Doug Martsch’s voice flits between intimate whispers and distant yelps; he often sounds as if he wants to breathe all his secrets into the microphone, but quietude usually gives way to cathartic wailing. Martsch and his soaring, untrained tenor are the only constants among Built to Spill’s rotating membership, but for his major-label debut Martsch seems to have found the Band to his Dylan. The six players who flesh out Perfect From Now On’s eight songs make each track flow, long and gorgeous, like perfect handwriting. Only the emotion-soaked ballad “Made Up Dream” comes in under five minutes, and the album’s single, “Untrustable/ Part 2 (About Someone Else),” at 8:53 is as lengthy as its run-on title might suggest. I mention lengths only because pop songs are so often heaped with empty praise for their polite pithiness. But when compositions are constructed as well as Martsch’s, their power only intensifies in the hands of a band that can build up a head of steam, then wring the details out of them. The highlights are many: “Randy Described Eternity” begins by hanging on a single chord, its notes suspended in the air until a chord change grandly sweeps across the song, and “Stop the Show” slowly sways with gentle guitar pickings and doomy cellos during its first three minutes, before breaking into a mod-rock rant. But it’s Martsch’s draining pleas, especially on the grand “Velvet Waltz,” that makes Perfect From Now On this year’s most compelling reason to still revel in the power of rock.
Built to Spill and Satisfact play the Black Cat, May 17.