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Published: 2006/06/22
by Chris Gardner

You In Reverse – Built to Spill

Warner Brothers

Built to Spill's latest full-length, You In Reverse, comes kicking in
the door with such a head of steam you know they won't maintain it. At
nearly nine minutes, "Going Against Your Mind" is everything perfect about
Built to Spill. The drums drive; the bass lays a melodic foundation; the
guitars…well. The guitars are singing, chiming, soaring, gliding,
piercing, ricocheting, clanging, searing, pinging, blasting static,
crunching, chugging, and doing all the good shit guitars should do. And
then the song slackens, easing into the four minute mark with the bass
maintaining the melody. The guitars crackle in and out like spotty car
radio reception as you crests hills and drop into troughs at the edge of the
tower's range. Doug Martsch's echoey vocals drift back in from the lull to
precede the song's finest, cleanest, most shimmering riff, and then things
get serious. The guitars swell up, wall up, and loom over your ears like a
cresting wave coming to bury you, bury you, bury you. They swallow you up
in a turbid gulp and begin churning over a staccato snare before storming
out the door, slamming it behind them.

It's damn near perfect and of course never matched, but that's not a
condemnation. The remainder, though it lacks the expansive energy, evinces
the same careful ear for texture and melody that makes the opener such a
beauty. Of the remaining tracks, "Conventional Wisdom" is both the best and
the most frustrating. It, too, jumps out of the gates with a guitar sound
that either makes J. Mascis very proud or awfully pissed. Martsch then
sidles obliquely up to the soap box. Martsch offers strident if vague
criticism, asserting that change must come without defining what kind or in
what way.

_Some things never change

Something has got to change that

Some things you can't explain

Like why we're all embracing conventional wisdom

In a world that's just so unconventional_

He continues:

_They don’t know they’re wrong

But you know that they never can see that

That's what makes them strong

That they know that we'll never see_

Here, the song falls into a beautiful jam — the guitarists swapping verses,
slinking around one another, and then twinning up like indie-Allmans. Then
at the four minute mark, something stirs. The track rumbles to life. The
drums adopt a martial cadence and you can't help be feel that we're marching
toward something, rising, striving, resisting, that the band is moving us
toward an answer, a focus for our unrest—and then the whole thing fades

It's aimless diminution, not the sound of feet marching to the front.
There's no end, no conclusion, no resolution, just the weak-willed fade out
of a band that realizes that something needs to be done, but, like the whole
damn lot of us ineffectually watching the country (and arguably the world)
get ramrodded by benighted war mongers, they can't figure out what the hell
that something is. It's half-hearted, unfocused near-protest music, and as
beautiful as it is it pisses me off, in no small part because it reminds me
(as I clack away at this keyboard in the state that spat forth this
President) that I don't know what the hell to do either.

Both the idea and
the jam fall apart, and it's painful to see both musically and politically.
Years ago, a friend's father used to rant about the music his son and I
played in the car because it always faded. Songs didn't end, they just
slowly grew quieter. His unending critique was that these fade outs were
proof that the bands couldn't finish a thought, that they had a dearth of
ideas, and that they simply gave up on a song rather than trying to get it
right. This once, he was right.

There's still fun to be had of course, but the inability to resolve seems to
plague the record. "Mess With Time." perhaps the album's most aggressive
track gets to stomping, but it too peters out, slowly rocking its way into
the silence. In contrast, the closing jam in "Gone" builds beautifully with
punchy ascending riffs before crawling to a near stop. A rich, droning
organ emerges, drifting along, the guitars plinking and twittering into the
distance atop it. It too fades without concluding, but here the gradual
fade is predictable, the logical result of a slumbering jam that winds
itself to sleep over the songs final two minutes. Seeing it done correctly
here makes the others seem all the more like cop outs.

The album features a few slow cuts, the best of which is the closer –
"Wait." Over an acoustic guitar, Martsch's vocals get all echoey and
implore us to wait, wait, wait time and time again. The track concludes
with enough reverberating, swirly, liftoff-ish weirdness to keep things
interesting as it curls up and out, but we're left with "You wait for
something that'll make the waiting worth the wait" lingering in our ears,
and by the time Martsch ah-uh-ahs us out the door that's beginning to sound
more and more like acquiescence. It's a frustrating and somehow fitting end
to a damn good record that should have been a great one.

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