Since their Perfect From Now On album grew on me a couple years ago, I've been very into Built To Spill. Sure, they had albums come out before that (all of which I've heard, although There's Nothing Wrong With Love is still their best early disc), but it was at that point that I was made known of the group and their lovely layered guitars and the somewhat whiny vocals of main man Doug Martsch. Although their Keep It Like A Secret had shorter length tracks, it still had the general oomph that previous recordings had had (despite the objections of some) and even their sometimes overlong tracks on their Live release smacked me pretty good.
All of those reasons above are the reasons that I can't quite figure out what's up with their new release Ancient Melodies Of The Future. It's not a horrible release by any means, but there is something different about it. Like Keep It Like A Secret, the group has kept the tracks short again (only one track even goes beyond 5 minutes in duration), and it has some of the most poppy sounding tracks that the group has released to date. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind the group doing different things, but it's somewhat strange to be reminded of Belle and Sebastian when listening to a Built To Spill album.
Anyway, now that I've probably sufficiently scared most fans of the group away, let me say that for the most part, this is still the same Built To Spill you've come to know and love. The album starts out with "Strange" and in addition to the usual guitars and Martsch's voice, Sam Coomes of Quasi adds some keyboards and the track is exactly what you'd expect if the two bands crossbred musically. From there, the album goes on to the slower track "The Host," which doesn't really do a whole lot. The group quickly follows that up with "In Your Mind" and plenty of swirling guitars offset with howling chorus guitars.
After another rather slow track ("Alarmed"), the album really takes off on "Trimmed And Burning." It's the first time on the album that the group actually lets loose with the guitars and even though the track is only about 4 minutes long, it's probably the best one on the album and recalls the thick guitar wailers of albums past. After the backwoods stomp of "Happiness," the group again kicks things out on "Don't Try." With plenty of layered guitars to go around and a banging piano that can barely be made out in the background, it's another crunchy track that packs a lot into a short time.
The album closes out in a very odd way with the one-two of "Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss" and "The Weather." The former is a goofy little pop-rock singalong track that rivals "Car" (from There's Nothing Wrong With Love) as the groups shortest and catchiest song ever. "The Weather," however, is the most tame track on the album, mixing mellow guitars with light, flute-sounding keyboards (this is the track that got my B&S reference above). It's quiet and pretty, and completely harmless (unless you're simply offended at how damn nice it is). At any rate, it's not a track that sticks in your head like other album closers the group has done. In the end, there are several amazing tracks on the disc, quite a few more that are good, and a couple that simply don't stick to the ribs. For most other groups, it would be a winner, but for Built To Spill it's a slight comedown from their stellar streak.