Tuesday, October 2, 2007

[057] Perfect From Now On

Album: Perfect From Now On
Artist: Built To Spill
Release Date: January 1997
Label: Warner Bros.
Producer: Phil Ek

"I can't get that sound you make out of my head;
I can't even figure out what's making it.
It feels like fingernails across the moon,
Or do you rub your wings together."
- from "I Would Hurt A Fly"

Built To Spill's There's Nothing Wrong With Love emerged at just the right time, locking into the wave of poppy American Indie Rock that ruled the fringes of 1994; it was pretty much right in line with Guided By Voices' Bee Thousand, Sebadoh's Bakesale, and Pavement's Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. And so maybe when it came time to write and record the follow-up, Doug Martsch felt a little like strangers wanted to paint him into a corner. He responded by taking the trace levels of Neil Young influence that everyone seemed to hear in his music, and pumped them up on exploratory, arena-sized steroids. The result is Perfect From Now On, a head-spinning masterpiece of extended guitar warfare (the shortest song clocks in at 4:52), with the mass of electrified metal strings spewing enough depth to harness the power of the sea. Few songs hold a linear path, preferring instead to start in one place, and traverse a couple distinct parts before ending somewhere completely different. Martsch pulls not just from Young, but from everywhere guitars are worshipped, from Hendrix to Hüsker Dü, from Sonic Youth to Sunny Day Real Estate, from Pink Floyd to the Pixies.

Without any doubt, Perfect From Now On contains at least a couple of Built To Spill's best songs. "I Would Hurt A Fly" begins with a low growl; over a cracking 4/4 beat, choice wah'd licks dance around Martsch's pained dilemma, " I can't get that sound you make out of my head; I can't even figure out what's making it." It just keeps building from there, with cello and multiple guitar lines attacking the chorus from all directions, while Martsch fumes "There's a mean bone in my body". It all comes to a rapturous head four minutes in; everything drops out to make way for a naked riff, only to get hammered by a tidal wave of slurred guitar and direct cello jabs. Where "Fly" ends with its instrumental coda, "Stop The Show" is introduced by a wordless episode that almost recalls surfer ballads from the early 60's; the guitars shimmer like the ocean in the moonlight. When the song barges its way into the kinetic verse, you start to wish that more bands sounded like this. The rhythm is so crisp that you'd miss the bassline and secondary guitar swirling undertows around the choppy seas riff; the song see-saws out by slamming The Beatles' "Blue Jay Way" into The Byrds' "Eight Miles High".

The tracks take their time to let languid guitar paths get drawn out, twisting and weaving, the mortar in between the lyrical bricks. On the oceanic opener "Randy Described Eternity", guitars and Moog slosh around Martsch's voice, like he's sitting in a rowboat, adrift at sea. The playing gets more and more tumultuous, but before Doug drowns in the storm, the song fades out for his sake. It's not all thunder and lightning though; "Made-Up Dreams" offers a respite from the onslaught, it's considered arrangement recalls both There's Nothing Wrong With Love, as well as Oasis' Definitely Maybe...with a Moog buzzing around your brain like a bee that made a wrong turn at the eardrum. Doug Martsch's guitar solo aims for pretty, where a lot of the album does not. "Kicked It In The Sun" also recalls the simplicity of the previous album, but the upgrades show up nicely ad illustrate the growth that comes from the new BTS lineup with bassist Brett Nelson and drummer Scott Plouf. The grandiose
"Velvet Waltz" also glides with a delicate approach, but escalates by the end, adding the guitar of Brett Netson, the cello of John McMahon, and the mellotron of Robert Roth; it all collapses on itself, the ascendant slide guitar pulling the rest of the song out of the water. Relative speaking, "Out Of Site" is a nice little spirited Pop song; even though it's over five minutes and schizophrenically switches from slowed verse to caffeinated chorus, the guitars hop around neatly and never overpower the rest of the song.

The album closes with the nine-minute Wagnerian beast "Untrustable/Part 2 (About Someone Else)", darting between all the various strengths of Built To Spill, all the reasons you listen to them in the first place. Rhythms like sand dunes and craggy cliffs with slide guitar and strings and keyboards dotting the beaches like shells and starfish and crabs. The impassioned vocals never take the music lightly, linking up in mid-air with living, breathing guitar, guitar with the infinite moods and emotions and reactions of the balding man holding it. This will forever be one of Doug Martsch's essential contributions to music, like "Car" and "Distopian Dream Girl", like "I Would Hurt A Fly" and "Stop The Show", and later "You Were Right", "Carry The Zero", and "Goin' Against Your Mind". It's a gift to music, like first sight of land after a long journey at sea. The song and the album it's a part of are like a Viking burial that leads to a rare glimpse of Rock & Roll Valhalla.

01. "Randy Described Eternity"
02. "I Would Hurt A Fly"
03. "Stop The Show"
04. "Made-Up Dreams"
05. "Velvet Waltz"
06. "Out Of Site"
07. "Kicked It In The Sun"
08. "Untrustable/Part 2 (About Someone Else)"

"Stop The Show" [live, 1999 - possibly from HBO's Reverb]

"Untrustable" [single edit - video]

- BONUS: "Velvet Waltz" [live in Lancaster, PA, 07.07]
- BONUS: "I Would Hurt A Fly" [live on the street]
Doug Martsch, solo & acoustic...with some weird fratboy interpretive dancer?
- BONUS: "Randy Described Eternity" [live in NYC, 10.06]
- BONUS: "Made-Up Dreams" [live in North Carolina, 10.06]
- BONUS: "Kicked It In The Sun" [live in North Carolina, 10.06]

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