the bearded frontman, already in his 30s by the time I began listening to his three-minute guitar symphonies, was going to stay so youthful forever. And yet, he just sounded a bit too tired. Admittedly, it worked for the material, but I couldn’t have been the only one who missed the shimmer and sparkle of 1999’s Keep It Like a Secret.
Judging by last year’s There Is No Enemy, it would appear that Built To Spill also missed that shimmer and sparkle, thereby delivering an album full of gorgeously produced and tightly wound pop songs. The soaring “Aisle 13” and catchy “Hindsight” send the album off to a grand start, immediately placing the listener into a beautiful dreamworld of mesmerizing guitar riffs. But as the album progresses, it’s clear that three-minute pop songs aren’t exactly the norm. Somewhere between Keep It Like a Secret and its sprawling predecessor, Perfect From Now On, There Is No Enemy finds the right balance between accessible pop songs and dreamy epics.
“Good Ol’ Boredom” immediately comes off as a prime choice for a single, were it not for that six and a half minute running time. For a song this good, however, length only works to its benefit. The slow building “Oh Yeah” is especially stunning, Martsch harmonizing “aaah-aaahs” over a slow and ethereal dirge. “Pat” changes the pace a bit by offering a Wipers-style punk rock number, while nearly eight minute closer “Tomorrow” rocketing from droning ballad to meaty rock ‘n’ roll chug in about 90 seconds, carrying out the album on a hard rocking note.
Few bands can turn out an enormous feat of indie rock dynamics like Built to Spill, and on There Is No Enemy, they prove themselves capable once again. Big riffs, a subtle wit and dreamily big production-it’s a Built to Spill album, alright. And that’s a very good thing.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.