Built to Spill's new rock sound overflows into The Scene

    The Pacific Northwest has long been a breeding ground for new rock — and not the kind of “”new rock”” you hear on the radio. In the 1980s, the Screaming Trees, Beat Happening and Wipers helped define the budding alternative rock sound along the upper Pacific coast. And in the 1990s, Seattle gave birth to grunge, arguably one of the most significant influences on both underground and mainstream rock today.

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    The great Northwest is making waves again these days, this time in the world of indie rock. The region’s more recent offerings have included Modest Mouse and Sleater-Kinney. However, the latest musical contributions from the Northwest are typified by none better than Boise, Idaho’s Built to Spill, who bring their expansive sounds to The Scene on May 22.

    Blending spacey alt-rock experimentation and decelerated grunge-rank distortion, Built to Spill is very much a product of their unique musical environment. For over a decade now, the group has been the brain child of indie scene icon Doug Martsch, whose high-pitched vocals and sprawling guitar lines almost single-handedly define the Built sound. Ethereal at times, poppy at others and off-beat all-around, Built to Spill borrows from an array of influences, both native to the band and distant.

    Martsch’s alto and his penchant for the endless overdriven guitar solo is trademark Neil Young, while his quirky lyrics and abstract pop hooks hint at the Velvet Underground (from whom he occasionally quotes). Add into the mix layered, effects-heavy “”wall of sound”” production, alt-rock-esque tempo changes and some emo-worthy pining and you’ve got the amalgam that is Built to Spill.

    What makes Built to Spill all the more intriguing is the band’s acknowledgement of its range of musical roots and influences. On “”You Were Right,”” the most strikingly powerful track on Built’s 1999 Keep It Like A Secret release, Martsch rattles off lyrics penned by some of rock’s greatest songwriters (“”You were right when you said we’re all just bricks in the wall/ and when you said manic depression’s a frustrating mess””). Furthermore, the band’s live set is typically ripe with covers, including everything from The Clash to George Harrison to Lynyrd Skynyrd to The Smiths.

    Martsch formed Built to Spill with fellow indie scenesters Brett Netson (Caustic Resin) and Ralf Youtz (later of the Feelings and the No-Nos) after leaving Northwest alt-rockers Treepeople in 1992. Rhythm sections have come and gone in years since, making Martsch Built to Spill’s only regular member. And although bassist Brett Nelson (not to be confused with Netson) and drummer Scott Plouf have been core band members for over five years now, there’s no mistaking that Built to Spill is still the Doug Martsch show. Not that this is a bad thing.

    Martsch wasted no time after forming Built, recording the sloppy and lo-fi (yet infectious) Ultimate Alternative Wavers in 1993 for Seattle indie label C/Z Records. Album highlights include “”Nowhere Nothin’ Fuckup,”” a take on the Velvet Underground’s “”Oh! Sweet Nothin’,”” and the simplistic and raw “”Lie for a Lie.””

    A year later, Built released the much more focused and melodic There’s Nothing Wrong With Love on Up Records. The album featured tighter guitar interplay and found instant indie classics in the heartfelt “”Twin Falls,”” “”Car”” and the freewheeling “”Distopian Dream Girl.””

    In 1997, the band signed with Warner Bros. Records and released Perfect From Now On, an abnormally radio-unfriendly major label debut (only one song is under five minutes in length). Built followed the release in 1999 with Keep It Like A Secret, a collection of catchier and more concise alt-rock songs that actually won the band a temporary spot on the Billboard 200.

    Built to Spill released a live album in 2000 (which, it must be noted, features a 20-minute cover of Neil Young’s “”Cortez the Killer””) and, most recently, Ancient Melodies of the Future, in 2001. Ancient Melodies is perhaps the band’s most expansive effort to date, featuring not only the band’s familiar arena-ready sound-scape (“”Strange,”” “”Alarmed””), but also rootsy blues/folk (“”Happiness””) and acoustics (“”The Weather””).

    The departures come as no surprise, however, as Martsch has never been hesitant to branch out. Martsch formed the side-project Halo Benders with Beat Happening’s baritone vocalist Calvin Johnson in 1994, and the duo has recorded three albums — much in the same indie rock vein as Built to Spill — since. In addition, Martsch released the roots rocking Now You Know, his first solo endeavor, in 2002 to much critical acclaim.

    Joining Built to Spill on May 22 at The Scene will be Idaho indie-emo hybrid Draw and Tucson, Ariz.’s eclectic Solace Brothers. Tickets for the 7:30 p.m. show are still available for $15 at Ticketmaster outlets.

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