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New Music: Built to Spill

untethered_moonBy Jason Herring, May 14 2015 —

There’s a reason Built to Spill is one of the most acclaimed alternative rock bands of the 90s. Frontman Doug Martsch’s virtuosic guitar lines and fragmented lyrics create tight, sprawling songs that perfectly walk the line between pop and rock.

Built to Spill’s best work still came before the turn of the century, but their new album Untethered Moon is a collection of songs that proves the band still has plenty left to offer.

The record starts out strong with “All Our Songs,” an unrelenting track that features the album’s best guitar work. “I knew when I woke up, rock and roll will be here forever,” Martsch sings as the song reaches its climax. Though it isn’t original, it’s a powerful statement from a band that isn’t getting any younger.

The following song, “Living Zoo,” is the album’s highlight. Featuring tight instrumentation that takes a turn for the unexpected and Kurt Vonnegut-esque sci-fi lyrics, the song is a joy to listen to and can stand alongside Built to Spill’s best.

Other choice cuts include the gorgeous “So,” whose stilted instrumentation and introspective lyrics bring back shades of early Built to Spill classics, and the requisite album-ending jam “When I’m Blind.”

Unfortunately, not all of the songs are able to channel the band’s previous energy. The middle of the album features a string of tracks that sound conventional without indulging in the weirdness Built to Spill is known for. As soon as Untethered Moon starts to sound formulaic, its charm is lost.

Despite these filler tracks, Untethered Moon manages to give new life to Built to Spill with songs containing a charisma that Martsch and company haven’t had since 1999’s Keep it Like a Secret. The album won’t win the band new fans, but it’s a welcome addition to the discography of one of alternative rock’s greatest.


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