Album Review: Built to Spill, ‘Untethered Moon’

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Built to Spill Untethered Moon
(Warner Bros Records – April 18, 2015)
(Alternative, Rock)
Review by Luke Amick

Though not familiar with the more esoteric seven inches and early material, I do subscribe to the grandeur of “Built to Spill fan.” Singles like “Car” and “Twin Falls” — both contributions to the criminally underrated There’s Nothing Wrong With Love (1994) — send chills down my spine even on the thousandth listen (and that’s not hyperbole, I assure you). 1999 saw the release of the band’s magnum opus Keep it Like a Secret, an album paramount to the progression of alternative music as art and experience. Naturally my expectations sky rocketed when news of a new album — concluding a six year absence of new material — made its way to my ears.

Once my anticipation reaches a particular level I begin to grow wary. The inevitable pessimism always creeps into my mind: What if I’m taking an over-hyped trail to disappointment? This more or less plagued the days leading to April 21st. That morning, the album’s digital release date, I hoped that Spotify and my commute to school would quell my doubts. It only took the first two minutes of “All Our Songs” to remind me that Built to Spill can do no wrong. Rest assured Built to Spill fans, the content of Untethered Moon is the complete antithesis of its atrocious box art. Yes, the album is that good.

I’m happy to report that the tropes we have come to love over the years are present: Doug Martsch’s wailing vocals, which ironically contain the comfort of a consoling friend; groovy, unconventional rhythms that make other musicians ask “why didn’t we think of that?”; outlandish sound effects that complement, not overshadow, each track; a multitude of guitar solos that are easy to get lost in as they stretch on into infinity. Tying the elements all together is a ridiculous amount of polish, and it is refreshing to see such genuine love and care going into sound production. More than twenty years after the band’s inception, Built to Spill has shown no signs of abandoning what makes them… well, Built to Spill.

Typically this is where I explicate my thoughts on stand out tracks, but I’m going to refrain this time. Untethered Moon deserves to be experienced in its entirety, and I have a feeling the band agrees with me: vinyl copies of the album were made available three days prior to the intended release date. Highlighting my favorite tracks might encourage readers away from the start-to-finish experience the album is entitled to. Because of this, I have chosen to judge the album as a whole rather than track-by-track — an exception being made, of course, for the only sub-par song on the album.

It pains me to say “When I’m Blind” is a slow, monotonous chore, but it’s the truth. Catchy, crunchy guitar chords kick off what promises to be a substantial conclusion to a monumental album. Then the droning guitar solo happened, and six minutes later — I repeat, SIX MINUTES later — I had a migraine. The song was nearing its end, but I would never know that in such a time trap (those who recognized the reference get free popcorn at next week’s Built to Spill fan club meeting). Had the preceding material been so-so, this could have crippled the album. Fortunately, this blemish simply knocked Untethered Moon from perfect down to near-perfect.

Built to Spill is the type of band that drags you out of your darkest nadirs, then buys you a beer before the show. When your girlfriend dumps you at the bar, they swoop in and bring you on stage with twenty other strangers to sing “Car.” As your sorrow becomes more and more fleeting, you take comfort knowing that you are not the only one who wants to see movies of their dreams. You, along with your new friends, hum the notes as Doug unleashes the solo. Only the good nature of man, which resonates ubiquitously in the hearts of those around you, exhumes the final note with thunderous applause. This is what makes Built to Spill unique against the backdrop of posers. Their aura of wholesomeness is impenetrable, and Untethered Moon only strengthens the glow. You owe it to yourself to experience this album — as well as the band’s entire discography.

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