Built to Spill - Untethered Moon

by Steve Reynolds Rating:9 Release Date:2015-04-20

It’s fair to say that Built to Spill have served their musical apprenticeship and are now viewed as tried and tested elder statesmen of America’s alt-rock scene. Having put their debut out in the rough seas of the early 90s (which seems a walk in the park compared to today where bands have no time to develop before the evil of the industry tyrants wave their iron fist), they have got their feet firmly under the table and established a loyal fanbase while remaining well respected among their peers.

2015 sees the release of their eighth - yes eighth! - album, Untethered Moon, and their first since 2009’s There is No Enemy. Since the band’s conception in 1992, original members Doug Martsch and Brett Netson still continue to drive the band forward having gone off and done their own respective off shoots but always falling back into what they really love doing - Built to Spill.

 Beginning with ‘All Our Songs’, the band blaze out of the traps, foot strapped firmly to the floor. It’s a quick-fire opener as the simple arrangements coaxed by some zippy riffs and pounding drums crunch together seamlessly, and while the rhythm section stays true to the song, it enables the band to dabble by throwing in a few guitar oddities for good measure.

There is a theme of upbeat and fun that runs through the core of the album. The pace continues to burgeon on the uplifting ‘Living Zoo’, which takes the killer solos of one of J Mascis finer - in fact, any of his moments, and refines it by pushing the song through slow and high moments but infecting them with the right touchstones at just the right time.

But it’s not all whirlwind on ‘Untethered Moon’, as the jaunty folky beginning of ‘On the Way’ demonstrates. It initially focusses on the band’s softer approach but it’s soon replaced by steaming guitars and Martsch’s urgent bark as it ramps up to a full rock outage. ‘Some Other Song’ is much more sludgy and layered. Tortured with the viscosity of a jar of treacle, its slacker tendencies free up some space and paint a picture of happy sobriety.

The band certainly has a high watermark of influences, with the psychedelic LSD tones of The Beatles circa Magical Mystery Tour and the country ting of My Morning Jacket on the beautiful haze of ‘Horizon to Cliff – The Rise’. It makes this album even more affable. They have the ability to switch musical lanes so quickly, which is what they do with the following track, the fuzz-laden wig-out ‘So’.

They end with the monolithic ‘When I’m Blind’, which literally stands up in front of you and begs to be listened to. It’s like a towering inferno waiting to crash down on you, such is its gigantic delivery, equipped with a heavy artillery of bellicose guitars and percussion. 

They jam and then they jam again, they do it for a total of eight-plus minutes but not at one stage does it stagnate and lose your attention. It’s a superlative finale to an album laced with so many great songs.

Built to Spill are back, back with a vengeance to invigorate our sorry little lives.

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