Wednesday, August 8, 2001

Well-contained

Posted By on Wed, Aug 8, 2001 at 12:00 AM

Built to Spill is three Idaho boys with a hankering for arena-sized grandeur and a penchant for melding tales of small-town life into a sound that smells like indie and tastes like Neil Young. On last year’s Live, the band paid homage to its spiritual pops with a cover of Young’s "Cortez the Killer" that ran more than 20 minutes and epitomized singer-guitarist Doug Martsch’s twin vices: classic rock and guitar solos.

Ancient Melodies of the Future, by contrast, is a study in old-school trimness. It actually sounds like a midperiod Neil Young record: Light on both guitar wanking and folkie earnestness, it finds the band plowing through 10 very good songs in 40 minutes. All of Martsch’s best melodies still sound like they could double as guitar lines, his voice ensconced in fuzz and bending and twisting like there was a whammy bar in his larynx. On most tracks, his guitar joins forces with buzzy synths and amped-up drums for some neat wall-of-sound atmospherics, aided by production (from longtime collaborator Phil Ek) that’s big and shiny in a classic rock kind of way.

Things quiet down near album’s end with "Fly Around," an uncharacteristically jangly number that sounds like it could have been an old REM B-side, and "The Weather," an acoustic tune drenched in homespun pathos. But the real appeal of Ancient Melodies of the Future has more to do with Martsch wandering around his latest guitar-rock playground: With its lyrics as obtuse and abstract as ever, Ancient Melodies locates its spirit in cathedral-sized guitar spills and oddly accessible sound scapes. None of which are anything to write home about, but all of which show that six albums into its career, Built to Spill is in no immediate danger of either burning out or fading away.

E-mail Christian Hoard at letters@metrotimes.com.

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