Music Reviews
There Is No Enemy

Built To Spill There Is No Enemy

(Warner Bros.) Buy it from Insound Rating - 7/10

Built To Spill’s tale seemed atypical of the story of a once-great band rapidly approaching creative bankruptcy. At first the music was brilliant: they were responsible for some of the most ambitious and inventive music of the 1990s. Then things started to dissipate: the 2000s saw records laced with brilliant gems (such as Fly Around My Pretty Miss) hidden in between aimless and uninspired jamming. Maybe you could chalk up the lack of inspiration to band leader Doug Martsch’s decision in 1999 to establish a core group of permanent members (even though more or less the same people generally played on each album). But if this permanence supposedly brought the staleness found in their earlier 2000 releases, then why is the sonic landscape of There Is No Enemy so strikingly solid when clearly nothing has really changed for the band?

Yeah, it sounds like everything they’ve ever released since 1999’s Keep It a Secret, their first record recorded as an official three-piece, and the lyrics still feel flat and pretty oppressively melancholic. But forget the lyrics because Built To Spill has never been about lyrics—Martsch has said in interviews that he chooses lyrics for only how they fit into the songs he’s written. There’s this urgency, this drive—dare I say it?—this emotion present in the music that just hasn’t been there for the past ten years. After listening, I’m left with the impression that the stakes are higher for the band.

The record isn’t without its faults, however. Past releases captured the liberation found in absolute dejection and melancholy, but There Is No Enemy seems to have no triumphant undertones hidden underneath the pain. The insistence to press on in the face of pain seems inauthentic and unconvincing.

But, the album morphs the old sounds they’ve been churning out into something that feels new and fresh. It still feels pretty jammy, but in a way that’s less ambling and more expansive. Diversity reigns as the king in this release. Three quarters in to the bittersweet ache of Things Fall Apart mariachi trumpets kick in over a web of delicate guitar work. Aisle 13 drifts through dreamy landscapes before hard riffs suddenly turn the song’s feel stone-hard in the chorus.

It’s not all lazy drift though; Pat is catchy as hell, driven by a propulsive power rock rhythm section and riffing. It’s frantic and an absolute blast to listen to. Parts of the album recall Neil Young’s Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere-era scarecrow guitar shredding and other parts hearken back to Martsch’s time in his harder incarnation with the band Treepeople.

We’ll never have the brilliance of the band’s early days back again. It’s gone and it’s never coming back. But, this new release isn’t half-bad. Their sonic history courses through the album’s veins and the band feels once again alive, just not very fresh. While we sit here wishing for that next sublime Built To Spill album, There Is No Enemy serves as a good fix to hold us on over.