Guitar heroes. While there are a few counterexamples (Robert Fripp, Angus Young, and Nils Lofgren spring to mind), the model is a tall guy with long, unkempt hair, cigarette hanging from the lower lip, and a vacant stare falling out of the eyes.
More important, the guitar hero is known for fretboard athletics: fingers tearing a frightening path with charged up solo lines assaulting the ears.
For some reason, that particular kind of guitar hero has never held my attention. Oh sure, I went through my Malmsteen phase, thought Page was God, and couldn’t get enough of Randy Rhoads. Even now, when a sound rush is in order, it’s fun to pop in a CD and let some thermonuclear guitar solos abuse the local air molecules.
So what does Built To Spill have to do with any of this? To be honest, “nothing” would have been my answer before getting my ears involved with Time Trap (1994-2006).
As it turns out, guitarist Doug Martsch fits in with my conception of a guitar hero. Fretboard skills? Of course. Much more important are the ideas. Not just ways to make a song better, but paths to transformation. I’m thinking here of guitarists like Tom Verlaine, Adrian Belew, Pete Townshend and the incomparable Richard Thompson.
Time Trap is a promo-only compilation (not sold in stores) that draws from the band’s earliest days right up to a track from their forthcoming CD You In Reverse (release date, April 11, 2006). The teaser is “Goin’ Against Your Mind”, during which Martsch fills nearly nine minutes of space with gradually shifting chords, leads that form melodies before splitting out to engage in some self-commentary, arpeggios that wrap themselves around the main themes, some slide guitar, and a whole pile of atmospheric goodies (extra points for that smack of the spring reverb!) All of this works toward building the intensity level to overflowing. Phew! I’m breaking a sweat again just thinking about it.
Vocally, Martsch reminds me of both Wayne Coyne and J. Mascis, maybe with a little Neil Young thrown in there. I’d love to tell you what the songs are about but it’s going to take me at least five more listens to get beyond the wall of guitars. Seriously good stuff.
I’m looking forward to the release of You In Reverse. It’ll be a welcome addition to the rest of the Built To Spill catalog that I plan to go out and purchase.