On the one hand, props to Doug Martsch for returning to his original vision for Built to Spill. When the singer and guitarist started the band in 1992, the idea was that he would be the sole constant member, with a rotating selection of musicians accompanying him from one album to the next. Then he ended up playing with some of the same people for a decade or more—bassist Brett Nelson was part of the band for 19 years, and contributed to the string of top-notch albums the band released in the ’90s and early 2000s.
Martsch announced in 2018 that he was going back to the non-permanent members plan, and then went off to tour South America backed by a couple of Brazilian musicians, Le Almeida and João Casaes of the psych-jazz-rock band Oruã. The shows went so well that Martsch kept playing with them throughout 2019. The trio started recording When the Wind Forgets Your Name, Built to Spill’s ninth and latest album, before the pandemic interrupted and they had to finish the songs remotely. Here’s where the concept of switching out bandmates starts to look shaky: Almeida and Casaes are really good, and their time in Built to Spill seems like it has already come to an end. (Martsch’s touring band this year comprises bassist Melanie Radford and drummer Teresa Esguerra, who are also very good.)
The three-piece format suits Martsch: These nine new tracks are lean and rugged, and the rhythm section is locked in behind the guitarist and singer as the trio rumbles through songs by turns sludgy and psychedelic. There’s more of a stoner-rock vibe here than on previous Built to Spill projects, which is apparent right from the start: Album opener “Gonna Lose” is built around a scuzzy guitar riff and a loose, ramshackle drum part that surges around Martsch’s voice as he makes reference to an acid trip (or maybe dreaming about an acid trip, but at a certain point, what’s the difference?).
Elsewhere, the band stretches out on songs that are more languorous. Dreamy arpeggios and chimes cascade through “Fool’s Gold,” and moody, effects-treated guitars swirl around Martsch’s hazy, reverberating vocals on “Elements.” Later in that song, Martsch plays a skinned-knee guitar lead that yields to whirring organ, while Almeida plays an unerring beat. He and Casaes hold down the first 30 seconds of “Rocksteady” themselves, with Casaes’ playful bassline showing hints of rocksteady influence as it moves around over Almeida’s simple, locked-in drum part.
It’s not too late for Martsch to make another album or two with Almeida and Casaes, provided they’re willing to work Built to Spill in around Oruã’s schedule. Assuming that doesn’t happen, though, it’s best to take When the Wind Forgets Your Name in the spirit offered. That is to say, it’s a rewarding one-off project on songs that underscore Martsch’s talent as a songwriter and guitarist, while also showing him in a different light. May all his future collaborations be so inspired.
Eric R. Danton has been contributing to Paste since 2013, and writing about music and pop culture for longer than he cares to admit. Follow him on Twitter or visit his website.
Watch a 2012 Built to Spill show from the Paste archives below.