Sunday, January 29, 2006


If you follow the random and sometimes arbitrary cover choices for Rolling Stone magazine, you’ll notice that aging classic rocker Neil Young graced the cover a couple weeks back. It’s an unusual choice considering classic rock’s past-due expiration date. Every current hot new band skips over the ‘70s influence as if that decade had never existed. Classic rock radio formats have been dying all over the country, including in New York, which practically doesn’t even have a rock station. The word ‘jam’ is a dirty word to hipsters, to be used only by Phish fans, frat boys and their sorority girlfriends. Even Young’s latest Prairie Wind is a mostly acoustic affair. It seems that even he doesn’t want to perpetuate the genre he helped popularize.

Considering all of this, Doug Martsch makes an unlikely hero. Martsch, the indie-rock savant who records under the name Built To Spill is returning in April with his first band effort in five years (his last record, solo album Now You Know, came out in 2002). That’s a long time to simply fade away, but based on the teaser track found on MySpace, it’s long overdue. In fact, the upcoming release You In Reverse may even reinvigorate classic rock.

“Goin’ Against Your Mind” is eight minutes and forty seconds of glorious and propulsive rock. Immediately, the sound of thumping drums introduces the song and soon invites the other instruments to keep up with its pace. Thereafter, a jangly rhythm guitar jogs alongside to welcome the lead guitar, which paradoxically takes its time, gracefully swimming over the rhythmic currents. The bass rolls in and the lead guitar then yelps like a swooping eagle. It’s a beautiful start. It’s pure classic rock through and through.

Nearly two minutes in, Martsch’s distinctive voice, which admittedly sounds much like Young’s (his greatest influence) starts singing ”...we don’t understand/what it takes to want to be a man/I don’t care much for that/I don’t know why.” It’s a defiant refrain. It’s almost as if Martsch is starting the record off with a refusal to conform to what’s expected of him.

And as with most classic rock songs, there is a guitar solo, which deceivingly begins with calm oceanic ambiance. Moments later, dueling guitars burst forth like battling dinosaurs, gnashing and growling, territorial and antagonistic. Quite frankly, it’s moving.

Martsch has always been an anomaly. A guitar hero in a genre that favors those who can’t really play their guitars. An old-fashioned rock fan that seems unaware of post-punk’s heavy influence. He’s a man out of time and his comeback is most welcome. Built to Spill is absolutely rocking in the free world and it’s a better place for it.


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