Built to Spill
There's Nothing Wrong With Love
By Dom Sinacola | 1 September 2005
You guys should review an EP by the band Silversun Pickups called “Pikul.” Also, how about some Built to Spill albums and old My Morning Jacket? (Ed.: just buy Tennessee Fire and At Dawn, trust us).
You love Doug Martsch, and you love Built to Spill, and by default, you love Brett Nelson’s subtle amoebic basswork or John McMahon’s trompe l’oeil strings. You love Andy Capps’s antsy percussion, even if you crave Scott Plouf’s later control and synergy with Martsch’s structural bombast. Good chance you love There’s Nothing Wrong With Love, the band’s full debut, and that, it being a decade old, you’ve been inundated with the verbal diarrhea of ostensible tags like “short,” or “pop,” or “simple”; and that, based on hindsight, Perfect From Now On‘s (1997) major label prog leap and Keep It Like a Secret’s (1999) crystallization detail their predecessor as a primal bard of better things, bigger solos, grander landscapes to come. That wiggly days and wiggly nights have straightened into indie deism is no surprise given the clout attached to each successive BTS monster.
Phil Ek, you love him too because he brings out the best in our indie savant.
Amir will be able to tell you in much more eloquent ways than I’ll be able to manage that it’s true what everyone says about Dug and Guitar; how the two have had gleefully unnerving adventures through the end of the nineties, redefining “simple” like Tom Cruise redefined “unstable demagogue,” lengthening “short” so that “pop” is more about carbonation than the beginning of a congratulatory, lucrative word. For their debut they collaborated on a collection of love songs, talkin’ ‘bout an appreciation for the mundane, how the push and pull of modern life, the nightmares and drugs and stepdads who resemble rock icons, the masturbation, create a weaseley identity that can reach for something like the Love you feel for Built to Spill. All this in Doug’s chokey timbre, multiplied and muted, a tad, behind Guitar’s anti-structures and time signature hopscotch.
As far as There’s Nothing Wrong With Love is concerned, two fantastic things happen because of the interplay between Dug and his little buddy, his mighty electric axe: 1) Pushed back in the mix, lacking much of a lower register, Martsch’s vocals step back from the weaving guitar lines while still holding a formidable melody that never quite agrees with the instruments, but never argues with them either; 2) The jarring time signatures and unpredictable song structures stir up unnerving twitters in a listener paying attention, like in the immediately gratifying shift during the last bit of “Stab”‘s final instrumental, or in the speckled half-thoughts of “Twin Fall’‘s glass backdrop. The result is an album with a deceptively simple facade, promising sunny, engaging Pavementish indie standards and then tipping our stomachs upside down so that all the blood from our groins runs up and euphorically out our noses.
Other things that are ultra sweet? For me, Martsch’s lyrics have lost a lot of their verve over the years, but with TNWWL he’s at his best. In “Big Dipper” he gives into relativism, grinning, “Some brains just work that way / That’s what chemicals can do / He thought he’d have a beer,/ He thought he was alone,” hinting at self-destruction, or maybe just accepting that we’ll all get our chemicals any way we can. In “Car,” Martsch sings, “I wanna see it when you get stoned on a cloudy breezy desert afternoon,” and the cellos shimmy up into the extraneous verse, elevating the pleasant situation into a transcendent bond between two people. How about the light cymbals and flawless flow between brushed snare and bass drum in “Fling,” how it’s nothing terribly complicated or boggling but it melds so sweetly with the Modest Mouse before Modest Mouse minor keys, talking shit about a pretty sunset without being offensive? Or, I’d say “get a load of ‘Israel’s Son’” if you probably hadn’t already, because the slicked post-funk shreds into something shreddier than post-funk, the bass squeals, and you’ll shout along to a chugging white space of lyrics.
Simply put, if this isn’t Built to Spill’s best, it’s Built to Spill at its best, confounding, ebullient, and accessible. As the songs unfold, they pulse into and out of each other, sometimes shunted, sometimes whisked into silence, the whole frantic and lulling at once. So, this is pop, and this is short, and this is simple, and I’ll accept all those terms, because BTS do them best.
Plus, “Preview” is hilarious, the perfect cliche cap on an album that gets high and laughs at cliche. Oh, drugs.