When you buy a Built to Spill records, you expect a few things. You expect that voice. You expect those long, epic-like guitar solos. You expect quirky lyrics that make sense. You expect artwork by Tae Won Yu. On this, Doug Martsch's solo album, the things that you might expect from a Built to Spill record aren't to be found. Instead of the loud guitar solos, you get solo guitar. Instead of Tae Won Yu, you get something that's not quite as good. Not to fear, though, because the voice and the lyrics are the same. You might say that this solo record is 50% different than Built to Spill.
Okay, so maybe Now You Know is a bit more than just 50% different than your average Built to Spill record, but it's true, certain things are a given when it comes to Doug Martsch's music. Instead of the big Rock Guitar riffs, you get quiet, acoustic moments that are as intricate and detailed as Built to Spill's grandest moments--not that all of these songs are acoustic numbers. The electric moments such as "Woke Up This Morning (With My Mind on Jesus)" are excellent, because Martsch's power is the electric guitar. But, really, Built to Spill really does cast a very long shadow. Take "Window," for instance. If it were plugged in, it would fit in quite nicely with There's Nothing Wrong With Love. "Lift" screams for a full-band treatment.
Hell, all of these songs do.
From what I understand, Martsch was hesitant to release this record, and I can understand why. Originally given to friends a few years ago, Now You Know wasn't meant for the world to hear, and the songs do sound like demos or incomplete works of art. The music's great, though; Martsch is a very talented songwriter, and these songs are miles better than the last Built to Spill record. Maybe some of the magic on Now You Know will appear on Built to Spill's follow-up to last year's mediocre Ancient Melodies of the Future--or maybe Martsch will just become the bearded hermit bluesman that we've always expected that he'd become. Either way, there's one thing for sure--the music'll be good!