I am a late bloomer when it comes to Built To Spill. I didn’t hear a Built To Spill album till 2008, and that album was Keep It Like A Secret. Hell of an album to be initiated into the BTS fraternity, for sure. When I first heard it I wasn’t sure what I was hearing. Up to that point my idea of Built To Spill was completely off from the reality of Doug Martsch and company. I thought they were one of those twee indie bands that hatched from some ultra sensitive egg laid in the Pacific Northwest by long gone dinosaurs of an indie rock prehistoric era. Maybe some of that was right, but most of what I thought Built To Spill were was completely and utterly wrong.
Still, after two listens to that 1999 album I was hooked. There was something about the way Doug Martsch wrapped his heartfelt, Neil Young-esque voice around the buzzing, jangly single coil riffs that felt almost like an out-of-body experience. You felt as if you were floating above yourself as you listened these songs of existential longing and “might-as-well-drink-another-beer-cause-what’s-left-to-do” indifference. These were slacker anthems for the slacker that grew up and got the job and family and mortgage. The guy that sat at the kitchen table at 1am and worried about how he was going to pay the bills for the month. Music for the suburban blues.
Martsch may not have been singing to me, but he was singing to me, man.
I’m coming to Built To Spill at a time where they’ve been established. Doug Martsch is no longer building his empire of heavy-hearted, tortured clock punchers and everyday Joes and Janes. His empire is established. His artistry has been proven. He’s the bearded poet for the disenfranchised and the clock punchers. At this point everything he creates in Built To Spill is for him. You like it? Great. You love it? Great. You wish it sounded more like (insert favorite Built To Spill album here), well go listen to (favorite Built To Spill album) and be happy.
Untethered Moon isn’t something new. It’s not a game changer. It’s not the dismantling of the BTS sound and that sound rebuilt into something completely different. Untethered Moon is Doug Martsch simply writing songs only Doug Martsch can write. Unlike There Is No Enemy, this new album is concise, to the point, and engaging from start to finish. Compact, existential musings on what it all means. Beautiful pop melodies buzzing with life and overloaded into warm, glowing tubes. “On The Way”, “Never Be The Same”, and “Horizon To Cliff” are up there with the best. Folksy and whimiscal, with a hint of sadness under the surface. “All Our Songs”, “Living Zoo”, and “Another Day” buzz like bees in a kicked coffee can. “Some Other Song” even sports an opening riff not unlike Rush’ “Working Man”. Not a bad thing, man. Not at all. “So” sounds like Jimi Hendrix sitting in with The Jicks on a sweaty summer jam somewhere in Boise. And “When I’m Blind”? It’s an all-out guitar assault that has Built To Spill at their most consistently rocking since “Conventional Wisdom” brought tears to my eyes as I stood a mere 10 feet from Doug Martsch and company playing it live in 2009.
I may have come to the Built To Spill party a bit late, but if Untethered Moon is any indication the party won’t be ending anytime soon. Well into a storied musical history, Doug Martsch is still writing vital, poignant, and beautifully jangly rock n’ roll songs. What more do you need?
8.5 out of 10