BUILT TO SPILL: THERE IS NO ENEMY (2009)
1) Aisle 13; 2) Hindsight; 3) Nowhere Lullaby; 4) Good Ol' Boredom; 5) Life's A Dream; 6) Oh Yeah; 7) Pat; 8) Done; 9) Plating Seeds; 10) Things Fall Apart; 11) Tomorrow.
God, how tedious. Somehow, on their seventh LP Built To Spill preserve the relative simplicity and accessibility of You In Reverse, but lose that album's momentum. No more fast rockers, no more colorful power-pop, no more tense pulsating melancholic vibes like there were in ʽTracesʼ. Instead, we get another set of largely interchangeable, monotonous mid-tempo alt-rock tunes, everything about which is predictable — if there is yet another leaf unturned in the personal logbook of Doug Martsch, There Is No Emeny ain't in no hurry to turn it over.
Maybe that's what Doug Martsch thinks, too, because what else would lead him to naming one of the songs ʽGood Ol' Boredomʼ? Yes, indeed, "it's nice but it's not that exciting", as he sings after the lead guitar line, curiously reminiscent of the fanfare riff in Yes' ʽAnd You And Iʼ, has been silenced to let in our friendly, slightly effeminate singer. And as if in support of that, he returns to his old favorite way of mumbling the vocals, while all the guitars are equally muted, with this irritating «muffled» mix that isn't exactly lo-fi, yet still creates the illusion of a thick screen between yourself and the music, which is never a good thing, really.
But it is hardly the worsened production that is the record's biggest problem — no, it is the lazy, paralyzed songwriting, where you get track after track of generic folk-rock chord progressions and weakly Beatlesque vocal harmonies (ʽLife's A Dreamʼ) that feel deeply derivative, totally familiar, and mining those mines that are already completely depleted. In fact, at least half of these tracks, I am sure, exist only as sonic pads for the next in a series of Doug Martsch's Really Important Metaphysical Thoughts, such as: "And if God does exist / I am sure he will forgive / Me for doubting him / For he'd see / How unlikely he / Made himself seem". I once said something like that at dinner, too, but I never thought about making it into a song — who knows, maybe I'd have been able to come up with something better than ʽOh Yeahʼ, a lumbering dinosaur strolling along a path of power chords.
What's even worse, this record drags on for almost an hour: eleven songs, stretched out to what seems like infinity, and all of them so similar to each other that it is no wonder most reviews of the album I've seen concentrate on the lyrics, trying to decode Martsch's cryptic messages to the world. Or maybe not so cryptic — I mean, there's nothing too cryptic about "The more you have to live for / The more you love your life / The harder it will be for you to die / And we all want dying easy". Uh, yeah, sure, whatever. I actually preferred him when he sang pure nonsense — that way, you could just not bother at all, but here, Pitchforkers all over the world just slobbered over these bits-o'-banalities (Pitchfork: "For the first time in almost 10 years, it seems that Martsch might actually have something he wants to say" — if so, maybe he shouldn't be saying anything), and forgot to think about whether the music here actually means anything.
I have no way of explaining what exactly went wrong in between You In Reverse and its utterly uninspired follow-up — the players are essentially the same, co-producer Dave Trumfio has a decent reputation, and according to various interviews, Martsch was in high spirits when entering the recording studio. Of course, once again do remember that essentially all Built To Spill albums sound the same, and the qualitative difference between any of their two records is negligible in the grand scheme of things. But every once in a while, they put out an album that seems to suggest there is yet some hope for the old gray school of Nineties' alt-rock — like You In Reverse — and then they put out an album that almost makes me swear off guitar-based rock music and go wash my ears out with a piano concerto or, pending that, with some Eurodisco. Anything but another eight-minute mid-tempo post-grunge psychosermon from Doug Martsch. This one, I think, deserves a thumbs down all the way.