Built to Spill Remember Who They Are on 'When the Wind Forgets Your Name'

BY Bruno CoulombePublished Sep 6, 2022

Several things can send the sound of a band in a new direction, whether it's a change of label or a new lineup. For Built to Spill mastermind Doug Martsch, the last few years have meant just that: signing with Sub Pop and learning to play with new bandmates. The result is When the Wind Forgets Your Name, an exciting new release that feels both like an ode to the past and a window to the future.
Since their inception 30 years ago, Built to Spill have had an interesting run in the indie sphere and beyond. After releasing the now cult classic There's Nothing Wrong with Love in 1994, the band struck a deal with Warner. But instead of compromising on their sound in the hope of mainstream success, they released 1997's superb Perfect from Now On — arguably their least commercial (and perhaps best) album, with its long, labyrinthine song structures and cryptic lyrics. 
Now, after a 20-year relationship with Warner, the band is back to its roots with the Seattle-based Sub Pop (technically an indie label but still partially owned by Warner). The move is significant. Sure, Martsch has joked about the fact that he's the first 50-year old they've ever signed, but there's more to the deal — after struggling to replicate the success of their late '90s records, the band appear rejuvenated on When the Wind Forgets Your Name, which marks their tenth full-length.
Signing with a new label no doubt stimulated Martsch, who shows here both the confidence of a veteran and the excitement of a rookie, building on his signature sound while drawing inspiration from new sources, as evidenced by the sludgy riff of opener "Gonna Lose" and the alt-country feel of "Understood." The mellotron strings on "Fool's Gold" also bring back to mind the epic quality of Perfect from Now On.
This slight change of direction also has to do with the presence of bassist João Casaes and drummer Lê Almeida of the Brazilian psychedelic jazz rock band Oruã, whom Martsch enlisted as session musicians after touring with them in 2019. Their presence is felt throughout the record, but most strongly on "Rocksteady," a surprising addition to Built to Spill's catalog with its reggae-inspired bassline and a dub twist that echoes Primal Scream's genre-bending Screamadelica.
Yet, When the Wind Forgets Your Name remains a Built to Spill album to the core. Martsch's singing voice just doesn't seem to age, and remains both frail and gruff. There's also plenty of intricate guitar-playing and a nice blend of electric and acoustic sonorities, and the album closes on another standard feature of Built to Spill records — the eight-minute epic. With its lyrics about the passage of time, the gorgeous "Comes a Day" offers a fitting but bittersweet conclusion to a record that ponders regret and how often we fail to understand each other: "Life is long when waking up feels wrong / Think of how it's gone forever / Comes a day we'll never be the same / Something's changed forever."
Recently, Martsch has begun overtly acknowledging the influence of his forebears. In 2020, he released an album of Daniel Johnston covers, and here, the songs "Spiderweb" and "Never Alright" are said to be odes to R.E.M. and Dinosaur Jr. respectively. "Spiderweb," in particular, perfectly captures the spirit of '87's Document and '88's Green, released during Martsch's formative years as a musician.
It takes both humility and swagger to make music that explicitly references the past while pushing for something new. Although When the Wind Forgets Your Name is by no means revolutionary, it's still a refreshing, cool-sounding record, one that finds Built to Spill revelling in the past and looking clear-eyed toward the future, some 30 years on. That's no small feat. 
(Sub Pop)

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