A rebirth and return to form.
It’s been just shy of six years since they last released a proper album — 2009’s There is No Enemy. Despite having to replace their rhythm section, Built to Spill continues to be a rock and roll survivor with their latest output, Untethered Moon. They’re an anomaly; an indie band happily signed to a major label who, even after a twenty-year career, manage to stay relevant and influential in an increasingly turbulent and competitive marketplace that is constantly looking for the next big thing, a new wunderkind, the next new hotness.
“Living Zoo,” the first track from this record released to the public, serves as a good baseline sample of what is to be found on this album: dual lead guitar lines, organic click track defying tempo changes, vaguely Neil Young-esque vocals, Beatle-esque harmonies, R.E.M.-like treatments, and an ineffable air that can only be described as “something definitely rooted in late 90s alternative rock.”
However, “Living Zoo” is hardly the strongest offering on Untethered Moon. “All Our Songs,” the opening track on the full album, is rollicking and boisterous, bordering on frantic, and contains two roaring yet effortless guitar solo sections where the two leads shoot licks back and forth. “So” is an overdriven wall of fuzz guitars and “Some Other Song” is a plodding grinder that evokes hints of Black Sabbath and early career Weezer in equal parts.
Untethered Moon is a solid record but it plays like an attempt to shore up, reassure, and reinvigorate Built to Spill’s existing fan base rather than an effort to expand it. The true believers out there are going to be excited about, and feel vindicated about waiting for, the newest addition to Doug Martsch, Brett Netson, and Jim Roth’s body of work. That said, there’s not a real stand out, compelling hook to pull in new fans.