When I first heard Built To Spill back in the day (my first exposure to the group was on their excellent Perfect From Now On release, I won't pretend to be down with them from the start), I wondered how in the heck that they managed to finesse a major-label record deal. Granted, it's not like I'd want to be involved with all the politics and crap that goes on within the machine, but it's not exactly like Built To Spill has a sound that's going to sell tons of copies. While they had a nicely-sized fan base that has grown with each release and lots of touring, it still surprises me that they're on a major.
And now, with this release by Doug Martsch, I'm even more surprised. I mean, for the most part this is a stripped-down bluesy-rock solo album from a group who is known to rock out 30-minute plus maelstroms of guitar jams in concert. For some reason, it still shocked me when I flipped over Now You Know and saw the words AOL Time Warner (visions of penny stock dancing in my head) on the back. For all the mass-produced crap that the label (and many subsidaries) shovels, at least guys like Doug Martsch still squeeze in ocassionally.
Because this is a more personal affair, your tolerance for this release will largely depend on your acceptance of Martsch's voice. While in Built To Spill, he can somewhat mask the nasal vocals, they're displayed in full glory on this disc. I'm a fan of the group, so I don't mind, but those looking for something straight-on blues rockin may find it a bit odd. Musically, there are tracks that dip way into that side of spectrum. On "Woke Up This Morning (With My Mind On Jesus)," Martsch invokes a bit of the old swagger, and for awhile it sounds like it's going to turn into quite a howler, but builds into more of a straight rock track. "Offer" and "Window" offer up some good picking with acoustic guitars and downright catchy melodies, while "Heart (Things Never Shared)" move into ballad land.
Given the big label release, I guess it's funny that probably the most straight-up blues track arrives in the form of a hidden track, recorded on what sounds like a cheap tape deck. It's on that untitled song that all the gloss is stripped away and Martsch actually gets down to the soul of things more than any other track on the disc. Still, Martsch hasn't made himself out to be a saviour or anything, and it's not really right to expect that of the release. Instead, it's a good batch of rock tracks with a slightly different lean than what you'd expect from Martsch. "Impossible," the last listed song on the release, could actually be substituted for something that BTS has done (it has the most full arrangement). No worse than Ancient Melodies Of The Future, but definitely not as good as earlier work from the group.