BUILT TO SPILL – ” Built to Spill Plays The Songs of Daniel Johnston “

Posted: June 13, 2020 in ALBUMS, MUSIC
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Built to Spill today release the aptly titled Built to Spill Plays the Songs of Daniel Johnston. In August 2018, Doug Martsch, Jason Albertini and Steve Gere recorded these songs during rehearsals for their performances backing Daniel Johnston, who passed away on September. 11th, 2019. Martsch discussed the album with Rolling Stone, saying, “It was pretty special for us,” and adding, “Basically we wanted to get good documentation of what our rehearsals were like. It was a lot heavier than what I thought it would be.”

In 2017, Built to Spill had the honour of serving as backing band for Daniel Johnston for two shows, and during rehearsals they decided to record a handful of their favourite songs to share with friends. The shows turned out well and a couple years later the trio of vocalist/guitarist Doug Martsch, bassist Jason Albertini, and drummer Steve Gere reconvened to work a little more on the songs to get them ready to be released. Ernest Jenning Recording Co. did the honours, and the finished product is a reverent tribute fitting to Johnston and of a piece with the group’s best work. The tracks they chose to cover were mostly originally recorded by Johnston in the ’90s, though some come from later efforts like the late-career power pop gem Is and Always Was.

Every song is a brilliant example of Johnston’s mix of shattering pathos and irresistible melodies; the band handle each one in low-key, almost relaxed style with slightly distorted guitars and a loose rhythm section backing Martsch’s wistful vocals. He nails the openhearted, almost painfully innocent nature of Johnston’s songs without sounding like he’s doing an impression. He’s able to deliver lyrics as simple as those on “Honey I Sure Miss You” or “Tell Me Now” with just the right amount of feeling, tackles humor-adjacent songs like the chugging “Fake Records of Rock n Roll” without winking, and displays the same kind of plainspoken, truehearted approach throughout that Johnston always did. To their credit, Built to Spill hang back and let the songs be the star; there are no long guitar solos and only “Fake Records” has any gritty guitar overload. The restraint and love that the band show and the overall peacefulness of the music make for a lovely, warm summer day kind of album, perfect for daydreaming and pondering the timeless genius of Daniel Johnston.

Every song is a brilliant example of Johnston’s mix of shattering pathos and irresistible melodies; the band handle each one in low-key, almost relaxed style with slightly distorted guitars and a loose rhythm section backing Martsch’s wistful vocals. He nails the openhearted, almost painfully innocent nature of Johnston’s songs without sounding like he’s doing an impression. He’s able to deliver lyrics as simple as those on “Honey I Sure Miss You” or “Tell Me Now” with just the right amount of feeling, tackles humor-adjacent songs like the chugging “Fake Records of Rock n Roll” without winking, and displays the same kind of plainspoken, truehearted approach throughout that Johnston always did. To their credit, Built to Spill hang back and let the songs be the star; there are no long guitar solos and only “Fake Records” has any gritty guitar overload. The restraint and love that the band show and the overall peacefulness of the music make for a lovely, warm summer day kind of album, perfect for daydreaming and pondering the timeless genius of Daniel Johnston.

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