The arrival of a new Built to Spill album is always an event, even more so, given the lengthy gaps between records this past decade. Singer/songwriter/resident guitar overlord Doug Martsch is notoriously meticulous in the writing and recording process, and There is No Enemy represents the culmination of three-and-a-half years of tireless effort on his behalf. Yet, for an artist who purportedly edits more than he keeps, the final product still feels a little flabby.
Like Ancient Melodies of the Near Future and You in Reverse, Enemy opens with its best song. “Aisle 13” is a triumphant, effects-drenched masterpiece in the vein of “Strange,” providing ample evidence that, although Built to Spill is best known for their sprawling guitar workouts, Martsch can be just as deadly in a three-minute pop song. But things get a little hit-or-miss from here. An irksome a-a-a-b-b rhyme-scheme ruins the mellow slide-guitar ditty “Hindsight,” and while several six-minute-or-so tracks are certainly enjoyable, they lack the urgency of past fan favorites like “Kicked It in the Sun” or “Goin’ Against Your Mind.”
The album is buoyed up at the midpoint by a pair of excellent songs. “Oh Yeah,” a saturnine dirge, marries religious doubt with some very Pink Floyd-inspired post-punk guitar heroics. “Pat,” by contrast, is a just-under-two-minute blast of angst. Brett Nelson and Scott Plouf keep the rhythm section chugging along, while the lead guitar dances along at a pace of its own, weaving in and out of step with Martsch’s voice.
Taken as a whole, There Is No Enemy is a solid album on par with the band’s more recent output. Longtime devotees will surely find something to appreciate, but the album’s overall slackness probably won’t do much to draw new audiences in. Still, at their best, Built to Spill know how to keep the listener hanging on every note, after an astonishing 17 years of playing music together.
1. Aisle 13
3. Nowhere Lullaby
4. Good Ol’ Boredom
5. Life’s a Dream
6. Oh Yeah
9. Planting Seeds
10. Things Fall Apart