Published on January 22nd, 2011 | by Chip Copeland4
Rewind Listen: Built to Spill – Perfect From Now On
People measure time in weird ways. Some make lists and keep calendars while others (like me) tend to track moments in their lives by what they’ve consumed via pop culture. 1997 was an important year for me musically because of two particullar ablums that were released, both of which pretty much made me quit the band I had been in for three years with some of my closest friends. These two records spoke to me in ways that I hadn’t experienced since falling in love with The Beatles when I was a kid.
One was Ok Computer by Radiohead; the landmark album released in June of that year to massive critical and commercial success. Ok Computer has been written about ad nauseam for years now by many, many others so I won’t waste my time (or yours) talking about it. I liked it a lot and saw them play a few weeks after the albums release at The Masquerade in Atlanta with Teenage Fanclub as the opener; a show that ranks as one of my top 5 concert experiences of all time. Two of my favorite bands of all time playing the same small venue – such a fond memory. As great as I thought OK Computer was, another record released earlier in the year completely blew me away and comtinues to impress me 14 years later.
I was driving around (sorry, I was riding around cuz I didn’t drive at the time) with my buddy Mike listening to Georgia State’s college radio station WRAS 88.5, or Album 88 as it’s called. Album 88 is a great station that has won plenty of awards from the likes of CMJ and others. If you’re ever in or driving through Atlanta I suggest you check out the station. If you live in Atlanta and you already listen to Album 88 regularly then I would just like to tell you that you suck and I’m very, very jealous.
Try moving to a town with some of the crappiest local radio stations that he who shall not be named ever created. Oh how I longed for the sweet sound of 100,000 watts pimping bands I’d never heard of when I first moved here. If it wasn’t for NPR and internet radio stations I don’t know what I would have done. You guys in larger cities like Atlanta and Chicago take the terrestrial radio choices you have for granted; I know I did. I’m sure anyone else who has traveled around the country that is a music lover knows what I’m talking about.
Anyway, Mike and I were driving around in his big yellow hooptie and I heard the begining drum beat to what I would later discover was a song by the name of I Would Hurt A Fly. A pulsing heart beat of kick drum and snare crack that leads into one of the most haunting chord progressions ever. Gliding up above is some of the most beutiful feedbacking, wah-wah drenched guitar work ever commited to tape. To top it all off was one of the most amazing lead parts ever performed- by a cello player. Not a guitar solo, a lead cello. It was amazing and I was hooked. I grabbed pen and paper from the floor board of the car and waited transfixed for the DJ to tell me what the hell this amazing music was.
Come to find out, Built to Spill was the brainchild of Doug Martsch, former Treepeople guitarist, and Perfect from Now On was the bands major label debut released by Warner Brothers records through a fairly tumultous birthing process. What ended up on the album was actually the band’s 3rd attempt at recording the record. Initially Martsch had intended to record everything himself with the aid of drummer Peter Lansdowne but became disatified with the results. Doug brought There’s Nothing Wrong with Love bassist Brent Nelson back and added Scott Plouf of The Spinanes on drums; along with producer Phil Ek they re-recorded the album a second time. Then the tapes (yes, the tapes) melted in Ek’s car on the way to record overdubs.
The band rehearsed some more then recorded the album again with some excellent guitar work by former bassist Brent Netson and cellist John McMahon. I can only imagine that during this time Martsch had one of those What’s in the box? moments. He had to have freaked out at some point, I wonder what was going through his head. Did he console himself with that line about great art coming from great adversity?
Relating a brief overview of the history of the making of this record says much about the creation of one of the finest rock records of the nineties. Martsch and Netson’s guitar work made me give a shit about guitar playing and what inventive lead playing could do for a song (as well as Jonny Greenwood’s work on OK Computer). Until Perfect From Now On came along, I thought lead guitar playing based on the pentatonic scale was for old assholes who still thought ‘Clapton was God’ but failed to realize that EC had traded his talent for a smack addiction. Clapton didn’t make me want to buy a Fender Stratocaster – Doug Martsch did!
Lyrically, the album is just as intense as the music, weaving aural movies of planet smashers, dreams, memory (or lack thereof), annoying sounds and annoying people; even a mention or two of the melting tapes makes an appearance. For me , the lyrics played just as an important part in my appreciation of the work as the music. Double meanings and points of view play an important part through out the record. Take the first couple lines from the aforementioned I Would Hurt A Fly:
I can’t get that sound you make out of my head
I can’t even figure out what’s making it
No one else around even seems to be noticing
It’s only small enough for me
At first you figure Martsch is talking about an annoying fly buzzing around your head, or one of those ear things you get from time to time. Or it could be schizophrenia. Upon listening to the chorus though, it seems as if something a bit more sinister could possibly be in the works.
There’s a mean bone in my body
It’s connected to the problems that I won’t take for an answer
And I won’t take that from you
Because I’d hurt a fly
So not only is the person crazy, there’s probably a serious case of domestic violence going on here.
I’m not the only one that felt the impact of my new guitar deity; both Ben Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie and Issac Brock of Modest Mouse have cited Built to Spill and Martsch as early influences. The last concert I saw in Atlanta before moving to Rockford was a co-headlining Built to Spill / Modest Mouse show at The Variety Playhouse. Built to Spill played first and closed out their set with an 15 minute version of Lynard Skynard’s ‘Freebird’, kind of a hard act to follow.
Perfect From Now On is a necessity to own for any lover of guitar based indie rock and at the very least should be listened to at least once or twice. It won’t disappoint.