i remember the first i heard a built to spill song was the same time i saw one – pavement were guest programming on rage during their australian tour of 1997 (after we’d seen them play at a former notorious nightclub in adelaide called heaven). steve and mark played one of the best songs off this album, untrustable. the animated imagery will always stick in my mind. whether as a result, or because of it, the music will too. it’s an amazing song – see below (though i couldn’t find the original film clip).
it was a bigger world than what australian radio allowed us to know. unless you were well connected – noting that the internet was not a mechanism for sharing music yet – you pretty much had to like what other people of similar taste did. it made it a necessarily small pool of contemporary truly alternative music to work from. building the web in this way was really the only option.
this album, as my starting point for the band, was all i knew back then. as i acquired a handful more, but particularly the already-covered the normal years, i realised how different this was for them. i stand by what i said of the regression of their releases – this album and their earlier, rougher work for me are on par with each other, each showing different strengths and beauty. but for some reason, beyond this, i couldn’t connect to it. i kinda felt like i didn’t need anything more than this. that’s how good it is.
for instance, the build of stop the show, wherein you think it will just continue the same refrain of pensive and skillful guitar for the whole song, deceives to give-way into perhaps the closest likeness to their earlier catalogue – doug martsch sings in his higher register and the melody and rhythm are far more punk-like (in a pop kinda way) than most of the rest of the album. another song like this is out of site.
on the rest, there is an unmistakable anxiety to it. the tones and chords are mostly minor, pained, melodramatic, sad. the best example of that is velvet waltz. the shortest song is almost five minutes long, and the others are largely between six and eight minutes each. this was another feature that distinguished it from the previous work of the band. it apparently reflected more of their tendencies as a live band to improvise for long stretches, allowing doug the freedom to show that he and his colleagues were amazing at what they did. i say apparently, because it’s one of the only bands from my early days that i never saw live. no regrets.
there is no doubt in my mind that this is the best built to spill album ever released – though i have to say that not having heard them all. i know that could have a lot to do with a nostalgic view i have of it, from when i was able to start branching out into things that no one else seemed to know. at least, in my small purview.
maybe irony was their strongest point, with the name of this album. they didn’t need to do anything else, because they had attained perfection already.