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Friday, October 16, 2015

Built To Spill: The Normal Years


1) So & So So & So From Wherever Wherever; 2) Shortcut; 3) Car; 4) Some Things Last A Long Time; 5) Girl; 6) Joyride; 7) Some; 8) Sick & Wrong; 9) Still Flat; 10) Terrible/Perfect.

I will keep this very brief. Most likely, had this compilation not appeared way back in 1996, when the band was still young and fresh and a few steps away from Big Critical Recognition, it would not have appeared today — too slight, way too slight. This one really just mops up some singles, outtakes, and alternate versions of tracks from the first couple of albums, most of them being merely of historical interest. The only general argument in favor of the album might be that the sound is more «raw» and lo-fi on the whole, which is hardly surprising but also hardly intentional: these are, indeed, unpolished versions, but mainly because the band did not yet have the time or the skills to polish them.

Actually, I guess the only two songs worth specific mention are the two non-LP A-sides. ʽJoy­rideʼ is an unusually speedy folk-rocker in the vein of Tom Petty's ʽAmerican Girlʼ, with some nicely crunchy distorted guitar howling high above the folksy rhythm strum, a few cute stop-and-start moments, and a hilarious buzz of overdubbed lead parts in the outro — probably the closest they came in those early years (or ever, for that matter) to simplistic innocent rock'n'roll. And the oddly titled ʽSo & So So...ʼ is a good example of Martsch's experimental spirit ("so, instead of just taking this two-chord riff and recording a punk song, we will add a droning serpentine me­lody on top of it and record an art rock song"), although the gray, drab chorus with the usual "vocals coming out of the guitar's ass" principle is still a disappointment.

As a curio, there is a cover of a tune by madman extraordinaire Daniel Jonston (ʽSome Things Last A Long Timeʼ), where the key point is that midway through, this slow, leisurely, contempla­tive ballad is ripped apart by a tornado-like lead guitar part, yet the tempo, the general arrange­ment, and the vocals do not shift one bit, and eventually the «tornado» just whooshes away and disappears — you may take this as a symbolic reminder that "some things last a long time" in­deed, but a tornado is not one of them. There's also a track called ʽShortcutʼ that runs for just a minute and a half (which probably earned it its name) — a most unusual thing for Martsch, who was always brevity's worst enemy.

Overall, this one's truly only for big fans and completists. It does wrap all the odds and ends up nicely, reflecting Built To Spill's passion for meticulousness — so many indie bands are so careless, after all, about leaving their singles and EPs out of print — but accuracy per se is not enough for me to hand out a certified thumbs up here.

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