The first time that I heard this album, I simply put it back into my pile of things to either listen to at a later point or trade away, and that was that for about a month. It was during that point when I started reading different pieces raving on the piece and I decided that I would pull it back out of the pile (fortunately I hadn't gotten rid of it) and gave it another listen. It turned out that I had indeed missed something the first time around, and it was then that I was introduced into the lovely world that is Built To Spill.
When I mentioned above that the album didn't really strike me the first time that I listened to it, I think that may actually be a problem that many people have with it. Unless you'd heard the Live album by the group, it comes as kind of a strange release for the group given their shorter, more pop oriented releases that came before (There's Nothing Wrong With Love) and after (Keep It Like A Secret) it. Instead of 4 or even 5 minute songs, this album is dominated by longer, swirling tracks of overlapping melodies and songs that last up to 9 minutes long. As a debut release on the Warner Brothers label, it's especially not very major-label friendly (without a straightforward single), but as I've said many times before on this site, major labels suck for the most part.
With 8 tracks on the disc that average nearly 7 minutes apiece, Doug Martsch has nearly doubled the length of the usual track that the group has released, yet somehow managed to not make the disc sound like filler. Instead, he's created a nice batch of multi-layered guitar parts and instrumentals that go from psychedelia to almost ambient, and it nearly all works. Not only that, but almost all the songs on the release have sort of a feel like they're broken up into three parts that still fit together. For the most part, there is an intro, the body of the song, and usually an extended instrumental part on the ends of the tracks where Martsch really gets to play with the multi-track guitar sounds and create some of the nicest textures I've heard this side of My Bloody Valentine (although quite different).
His nasal vocals are something that might get to some people if they've never heard the group before, but when he's singing the rather snide "I Would Hurt A Fly," they seem to make the song even more effective than it would have been with someone else crooning (and of course, the group wouldn't really be who they are without them). The guitar freakout breakdown at the end of the same song is one that will have you wishing it went on even longer. That said, perhaps it's not surprising that some of the best songs on the release are also the longest ones. "Velvet Waltz" and "Untrustable/Part 2" both wander up near the 9-minute mark, but the instrumentation in them is absolutely stellar, going from simple washes of guitar to extended jams that construct feedback into amazing symphonies of noise.
If you're a fan of Built To Spill, this album should be a no-brainer to add to your collection, but don't go in expecting the same little pop gems that the group has gotten so good at constructing. Instead, prepare to play it a couple times before it actually sinks in, but when it does you'll be breaking out the air guitar and singing right along with Doug Martsch as he sings out some of the great lyrics he's known for. They're still pop songs, they're just epic ones.