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Built to Spill - You In Reverse

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Artist: Built to Spill

Album: You In Reverse

Label: Warner Brothers

Review date: May. 30, 2006

Some bands do not take well to aging. The mundane inevitability of growing up withers or negates something innocent and free about the music they play, so they throw tantrums or make regrettable records or break up and reform in different incarnations. By all accounts Built To Spill should be such a band: at their apex, their giddy guitar freakouts were the very model of fresh-faced vigor, the carefree but fleeting caprice of youth. Hallmarks Perfect From Now On and Keep It Like A Secret hardly lacked complexity or sophistication, but they cast it in a boyish exuberance that seemed tricky to sustain, even for the length of a record. By the time the solid but adventureless Ancient Melodies of the Future rolled out in 2001, the suspicions were grounded and the youthful spirit looked imperiled.

Five years down the line, You In Reverse is not a comeback album, or even a pass at reviving the fires of older times. It's more like a concession to maturation, and a deeply graceful one at that. It rocks with the same conviction and ingenuity that Perfect and Secret did, but with an attention span, without the sugar high. It's slower, safer; not tired or resigned, just more judicious. Doug Martsch sings a hip uncle, not a petulant child, and the band follows suit. (So much so, unfortunately, that You In Reverse's artwork suggests a self-released album by ex-hippies with ponytails, full of clever songs about politics and sold exclusively at open-mic coffee shops, but this is by far its worst feature.)

The epic "Goin' Against Your Mind" is a brilliant opener, because it comes closest to recapturing the freewheeling energy of past records: brisk tempo, light guitar acrobatics, sweet lyrical musings (”When I was a kid I saw a light / Floating high above the trees one night / Thought it was an alien / Turned out to be just God”). But even this is a new step: it earns its nine minutes more methodically than the band's old opuses earned their five. The soloing and crafty layering of distortion are uninhibited, but hew voluntarily to the song's underlying structure. Where old BTS songs used to feel longer than they really were due to the disproportion of noodling to verses and choruses, this one is so efficient that it actually feels shorter.

Nothing else on You In Reverse is quite so high-octane, but "Goin' Against Your Mind" is less false advertising and more proof it needn’t be. Built To Spill manifest their classic rock (i.e., Neil Young) influences as acutely as ever, without sounding slavish or sheepish, sacrificing only the incidentals of what made them so enduring in their heyday. "Gone" keeps up the formal whimsy with a bit of metrical abandon, but is altogether mellower than anything on Secret; the dryly rollicking single "Conventional Wisdom" takes a page from adult-rock stalwarts Luna instead of perennial comparisons like Dinosaur Jr. or Modest Mouse; "Traces" and "Liar" do melancholy more convincingly than anything in the back catalog predicted. It's not an intrinsically triumphant album, and in part that's why it's a triumph: comfortable, well-adjusted rock by and for aging erudites, a bit greyer, a bit wiser, but no less creative or inspiring.

By Daniel Levin Becker

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