What is the sound of Northwest rock? Some might answer Bikini Kill, Nirvana, The Wipers or even The Kingsmen. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I posit it’s Boise’s Built to Spill.
The evidence? The music of Built to Spill is like a day that’s ended up rainy when you expected sun. Doug Martsch’s nasally tenor sounds like damp basements, guitars, drums and bass intertwined in a woozy haze, fueled equally by beer, weed and disappointment.
Also the band’s longevity: Built to Spill have been at it since ’92, and in that time they’ve remained remarkably consistent.
But more than anything, Built to Spill just sound like the Northwest: a vaguely stone-y and jammy vibe meets a prickly indie-rock feel and punk rock’s who-gives-a-fuck stance.
Like many ’round these parts, Built to Spill has a complicated relationship with success. Despite releasing records on major label Warner Brothers, vocalist and primary songwriter Martsch and company aren’t exactly household names. Martsch long ago eschewed bigger cities like Portland and Seattle for the relative backwater market of Boise, Idaho.
All this said, awhile back there was talk of Built to Spill being done, worn-out, soggy. But then along came 2015’s Untethered Moon, a fantastic return to form for the group. In an album highlight, during the quintessential Built to Spill tune “On The Way,” Martsch hits the perfect balance of sadness, noisy abandon and guitar work that’s both virtuosic and decidedly un-rock star.
“Now I guess I’ll finally see,” Martsch sings in “On the Way.” He continues: “The kind of calmness chaos brings.”
And elsewhere, from “Some Other Song,” Martsch encapsulates the Northwest experience when he pleads: “Please tell me how to never fall apart.”
Built to Spill return to Eugene with The Hand and Iceberg Ferg 8 pm Monday, Feb. 8, at WOW Hall; $20 advance, $25 door. All ages.