Ah, it's that time of year again. The leaves have exploded out into the rainbow and the air is crisp and clear. Fall? No, it's UnsungGuitarHero Season™! Never heard of it? The first sign, appearing just before the first leaf flashed yellow, was the release of Mark Knopfler's Get Lucky. Now we have Built To Spill and their new album, There Is No Enemy. Lead by understated guitar genius Doug Martsch, the album continues this little-known but very important season. 'Unsung' is perhaps a little off the mark as there is no shortage of praise out there for the two musicians. It's just that the players in the club don't tend to flaunt their chops, preferring to focus their talents in service of the music.
To hear what gives this music such a unique tang, you've got to point your ears to the interplay between the layers. On "Hindsight," Martsch starts off with some distortion-soaked chords that clear just in time for the vaguely country-ish flourishes to follow. Beneath the vocals on the chorus, there are guitar figures that hang on a couple of notes. On top of this are single notes that act as counterpoint to Martsch's vocal line. The effect is not dissimilar to Jimmy Page's stacking of guitar layers on Presence.
For years I bitched about the lack of guitar solos in indie rock. Apparently, Doug Martsch knew what I was taking about. On "Life's A Dream," he lays down a simple but very effective solo that achieves lift off when pushed forward by the horns. Taking a completely different approach, "Oh Yeah" just about explodes as Martsch unleashes the force of nature that is guest guitarist Paul Leary of the Butthole Surfers. Damnation, it makes for some seriously delicious distorted psychedelia. It might be my favorite song from the album if it didn't scare me so much.
"Tomorrow" closes out the program and I have skipped to it because it best illustrates what Built To Spill can do. As Martsch sings of life and the perplexing nature of mortality (in a voice that contains echoes of Neil Young, Ben Gibbard, and J. Mascis), the guitar slowly decays (like a life) over the last few minutes until it is nothing more than a patchwork of busted, distorted fragments. This is more than just another indie rock song. It's a little symphony.
So, you can scoff at my idea of UnsungGuitarHero Season™, but remember what the next musical season involves: worn out 'holiday' music, box sets that you don't really need, and the inevitable dialing-back of major releases as the year end approaches. When you're at the mall and you notice Kenny G's version of "The Christmas Song" oozing from the overhead speakers, you will now know what music to play when you get back to your car.