Built To Spill – Ancient Melodies of the Future

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

It’s a testament to Built To Spill’s talent that this album can be overlooked and downgraded for the crime of not being as good as Perfect From Now On or Keep It Like a Secret. Even if that’s true (and it’s probably true, but just barely so), it’s still an outstanding album that Martsch and company (the by-now-set lineup of Scott Plouf, Brett Nelson, and guest-in-name-only Brett Netson, plus guest Sam Coomes) have every reason to be proud of and pleased with.

What I Think of This Album

Anyone who thinks this album isn’t better than There’s Nothing Wrong With Love (in other words, this is without a doubt at least the third-best Built To Spill album) is out of their mind. While it doesn’t break new ground like either of the two platters that preceded it, Ancient Melodies finds Built to Spill establishing themselves and refining the hybridized approach they staked out on Keep It Like a Secret.

Thus, the band pushes ten tracks of pop-oriented (as in, not lengthy) guitar creations, this time with a big assist from Coomes’s keyboards, importing a sound from his band Quasi. He leads off swirling, bright opener “Strange,” marked by stinging, darting guitars, as well as a fine drum performance from Plouf. Keyboards take the place of cellos on the languid “The Host,” a slow motion movie projected on a six string screen. “In Your Mind” is an Eastern-flavored behemoth, with Plouf pounding away and Martsch unleashing a dirty distorted lead line. “Alarmed” is another ballad, reliant on keyboards as much as guitars, that slowly picks up steam as Martsch intensely questions the listener (“Did you make it all wrong / So wrong / Did you wait oh so long / So long / Did you take it all wrong / So wrong”) and Coomes’s keyboard tumbles down a never-ending staircase.

“Trimmed and Burning” is classic Built To Spill, with Martsch and Netson building a massive ark together in grim determination. “Happiness” can’t be accused of overstating things (“Happiness will only / Happen when it can”); this turns out to be a sort of indie-sounding classic rock song, which Martsch has pulled off before. “Don’t Try” is ridiculously dense and layered; it feels like it’s eons old. If you don’t shed a tear to “You Are,” then I have the right to call the police and have you arrested; this is a stunning and enchanting piece of music.

As if that’s not enough, it is followed by “Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss,” which is probably the most melodic, charming song Built To Spill has ever recorded, with lovely lyrics:  “I know you’re making / Accidents and stars for everyone / You’re amazing / And half of them won’t know until you’re gone,” and also with sleigh bells. And then THAT is followed by folky “The Weather,” which is the purest love song to come from Built To Spill (“And as long as it’s talking with you / Talk of the weather will do”), and winds up revolving around backwards guitar and backwards Mellotron(?) If this song hasn’t been played at dozens of hipster weddings, I will pay you a thousand dollars.

Martsch relied on Phil Ek to twiddle the knobs, as usual.

The Best Thing About This Album

“You Are” should be heard by everyone.

Release Date

July, 2001

The Cover Art

This is pretty great; designer and Kicking Giant guitarist Tae Won Yu hits the bullseye this time. The ornate fonts and intricate designs call to mind the interlocking guitar sounds, and I approve of Built To Spill’s adoption of the bullseye/record image. The half-shy appearance by Martsch, hiding behind the very object that brings him fame, seems to be a half-hearted acknowledgement of his status. I like the band of vertical stripes across the bottom, too.

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