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Group built for loyal fan base

nBuilt to Spill revels in undeground appeal; eases reins on Ancient Melodies

Built To Spill’s front man, singer/songwriter extraordinaire Doug Martsch has always been revered in the indie-pop world as a do-it-yourself guy. But I did not expect what I heard from the band’s publicist after I requested an interview with the band.

“Uh, well the guys are their own roadies, you know,” Margaret, Built To Spill’s Warner Brothers Records publicist, said. “So they’re not really doing any press.”

Perhaps I should explain my disbelief.

The band’s forthcoming release, Ancient Melodies of the Future, its fourth major label release, will hit the racks in July. So shouldn’t a band be wanting to push its new music in order to attract more fans?

Maybe not. The band has built a following that rivals those of Sonic Youth and Pavement — a faithful contingent of rabid fans who are happy with their favorite band’s underground status.

Built To Spill is on the road right now, though they’ve hit such spartan music venues as Denver’s Ogden Theater, the Fry Street Fair in Denton, Texas, and Albuquerque’s Launchpad Sunday.

And in reading about Martsch, bassist Brett Nelson and drummer Scott Plouf, it sounds like Built To Spill, too, seems happy with its underground status.

The band formed in 1993 and released Ultimate Alternative Wavers and There’s Nothing Wrong With Love on C/Z and Up Records, respectively. An EP split with Caustic Resin followed and the band made its Warner Brothers debut with 1997’s Perfect From Now On, which was the first album to feature the band’s current rhythm section.

The band, led by Martsch’s proficient songwriting skills, began to solidify into a tight unit as evidenced by 1999’s Keep It Like A Secret. And with the band’s upcoming release, the band forges ahead to even greater heights of songwriting.

Ancient Melodies of The Future is the band’s strongest release to date. “Strange” starts things off with a slow, sludgy groove and a buzzing Moog, and “The Host” features moody acoustic strumming and a slightly dissonant vocal that is both disturbing and pleasant at the same time.

“Alarmed” has sobbing wah-wah guitars, plaintive cello and mellotron layered on top of a three-chord progression, then ends on what sounds like the destruction of some type of organ caught on tape. Here again, dissonance is bliss.

Perhaps the most startling track is the moody “You Are,” which has only the line, “Everyone knows that you are” as lyrics. The song slowly builds from its dirge-like, string-laden first half to a soaring wash of distorted slide guitar.

Martsch has professed to being a perfectionist in the studio in the past, but said in a press release, that he loosened the reins on Ancient, to the recording’s benefit. The songs are simple, yet diverse in emotion and moods.

The band’s limited touring comes as a result of a bargain, of sorts, with Warner Brothers. The three family-oriented members of Built To Spill have been able to enjoy time at home, in the unlikely rock mecca of Boise, Idaho, and set up short tours that don’t keep the band on the road for months at a time. The band’s current tour began June 7 and runs through June 30, covering western states, and in September, the band will tour the east coast.

Unfortunately for those that didn’t catch Built To Spill’s Albuquerque performance last Sunday, a golden opportunity may have been missed to see one of rock’s premier indie bands.

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