Artist: Built to Spill
Label: Up Records
In this new Classic Noise feature here at Animal Noises, we will be revisiting a different classic album every week. Basically we'll be talking about music that is at least 10 years old, highlighting what made it so good then, and touching on what keeps it in the rotation now. As you all know, we enjoy music new & old here, and we thought it would be a good way to shed some more light on the latter. For our first feature, I decided to choose one of my personal favorites, Built to Spill's, There's Nothing Wrong With Love.
This album came at a time when the Pacific Northwest's sound was still deeply entrenched in the era of grunge. At the time, it was what they were known for, with the genre's top acts coming straight out of Seattle, but some bands saw the light at the end of the tunnel. Taking their cues rather from Dinosaur Jr. and others, bands like Built to Spill, Modest Mouse, and shortly after, Death Cab for Cutie had started developing a new sound that was not only guitar-driven, but guitar-technical. Something that had long fallen out of fashion in the years prior. These bands also had a slightly lo-fi edge, and garnered a more intellectual following because of their delivery and subject matter.
The album begins with the bright and urgent, "In the Morning". Almost alluding to its name, it creeps to its feet, then powers along with alternately searing and soothing guitar melodies that change and relapse, as we already start digging deep into the mind of songwriter Doug Martsch. They build to the song's distressed exclamation, and without missing a beat, from the abrupt wreckage, comes the mid-tempo and childlike "Reasons", and then the squealing but still whimsical "Big Dipper", and on and on. At this point, you know what you're in for. Martsch and Co. have an emotional side, but they have no qualms about strangling guitars to death.
"Car" and "Cleo" reinforce that idea, with a little extra pop sensibility added in. The main thing you take from this album is a sense of innocence and the fact that there really is "nothing wrong with love". Actually, this record has always reminded me of a statement Brian Wilson once made about Pet Sounds, where he said that he designed the music and the subject matter of it in a way that would make people feel loved. Obviously a success, a lot of the same things are touched upon here, and it has a similar effect. While Wilson was talking about romance, growing pains, and being too young, Martsch's lyrics are full of references to the solar system, life as a fetus, arbitrary observations ("My step-father looks just like David Bowie, but he hates David Bowie"), and the like. There is a certain naivety achieved by both, and it brings a certain touch of nostalgia to the listener.
As we continue on to the end of our journey, we hear some new sounds like the leisurely trot of "Twin Falls", that doesn't sound a whole lot like much else on the album, but talks about an elementary school crush, adding to what I talked about earlier. More than anything, we hear even more impressive guitar work. From the loud and strangely melodic, glassy, verb moans of "Some", to the all out build and attack of "Stab", they pull out all the stops for a big, crashing, squealing finish. This record, in the end, has a perfect balance of content, musically and lyrically. Neither one will ever bore you or leave you wanting more, but at the same time, it never seems like Martsch is bearing his soul like a confessional or like these are the type of dudes who sit around in Guitar Centers trying to bust out Van Halen's "Eruption" like middle-aged throwaways from the days of big hair.
We're not going to be rating our "Classic Noise", because let's face it, it's all classic, and you can decide from the review if it's something you would be interested in. We will, however, be streaming our favorite tracks, and we hope if you are interested, you go enjoy the full albums as well.