The 15 Best Built to Spill Songs

Music Lists Built to Spill

Built to Spill has always had a resolute formula. First, seduce the audience with memorable choruses and flashy guitar work. Then, having ensnared the listener, introduce the more eccentric elements—quirky guitar fills, howling vocals, peculiar lyrics.

The combination works as Built to Spill displays a reverence for rock’s roots and a willingness to explore its limits. And the approach has led to a diverse body of work—and an equally varied set of fans. Built to Spill’s catalog has 10-minute epics for the jam-band devotee; crunchy guitar hooks for the riff-rocker; and thoughtful, understated numbers for the indie fan.

Here are Built to Spill’s 15 best tracks, with a little something for everyone.

15. “Stop The Show”
Perfect From Now On
Singer, guitarist and bandleader Doug Martsch tests listeners’ resolve with a sleepy, three-minute introduction. But patience is ultimately rewarded: a cacophony of screeching guitars builds and gives way to a jaunty verse and chorus. “Stop The Show” also features a third act wedged at the very end, a saccharine guitar riff accompanied by clacking percussion.

14. “Fling”
There’s Nothing Wrong With Love
Few indie songs tackle the bawdy subject matter showcased in “Fling”; even fewer do so with a cello arrangement. “Fling” is an elegant song about a lewd experience, and it pulls off the juxtaposition expertly.

13. “Still Flat”
The Normal Years
“Still Flat” starts drowsily and builds into something more formidable. The song spends the next four-and-a-half minutes bouncing between the two modes, with Martsch lending a gifted vocal performance. A handful of horns give the chorus extra lift, along with grandiose lyrics: “another cosmic demonstration/with stars colliding into suns,” Martsch sings.

12. “Girl”
The Normal Years
“Girl” sounds like a song born of San Diego rather than Boise. It’s upbeat indie that borders on pop-punk. A nimble guitar solo centers the piece at the 1:16 mark, and Martsch ends the tune by spotlighting that rare quality we all seek in a mate: “someone I can talk to, someone I don’t have to talk to.” When the silences are no longer awkward, you’ve found a keeper.

11. “Else”
Keep It Like A Secret
“Else” is a breezy, subdued number with some of the band’s most playful guitar fills. The bass—an instrument that doesn’t generally shine on Built to Spill tracks—plucks out an infectious riff.

10. “In Your Mind”
Ancient Melodies of the Future
“In Your Mind” decidedly flouts the verse-chorus-verse structure. Instead, the song starts with an aggressive rhythm section and only grows angrier, Martsch not so much singing as he is lecturing. The result is mesmerizing.

9. “Broken Chairs”
Keep It Like a Secret
In the tradition of Born to Run and Appetite for Destruction, Built to Spill’s fourth studio project ends with an epic, guitar-driven tune that borders on 10 minutes. Flashy guitar solos weave in and out of a somber set of chords.

8. “Made Up Dreams”
Perfect From Now On
Martsch’s voice is in rare form here, squawking and cawing without respite. It’s a true showcase of his range: in one bar his voice borders on absurd, and in the next it’s crooning a haunting melody.

7. “Aisle 13”
There Is No Enemy
On the heels of a muffled bass line and a drawn-out guitar squeal, “Aisle 13” collects itself and takes shape as a catchy, capable opening track to There Is No Enemy. Shimmering guitar accompany a poetic take on the mind’s mysterious inner workings. The song’s lyrical capstone: “one day I come home to find you/covered in ants because you’re so sweet.”

6. “Cortez The Killer”
The guitar work in this Neil Young classic lends itself to Martsch’s style so well, fans born in the ’80s or afterward might mistake the cover as a Built to Spill original.

5. “Distopian Dream Girl”
There’s Nothing Wrong With Love
Angsty and opinionated, our narrator bemoans his step-father and lauds David Bowie’s late-’70s output. The song is a four-and-a-half-minute lark with a perfectly-arranged percussion section.

4. “Three Years Ago Today”
Ultimate Alternative Wavers
The second song on Built to Spill’s first album, “Three Years Ago Today” sets a precedent that endures today. Brash guitar lines and sloppy arrangements with hidden brilliance are introduced with gusto, and show no signs of retreat 21 years later.

3. “Car”
There’s Nothing Wrong With Love
For many, “Car” functions as Built to Spill’s apex, a paragon of inventive guitar parts and pensive lyrics. Martsch address his favorite subject, dreams—“I want to see movies of my dreams,” he bellows—before the interlude gives way to the second-best guitar solo on this list.

2. “Center of the Universe”
Keep It Like A Secret
The opening riff begins slinky and ends, somehow, with a Western flair. The chorus-laden guitar work is the song’s highlight, followed closely by the backing vocal track.

1. “Strange”
Ancient Melodies of the Future
The best of Built of Spill’s oeuvre lays in the ’90s, when they hobnobbed with fellow indie luminaries like Pavement and Sonic Youth. So to name a song released in the new millennium as their best may seem sacrilege. Nonetheless: “Strange” is impeccable from start to finish, from the perfectly-engineered drums to the whimsical synth overlays. The song reaches its zenith at the 2:58 mark, when Martsch’s guitar first mirrors the vocal melody, and then lurches into a realm of bends, slides and kinks.

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