Exploring Built To Spill Reissues On Vinyl

So there is this thing about influence and continuity in the music universe which I really groove on... I love hearing new music but I especially love listening for the touchstones that have shaped songwriters, singers and other musicians.  That is one of the reasons I started listening to Duke Ellington 10 or 15 years ago, because I wanted to hear how his influence had impacted other artists I like such as Steely Dan and Charles Mingus and even (in a way) Frank Zappa. 

AR-BuiltToSpillAncientFrontCover225.jpgSo, from the first moment I heard Built to Spill playing one day at Amoeba Records, I knew I needed to explore their music, with its slightly more aggressive take on Neil Young's Crazy Horse and probably a bunch of other bands they've been influenced by... I've read somewhere that they like Dinosaur Jr. a whole lot...

Somehow I completely missed out on hearing this band up until recently.  And, I suspect that if I am late to the party on Built to Spill, perhaps some of you, Dear Readers, may be as as well. They were probably mostly marketed to college audiences when they were breaking out in the mid-90s.  So those of us of a certain age may have missed the bus first time out... Heck, I was busy with my own band around that time so my focus was admittedly elsewhere... 

That said, thus here I go reviewing Built to Spill's 2001 release Ancient Melodies of the Future , an album which I just got turned on to while visiting 1234 Go Records here in San Francisco. It has just been reissued on vinyl for the first time (as far as I know).  And, this is yet another instance where I have been turned on to new music simply by shopping at a real, brick and mortar record store... its a phenomenon that pretty much has never happened for me online... 

Just sayin' ...

AR-BuiltToSpillAncientBackCover225.jpgSo, Ancient Melodies of the Future sounds curious... I mean, Built to Spill have a great "sound" as a band, and this is a very, very dense recording attempting to capture it. I suspect the recording in its current mix is probably sounding as good as it can given that the LP was mastered by Greg Calibi at Sterling Sound. I also suspect it was recorded digitally as it was made at three different studios and mixed at a fourth -- I mean.... its not so common to find indie-flavored rock bands schlepping multiple heavy weight reels of two-inch multi-track tape around the country these days (but I could be wrong!).  

Whatever way it was recorded, the sonic result here is a big thick wall of sound which at low volumes sounds pretty good; however, when you turn up the volume the music becomes a bit sloshy sounding.  

Side Note:  I wonder if this album was originally mixed to sound best in a car -- I bet it would sound great while driving. Unfortunately there is no download included so I'll have to try and find a CD or buy a download to check that out.

But it does come with a nifty and cool fold out poster! 

But seriously, this is one of those mixes that perhaps might benefit from a more airy and open presentation.  I mean, when you turn up the volume to rock out the music starts sounding sludgy which is not what I want to have happen when I'm trying to go to 11.  

I'd love to hear Steven Wilson remix this ...

AR-BuiltToSpillPlayingLP225.jpgThe vinyl pressing for Ancient Melodies of the Future is deep, dark and very quiet.  I only noticed some minor issue with the sound wavering a little bit toward the end of the last song on side two, "The Weather" ;  I admit I am hyper sensitive to this problem with LP pressings being off center, so most of you may find this anomaly a non-issue if you come across it.

At the end of the day, its all about the music and Ancient Melodies of the Future has a lot of good going on in these grooves.  Their songwriting sounds a bit more tightly focused than the other Built to Spill albums I've heard thus far --  more defined -- and the band's performances seem more mature.

So by now some of you may be wondering, well, what does the actual music on Ancient Melodies of the Future sound like?  Hmmm.... Well, imagine if the lead singer from Weezer was fronting Neil Young's Crazy Horse playing REM songs that have been mashed up with tracks by Television and ... gosh... lets say... early '90s Flaming Lips, perhaps...  

Some songs that have jumped out at me so far are "The Host" -- with its Beatlesque changes --  and "Trimmed & Burning" which feels like some lost jam between The James Gang and Mountain. 

AR-BuiltToSpillAncientBackCoverGraphic225.jpgThe influences trickle down.  Rest assured, if you like guitar based rock that jams a bit, gets a little heady without going full bore assault then you might want to check Built To Spill's Ancient Melodies of the Future. 

For me, its a keeper.

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