Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Built to Spill - Perfect From Now On

Built to Spill
Perfect From Now On

Released 1997 on Warner Bros
Reviewed by Jasonaparkes, 15/08/2007ce

1. Randy Described Eternity (6:09)
2. I Would Hurt a Fly (6:15)
3. Stop the Show (6:26)
4. Made Up Dreams (4:52)
5. Velvet Waltz (8:33)
6. Out of Site (5:33)
7. Kicked It In the Sun (7:32)
8. Untrustable/Pt. 2 (About Someone Else) (8:53)

Produced by Phil Ek

Built to Spill (at the time):

Doug Martsch - vocals; guitar
Brett Netson - guitar
Brett Nelson - bass
Scott Plouf - drums

1. long breathing space

This is one of my favourite quotes: ‘There are no more deserts, there are no more islands. Yet the need for them makes itself felt. If we are to understand the world, we must turn aside from it; if we are to serve men better, we must briefly hold them at a distance. But where can we find the solitude necessary to strength, the long breathing-space in which the mind can gather itself together and courage take stock of itself?’ (from Minotaur or the Halt of Oran by Albert Camus from Penguin’s 1970 collection Selected Essays and Notebooks). I’m not sure how far the quote can be related to this Unsung selection, but it’s a quote I’ve always liked and wanted to relate to a record for some time now. Camus wasn’t a music critic, but I like the idea of misinterpreting him – in Minotaur or the Halt of Oran, he is discussing the need for a certain type of solitude. I’m wondering if that place is another plan of thought, since it’s so hard to be truly alone these days, or have the outside world invade your trains of thought. I say this as a method of relaxation I seem to enjoy the most involves wandering off up a hill with my dog and my MP3 player, usually somewhere like Bredon Hill or the Malverns. Usually a few albums worth of listening. Usually recent purchases. Most of the time I get to walk along with the music blasting through my senses as I take in the world around me. Trains of thought are set off…I always feel much better after such walks. ‘Perfect From Now On’ is one of those records that has suited these walks, so by misapplication, ‘Perfect From Now On’ fits the quote. It’s sometimes hard to put into words how certain records make you feel, but that quote fits it to me…

2. some nice fellow

‘Perfect From Now On’ was Built to Spill’s third album and their first for Warner Bros, a label probably ruined by corporate takeover, but a label that has put out some fairly challenging stuff through its imprints, e.g. ‘Stag’, ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’, ‘Zaireeka’. OK, the bands were usually dropped, but amid your Madonnas and REMs there are some odder acts on a major (& I’ve probably forgotten someone key to my argument!). Doug Martsch was the only constant member of the band, apparently he had a notion of changing the band’s line up with each record – he seems like a Jeff Mangum or Anton Newcombe figure that the rest of the band shift around. Built to Spill released two albums prior to ‘Perfect From Now On’, debut ‘Ultimate Alternative Wavers’ (1993), and ‘There’s Nothing Wrong With Love’ the following year. There was a compilation of early material (‘The Normal Years’), a Lollapalooza tour, and a deal with Warners, one that allowed for creative freedom. There must be some nice fellow at the label in the US who let bands like Built to Spill and Flaming Lips get away with far from commercial records like this or ‘Clouds Taste Metallic’/’Zaireeka’! ‘Perfect From Now On’ was a few years coming and didn’t set the world on fire commercially or critically, though if you have a look at US reviews; it’s held in high regard – an album almost as cited as something like ‘In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.’ Have a look at British reviews and there are just a few short ones on Amazon, I remember bugger all about it in the UK music press at the time – so it feels like one of those great North American records completely breezed over in the mid to late 90s. I guess Jim O’Rourke’s ‘Eureka’ was well regarded, alongside records like ‘Accelerator’ and ‘Dust’ (…to name just a few…), but there were some wonderful albums back then which failed to register on this side of the pond, e.g. ‘Washing Machine’ by Sonic Youth, The Kingsbury Manx debut, several Jonestown records, “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” etc. 1997 was a year when more fuss was given to jolly fine records like ‘Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space’ and ‘When I Was Born for the 7th Time’, as well as stuff like ‘OK Computer’, ‘Time Out of Mind’ and ‘Urban Hymns.’ I know it’s just opinion, but I think ‘Perfect From Now On’ piddles over those contenders – I wonder why it was overlooked?

3. later wave

‘Perfect From Now On’ is one of those albums that I came across on-line, just one of those album/band names I saw often, mostly in relation to stuff that I dug. The usual websites seemed to cite it in relation to The Flaming Lips, Grandaddy, Mercury Rev, and Wheat…which I guess is fair enough. It’s certainly part of a later wave of American psychedelia, the first time I heard it, I thought Martsch’s vocals were close to that whole Lips/Rev/Grandaddy/Sparklehorse thing, with maybe a dash of Perry Farrell (this might just be me, I still quite like the two Warners’ Jane’s Addiction records, though I don’t get the reformed version or why PF hung around with that arse Tony Blair and let someone take a photo!). I was reminded of Sonic Youth in part, and the usual post rock subjects for the odd bit, your Slints or Tortoise’s – the former was probably due to the fact I’ve been playing ‘Murray Street’ lots. Pavement is probably closer to the mark, BTS have cited Malkmus and co, though if it’s Pavement, it’s certainly the more out there side of the band. I’m talking of their wild odyssey of a third album that was ‘Wowee Zowee’ – I like pretty much all Pavement, but that remains my fave. ‘Perfect From Now On’ has the strange loose/tight angular thing Pavement had and goes all over the shop, just like records like ‘Murray Street’ and ‘Wowee Zowee.’ Certain Beatles comparisons have been made, and some reviews have mentioned the Floyd – I guess the former is vague, perhaps an out there song like ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ with riffs all over the shop. The latter probably nods to the noodling prog elements here – there are Floyd style bits, Pavement bass-lines, parts that make me think of ‘Giant Steps’ by The Boo Radleys, strings…the whole kitchen sink then -

4. little parts

Martsch stated that he had lots of little ideas, wanted to include these bits in each song, hence the epic duration of most of the tracks and the way they veer off all over the shop: “Perfect From Now On was basically a bunch of little parts all getting stuck together onto a record. And that’s why the songs are so long, because there were a lot of ideas that I had that I thought were good but I didn’t think they warranted a whole song written around them. So that was why it would change from part to part all the time. And a lot of the songs just flow from one part to another…” I guess this is a bit like ‘Marquee Moon’ if recorded by Pavement? It’s certainly like Royal Trux’s ‘Sweet Sixteen’, which similarly wanted to cram as many ideas and directions into each track as possible – though I’m not sure Hagerty and Herrema wanted to do much more than give each track a four-minute running order!!

5. cosmic american music

‘Perfect From Now On’ is one of those albums I’m irritated I didn’t get to sooner, though I can’t say I saw it at the time of its release – I eventually ordered it for a few earth pounds from an American seller. It’s definitely a late entry into that vague canon known of Cosmic American Music, since “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” didn’t feature in Uncut’s Cosmic American Top 50 a few years ago, I doubt this did (…but am too lazy to fish out the copy to confirm…). ‘Perfect From Now On’ is one of those albums to play all the time…lately; I’ve been playing it all the time. ‘Perfect From Now On’ is one of those albums with everything in it. The whole kitchen sink. Due to the fact there are songs within songs within the songs, it really is nitpicking to pick out favourites – imagine an album like the last epic track from ‘Daydream Nation’ and you might have an idea? But I want to mention the sublime ‘Made Up Dreams.’ & the gorgeous ‘Kicked It Into the Sun’…and what about the cello-heavy ‘I Would Hurt a Fly’? & the concluding part of ‘Made Up Dreams’ (“I’m already nothing…”) – did I mention that?

6. american psychedelia

It certainly belongs to that other loose canon of fifth or sixth generation American psychedelia, bands including Apples in Stereo, Elf Power, Neutral Milk Hotel, The Olivia Tremor Control, or the Jonestown…But that’s not all. There are noodling bits that make you think of Explosions in the Sky, Mogwai or Slint – the opening section of ‘Stop the Show’ say – before something else entirely kicks in. ‘Stop the Show’ is a particular wonder, with a great angular choppy Television riff halfway through…and quite a good Thurston Moore style vocal (…”after awhile…”). That might be the track to sample initially; it seems to display pretty much everything I like about this exceptional record. The perfect ‘Perfect From Now On.’

7. perfect from now on

Built to Spill are still around, three further albums since ‘Perfect From Now On’, as well as a more rootsy solo record from Martsch – I really should have made the effort to watch them when they played in the UK, though to be fair they did move their nearest gig from Oxford to Reading when the Zodiac closed. I don’t like driving in my car that much. Though if I’d have been playing ‘Perfect From Now On’, who knows? & I really should make the effort and pick up those Built to Spill records I don’t have…but are the others as great as this?

8. built to spill

Built to Spill showcase a definite Pavement influence, though in turn have influenced US chart toppers Modest Mouse – a band who I like as they get older. MM’s last few records definitely tip a wink Built to Spill’s way, just a shame the lead singer from MM sounds like the missing link between Black Francis and Zed from the Police Academy films. The recent Johnny Marr-version of Modest Mouse with two drummers and a Can/Chic/Talking Heads-vibe definitely had lots of Built to Spill in, especially in the twelve-odd minute track they opened with…

9. perfect from now on

PERFECT FROM NOW ON…the long-breathing space in which the mind can gather itself together and courage take stock of itself? You bet your ass!

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