Built To Spill

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Treepeople: Guilt, Regret, Embarassment , 5/10
Treepeople: Just Kidding , 5/10
Treepeople: Actual Re-Enactment, 5/10
Ultimate Alternative Wavers, 7/10
There's Nothing Wrong With Love, 5/10
Perfect From Now On, 8.5/10
Keep It Like A Secret , 7/10
Live, 7/10
Ancient Melodies Of The Future , 5.5/10
Doug Martsch: Now You Know , 5/10
You In Reverse (2006) , 7/10
There Is No Enemy (2009), 5/10
Untethered Moon (2015), 5/10
When the Wind Forgets Your Name (2022), 5/10

The Northwest originated a close relative of "slo-core", a form of "textural rock" that hanged somewhere between the extremes of roots-rock and post-rock, and emphasized non-linear guitar-based soundscapes. Built To Spill were the reigning champions of the genre throughout the decade. Formed in Idaho by guitarist Doug Martsch, with Caustic Resin's guitarist Brett Netson and Lync's rhythm section, Ultimate Alternative Wavers (1993) was mostly a guitar tour de force, but already displayed their slovenly, messy and noisy fusion of Neil Young, Grateful Dead and Sonic Youth. There's Nothing Wrong With Love (1994), instead, focused on structure, constraining Martsch's imagination but cohering in a more effective way. Perfect From Now On (1997) summed the two, granting the guitar several degrees of freedom while anchoring it to a spectacular group sound (the Spinanes' drummer Scott Plouf, Nelson's bass, cello, mellotron and synthesizer). These articulate and elegant compositions relied both on lengthy hypnotic jamming and on simple, manageable form. Martsch's relentless guitar ruminations created the noise-rock equivalent of John Fahey's "primitive guitar": introspection, meditation on the meaning of life, contamplation of the universe, and worship of the absolute. Keep It Like A Secret (1998) simply channeled that creative force in the format of the rock song.
No matter how self-indulgent and logorrheic, Martsch can be surgically lethal in the field of the atmospheric ballad.
Full bio (Translated by Troy Sherman)

The guitarist and singer Doug Martsch gained experience in a small local hardcore band in Boise, Idaho, by the name State of Confusion. His true personality began to emerge in 1988, when the group moved to Seattle and changed their name to Treepeople.

The EP Time Whore (Silence, 1990) is a collection of unpretentious pop-punk (Radio Man, Tongues on Thrones), although the instrumental Size of a Quarter suggests the ability of the guitarist. The monumental album Guilt, Regret, Embarrassment (Toxic Shock, 1991), made up of a strong twenty one songs, expands the repertoires of the Butthole Surfers (Lost) and Dinosaur Jr. (No Doubt). Doug Martsch is the author of most of the music. This record too has an instrumental piece, Trailer Park, which gives space for experimental ambitions.

The mini album Something Vicious for Tomorrow (C/Z, 1992), and in particular the title track and Funnelhead, begin the turn towards a more commercial sound. Just Kidding (C/Z, 1993) includes some visceral rock, like Anything’s Impossible and House of Pain, but it also continues the downward flight towards the ballads of Soul Asylum (Today, Outside In). In C is the experimental music of that moment.

Martsch and the other singer and guitarist Scott Schmaljohn kept Treepeople alive for Actual Re-Enactment (C/Z, 1994). Schmaljohn, a singer who bleeds life onto his melodies, unloads the great weight of desperate symbolism onto a vehement hardrock background, mimicking Kurt Cobain on tracks like Feed Me and Better Days. The mood flips from catchy (Liver vs. Heart) to epic (Slept through Mine). The band is well supported by John Polle on guitar, with a style neurotic and slightly ecstatic in the style of Tom Verlaine.  The songs run the gamut from the excesses of garage rock (What’d I Mean to Think You Said, Bag of Wood) to exciting pop-punk nursery rhymes (Boot Straps).

In 1993, Doug Martsch left the group, moved back to Boise, and formed Built to Spill with Brett Netson (former guitarist of Caustic Resin) and Ralf Youtz for the rhythm section. Here began all of their major careers; they created one of the most shiny and important groups of the 1990s. Not only would Martsch’s future compositions become small rock chamber concerts, but his guitar style imposed him as one of the great masters of the instrument.

The jump in quality from tree people to Built to Spill is impressive. Ultimate Alternative Wavers (C/Z, 1993) flounders in final neurotic winks, influenced by Neil Young (The First Song and Get a Life) and the suites/jams of the Flaming Lips (Shameful Dead and Built too Long, which are unhinged and unpredictable). The ballad Nowhere Nothin’ Fuckup, a hymn for the loser that becomes an elegy for the entire nation, coined a very personal style of post-psychedelic, in which the sounds of the guitars are under control and explore a wide range of timbre. The title track (for the band, not the album) has a foundation that instead of rhythm and blues resembles a feedback system shaken by earthquakes. Lie for a Lie is a vaudeville nursery rhyme set to a jaunty rhythm and ravaged by atonal effects. Hazy, a typical “lysergic” chant, utilizes more conventional vocal harmonies. The songs on this album are played with enthusiasm, energy, and expertise, and the album includes a range of fresh ideas that assist the band in creating a link between bands like Dinosaur Jr. and groups still able to experience the psychedelic song.

Il chitarrista e cantante Doug Martsch si fece le ossa in una fomazione hardcore di Boise (Idaho), gli State Of Confusion. La sua personalita` comincio` a emergere nel 1988, quando il gruppo si trasferi` a Seattle e cambio` nome in Treepeople.

Quello dell'EP Time Whore (Silence, 1990) e` un punk-pop senza pretese (Radio Man, Party, Tongues On Thrones), anche se lo strumentale Size Of A Quarter lascia intuire le capacita` del chitarrista, ma il monumentale album Guilt, Regret, Embarassment (Toxic Shock, 1991), forte di ben ventun canzoni, amplia il repertorio ai Butthole Surfers (Lost). e ai Dinosaur Jr (No Doubt). Doug Martsch e` autore di gran parte delle musiche, oltre a mettersi in vista con una voce sofferta e malata. Ancora una volta e` un brano strumentale, Trailer Park, a concedere spazio alle sue ambizioni sperimentali.
Il mini-album Something Vicious For Tomorrow (C/Z, 1992), e in particolare la title-track e Funnelhead, inizio` la virata verso un sound piu` commerciale. Just Kidding (C/Z, 1993) annovera qualche rock viscerale come Anything's Impossible e House Of Pain ma continua anche la parabola discendente verso le ballate dei Soul Asylum (Today, Outside In). In C e` il brano sperimentale di turno.

Perso Martsch, l'altro cantante e chitarrista Scott Schmaljohn tenne in vita i Treepeople per Actual Re-Enactment (C/Z, 1994). Schmaljohn, un cantante che si svena sulle sue melodie, bravissimo a caricare di simbolismo disperato il veemente sottofondo hardrock, imita Cobain in Feed Me e Better Days. L'umore svaria dall'orecchiabile (Liver Vs Heart) all'epico (Slept Through Mine). Ben coadiuvato da John Polle all'altra chitarra (con uno stile nevrotico/ estatico un po' alla Tom Verlaine), il cantante pennella anche buoni eccessi garage-rock (What'd I Mean To Think You Said, Bag Of Wood) e emozionanti filastrocche punk-pop (Boot Straps).

Nel 1993 Doug Martsch lascio` il gruppo, torno` a Boise e formo` i Built To Spill con Brett Netson (ex chitarrista dei Caustic Resin) e con la sezione ritmica dei Lync. Qui ebbe inizio la sua carriera maggiore, una delle piu` lucide e importanti degli anni '90. Non solo le sue composizioni diventarono piccoli concerti da camera rock, ma il suo stile alla chitarra lo impose fra i grandi maestri dello strumento.

Il salto di qualita` e` impressionante. Ultimate Alternative Wavers (C/Z, 1993) si dibatte fra ammiccamenti all'ultimo, nevroticissimo, Neil Young (The First Song e Get A Life) e suite/jam alla Flaming Lips (Shameful Dread e Built Too Long, sgangheratissime e imprevedibili). La ballata Nowhere Nothin' Fuckup, un inno ai loser che diventa un'elegia per l'intera nazione, conia uno stile post-psichedelico molto personale, in cui i rumori delle chitarre sono sotto controllo ed esplorano un ampio spettro timbrico (tutt'altro che ipnotiche, quindi). La title-track ha invece un'impalcatura rhythm and blues che viene pero' squassata da feedback sismici. E ancora diversa e' Lie For A Lie, una filastrocca da vaudeville a un ritmo sbarazzino percorsa da effetti atonali. Piu' convenzionale il cantato e l'armonia di Hazy, un tipico salmodiare "lisergico". Registrato in maniera approssimativa, ma suonato con energia, entusiasmo e competenza, l'album annovera un ventaglio di idee fresche che li affiancano ai Dinosaur Jr fra i gruppi ancora capaci di sperimentare sulla canzone psichedelica.

There's Nothing Wrong With Love (Up, 1994) was, de facto, an autobiographic concept album, centered around the transition from boyhood to adulthood. Built To Spill regressed to a more traditional song format (short, melodic, mostly vocal), but, nonetheless, penned several gems, particularly the ones that have neoclassical touches. In The Morning boasts a circular guitar work that sounded almost like a Bach-ian sonata, besides ending abruptly at the top of a screaming passage. And Stab alternates a pseudo-stoner bacchanal and delicate harp-like guitar strumming with cello counterpoint. But the Beatles-ian strings of Car are neither original nor well integrated with the rock context. The sprightly Kinks-ian The Source and Distopian Dream Girl as well as the slow-burning blues Some are rather uninspired by their standards.

There's Nothing Wrong With Love (Up, 1994) e` di fatto un concept album autobiogafico, incentrato sul passaggio da ragazzo a uomo. Il disco segna una regressione al formato della canzone rock, ma contiene due capolavori come Car e Dystopian Dream Girl, nonche' un aspirante capolavoro come Twin Falls. Lo stile di Martsch e` autoindulgente e prolisso, ma quando centra il bersaglio ha pochi rivali nel campo della ballata atmosferica.

(Translated from the Italian by Troy Sherman)

The singles So and So (Saturnine, 1994) and Joyride (K, 1994) crown the band’s training period.

In 1994, Doug Martsch formed the Halo Benders with Calvin Johnson (Beat Happening) and Steve Fisk (Screaming Trees).

Built to Spill Caustic Resin (Up, 1996) adds at least When Not Being Stupid is Not Enough to the greter repertoire of Martsch.

After so many distractions, the band finally released their third album. Perfect From Now On (Warner, 1997) is a collection of suites (six minutes average) rather than songs. Doug Martsch, assisted by drummer Scott Plouf (ex-Spinanes), bassist Brett Nelson (a childhood friend of Martsch, occasionally helping on guitar), cellist John McMahon, and mellotronist Robert Roth, finally reaches his peak of musical maturity with this record. The instrumental scores are compact and linear, but at the same time are free and have room to amuse the listener. They are enlivened by constant changes of time and arrangements of cello and mellotron, while long periods of hypnotic jamming, conducted by one of the most atmospheric/environmental guitar styles in rock, lead them into slow metamorphoses of melodic, trance-inducing chants. The songs of Martsch are melancholic in tone, only rarely rearing into vehement choruses. For the most part, Martsch prefers contemplation and resignation, in patterns that are more reminiscent of the Eastern religions than of rock and roll. His guitar, on the other hand, continuously embroiders textures so intense and dark that they emanate a nearly transcendental quality. Often, the guitar is a faint but continuous moan, as if Tom Verlaine had run out of breath to scream.

The psychedelic flight Randy Described Eternity, set in the most metaphysical garden of Syd Barrett, prepares the way for the step to the Neil Young neurosis of I Would Hurt a Fly (and its waves of strings). The eight minutes of the martial and tender Velvet Waltz, which sways between the abrasive fuzz of tiptoeing cellos and possessed wah-wah, are the yin to the yang of the nine-minute Untrustable Part 2, which suddenly jumps into a pit of angular, whooping agreements and syncopated time (but it ends with a surreal fanfare). Stop the Show is almost a classic of hardrock. It must be counted among the most articulate and formally impeccable compositions in modern rock.

These are not songs, but instead layers of sound morphed from individual existences into an existential song cycle. Made Up of Dreams is exemplary of this regard. It skips between the litany of the psychedelic band, the schizoid of Neil Young, to classical pop, and then finally into a dissonant jam. Out of Site oscillates between a simpering lullaby and a hard-rock charge.

The complexity of their scores does no decrease on Keep It like a Secret (WB, 1998), bit the melodies are subservient. The album is still epic, and it replicates the size of the previous free-form jams onto a more human dimension: relaxed, laid back, and oriented to the song form. The guitar “sings” in the airy Carry the Zero, and it modulates the “waltz” in You Were Right. The hurricane-like lyrics of Martsch are, however, someone clipped from politics to bring out the chorus of the jovial Center of the Universe or the cute Sidewalk. The dreamy Else is, in truth, most suited to a Paul McCartney. What remains is the instrumental The Plan and the solemn crescendo that opens Time Trap. IT is in these moments that Martsch coins a new musical language that is spiritual, cathartic, and cosmic.

Over time, Martsch proves himself as one of the greatest poets of rock guitar.

I singoli So And So (Saturnine, 1994) e Joyride (K, 1994) coronano il periodo di formazione.

Nel 1994 Doug Martsch forma anche con Calvin Johnson (Beat Happening) e Steve Fisk (Screaming Trees) gli Halo Benders.

L'EP (Up, 1996) registrato con i Caustic Resin (il complesso di Brett Netson) aggiunge almeno When Not Being Stupid Is Not Enough al repertorio maggiore di Martsch.

Dopo tante distrazioni, esce finalmente il terzo disco dei Built To Spill. Perfect From Now On (Warner, 1997) e` raccolta di suite (sei minuti la media) piu` che di canzoni. Doug Martsch, coadiuvato dal batterista Scott Plouf (ex-Spinanes) e dal bassista Brett Nelson (amico d'infanzia di Martsch), dal violoncellista John McMahon e dal mellotron di Robert Roth, e ancora occasionalmente dal chitarrista e bassista Brett Netson, con persino sintetizzatori in sottofondo, e` al culmine della sua maturita`. Le partiture strumentali sono compatte e lineari, ma al tempo stesso libere di svagare in maniera creativa, vivacizzate da continui cambi di tempo e da arrangiamenti di violoncello e mellotron, mentre lunghe fasi di jamming ipnotico, condotte da uno degli stili chitarristici piu` atmosferici/ ambientali del rock, e le lente metamorfosi delle loro nenie melodiche inducono la trance. Il canto di Martsch e` un tono malinconico che soltanto raramente si inalbera in veementi ritornelli. Per lo piu` Martsch predilige la contemplazione e la rassegnazione, secondo schemi che fanno pensare alle religioni orientali piu` che al rock and roll. La sua chitarra d'altronde ricama in continuazione tessiture tanto intense quanto scure, che emanano qualita` trascendenti. La chitarra e` un fievole ma ininterrotto lamento, come se quella di Tom Verlaine non avesse piu` fiato per gridare.
Il volo psichedelico di Randy Described Eternity, nel giardino piu` metafisico di Syd Barrett, prepara la strada per il passo e la nevrosi di Neil Young in I Would Hurt A Fly (e per le sue ondate di archi). Gli otto minuti del marziale e tenero Velvet Waltz, fra fuzz abrasivi e violoncelli in punta di piedi e wah-wah indemoniati, sono lo yin per lo yang dei nove minuti di Untrustable Part 2, che improvvisamente si getta in una convulsa bolgia di accordi spigolosi e tempi sincopati (ma finisce con una fanfara surreale). Quella di Stop The Show e` quasi una musica classica dell'hard-rock. Vanno annoverate fra le composizioni piu` articolate e formalmente impeccabili del rock moderno.
Queste non sono canzoni, ma ogni canzone e` a sua volta un ciclo di canzoni. Made Up Of Dreams e` esemplare in questo senso, prima litania psichedelica, poi ballata schizoide alla Neil Young, poi pop classicheggiante e infine jam dissonante. Out Of Site oscilla fra ninnananna leziosa e carica hard-rock.

La complessita` delle loro partiture non diminuisce su Keep It Like A Secret (WB, 1998), ma viene asservita alle melodie. L'album ripiega dalla dimensione epica e free-form del precedente a una dimensione piu` umana, rilassata, laid-back, orientata alla forma canzone. La chitarra "canta" il motivo arioso di Carry The Zero e modula il "valzerone" di You Were Right. I lirici uragani di Martsch sono pero` tarpati alquanto dalla politica di far risaltare il ritornello gioviale di Center Of The Universe o quello lezioso di Sidewalk, o quello sognante di Else, che per la verita` si addicono piu` a un Paul McCartney. Rimangono comunque da ovazione il "ponte" strumentale di The Plan e il solenne crescendo che apre Time Trap. E` in questi momenti che Martsch conia un nuovo linguaggio musicale, spirituale, catartico, cosmico.

Martsch e` diventato col tempo uno dei grandi poeti rock della chitarra.

Nelson had already recorded Building Distrust From Trust (1994) and Distorted Retarded Peculiar (1996) with his first band, Butterfly Train.

Live (Warner Bros, 2000) is a titanic live album with 20-minute long versions of their classics and their favorite covers. Only the Grateful Dead could achieve this kind of emotional intensity with such abstract guitar jams. For Ancient Melodies Of The Future (Warner Bros, 2001), featuring Heatmiser's keyboardist Sam Coomes, add "subsonic" to the usual sub-adjectives used to describe their art (subtle, subdued, subliminal, etc). Doug Martsch hits new peaks of catchiness with Strange, somewhere between the Kinks and the L7, the dramatic and martial Trimmed and Burning (his nth take on Neil Young), and the speedy, naive Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss. Song structures are often creative without being unpleasant: Happiness blends REM litany and southern boogie, the psychedelic rigmarole of In Your Mind flirts with early Pink Floyd, You Are is a sentimental ballad that explodes in guitar fireworks. They are a musician's delight: only repeated listening and zen-like concentration reveal the subtleties of Martsch's tones and words. A little too relaxed, it occasionally slides into moronic Beatlesian pop (The Host, Alarmed). Built To Spill seem to have lost their artistic ambitions and settled for a middle-of-the-road sound.

Relocated to Louisiana and re-educated to the blues guitar , Doug Martsch recorded an acoustic-guitar album, Now You Know (Warner Bros, 2002), his personal tribute to old folk and blues records, that offers subdued/subtle brainy meditations on music such as Heart and Impossible, not too different from Built To Spill's music, just devoid of all the abstract/metaphysical doodling.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da Francesco Nunziata)

Per Ancient Melodies Of The Future (Warner Bros, 2001) bisogna aggiungere "subsonico" ai soliti aggettivi usati per descrivere la loro arte (sottile, sommesso, subliminale, etc.). Strange, Happiness e Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss sono relativamente facili, ma composizioni ossessionanti e inquietanti come The Host, Alarmed,You Are, Weather richiedono ascolti ripetuti e una concentrazione di tipo zen per afferrare l' intima forza delle tonalita` e delle parole di Martsch.

Built To Spill seemed suddenly revitalized on You In Reverse (Warner Bros, 2006), which also happened to sound like a much more personal statement by its leader (even more personal than his own solo album). This album marked the return to the science of abstract jamming that had suffered greatly after Keep It Like A Secret. The nine-minute opener Goin' Against Your Mind (a pulsing lattice of minimalist repetition, hard-rocking progressions, viscous phrasing and post-shoegazing guitar solos), Wherever You Go (that begins with an epic interplay worthy of Lynyrd Skynyrd and boasts the most memorable riff of the album), and the dreamy Just a Habit are permeated by pensive transcendence and manic depression. Martsch's guitar has a unique way to penetrate the inner core of a song's melody and turn it into a chatartic experience, frequently upsetting the original mission (notably in the last two ska-infected minutes of Mess With Time). Even the more dynamic (and radio-friendly) songs (Liar, Conventional Wisdom, The Wait) cannot escape the inevitable emotional massacre. The mood of the album is better embodied by the shortest song, the funereal Saturday. Marstch's tormented solos are the antidote to an era that strives for simplicity and superficiality. (Translation by/ Tradotto da Luca Cantoreggi)

Trasferitosi in Louisiana e rieducato alla chitarra blues, Doug Martsh ha registrato un album con chitarra acustica, Now You Know (Warner Bros, 2002), il suo personale tributo ai vecchi dischi blues e folk, che propone sommesse/delicate riflessioni intelligenti sulla musica come in Heart e Impossibile, non troppo differenti dalla musica dei Built To Spill, solo che sprovvista di tutto lo scarabocchiare metafisico/astratto.

I Built To Spill sono sembrati improvvisamente rinati su You In Reverse (Warner Bros, 2006), che suona come un dichiarazione molto più personale del leader (anche più personale del suo album solista). Questo album segna il ritorno alla tecnica del jamming astratto che molto aveva sofferto dopo Keep It Like A Secret. Gli otto minuti che aprono Goin' Against Your Mind e Just a Habit sono pervasi da una triste trascendenza e maniaca depressione. La chitarra di Martsh ha un modo unico di penetrare l’anima intima della melodia di un brano e trasformarla in un’esperienza catartica, sconvolgendo di frequente l’intento iniziale (Mess With Time, Traces). Anche le canzoni più dinamiche (Mess With Time, Conventional Wisdom, Liar) non possono sfuggire all’inevitabile massacro emotivo. Gli assoli tormentati di Martsh sono l’antidoto ad un’era che combatte contro la semplicità e la superficialità.

There Is No Enemy (2009) was a minor effort that sounded as if it had been extorted from a reluctant artist. Devoid of any of the metaphysical jams that were the trademark of Built To Spill, the album contents itself with the mellow country-pop of Hindsight and with the atmospheric solo of Good Ol' Boredom. The numerous guests (Quasi's Sam Coomes, Treepeople's Scott Schmaljohn, Butthole Surfers' Paul Leary, John McMahon, Roger Manning) make it feel more like a salon of intellectual friends than a rock album.

Untethered Moon (2015), Built to Spill's first album five years, featured a new rhythm section, with drummer Steve Gere and bassist Jason Albertini. The sound of the roaring All Our Songs, the psych-country On the Way and the poppy Never Be the Same was rather subdued by Doug Martsch's standards, and the dissonant jam When I'm Blind was hardly groundbreaking.

After the tribute album Built to Spill Plays the Songs of Daniel Johnston (2018), Martsch recorded When the Wind Forgets Your Name (2022) which is de facto a solo album with occasional collaborators. The songs are simple and melodic, but perhaps the first three would have sufficed (the catchy stoner-rock of Gonna Lose, the dreamy and Beatles-esque Fool's Gold and the stately Understood). The eight-minute Comes a Day is an interesting composition, a cross of Merseybeat and southern-rock, of the Kinks and the Outlaws.

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