Built to Spill – Keep It Like a Secret
With Perfect from Now On, Built to Spill solidified themselves as one of the most progressive and definitive bands of the ‘90s indie rock scene. The band’s unconventional song structures, instrumental virtuosity, and effortless charisma were a breath of fresh air and a sign that Built to Spill would create a powerful legacy. As the follow-up to such a challenging, yet immensely rewarding LP, Keep It Like a Secret was a bit of a surprise. Built to Spill had delved into their own brand of pop with their second album There’s Nothing Wrong with Love, but Keep It Like a Secret was somewhat of a happy medium between that album’s melodic sensibility and the complexity that the band had passionately nurtured on Perfect from Now On. However, regardless of the comparisons to previous works, Keep It Like a Secret is a milestone of singularly infectious guitar rock that serves all of the band’s idiosyncrasies on a glowing plate.
Not a second is wasted on the band’s fourth album, as Built to Spill weave catchy melodies into diverse time signatures and offbeat blends of guitar, bass, and percussion. It’s possibly their most user-friendly album, yet completely devoid of artistic compromise. The astounding resonance of these songs is a byproduct of focused songwriting and invigorating execution. Many of the tracks, such as “Bad Light”, are concise relative to Built to Spill’s more gradual tendencies, but the unique composition is still at the forefront. The brilliant “Center of the Universe”, for example, is elevated by Built to Spill’s animated personality. The quirky guitar leads that zigzag atop a swirling rhythm concoct a wave of energy too sweet to deny.
Doug Martsch is the perfect frontman for this project, as his clever guitar techniques and nasally vocals give an intriguingly brittle quality to tracks like “You Were Right” and “Temporarily Blind”. Though Built to Spill manage to keep their musical ambitions accessible on Keep It Like a Secret, they harness their momentum in unexpected ways. Two minutes into “Time Trap”, Built to Spill take a skeletal detour from the explosions of distorted guitars as Martsch earnestly sings delicate lines like “Do you want to save your life?” The way the track seamlessly flows from “Bad Light” is another testament to the band’s attention to detail. “Else” wonderfully shows Built to Spill at their softest with its fragile vocal melody and somber lyrics.
Furthermore, the production is bare enough to allow one to zero in on the individual ingredients from the meek, yet proficient percussion to the finely layered guitars. The mixing gives equal weight to Martsch’s voice and the instruments, thus exhibiting the musical gusto at work. Even on this album, Built to Spill haven’t stopped pushing themselves. The endless allure of “Carry the Zero” lies within its buoyant vocal melody and vitalized lead guitar that steals the show by the song’s end. A few tracks, like this one, don’t rely on a true chorus to appeal to the ears; Built to Spill craft hooks that are creative and stimulating on their own. “Broken Chairs” is a bold final statement that runs close to the nine-minute mark and displays many of Built to Spill’s best qualities: their bubbly guitars, their boundless song structuring, Martsch’s off-kilter singing, and a disdain for the traditional. Yes, Built to Spill are still breaking rules on what is among their most immediate and coherent material yet.
As a result, Keep It Like a Secret is incredibly enjoyable, and its playful disposition remains inviting with age. From front to back, the songwriting is cutting edge. With denser tracks and crisp production, all of the LP’s pieces fall into place and echo with excitement. Built to Spill’s distinct sound was long established by previous albums. Keep It Like a Secret merely shows the enormous dividends it pays.
Center of the Universe
Carry the Zero