built to spill – the normal years

i screwed him and he screwed me, but we never once had sex

i’m realising how many phenomenal guitarists cut across this collection. the dudes from built to spill didn’t peak here with their skills – i mean, this release characterises their earlier days, forming identity. this isn’t what attracted me to them, and having started at a different point, these songs were quite different in hindsight.

here we have a release that drew together songs from a range of other releases in the early 1990s, such as singles and compos. there are still some signs of what came later, like the gorgeous preoccupation with odd timing and excessive guitar noodling on the spectacular closing song, terrible/perfect.

there’s an energy in these days that didn’t really transfer into their more serious stuff which, to be honest, got a little too serious for me. it was okay throughout these early songs for the guitar to sound a bit like it was being played in a pool, and for the singing to be so far off key that you just knew every young person was joyously trying even harder to make it worse as they sang along (yes, me).

i think i am coming across as ambivalent. i love many of the songs on this album, my favourites being some, still flat and terrible/perfect. but it feels a little bit like they were about to come all over, way too early, then they came with perfect from now on, and the quoted line above seemed far too ironic. in fact, these three songs summarise that feeling so well. what happens when you realise you started with the best, and technically and emotionally speaking, it’s all downhill from there? when you know you’ll never be that satisfied again?

i think i perhaps gave them too much to live up to in my own mind; judging everything by their 1997 peak and what it meant to me at that moment in time. i think there’s a pattern of my own consumption that explains it better. i liken my feelings about built to spill to iron & wine. other people seemed to love the moment that these two bands broke away from their beautiful yet slightly awkward formation phases and somehow had enough money and/or exposure to new collaborators to make their sounds bigger, more hi-fi, more orchestral.

those moves made me lose my love for them in both cases. and perhaps that reflects poorly on me – a little like fuck that band after i’d already been in a relationship with them. not pre-judged to avoid altogether, but post-judged to never be able to live up to that first moment i looked into their eyes.

so i guess what it means is that i can look back tenderly on a compilation of music such as the normal years and remember that love i once had.

now it seems so terrible, at the time it didn’t seem like much


3 responses to “built to spill – the normal years

  1. I’m with you.. it did get too ‘Serious’ for me as well. in the beginning it seemed he didn’t take the music so serious, playing around and having fun.. then it got serious when he began to get recognition for his abilities. actually i’d say for me that at one point the lyrics stopped being deeply personal, and more emphasis was put on musical perfection. songs like Twin Falls, Car, and Distopian Dream Girl are almost like reading someone’s diary.
    But back then i had a big “fuck that band” attitude towards bands that went from indie labels to the bigs. i stopped listening to Modest Mouse at their major label move too. looking back, both of those bands had gems after their leap to the big leagues, but by then it was too late for me. that’s why I have so much respect for people like Will Oldham, Superchunk, and others who repeatedly turned down offers from the big guys.

  2. i’m not sure i knew that built to spill were in your formative music years john! i can and can’t believe that you saw them live way back then. it fascinates me to read doug martsch’s take on his own music. i think in a way that’s what i was getting at with the ‘seriousness’, but it’s more than that. whether he’s a perfectionist or not, it shows that he’s conscious of what his music meant to people. i gotta think on this more.

  3. In the mid-nineties bands like Superchunk, The magnetic fields, and Built to Spill were my go to love song bands. There Is Nothing Wrong With Love being right up there with Superchunk’s Foolish. The Normal Years came out shortly after There’s Nothing, and i loved having more Built To Spill to hear. ‘Some’ being my favorite song (loving that the vocals were not there, as they were on There’s Nothing.. being the only song on that album i didn’t love). I was actually there at the show at Filmmaker in Chicago where it was recorded. The whole show was amazing, I would like to see the entire recording released at some point. It really captured the band’s summit time period. i read once that Doug Martsch said of There’s Nothing Wrong With Love that it was last album he wrote before he knew anybody was listening. also enjoyed the split 10″ they did with fellow Boise boys Caustic Resin before they moved from UP to to warner Bros in 1995. It was a great time for music, and for a compilation album it ranks up there for me with Superchunk’s Incidental Music and Tossing Seeds as a great trip down memory lane.

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