The original intention of this column was to listen to all the records in my collection in alphabetical order by album title. I’ve abandoned that for the most part. But I’ll come back to it periodically.
I needed some Big Guitar Rock today. Figured I’d cycle back on this indie rock gem, released between the Built to Spill albums There’s Nothing Wrong with Love and Perfect from Now On, a collaboration between Doug Martsch’s band and best Idaho buds Caustic Resin, fronted by frequent BTS (not to be confused with BTO) collaborator Brett Netson. Netson’s the dude with the douchey soul patch on the cover of Built to Spill’s debut album Ultimate Alternative Wavers, and he also became a full-time member after the release of You in Reverse. He’s toured with the band as well. I’ve seen him. He’s weird looking in real life too.
(You’re probably confused. Isn’t there a Brett Nelson in Built to Spill as well? Right you are, jerkface. Nelson’s been the bassist for the band since There’s Nothing Wrong with Love, and according to his Wikipedia page, sometimes goes by “Brett Not Netson” or “breLson,” both perfectly acceptable monikers. I guess the confusion is more Martsch’s fault for collaborating with two musicians whose names so closely resemble each other.)
What’s great about this EP is that it fits right in to Built to Spill’s catalog – you don’t even have to worry that you don’t know anything about Caustic Resin, it’s essentially a BTS release with Caustic Resin as the backing band. Which is just fine, because BTS is by far the superior band. Built to Spill Caustic Resin bridges a nice gap between There’s Nothing Wrong with Love, a classic on which Martsch and crew hewed pretty closely to their jangly indie rock roots, and Perfect from Now On, the band’s first for major Warner Bros. and an absolute monster of a guitar record, in my opinion one of the best of its time, as well as all time. (I love, love, love Perfect from Now On, just to be clear.) BTSCR retains a bit of that jangle, but the players stretch out and, for lack of a better term, jam a bit, resulting in two songs of the four that stretch well past eight minutes each. But it’s certainly not formless – the interplay, even though this is a culmination of two bands, is inspired, firing off in all sorts of exciting directions.
The tunes are split up as such: Martsch as Built to Spill has two writing credits, Netson and Caustic Resin one, and the fourth track is a cover of K Records band Kicking Giant’s “She’s Real.” “When Not Being Stupid Is Not Enough” is, besides a warning to the human race in general, also the best link at this point in Martsch’s career, as it foreshadows the lengthy, multipart suites from Perfect, i.e. “Kicked It in the Sun,” beginning modestly and relatively softly, and working itself up into a frenzy. “She’s Real” works similarly as well, although it’s a bit poppier in a girl-group/1950s melodic sense before the guitar histrionics also take it over. But in the end it sounds like a Built to Spill song, and I’ve never heard the original version to which I can compare it.
“One Thing” is kind of the weak link here, as Martsch works himself up into this punkish snit that isn’t the most flattering thing he can do with his delivery – it’s not bad, it’s just not great. And it also features an extended jam to end the song, even though it’s only four and a half minutes long – which, weirdly, goes against his strengths of making lengthy songs feel a lot shorter than they are. “One Thing” feels long, but it’s short. Oh well, can’t win ’em all, can we Duggins? Caustic Resin’s lone contribution, “Shit Brown Eyes,” doesn’t really sound much different than the rest, and it’s pretty good – short and sweet, and Brett Netson’s voice is even reedier than Martsch’s. I laugh every time I hear it though – I saw Built to Spill in DC and Netson was touring with them, and when he was introduced, some guy behind us decided it would be funny to yell “Shit Brown Eyes!” from then on throughout the set. It was. Funny that is. They didn’t play it.
Is this a must-have for your Built to Spill collection? Not necessarily, but “When Not Being Stupid” and “She’s Real” are pretty great. If you’re already a fan, you’ll love it.
RIYL: Modest Mouse, Hush Harbor, Red Stars Theory
“ONE THING (live)”
“WHEN NOT BEING STUPID IS NOT ENOUGH (live)”