Built to Spill - There is No Enemy

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Built to Spill might best be described as an "Indie" rock band.  "Indie" was often meant to include bands who released their music on independent record labels.  This is so prevalent today, that "Indie" has become synonymous with, your choice of 1) music that is not overproduced Top 20 dreck, 2) music that has absolutely no commercial appeal 3) music with integrity.  Due to the lack of marketing, it also means that bands must build cult followings through word of mouth, touring, and kind reviews.  It also means that a lot of people who might like an artist will never hear them, or of them.

Built to Spill is not on an Indie label, however.  They're on Warner Brothers, which means... nothing helpful, apparently.  Most people haveThere is No Enemy never heard of them, even though they've been around 17 years and developed a fair following in the 1990's.  

My familiarity with BTS begins with their last CD, You in Reverse, which was a thoroughly satisfying guitar driven album.  I still haven't bothered to figure out what it is about; the vocals fit well enough as just another instrument, and it sounds great.

I've been listening to their new CD, There is No Enemy, since its release over a month ago.  I've liked it from the beginning, but some music I have to listen to a "good number" of times to figure out how much I like it and why.

On There is No Enemy, much is the same and some is different.  Guitars are given plenty of room to find their space, and heavy reverb remains as the defining sound throughout the songs.  Doug Martsch, who basically is BTS, stretches his pronunciations over longer phrases, carefully matching the beat or the reverb itself.  Martsch again proves that guitars can be mesmerizing in the absence of fleet-fingered guitar hero pyrotechnics.  Sound matters.

On this release, the tracks are more plentiful and more focus is given to the lyrics.  Some are pointed and some are more obtuse, but they generally deal with imperfect relationships, falsehood, struggling through the weight of life, lack of meaning, and maintaining reason in sorting life out.

Some are more thoughtful in phrases than in their entirety, but "Oh Yeah" stands out as a phrase which is the full lyric, echoing a sentiment shared or hoped for by many:

And if god
does exist
I am sure he
will forgive
me for doubting
for he'd see
how unlikely himself seems

A Flaming Lips-ish "all we have is now" approach is reflected in "Life's a Dream":

Life ain't nothing
But a dream
Realistic
As it seems
Destiny's vulgar
So I might as well resist
Out of the darkness
And all the secrets still exist
Finally decided
And by decide I mean accept
I don't need all those
Other chances I won't get

It's not all as thoughtful or dour, but even though Martsch avoids a confessional approach, the lyrics represent an artist being true to his thoughts. 

The musical mix is also different from the last release, including additional pop chorus elements, brass, organ and mellotron,.  These add diversity to the songs, though carefully picked to embellish the defining sound of Martsch's guitar... as it should.  Even better, the musical sections build on a number of songs up to what can be described as ear candy ("Life's a Dream," "Done," and "Things Fall Apart"). 

Despite their name, it's well-built music, and I've enjoyed There is No Enemy more with each listen, always a good indicator of keeping a place in the rotation for years to come.

Recommended Tracks: "Life's a Dream," "Oh Yeah," "Done," "Planting Seeds," "Things Fall apart"

Rating: 4 of 5, despite words which prevent playing over loudspeakers when my wife or kids are in the room.  It isn't superfluous, but it isn't necessary, either.

 

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