When the Wind Forgets Your Name – Built to Spill – ALBUM REVIEW

When the Wind Forgets Your Name
Album by Built to Spill
Released 9 September 2022
Indie Rock / Psychedelic
Label – Sub Pop
Rating – 8.5/10

A modern example of Built to Spill’s catharsis.

I’ve had a tough time acknowledging Built to Spill as a favourite band of mine, but they kind of are. One doesn’t become immersed in that incredible ‘90s run (There’s Nothing Wrong With Love / Perfect From Now On / Keep It Like a Secret) and come out the other side merely an acquaintance. No, I’m definitely a fan; I’ve had trouble admitting it because it’s never necessarily occurred to me, but I am a fan.

I’m a fan because the energy of those classic albums sneaks up on you. The default disposition of Built to Spill is slacker rock, think the mild manners of Pavement. But they’ve always known how to break your heart, whether thematically or through huge switch-ups in tone or volume, through fuzzy, subversive guitar solos or Doug Martsch’s lazing vocals shifting into humanist cries.

And that’s not to mention how these albums – and the songs included in them – are structured, but we’ll get onto that, since new album When the Wind Forgets Your Name is quite comparable.

I’m ready to geek out, but to provide at least some backstory; When the Wind Forgets Your Name is Built to Spill’s tenth studio album, their first on Sub Pop. Over the years, the band has had a rotating lineup, with guitar/singer/songwriter Doug Martsch the only mainstay. This album’s quislings are Joao Casaes and Le Almeida of Orua, already kaput since recording.

As per usual, these are songs of response, coming to terms, and other unrequited emotional stances. The album is strung from a familiar combination of lyrical sensitivity and self-destruction. These aren’t the only ways that When the Wind Forgets Your Name compares to the classics; it is built appropriately, finishing with an enduring epic comparable to your favourite Dubai skyscraper, in the form of Comes a Day, which doesn’t sound like Untrustable or anything of that ilk, but offers that same custom with rhythms that snap back and forth, and solo sections that dazzle and dizzy, like a concert closer.

The texture is recycled from recent Built to Spill albums, particularly Martsch’s voice, which is a continuance of his whispery tonality, as opposed to the Malkmus/Berman slacker dowse he honed in the ‘90s. Combined with guitar reverb that oscillates like a mystical being, the eventual formation is condensed psychedelia spun not by guitars but wheels of smoke.

But out-and-out psychedelia primarily rummages through some of the album’s less memorable moments. That’s not to say Fool’s Gold isn’t any good – I still like it – but the hair-raising impact that the band’s best material would have doesn’t necessarily play a part; some acoustic guitar insistence, combining with twanging steel guitars for that southern effect, with a King Crimson style string patch.

That sense of ironic Americana continues into Understood, which improves based on the consistency of its lyrics. Martsch sounds frightened, resonantly, as he flicks through a notebook of his eeriest thoughts like an ostinato of defeatism. On a number of occasions, he sings about taking a trip to the bottom of a canyon, and he constantly sounds aware of that incoming plummet, agonised but in a strange way ready. I guess it’s proof of how lyrics can really make a song what it is, because I can see that level of consistency getting on people’s nerves due to some monotony, but I’m enthralled, I’m engaged, I’m forever listening to Doug Martsch.

While tonally detached from many of those ‘90s albums, When the Wind Forgets Your Name benefits from finding new ways to feel cathartic. There are multiple departures in self-confidence, factoring Martsch’s trademark modesty as he sleepily sings “we can make it alright” on Alright. There’s a beautiful combo of sincere defeatism and uplift, not battling it out, but learning to live in harmony. This is not only due to the lounging manner in which the song begins, or the fact that the melody makes it sound as though Martsch is about to start singing The Candy Man from Willy Wonka, but in the way that the song shifts in rhythm, becoming far more upbeat as it moves along, which is appropriately spirited as the lyrics become more and more about building bridges.

It’s actually a direct response to previous track Never Alright, another cathartic moment due to the misty-eyed nostalgia inhabiting its riff section. The rhythms, still covered in reverb and fuzz, journey and drift, while a euphoric lead line makes its way in, as if to not only congratulate the listener on making it this far, but looking around, smelling the flowers, and acknowledging how far the band itself has come, and that’s in spite of its pessimistic lyrics. It’s a perfect duology, not only with its following track making for a natural reaction, but how Never Alright makes its rounds on being up-front, while Alright greets it with metaphor – “I’ll open up for you, but I’m not a parachute”.

I’ve spoken about Built to Spill’s ability to sneak up on the listener, but Gonna Lose opens the album with an intrusion, an immediate champion’s riff, like rubbery machinery, or an apocalyptic storm, that Martsch’s voice somehow partners up with extraordinarily well, despite how beaten-up and fluttery it is on the album. It somehow suits it, but clearly suits songs like Elements more, floating around in a waltz that aligns seasons, like The Doors including wintery gallops over some of their sunniest motifs. It’s the melody that sticks out the most, mind you, with each line beginning with a barrage of five notes, sung in that same fluttery, woodwind style, like an angel in the woods.

And if you want more great playing, the karmic riff of Spiderweb feels exactly like its title, featuring layers that try to wrap around one another, beautifully melancholy and melodious, a moment in the middle of the album one could easily get lost in. It follows the bouncy castle basslines of Rocksteady, cheeky and jovial despite the damage that Doug sings of; an infectiousness amid hurt.

I guess I’ve ended up ranting, but like I said, I’m geeking out, all because Built to Spill’s new album simply reminds me of why I love this band so much. Neat juxtapositions of melancholy and uplift, heaps of melody, and when it’s all said and done, electrifying, versatile rock music and psychedelia.

Best tracks – Elements – Never Alright – Alright.

Rating – 8.5 out of 10


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