Earlier this year Doug Martsch, the creative force behind Built to Spill, said in an interview that “There are plenty of Built to Spill records- no one is in a hurry to hear something new”. With a hugely impressive back catalog he is right and from the sound of his newest album There Is No Enemy, hurrying was one of the last things on the bands mind; they seem to be stuck in neutral and coasting.
There is a general sense of malaise and melancholy that seeps into all of the tracks, but this at times works to the bands advantage never getting too high or low, “Pat” the short punk flash of aggression that pops up in the middle of the album being the lone exception. Time was clearly taken in and out of the studio; tracks are long and loaded down with waves of feedback, tons of guitars and Martsch’s eidolon voice. The four efforts that start the album let you know loneliness and six-strings are what you are in for. There is a constant warbling guitar effect drifting through the opening songs linking them in tone before being punctuated lyrically by Doug’s disembodied crooning on “Good Ol’ Boredom”.
After the opening songs sense of dull isolation has been instilled, “Done” waltz’s easily around with wah-wah’s and layers of strings in classic BtS fashion, before it fades out via bleeps and violins, yet at almost 7 minutes it still is missing that extra epic something. “Things Fall Apart” has a dreamy meandering vibe, created by what sounds like 27 guitarists and a lone trumpeter moving things along.
Disconnection from reality has been something Built to Spill has played with for years, but instead of shooting into the cosmic unknown like on past efforts, with There Is No Enemy, they seem to be done searching and begin to float along, not caring. This slacker idiom has loosely tied them to the sound of Neil Young and Dinosaur Jr. and here those comparisons continue with the regression of youthful aggression and the insertion of middle-aged unease, expressed through the electric guitar.
During the best effort, “Life’s A Dream” all of these feelings seem to coalesce with sheen and direction. Backing “ah-la-la-la” vocals clean melodies and questioning lyrics ease in, escorting the listener down a lazy sonic river before a horn build up. Lyrics drift back to the ear with Doug summing things up in his passive aggressive way, “Destiny’s vulgar/so I might as well resist/Out of the darkness/and all the secrets still exist”. For those times you’re just wafting along; here is the guide and soundtrack.
There Is No Enemy