Chris Donaghey
Reviews Editor
May 25, 2006
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Rock Music Reviews
Built to Spill
You in Reverse

The guys from Built to Spill have chips on their shoulders these days. Their contemporaries (Modest Mouse) and followers (Wolf Parade) have both swelled into the spotlight while the good ol' boys from Idaho have faded into the soft afterglow. It's not an offensive place but with 7 years between their first album that charted (Keep It Like A Secret) and the recently released You in Reverse, I'm sure they wouldn't mind making some waves again. Rumors have even been spreading for some time that this album could be their most triumphant to date. That's a lot of pressure, guys. When you set the bar high, you'd better live up to them.

Doug Martsch and company unleash hell with "Goin' Against Your Mind." With a driving drum beat and a slithering bass to duel the guitar distortion, you get the impression that hey, maybe they weren't hyperbolizing. The singing hitches a ride on the elevating waves of sound. Whenever the sonic propulsion quiets down, even the hush has a way of propelling the song forward until the effects pedals ignite more peaks of sonance. Now, this is enjoyable. "Conventional Wisdom" is another rollicking good time. They go from massive pop mastery to chamber music to euphoric guitar solo outbursts without skipping a beat. I can forgive them for the missteps of Ancient Melodies of the Future, can't I?

Not so fast, my friend. As purchasing those embarrassing albums during our youth showed us, you can't judge an album by one or two breathtaking songs. "Traces" shows the rhythm section noodling around aimlessly like a Modest Mouse outtake until a repetitive solo throttles the rest of the track to choke from it all remaining life. If you cannot even match your followers in ingenuity, it may go to show that you might not be able to learn new tricks. The bulk of the remaining songs plod along without much direction. Doing so would often put a band on the metaphorical "auto-pilot," but that's not the case here. They don't even sound like the Built to Spill of old or the Built to Spill we encountered a few years ago. Martsch is obviously singing with his trademark earnest and his skill is still evident; he's just using his skills to craft aimless soundscapes that are just not memorable or striking in any way. Even when the band attempts to sound aggressive and powerful ("Mess With Time), I genuinely feel for them because the guys sound horribly confused, like they became lost and they are trying to make the listener believe that this is exactly where they wanted to be. By the end of a few listens, you'll be able to pick out a few songs from the album if you're lucky. And may you be helped by some divine force if you would hear even 30 seconds of an instrumental passage. Those chords could have come from any random '70s prog-rock guitar circle-jerk and sometimes, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference. This band has done so much to shape where music is today, so it's all the more discouraging to hear where they are with this album.

You in Reverse is not atrocious, but it is not great by any standards..especially not the standards the band themselves have invented with their luminous catalog. Die-hard completists and fans of the band may lap this up, but I'm not buying the idea that a return to sonic expansiveness breeds brilliance. If you want inoffensive background music to play softly in the background of a social gathering, then by all means pick this up. But if you're expecting a mind-expanding return to form from your favorite elder statesmen of independent rock, you'll probably have to wait for a Pavement reunion. Built to Spill sound out of gas and by the looks of things, they would have to do a hell of a lot to fill up their tank.

Release date: April 11, 2006
Label: Warner Bros.
Rating: 5.1 / 10

On the web: http://www.builttospill.com/
[RMR]