Still hanging by a thread to his Warner Bros. contract, Doug Martsch, the quirky singer-songwriter and indie guitar hero who was embraced as a critic’s darling for his psychedelic explorations with Built To Spill (not to mention his searing live shows), veers off on his own on his first ever solo album. Since Martsch pretty much runs the show in Built To Spill, you wouldn’t expect a major departure here — and apart from the prevalence of acoustic guitars, you don’t get one. Most of these tracks sound like slickly produced demos for full-fledged Built To Spill tunes — and most would sound just as good, if not better, in a full-band set-up.
The tunes on the rest of the disc have electric-guitar solos and full band backing, so they sound even more like Built To Spill Tunes. Martsch uses his music as a way of entering a free-associating trance state — which means the lyrics are almost always cryptic. But what his songs lack in straightforward storytelling or direct confessionals they more than make up for with intriguing melodies and guitar playing that’s never showy but never merely workaday, either. Long-time Built To Spill fans will doubtless find Now You Know an interesting change of pace (though Martsch goes too far when he lets his young son do a guest vocal to an otherwise fine tune titled "Heart"). And for new initiates, the disc’s folkish but not quite bluesy bent should open a door on one of the major and enduring talents to come out of the indie explosion of the ’90s.
(Doug Martsch performs at the Paradise October 11 and 12, with Mike Johnson opening. Call 617-423-NEXT.)