Built to Spill were one of the most popular indie rock acts of the ’90s, finding the middle ground between postmodern, Pavement-style pop and the loose, spacious jamming of Neil Young. From the outset, the band was a vehicle for singer/songwriter/guitarist Doug Martsch, who — heavily inspired by Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis — helped keep alive the concept of the indie guitar hero. On record, Martsch the arranger crafted intricate, artfully knotted tangles of guitar; in concert, his rough-edged soloing heroics earned Built to Spill a reputation as an exciting and unpredictable live act.
Their early records betrayed some punk scrappiness around the edges, but as Martsch’s songwriting matured he was able to crank out complicated, emotionally wracked songs that melted hearts as easily as they did speakers. The artistic success of 1994’s There’s Nothing Wrong with Love led to the band signing a deal with Warner Bros. where they released a string of albums highlighted by alt-rock classics Perfect from Now On and Keep It Like a Secret.
As they got further from the ’90s, and as albums appeared infrequently, the group’s work still delivered the same mix of guitar heroics and heartfelt songwriting as 2015’s Untethered Moon, which sounds remarkably similar to their early work, proves.