Indie rockers Built to Spill rose to relative fame in the late ’90s, but their influence on rock started much earlier and still continues today. It’s easy to listen to each song at least three times: once as a collective whole, once to focus on the clever storytelling of the lyrics, and at least once more to try to keep track of the battling guitar lines. Like the better known, but similarly quirky act, Modest Mouse, Built to Spill perfectly meld smart lyricism and off-kilter guitar riffs that could best be described as “bendy.”
Seattle-based singer-songwriter Chris Staples had a challenging task ahead of him to cover Built to Spill’s “Center of the Universe.” The original song features the band’s typical three-part guitar attack and nasally, loud vocals. With a combination of piano and softly plucked guitar, Staples manages to capture the basic riff, with all the guitar bends replaced with individually syncopated notes. Over this airy and atmospheric baseline, Staples gives the lyrics the chance to come front and center with a simple, understated delivery reminiscent of Ben Kweller. It’s a beautiful tribute that captures the spirit of the original, and yet it wouldn’t be out of place at your local coffee house. Check it out below.