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30 Years Into His Career, Doug Martsch Has Once Again Reinvented Built to Spill with the Brilliant 'When the Wind Forgets Your Name'
Built to Spill's signature riffs return with a new rhythm section and record deal with Sub Pop
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For someone who has considered themself a Built to Spill fan for over two decades, it’s still a bit jarring to realize Doug Martsch and his evolving cast of supporting characters have been at this for thirty years.
If you’re unfamiliar, here’s a quick catch-up: Idaho’s Built to Spill is one of that rare indie to major label success stories. After releasing their early landmark album There’s Nothing Wrong with Love, the band signed a long-term deal with Warner Bros. Instead of forcing the group into a box, Built to Spill embraced long jams as a finger to their grunge neighbors in Seattle. Perfect From Now On sent the band on a run of now classic indie records with Keep It Like A Secret and Ancient Melodies of the Future.
After an album of Daniel Johnston covers in 2020, Doug Martsch is back for his tenth album, When the Wind Forgets Your Name, and there are multiple reasons for the fresh freewheeling spirit found on the record. This is the first album since Perfect From Now On that isn’t through Warner Bros., with Martsch electing to sign with Pacific Northwest indie legends Sub Pop (Warner Bros. partially owns the label but is still considered an indie). Martsch jokes about being the oldest person to sign a contract with Sub Pop at 50 years old, but Built to Spill’s psychedelic fuzz is a natural fit for the label.
The other change is the reliable supporting cast shuffle, and When the Wind Forgets Your Name is the most drastic with the biggest payoff yet. While touring Brazil in 2019, bassist João Casaes and drummer Lê Almeida of the Brazilian psychedelic jazz rock band Oruã joined Martsch. Casaes and Almeida are along for the ride on the new album, and their diversity breathes new life into a project in its third decade. The obvious standout here is the aptly named “Rocksteady,” which bops along in classic reggae and dub fashion, while Martsh lends a soaring hook and keyboards. Even when Martsch returns to his roots with mellotron strings on “Fool’s Gold,” the rhythm section of Casaes and Almeida pushes the sound to the new sonic territory.
There’s no doubt that When the Wind Forgets Your Name is the best Built to Spill album since the underrated You In Reverse. The whole thing clicks, but aside from the opening run of “Gonna Lose,” “Fool’s Gold,” and “Understood,” there are so new ideas that look to the past for influence with excellent results. Martsch goes back to his early inspirations, with “Spiderweb” pulling from Document era R.E.M. in all of its jangly college rock glory, and “Never Alright” sounds like the best Dinosaur Jr. song you’ve never heard. Also notable, “Alright” follows and is the perfect sample of Martsch’s never aging nasally falsetto optimism.
I highly anticipated this one, but When the Wind Forgets Your Name is so much better than it has any right to be. While getting rid of all other original members and still calling yourself by the original band name doesn’t always pay off (I’m talking about you, Billy Corgan), and so many of their Pacific Northwest peers like Modest Mouse fell apart so many albums ago, Doug Martsch is an increasing rarity. Not often can someone lean into their unique rareness and still find major label support when singles aren’t your thing.
Here’s to another decade of Built to Spill.
When the Wind Forgets Your Name is available now on Sub Pop.
Hear songs from When the Wind Forgets Your Name and so much more on the Good Ass Songs 2022 playlist!