I swear I'd be a junky curled up on the side of the street if it weren't for the escape I find in music. Honestly, without the crutch of sound, life would have swallowed me whole long ago. I'm not really sure what Doug Martsch is singing about on his band Built to Spill's insanely-good new record, You In Reverse, but that's not the point. The words and their meanings have always been clouded on Built to Spill albums, but the music heals nonetheless.
With a five-year gap since their last album, Ancient Melodies of the Future, the band wasn't even sure what they wanted to record or how they wanted to sound, so they piled into Martsch's garage studio and started recording their jam sessions to find out. The result is a loose, experimental, almost searching sound, and the fruit of the labor is their most collaborative record to date.
The ten songs on You In Reverse are a sonic assault. Where past efforts have often procured a more polished, pop-infused product, Reverse is a sprawling, exciting, natural, and raw piece of work. There are very few places where you can grab hold, not many hooks, and no real choruses, but there are plenty of fuzzed-out guitars, brain-tickling lead work, and a rock-steady rhythm section that keeps it from falling apart.
It's likely that some folks will call the explorations "indulgent" or say the band has lost direction, but these pen-wielding "taste maker" idiots need to hop off their high horses and consider the facts that some statements need to be repeated and certain thoughts take more than three minutes to work out. The band makes this very clear by jumping out of the gate with a desperately urgent drum beat that gives way to a searing guitar and then spirals into echoes and what sounds like a dying prehistoric bird before Martsch repeats the phrase, "Going against your mind" over and over until the whole thing drifts out to sea and white noise filters in, allowing a lone guitar to rise.
As fellow JamBase scribe Andy Tennille makes clear in his Harp Magazine feature on the band, Built to Spill, and Martsch in particular, were never searching for stardom; he just wanted to play some songs and make a few records. The fact that they've never been lured into limos, gotten cute little hair cuts, or worn leather pants has allowed them to stick to what makes them tick, and that has always been huge ideas, vague concepts, a love of rock, and lots of noise.
Whatever Martsch was drawing on when he penned songs like "Conventional Wisdom," "Liar," "The Wait," and "Just a Habit" doesn't really matter. Like the grinding guitars and sonic waves that crash on your headphones, the meaning is all in the ear of the beholder. I doubt the ex-janitor who formed Built to Spill in 1992 ever thought about saving weak souls or giving inspiration to those in need, but that's the beauty - by not trying, Martsch and Built to Spill continue to succeed in massive ways.
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