Built To Spill | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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On Built to Spill's new Ancient Melodies of the Future (Warner Brothers), front man Doug Martsch sure sounds tired--maybe tired of something, maybe tired of everything. The music is the most intricately arranged of the band's career, a woozy concoction of cello, violin, and multiple overdubbed layers of casually masterful guitar, frequently backward and wah-wahed, that bloom psychedelically at every turn. But the tempos drag apathetically on nearly all the songs, and the lyrics sound burned-out too. On "In Your Mind" Martsch sings, "No one can tell me to listen / No one can tell me what's right / 'Cause nobody has my permission / 'Cause no one can see in your mind," and another track is titled simply "Don't Try." Coming from someone whose songwriting has long evoked a kind of self-consciously childlike wonder (most of 1997's Perfect From Now On) or focused on the effort of carrying that sense of possibility into adulthood (1999's Keep It Like a Secret), this is a worrisome development--and it probably has something to do with the imminent end of Built to Spill's contract with Warner. Ancient Melodies is the final album covered by the current deal, and the band has put up modest numbers at best; Martsch is probably just waiting for the label to get it over with and deliver the bad news. If you have to kiss the majors good-bye, though, a record as complex and beautiful as Ancient Melodies is a pretty classy way to do it--though it's also frustrating to hear somebody who clearly cares so much about his music acting like he doesn't give a shit about anything. Fortunately, even when his mood is foul Martsch is the most transcendent guitarist in rock, as anyone who's watched him attack his songs onstage can attest. He can lift a tune into orbit--like the Halo Benders' "Virginia Reel Around the Fountain," on last year's Live--without breaking a sweat, and at the same time his anxious approach to rhythm makes him sound like he's ready to burst out of his skin. The Thursday and early Friday shows have sold out; at press time tickets were still available for the late Friday show. Thursday, September 6, 8:30 PM, and Friday, September 7, 6:30 and 11:30 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark; 773-549-0203.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Tae Won Yu.

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