Built to Spill have always toked their own brand of jamrock. Since the early ’90s, when singer/guitarist Doug Martsch began writing singsongy melodies that searched his boyish voice’s upper registers while a tangle of guitars spun sprawling solos beneath him, the Boise, Idaho band has filled the space where flannel meets Birkenstocks. Their jangly head trips placed them somewhere between Sonic Youth and Luna on the indie-rock circuit, but they’ve also wooed Deadheads to their gigs.
But the noodle niche has shifted since the group’s last outing, 2001’s Ancient Melodies of the Future: It’s a Broken Social Scene world now, and Built to Spill are just living in it. Yet, where the members of the Toronto collective take turns wandering through atmospheric pop songs, Martsch’s gliding guitar is the focus of Built to Spill’s deceptively simple arrangements. BTS’s sixth album, You in Reverse, rejects the pithy pop of their 1999 breakthrough, Keep It Like a Secret, for spacey, stretchy tracks that emphasize their unique, virtuosic musicianship.
The band’s greatest strength is best used sparingly, though — extendo-jams decorate and practically smother every song on Reverse. “Conventional Wisdom” bops along to a chiming, triumphant riff but gets bogged down around the five-minute mark and peters out unremarkably. Still, many tracks, like the nearly nine-minute, drum-propelled opener, “Goin’ Against Your Mind,” and choppy, upbeat “Wherever You Go,” are catchy enough to withstand the meandering fuzz-outs. Memorable vocal lines, wistful lyrics and character sketches, and quick mood swings tie up most of the loose ends throughout. Martsch isn’t flashy, but he’s consistent — a virtue that will help him withstand the indie jammer generation a bit longer.
See also: Doug Martsch, Now You Know (Warner Bros., 2002)