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Album Review
There Is No Enemy

There Is No Enemy
by Built To Spill


Review Date
11th November 2009
Reviewed by
Courtney Sanders

90’s bands just have this sound, right. And regardless of what sort of genre they profess (within reason), it’s just this hardcore brand of emotional rock, spearheaded by grunge and then intermingled with a couple of other things to come out of the late naughties and early two-thousands namely for better, Radiohead, and for worse Coldplay. And any band that whet its musical palette in that decade just sounds like this, and Built to Spill is a perfect example, although in a musically progressive, and, ahem, under-the-radar way.

Under-rated through much of their career except for hardcore BTS fans and even tarred with the ‘you either love ‘em or hate ‘em’ brush, Doug Martsch and co. released a bevy of albums that were brilliantly ‘90’s – angsty, emotive, rock-out-able, and progressive, and then sort of just kept doing the exact same thing into the 2000’s where, like, but not sounding the same as, a couple of lyrics from their latest release “we [BTS] are here but we don’t know why”. For a short period only it would seem, as Martsch and co. release There Is No Enemy they signal an aggressive return to form through which they most certainly have something to say.

Sure, a lot of the instrumentation is similar to previous outlets; the sojourning and swooning guitars are still there, often over interesting synthesizer or electronic ditties, which is then sometimes switched entirely for Conor Oberst alt country-esque jaunts. Apparently Martsch’s original deal was an insistence that his lyrics were either insignificant or nonsensical and continually refused to explain anything that seemed to contain meaning. But the consistent lyrical intelligence on There is No Enemy combined with the fact that they just seem so god damn earnest about the whole thing is the absolute highlight right through until wahh-ed out guitar solo washes over the lyric: “I try to forgive, but my memory won’t let me now” at the end of the last track.

“Is that grass just greener / ‘cause it’s fake. That’s all we’ve been told / since we were five years old,” a lyric from the opening track heralds this album as a commentary on what it would seem Built to Spill see as a hopeless contemporary world we live within, and although they are telling us in a hopeless way, it’s that ‘I want something to happen so badly that I am desperately hopeless about it’ hopelessness, which is really quite emotive and endearing. This is the thematic dichotomy on There is No Enemy where the thrust is that the world is doomed and that Martsch doesn’t know why any of us are bothering to do anything, but this is exactly the type of thing that has re-invigorated him to produce an exceptional record. Maybe with helplessness all you can do is try and create something that goes above and beyond?

And that’s the point: the revitalized energy that’s been brought to the table is sequestered (for the better) by reserved, questioning and ultimately bleak lyrical countenance that puts a sincere dampener over the sonic interludes that creates an album that is thematically dense and resonant. BAM. The ‘90’s isn’t only fashionable again, but relevant.

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