“Time moves fast, I move slow, I keep looking backward, not which way to go,” Megadose frontman Stephen Steen sings on the opening track of the group’s newest record, and indeed time has moved fast. It’s 2023, and everyone has barely (or not even) wrapped their heads and/or ears around all the music 2022 had to offer, and this year is bringing new and exciting albums already. Now, Steen may not have been citing this change in calendar numbers specifically in this lyric, but with the album Heating Up, it seems this does coincide with his music appreciation and creation. And just in case anyone is thinking otherwise, yes, this is a good thing.
Based off their swiftly created 2021 debut album, Wild & Free, their specific brand of pop rock has been described as combining elements of new wave, slacker rock, and power pop. Sure, there were some power pop riffs on the album, and the title track is one of the most Ric Ocasek sounding non-Ric Ocasek songs since “12:51,” but the debut sounded anchored in the ways of 2010s indie slacker pop rock, matching the laid back atmosphere of Real Estate’s 2011 album, Days. The album did show heavy Jonathan Richman influence, with “My Self-Punishing Odyssey of Despair” being a particular standout in this regard, however I’d be hard pressed to find any indie band that didn’t have the first Modern Lovers album somewhere in their DNA. But if Wild & Free was meant to define the band as a current indie pop rock band, Heating Up is meant to shatter that expectation.
On this sophomore release, Steen and company prove that they know “time moves fast” and that they “keep looking backward” by performing pop rock songs that sound like they fit in every decade from the 60s to the 00s, and curiously (almost) completely leaving their easy-breezy 2010s indie vibes to their 2021 selves. The one slight exception is “Rock Yer Head,” which has an introduction that almost feels like a 2010 LCD Soundsystem bit. And though one may want to “Rock Yer Head” to “Dance Yrself Clean,” this track goes on to sound very 00s Room on Fire influenced, which only means Ric Ocasek is a grandfathering influence this time around rather than a fathering one.
The 90’s show up on the Britpop-ish (by way of Supergrass) second single “Pigs,” a catchy bass heavy song that challenges notions of traditional masculinity, and the Mazzy Star style neo-psychedelia of “Mote of Reflection” and “Fade In” (the “Fade In”/”Fade Into You” is inconsequential). The 80s appear immediately on album opener “Silver Cup,” which would sound right at home on The Stone Roses’ 1989 self titled debut. 60s pop comes around with “Minor Groove” that feels like a Zombies’ track, and album closer/ third single “The Voyeur,” where they play with prog rock sounds a la late 60s-early 70s Moody Blues, though Steen sings “Dead-ass, no lies,” to remind everyone they are not quintessentially British.
The remaining four tracks, arguably the album’s centerpieces, are all embodiments of 70s power pop, and solidify that even with the range of influences, this is a power pop record. Badfinger, Sweet, Starz, Raspberries and Cheap Trick’s influences can all be heard in these tracks, but none more so than the defining 70s power pop band Big Star. Where Jonathan Richman was the godfather of Wild & Free (and he does still play a part here), Alex Chilton of Big Star takes on that role forHeating Up. Lead single “Hey 911” which the band says “offers a winking retrospective on the ironies born of experiencing global trauma, a stunted political uprising, and too much time by yourself,” is incredibly Chilton influenced and “Summer Fest” and its country influences harken back to the Memphis roots of Big Star (and the song “Thirteen”). “Tahuya Cruisin’” is very Big Star sounding as well, but the audience addition recalls The Rolling Stones’ 1965 EP Got Live If You Want It!, which was very influential to Big Star themselves.
The centerpiece of the centerpieces is “Jackie’s Gotta Run,” which is a rollicking power pop tune with an accelerando at the end that sounds as if some angsty kid in the 70s was playing it and his little brother came and hit the switch from 33 RPM to 45 RPM. And if these tracks somehow aren’t convincing that the 70s are this album’s focus, the cover will be. If a picture of Topher Grace was added to the album cover, it would be a scene transition of That ‘70s Show (also a show that features Big Star as its theme song).
Reading up to now may have some readers thinking, “how can an album so diverse even fit together apart from connections made by some genre obsessed music critic?” (or something like that). The trick is that Heating Up is not some compilation by Big Star, Mazzy Star, Stone Roses, and Moody Blues cover bands, this is Megadose interpreting these power pop styles throughout time in their own unique way. They make the album flow seamlessly through their musicianship and Steen’s lyrical wit, and combine these eras to form their own 2020s sound. And if looking back at their influences and making the music they want while not looking or worrying about which way they’re going make Megadose a bunch of slack rockers, then we are damn lucky they’re slacking. Dead-ass, no lies.
Heating Up was self released and is available now via Bandcamp and all major streamers.
For those familiar with Lung, there had been 414 days of holding their breath. After the powerhouse 2017 debut Bottom of the Barrel and its 2018 follow up, All The King’s Horses, August 20th, 2021 saw the release of Come Clean Right Now, a smashing third release from the Cincinnati, OH duo, which consists of vocalist/cellist Kate Wakefield and drummer Daisy Caplan. After Clean not only lived up to, but improved on the stunning first two albums, no one could help but look forward to even more. But fortunately the wait wasn’t long and everyone got to breathe air into their lungs after only a little over a year with the release of Let It Be Gone, their most accessible album yet. Wakefield and Caplan, however, had been waiting much, much longer to release Gone.
The duo share that the album “took a long time to really form itself,” but also add that “it feels like it’s coming out right on time. Over 30 songs were considered for it, we reordered the tracks and remastered it three times. It finally feels like the album it should be, and it wouldn’t have been if it came out as soon as we recorded it,” says Caplan. The duo also recognize that its fully formed final incarnation arrived right on time with Wakefield adding “I feel like this album is strangely more relevant now [than when it was written]. There is a line that is in one of our songs, ‘Miles Per Hour,’ to be free is to give in to a life worth living in, with all of the changes in the last few years, that line really rings true to me. The need for music, connection and purpose are stronger now. The need to actively live, rather than just numb the senses with whatever vice is in the nearest reach, feels strong.”
Nothing about Lung can be seen as ordinary. Their instrumentation as a sole cello/drum power duo and their eclectic style which mixes indie, prog, punk, metal, goth, classical, and opera make them one of the most unique bands out there. On top of this, they craft songs that can easily be sung or hummed along with. Take “Her Voice Is What Follows,” which contains the catchiest cello riff of all time (sorry Apocalyptica), and there’s a song that can be as stuck in one’s head as a pop song but is still this distinctive mix of styles. So it should come as no surprise that their album chronology is not ordinary either. This release was actually written before Clean, in the ancient time of the pre-Covid era. The nautical theme that permeates the album draws parallels to Lung’s life on the road in 2018-2019, when they were relentlessly touring, and settling down in one location seemed impossible.
Caplan states that this album was written with the idea that home isn’t a set place, but the road itself, or wherever one happens to be at a given time. He elaborated saying: “The album’s theme is a general movement away from the idea of home as a place, i.e. Cincinnati, OH or wherever, and more of the road itself as a home wherever you are (or aren’t) at a given time. We were traveling a lot on tour, and in our absence our homes changed, people changed, times changed. Touring gives you a unique vantage point to places you don’t live as well as places you do—by popping in at intervals, you see gradual changes happen in fast motion, while you remain in stasis.”
With the ocean still being so unexplored, using being lost at sea as a metaphor for life on the road brings in a mystical factor that couldn’t fit better with Lung’s metaphysical sounding music. Album highlight “Siren Song,” adding in Wakefield’s haunting vocalizations and lyrics which sound as if she’s a bard singing the epic journey of Odysseus, perfectly exemplifies the mythical feel of the record.
Despite the album sounding as if it came from Poseidon-cursed, Siren-filled waters, it is not about an ancient hero or a far away deity, but about Wakefield and Caplan themselves. The nomadic concept is not just a theme, but an honest feeling they are trying to convey, something that is a part of them. “And I feel it coming from my bones,” Wakefield sings on the closing track, “Bones” as if she’s begging the listener to understand that the feelings of this album are coming from an extremely deep place.
When the pandemic hit and the band was in quarantine, Come Clean Right Now’s release resonated because it sounded like a fit of rage against the walls closing in. Let It Be Gone underwent various changes through its journeyed early life, but was also biding its time until it could be released when its nomadic nature could feel honest again. To Caplan, Gone is a time capsule, invoking that feeling of the pre-pandemic time for the band, saying “Largely because of the pandemic, people tend to forget that 2017-2019 was not the rosiest of times for much of anyone, and the ensuing chaos only exacerbated problems that already existed. As it became a “normal” to get back to, many of the difficulties of the time were erased in the collective memory. This album is a direct portraiture of our collective experiences in those times and so much has happened in the intervening three years that it’s become kind of an instant time capsule. It’s a historical document of a time period we haven’t quite left, but still seems like a different world. It’s like reading a novel with eerie parallels to your own life.”
Although the pandemic is supposedly “over ” and things are “normal” again, many people now have a feeling of uncertainty, that nothing is forever, that everyone is wandering through life without any solid home. Wakefield and Caplan strike a chord with everyone feeling this way, using incredibly unique music to do it, and have thus created an album that will be appreciated for many, many more years than it took to find its release and its new nomadic home amongst the ever growing world of Lung fans.
Let It Be Gone is out now via Romanus Records and available on all major streaming services.
A funny thing about popular music is that the music rarely, if ever, stands alone. To anyone except the very casual listener, the music is completely intertwined with the story of the artist. Robert Johnson’s 1930s recordings will always be associated with the Faustian legend surrounding him and his untimely death at the age of 27. It’s nearly impossible to listen to the Rolling Stones without thinking of their hard partying, legal trouble, and the fact that they never, ever, seem to retire. Wilco’s story will always climax with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and its Tweedy/Bennett rivalry, its rollercoaster release, and spooky 9/11 connections. The artist’s story, with all the highs and all the lows, puts the music in a real life context, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worst. Built To Spill’s newest album, When The Wind Forgets Your Name, will undoubtedly be seen through where it is placed in the story of the band.
Doug Martsch, the vocalist, guitarist, lyricist, and only consistent member of Built To Spill, is something of a legend of indie rock. Hailing from Twin Falls, Idaho, and forming Built To Spill in Boise after leaving his former band Treepeople, his influence is undeniable on Pacific Northwest indie rock, with Modest Mouse, Lync, and Death Cab for Cutie all citing inspiration from him. Built to Spill’s trio of albums that include There’s Nothing Wrong With Love (1994), Perfect From Now On (1997), and Keep It Like A Secret (1999), are not only definitive albums of the Pacific Northwest indie sound, but are staples of indie rock in general.
After 1999, Built to Spill have not been able to quite reach the heights of that trilogy, whether with the Keep It Like A Secret lineup (Ancient Melodies of the Future , You In Reverse , There Is No Enemy ) or a new lineup (Untethered Moon ). More than twenty years after the soaring highs of their 90s trilogy, is where When The Wind Forgets Your Name comes into the Built to Spill story.
Despite never reaching the heights of the 90s, Built to Spill have never made a bad album, or even an album that is mediocre. Although sometimes forgotten, every release from Ancient Melodies of the Future to Untethered Moon is a very well put together craft by Martsch and company, with well written lyrics and incredible guitar work. You In Reverse would be a career highlight for a band not overshadowed by that 90s trilogy, and was the closest they came to recapturing the magic they had at that time. That is until 2022. When The Wind Forgets Your Name has taken the lead for best post-90s Built To Spill album.
What made You In Reverse a great album was it found the group with a seemingly renewed, almost anxious, energy starting with the immediacy of the opening track “Goin’ Against Your Mind.” Ironically, Wind does not seem close to matching this energy. Although Martsch seems to enjoy playing with temporary bandmates João Casaes and Lê Almeida (of the Brazilian band Oruã), the feeling is more comfortable than energetic, accepting than anxious. Many times, comfort can mean the end of periods of greatness for a band. It can be argued that There Is No Enemy and Untethered Moon suffered from Martsch and the band being too comfortable with their established sound. But that’s not the case here. Wind finds Martsch more comfortable with himself and the highs and not-so-highs of his band’s story, and the album’s differences from previous records exemplify that.
The cover art of Wind, done by cartoonist Alex Graham, is much brighter and more colorful than any previous Built To Spill album. The psychedelia the cover implies is present on the album’s songs, which differentiates them from most previous Built To Spill songs. However, unlike fellow PNW indie veterans Modest Mouse’s 2021 album The Golden Casket, psychedelic rock is much more of a subtle addition to Built to Spill’s signature sound, which gives the album a familiarity that also feels fresh. Martsch’s trademark guitar solos are still here, and top notch, but it doesn’t feel like they are trying to specifically recreate the sound of Perfect From Now On or Keep It Like A Secret, as could be argued about the previous couple albums. Instead it sounds like Martsch and the band are taking that sound and doing what they want with it.
Ironically, album opener “Gonna Lose” sounds like it could be added to Keep It Like A Secret and sound completely in place, yet it seems like this happened effortlessly, especially in the context of the following tracks. “Fool’s Gold” follows, with Martsch letting his Neil Young influence shine brighter than possibly any previous Built To Spill song. “Understood” and “Rocksteady” have a bounciness to them that the band hasn’t displayed since There’s Nothing Wrong With Love, except with a subtle psychedelic twist. “Elements” is a sprawling, slow, dark psychedelic epic ending with the sound of waves crashing. “Spiderweb” and “Never Alright” are a faster paced duo, though they feel much more comfortable than the anxious, fast paced You In Reverse tracks. “Alright” is a slower, calm response to the speed of the previous two tracks. “Comes A Day” is an epic album closer, which has come to be expected from Built To Spill, with more Neil Young influence again. The song title alone gives away the influence of Young’s “Comes A Time,” but it’s also heard musically, mixed in with psychedelia and Martsch’s signature guitar playing. The differences between this album’s music with previous releases, and the diversity of tracks with Wind itself, show how Martsch is comfortable playing what he feels like, regardless of reception or the shadow of the highs his earlier work has cast.
Martsch explores this theme of highs and lows of life lyrically as well on Wind, singing about how he has gone through them, and that he’s come to a more accepting place, which coincides with the comfort of this album. “Answers materialize, then they’re gone” Martsch sings on the opener, and then opens “Fool’s Gold” with “I’m gonna keep tryin’, keep tryin.’” This duality of emotion, hopelessness versus persistence, is present throughout the album. It’s no accident “Spiderweb” ends with “and we’ll be alright in this spiderweb of love” only for him to sing “it’s never alright” repeatedly on the next track and “we can make it alright” on the song following that.
Martsch is sharing the fact that through life’s ups and downs, emotions and perspectives constantly change. One day it seems like it’s time to give up, the next to keep trying. On “Rocksteady” he sings “high low, high low, I guess that’s just the way we go. I don’t wanna be constantly taking these long hard looks at myself… I don’t know how to be anybody else.” This line is a thesis statement for the album itself. Martsch is accepting of the ups and downs, and although he may never find the answers to regain the highs of the 90s heyday, which will feel discouraging some days, he is going to be himself and not try to recreate that album trio anymore. This acceptance of where Built to Spill is in their story is why they were able to create a comfortable and unique record that is their best in over 20 years.
Despite the comfortability that the album conveys, Martsch stated in a recent interview with Inlander that the recording of the album during the COVID quarantine wasn’t fun. But it seems that accepting the unfortunate circumstances of the lockdown and pushing through brought out Martsch being more himself in years. Yes, given the story of the band, When The Wind Forgets Your Name, will always be in the shadows of their 90s trilogy, but more importantly is the fact that it is a new high point for the band’s later career, a big high in their story of highs and lows. And hopefully the future holds even more high points for this storied band. But in the meantime, both casual and hardcore Built to Spill fans can enjoy an excellent new record.