To think back over a career of an artist like Built To Spill is, to an extent, the same as doing it for Radiohead or Death Cab For Cutie. Albums come and go, and they’re all pretty damn great; they all hold their own, unique special place in your heart. Revisiting the old albums bring back memories of where you first heard it, or experiences you had while it blasted over your speakers. Sure, you have your favorite(s) and likely one you don’t care for too much. Perfect From Now On has been, in my opinion, their strongest album since its release in 1997. There Is No Enemy, their latest, gives Perfect a run for its money.
Its a fact discernible from the early moments of opener “Aisle 13”, where a wild distorted guitar solo kicks things into gear in a way much like you’d expect from those early albums, from songs like “Randy Described Eternity” or “Kicked It In The Sun”. What stands out here, and throughout There Is No Enemy, are the powerful guitar riffs. They’re in-your-face manner is stunning, but not impeding. They are, in a manner of speaking, perfect. Just listen to “Hindsight”; the laid-back slide guitar and percussive shuffle are the truly ideal backing to Doug Martsch’s vocals as he ponders What about Canada?
Sure, There Is No Enemy does have that top-notch tracklist – a feat they most definitely achieved in Perfect From Now On – but comes very close. And with time, maybe there will be that realization; that, a-ha moment in which you find that yes, maybe it is a match. “Nowhere Lullaby” is almost too slow a song, but then “Good Ol’ Boredom” begins and you’re left wondering where Built To Spill has gone altogether. With initially odd instrumentation, that bewildered moment lasts only until Martsch joins in on vocals. The song goes on to be one of the strongest on the album.
Built To Spill returns again to that surreal guitar sound in “Oh Yeah”, where their signature distortion again threatens epic proportions. And boy does it deliver – this is the sound I’ve been waiting for from Built To Spill, the sound that basically is Perfect From Now On progressed twelve years. Then they launch into the powerful riffs in “Pat” and that in-your-face moment beats you over the head. Transition: flawless. “Done”, too, goes into their signature, swirling guitar solos that’s one part that 90s gritty indie rock sound and another part a similar era shoegaze.
The final two tracks, “Things Fall Apart” and “Tomorrow”, conclude There Is No Enemy with two more high points. After an excellent trumpet solo, “Things Fall Apart” again enters an epic rock-meets-shoegaze phase before quietly returning to the main melody, in which Martsch’s vocals are tweaked with a liquid-y effect. Likewise, “Tomorrow” starts off slow and after just over a minute morphs into yet another powerful rocker.
And as the album concludes it becomes apparent that this is, by far, Built To Spill’s greatest work since Perfect From Now On. Sure, Keep It Like A Secret was totally solid, but this… this There Is No Enemy, this is something else entirely. It radiates in Built To Spill’s genius. It’s why we all fell in love with the band back in the 90s, and why we continue to buy their records today.
Warner Bros. Records [12″ LP/CD, 2009]
1. Aisle 13
3. Nowhere Lullaby
4. Good Ol’ Boredom
5. Life’s A Dream
6. Oh Yeah
9. Planting Seeds
10. Things Fall Apart