Built to Spill
Illustration by Alex Graham / Courtesy of Sub Pop Records

Built to Spill Pick Up Where They Left Off with ‘When the Wind Forgets Your Name’

Their first LP for Sub Pop, Built to Spill’s When the Wind Forgets Your Name ends a seven-year vacancy of original, guitar-tempered indie rock.

When the Wind Forgets Your Name
Built to Spill
Sub Pop
9 September 2022

Few indie bands have had a more enduring career than Boise, Idaho’s Built to Spill. Centered around singer-songwriter Doug Martsch, cast with a revolving door of musicians throughout the years, the band has tallied nine studio albums since 1993. Despite the longevity and Martsch’s lasting creative output, the group has remained mainly on the periphery of the mainstream. The success of their second album, 1994’s There’s Nothing Wrong With Love, might have convinced the Warner Brothers that they might have found their Nirvana. Yet, from 1997’s effusive Perfect From Now On to 2015’s nostalgic Untethered Moon, years spent on the major label, Built to Spill have remained somewhat underground. Not to suffice it to say that they have received a modest but dedicated following who continue to gush over Martsch’s guitar-tempered indie rock. 

Built to Spill celebrate the release of their tenth studio album, When the Wind Forgets Your Name. Their first for Sub Pop–which feels like where they should have been all along–the record follows 2020’s homage to Daniel Johnston, a singer-songwriter who has gained somewhat of a mythical status since Kurt Cobain wore his “Hi, How Are You” shirt on the cover of Rolling Stone. Aside from the covers, Martsch’s latest comes after a somewhat long drought of original music–their last studio album of originals was also their last with Warner Bros. But that doesn’t mean his well of creativity is dried up. In fact, it feels as though Built to Spill pick up where they last stopped–sounding like a mature version from their earlier albums. Longtime fans of the band will be thrilled to hear the same Built to Spill they’ve come to know and love without any surprises. 

The opener, “Gonna Lose”, is an apt attention-grabber. The main guitar melody, with the tone knob rolled all the way down, is pointed and simple, like something you might expect from a SoCal pop punk band. On the other hand, the drums groove like early Modest Mouse, punctuated with tasty “War Pigs”-like fills of Black Sabbath. There’s a humble, working man’s guitar solo during the bridge, nothing too flashy–just honest and raw. The song’s structure and each instrument part feel concise and concentrated, maybe even a little stiff. While that could bring caution to the rest of the holistic experience, “Gonna Lose” succeeds as a crucial part of the album: we are listening.

Just as quickly as Built to Spill grab us, they let us go during the second track, “Fool’s Gold”. The casual number is more loose and open, even sounding, oddly, a little familiar. Between the harmony and melody, it sounds like Martsch was subconsciously trying to mimic the trotting chord progression and trailing vocal line of Lil Nas’ “Old Town Road”. Whether on purpose or accident, the song gives Built to Spill some room to work with: either keep things loose or tighten back up. They go with the former on the following track, keeping things lax on “Elements”. An electric organ, whose melody in the top voice feels improvisatory–opposite to the measured guitar lines–elevates the song. One thing Built to Spill do really nicely on this album is balancing between calculated and relaxed sensibilities. Some tracks push while others pull, and the way Matsch and company position the track listing is a definite sign of mature growth. 

Acting as a signpost in a way, “Rocksteady” reverts to the precision of When the Wind Forgets Your Name‘s opener. The thumping bass line and hip drum groove are hard to ignore. A theremin-sounding synth slides up and down for a winding melody. His vocals echo the melodic direction in the verse. The bouncy track is easily the stickiest track on the album, and the way he plays with expectations–singing “high” on a low pitch and “low” on a high pitch–switching back and forth, Martsch convinces us to trust him as a songwriter. He’s been at this for quite a while. He eases the dissonance: “I guess that’s just the way we go.” 

For longtime Built to Spill fans, When the Wind Forgets Your Name shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. It’s neither wildly different nor tritely similar to the band’s usual tendencies. They pretty much stay true to the guitar-based indie rock that first got them noticed by a big label. However, what separates the old Built to Spill from the current Built to Spill, aside from a few substituted roles, is their maturity. When the Wind Forgets Your Name feels like Martsch is more self-assured than ever. Like, he finally realized his position and learned how to play to his strengths as a songwriter. These strengths–especially a confident delivery–have been refined by age and experience, helping to produce the same version of Built to Spill, albeit enhanced, that can still contend with the best albums in their discography.

RATING 8 / 10