Happiness is a Short Record
Built to Spill Strike Back

The Weinstein Brothers are very smart, as evidenced by the fact that I’m about to play right into their hands and do some of their work for them.

Miramax (headed by the Weinsteins) made the smart decision to sneak preview Kevin Smith’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back last weekend, and I caught one of the screenings. The idea of these sneak previews is to build up advance word of mouth. The producers hope that everyone who sees the flick early will like it enough to see it again opening night, and bring five or six friends along. This is an ideal situation for Smith, as his career has been built upon steadily increasing word of mouth. Being a Kevin Smith fan is like belonging to an exclusive club, albeit one that grows exponentially with each new film. His movies all have the feel of something your childhood buddies put together for a laugh.

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is the perfect film for one of these sneaks, for a few reasons. First, it’s the funniest film you’re likely to see this year. It’s 100 minutes of rapid-fire hilarity, some of it devilishly clever, some of it unbelievably sophomoric. You’ll have to see it twice because the audience’s laughter will drown out a good chunk of the jokes the first time.

Secondly, and more importantly, it’s the closing chapter in Smith’s View Askew-niverse films, and as such it features characters from Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy and Dogma, his four previous features. The film is loaded with in-jokes, and serves as a somewhat touching goodbye and heartfelt thanks to Smith’s fans. Even so, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a film so inclusive, so ready to let you in on its good time. Here’s what’s happening right now across the country: hardcore Smith fans who saw the sneak preview are telling their friends how funny J&SBSB is, and making them watch the first four so that they’ll be ready.

The film never makes you feel like you’ve come in at the end, even if you haven’t seen any of the previous four. If you’ve been with him all along, though, this movie is definitely something special. It’s a stupid film that knows how stupid it is, pointing out its own flaws as it goes along and thereby defanging the critics. Really, though, this movie is so good-natured and so willing to laugh with you that harping on it seems petty. It’s full-on flat-out fun from first shot to last (stay through the end credits). I’m not sure I’ve ever seen $20 million pissed away with such wild abandon, and just on that level, it’s hilarious.

Here’s where I do the Weinstens’ jobs for them: go see Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back when it opens on Friday. ‘Nuff said. Noodge.


The compact disc can hold 81 minutes of music without losing sound quality.

More than any other factor, that technological leap has dictated the longer records we’ve seen over the last 10 years. An album used to be 30 to 40 minutes long. These days, in order to make the consumers feel like they’re not being ripped off, discs have ballooned to twice that length. Often, the artists in question just don’t have that much material, and 80-minute albums end up feeling padded.

This year, though, we’ve seen the comeback of the tiny album, and the complaints have flown freely. The most egregious offender was Weezer, whose comeback record after a five-year absence clocked in at 28 minutes. Never mind that they were 28 perfect minutes, the fans expected more, and for the outrageous CD prices most people are forced to pay, how can you blame them? As a commercial product, it’s a bit of a rip-off, but as an album, Weezer is everything it should have been: tight, compact and infused with the sense that there’s more where that came from.

Built to Spill have entered the small album sweepstakes with their 39-minute Ancient Melodies of the Future, released last month. This follows their live record, imaginatively titled Live, which stretched nine songs to over an hour. As thrilling as Live was, it followed a pattern of pushing songs to their breaking points, one that has happily been broken with the new record. Ancient Melodies is the sharpest pop record Built to Spill has come out with since their second, There’s Nothing Wrong with Love.

Let’s back up, because I’ve just lost every non-BTS fan.

Built to Spill are Boise, Idaho’s most famous export, right behind the potato. Masterminded by guitarist/singer Doug Martsch, they combine the indie-rock sensibility of Sonic Youth with the pop songwriting of early Sloan. Martsch helped to pioneer the sloppy-yet-sharp style of guitar playing. He often sounds as if he’s going to slip right off the fretboard at any time, yet he delivers these lovely melodies that rise above the sludge to lodge in your head.

I hope I’m making this sound appealing.

Anyway, after three lovely independent releases, BTS signed with Warner Bros. and delivered their longest, loudest record to date, Perfect From Now On. The songs got longer and sloppier, the melodies got more sparse, and the guitar work took center stage over the songwriting. That trend culminated on Live when Martsch and his bandmates stretched a cover of Neil Young’s “Cortez the Killer” to more than 20 minutes. Martsch appeared to have lost himself in the ether somewhere.

Ancient Melodies of the Future is a bracing re-entry, its title referencing the look back and the look forward it hopefully represents. None of the songs exceed four minutes, and all of them are well-crafted and melodic. The guitars have been scaled back, and vintage-sounding keyboards have been introduced. Despite a reliance on the same chords a few times too many, Ancient Melodies recaptures the sharp pop of the band’s first few albums, albeit on a slightly grander scale. While there are precious few surprises, the record ambles along briskly, buoyed by Martsch’s nonchalantly sweet voice. “Happiness,” especially, is a hit that will never be one, propelled by a Led Zeppelin-esque slide guitar riff. Still and all, by track eight or so you feel like Martsch has exhausted his bag of tricks.

That’s when he pulls out “Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss,” the most winning piece of fluff BTS has ever put together. The song is almost a mission statement, if such a weighty title can be given to such an effervescent tune. It’s here that Martsch fully breaks free from the morass he’s surrounded himself with for three albums. His guitar flits hither and thither, surrounding a big wide grin of a melody that never lets up. Surrounded as it is by Built to Spill’s most accessible material in years, “Little Miss” hopefully signals a new direction for the band towards the kind of light, engaging pop they made it so easy to love.

After all, as Martsch himself once said, there’s nothing wrong with love.

Next, probably Bjork.

See you in line Tuesday morning.