If you’ve never heard Built to Spill, let me first ask you this: Have you been living on the moon for the past 20 years, or in a subterranean cave with no light or sound? ’Cause if you haven’t, then there’s really no other excuse to have missed out on some of the most vital and interesting guitar rock produced in the Northwest since Nirvana.
There’d be no Modest Mouse without Boise’s Built to Spill or, for that matter, any of the hip Portland bands you’re into. Bandleader Doug Martsch is an anxious, post-punk, Crazy Horse-era Neil Young; singing over textured and intricate guitar work, Martsch redefines wizardry, building vaulted ceilings of cavernous sound and jamming without ever being jammy. But I haven’t even touched on what makes Built to Spill so great.
So far what I’ve described could be any number of talented indie-rock guitar bands. What sets Martsch and his boys apart is every bit of epic guitar noise, every sharp tempo change, every moody peak and valley that serves melancholy melody with a lot of heart. “Carry the Zero” from what is arguably Built to Spill’s best album, Keep it Like A Secret, shows the band relatively subdued. Martsch sings: “Now we can’t even touch it, afraid it will fall apart,” before the fuse blows and away the song fades into tidal waves of guitars and drums.
That same album opens with Martsch defiantly exclaiming: “The plan keeps coming up again!” from “The Plan,” and in “You were Right,” he concedes: “You were wrong when you said everything was gonna be all right,” but later admits: “You were right when you said all we are is dust in the wind.” Forget dust in the wind, Built to Spill will be releasing their umpteenth album in 2014.
Built to Spill plays with Slam Dunk and Junior Rocket Scientist 9 pm Tuesday, April 23, at Cozmic; $25.