Built To Spill – There Is No Enemy

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 7)

There is one more Built To Spill album after this – 2015’s Untethered Moon, which I do not own only for reasons of economy (I borrowed it from my excellent public library) – but they’ve been quiet on the recording front since then, though they have toured a bit. This is one of the longer intra-artist stretches so far in this project (I think only the Bats rival them), and I am so impressed by Built To Spill’s body of work. They also have an excellent live album (Live), which has an amazing cover of Neil Young’s “Cortez the Killer.”

What I Think of This Album

Now a full five piece – for reasons I can’t begin to fathom, guitarist Brett Netson finally became an official member after being a guest for the last four albums (he was an official band member for the first album, Ultimate Alternative Wavers) – Built To Spill perversely offers up the most unassuming yet dark album of its career (by which I mean, of the albums I own – the universe is limited to my knowledge of it). This is not faint praise, as Enemy is complex and rewarding, even if it lacks the obvious signalers of prior albums.

“Aisle 13” sounds like it was written by aliens who picked up distorted AM radio signals from across the galaxy. “Hindsight” dips and weaves like a kaleidoscope of butterflies, with a precious slide guitar. Love song “Nowhere Lullaby” is the highlight of the prom at the high school I wish I had attended. All these songs clock in at under a very tidy four minutes. “Good Ol’ Boredom” spreads over almost seven minutes with emotional, lyrical guitar work that trades volume and energy for grace; some of the wah-wah sounds mimic dogs barking. Horns and “bah bah bah bah”s, of all things, pepper the very classic rock sounding “Life’s A Dream.”

Unfortunately, dreariness overtakes the ponderous “Oh Yeah,” one of the few Built To Spill songs I would ever skip past. Tribute song “Pat” – in honor of Treepeople bandmate Pat Brown, who had committed suicide in 1999 – is sorrowful, sympathetic, sad, and celebratory – but sounds angry and pointed; Pat’s brother and Treepeople bandmate Scott Schmaljohn plays guitar on this. “Done” is a gorgeous but VERY depressing song, full of dripping keyboards, bleeping keyboards, cello, and whirlaway guitars. The sound (but not the lyrics) lightens up on the poppy “Planting Seeds” (which name-checks stand-up Bill Hicks).

Martsch is clearly going through some shit, as he again embraces the darkness on “Things Fall Apart;” the clouds part a bit for a surprising Latin horn solo. Martsch saves his biggest surprise for last, as the gentle “Tomorrow” bursts into a distorted guitar lead, before shifting rhythm and feel for a second time, and the changes continue as if Martsch is trying to escape his own fate.

Roger Manning (Jellyfish, Imperial Drag) played keyboard on some tracks, and Paul Leary of the Butthole Surfers played guitar on “Oh Yeah;” also, cellist John McMahon is back for the first time since Perfect From Now On. Dave Trumfio (the Pulsars) was involved with the engineering, production, and mixing on this album.

The Best Thing About This Album

“It doesn’t matter / If you’re good or smart / Goddammit / Things fall apart”

Release Date

October, 2009

The Cover Art

This art, like on You In Reverse, is by Mike Scheer. I like this much better. The color tone and the texture add an element of menace to what doesn’t necessarily have to be a dark scene, and certainly not in light of the album title.

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