Doug Martsch sounds tired. Okay, so he’s never been a fountain of pep, but everything about new Built to Spill album There Is No Enemy just feels so damn sleepy—even more so when you go back and listen to the band’s previous full-length, 2006’s rocking You in Reverse. Somebody get this man an energy drink. Or 10.
Of course, there’s never really been a bad Built to Spill disc—Martsch’s heightened sense of melody and advanced guitar skills have been enough to guarantee that—and Enemy hardly breaks the streak. Taken track-by-track, “Aisle 13,” “Hindsight,” “Life’s a Dream” and “Planting Seeds” come off catchy enough; but stacked one atop the next, they create a dispiriting sense of sameness: not enough highs, or quality lows, to elevate much of this material, or separate the best of it from what’s already come during BTS’ 15-plus years.
Could it be that, having turned 40 this year, Martsch has suddenly lost his urgency, a vital ingredient that once made songs like “Stop the Show,” “You Were Right” and, just three years ago, “Conventional Wisdom” burn so brightly? Or might it be more: After so many years of consistent performing and recording, has Built to Spill simply run its course?