With six albums already in the can, and four of them spent with the lavish company of a major label backer, there certainly is an enemy, and thy name is Complacency.
There Is No Enemy landed in the States back in October of '09, but over here in Europe the good people at ATP Records are just getting around to giving it a regional release, so if you haven't imported it, downloaded it, streamed it or telepathically ingested it: welcome to the brand new album from Built to Spill.
As with a lot of densely-layered indie-rock albums, the first time around can be uncomfortable, even painful, side-tracking the pleasurable experience somewhat through the onset of perceived monotony and lack of thrust. We consider it a blessing that we soldiered on for this one and gave it the mandated number of run-throughs, since it swiftly spreads into a blossoming album with an understated, but welcoming appeal.
There are of course, cracks to be seen, and complacency has played a part, causing songs which could have been trimmed or excised to be left in, loosening the tension of the album. On an individual song level, it's not quite as noticeable, but zoom out to the aerial view and those feelings of monotony from the outset never vanish completely. Fire a paper bullet from one elastic band and it travels at great velocity. Start tying tens or hundreds of the bands together and try firing a photo printer at someone and the lack of tension starts to be an issue. There's a metaphor in there somewhere, presented DIY-style.
Complacency also likely played a part in front-man Doug Martsch's decision not to shake the boat any when it came to the musical direction on There Is No Enemy. The songs which stretch past the six minute mark ("Good Ol' Boredom", "Done", "Things Fall Apart", "Tomorrow") would have been magnificent opportunities to explore new frontiers while still delivering a satisfying experience for fans of old. As is often the case though, the extra duration of these tracks serves little-to-no purpose beyond merely extending the mood. That said though, it's impossible not to admire "Tomorrow" with its withering and fragile guitar solo propelling it through seven-and-a-half minutes of prog-ish shenanigans which seem to reprise a certain Status Quo riff under its bonnet.
Length is hard to justify though when you have songs like "Pat". Finally answering the question of what happens if you really irk Kevin Shields, the track is a sub-three-minute exercise in atmospheric angst. There's a little My Morning Jacket thrown in there somewhere too.
With no critical faults to speak of, Built to Spill have certainly not hurt their legacy by giving us their seventh album of exemplary indie-rock. The lyrical wit is there to dig for in the name of longevity. Much like series 59 of CSI, there's little to hook you in if you've so far resisted the band's charms, a shake-up may be required, but who's going to mess with a winning formula this late in the game.