Built to Spill – Untethered Moon Review

Built to Spill return with their most focused, alive album in years.
Warner Bros. Records, 2015
Purchase: Warner Bros. Records

7.5 / 10

Over the years, Built to Spill has been about a lot of things: heartbreak, youth, disillusionment, nostalgia. It’s this last topic, nostalgia, that is the focus of the band’s new album, Untethered Moon. Chances are, you may have forgotten about Built to Spill. The pioneering lo-fi band, who came to prominence in the ’90s, has kept a lower profile in recent years. But hey, Built to Spill has never been a Big Scene kind of band — while they never achieved the same runaway popularity of Modest Mouse, the Strokes, or even Pavement, it’s hard to ignore the impact they’ve made on rock music in the past two decades. And with bands like Speedy Ortiz, Krill, Pile, and Palehound gaining popularity, Built to Spill’s name keeps coming up in conversations. So, in a lot of ways, Untethered Moon is another chance for the band. But let’s talk about nostalgia for a minute.

I first came into contact with Built to Spill while in college (surprise!). In an undergraduate poetry class, our professor assigned the band’s “Twin Falls” as an example of memory and poetic license. It’s a good song, but the lyrics are outstanding. This song, from their There Is Nothing Wrong With Love, might as well be the essence of the band’s authorial voice: it’s innocent, reflective, and nostalgic for a time before the world was filled with shades of grey. Not surprisingly, many of the songs from that album — and many of their albums — are about youth (e.g., “Car”, “Distopian Dream Girl”, “In The Morning”). Built to Spill tries to capture something from their past, to commit to record, and to harness it. And this is what makes the new Unthethered Moon so good.

“All Our Songs”, the album’s first cut, feels different from recent Built to Spill songs. Let’s just take a look at the lyrics in the first verse: “And all our songs // back before I even remember // I like all those old songs // sound like they’ve been here forever.” Now, whether or not songwriter Doug Martsch is singing about his band’s own discography is up for debate, but he goes on to name-drop Idaho, faces that may-or-may-not ring bells, and forming memories over the mutual bond of music. Like the band’s early work, it’s all about memory. Hell, there’s even a track here titled “CREB” (cAMP response element-binding protein), a factor directly related to long-term memories. The video for “Never Be The Same” is all about a guy (Martsch) trying to relive his past. Untethered Moon it littered with memory. It’s rotten with it.

Aside from the band completely embracing its long-running theme of nostalgia, Built to Spill has rarely felt so focused. Chalk it up to the new rhythm section, chalk it up to the six years between albums, but their music is tight, and energized. Surely this will sound unusual for a band that’s made its name on songs that are a little shaggier and looser than you would otherwise expect from a rock band, but it works on Untethered Moon. Martsch’s guitarwork is top-notch, tapping into the same spirit of J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. Built to Spill’s new album has one foot in the past, keeping those memories alive, but the other foot is firmly planted in the Now.

Key Tracks:
“All Our Songs”
“Never Be The Same”