Filled, as usual, with both tautly constructed melodic fills and wildly improvisational guitar freak-outs, Portland via Idaho rockers Built to Spill are back with a new album, the delightfully potent ten-track collection, Untethered Moon. Twenty-some odd years into the business, Doug Martsch and Co. are like a warm bowl of your mother’s homemade soup; you never know you how much you needed and appreciated it until it was right there for you to enjoy.
As they’ve consistently released material at about four to five year intervals, it was getting high time for another batch of songs as six long years have passed since the release of 2009’s There is No Enemy. While that album garnered positive reviews and also reached the highest chart positioning of their at the time seven-album career, it also appeared to serve as a crucial fork in the road from Martsch’s perspective. The ensuing time has brought about a scrapped album’s worth of material, a self-admitted creative burnout, and the departure of longtime members Scott Plouf and Brett Nelson. All that aside, though, Martsch has hinted in accompanying press interviews for this album’s release, at a newfound joy and passion for his band’s songs, partly inspired by the unbridled energy showcased by some younger band influences, and partly from the reservoir of confidence he built up while working on the songs and arrangements.
With former band roadies Jason Albertini and Steve Gere onboard as bassist and drummer, respectively, Built To Spill crackle with the same usual intensity to which fans have grown accustomed. Book-ended by the two longest tracks, the latter of which, “When I’m Blind” closes the album with an intensely menacing thunder of guitar interplay, the material moodily explores the fractured state of our being. Martsch tackles big-picture questions and mulls the meaning of it all but makes no pretense of actually having any solid answers. Like he sings on the fuzzed-out “Another Day”, “I can’t explain anything to anyone/Don’t believe that nothing isn’t true”. He’s a philosopher who questions, but allows the music to be his salve in lieu of enlightenment. And the music, as always, is mind-numbingly superb. “Never Be The Same” and “Horizon To The Cliff” stand out for their melodic indie-rock charms, while “Some Other Song” and “So” dirty things up with a sinister stomp that’s part Crazy Horse psych ramble and part 90s grunge at its’ most soaring and anthemic. Then there are tracks like “Living Zoo” and “On The Way”, two tightly crafted gems that practically beg to be included as permanent set list inclusions on the upcoming summer tour.
When presented with such thunderous aplomb, Martsch’s lyrical ruminations can tend to get overlooked. Here, as the album title implies, he’s searching for what keeps us connected and moving forward-those tiny moments and interactions that eventually all add to a larger meaning. It often takes a while for clarity to arrive, so in the meantime, Martsch and the others of Built To Spill seek solace in the raucously structured sounds they gloriously bring together every couple of years.