Friday, January 29, 2010
Luke Reviews the New Spoon Album
I didn't like the last three Spoon albums. At all. I felt like a traitor, watching an Austin band rise to prominence and cursing them in hushed tones. I love the music of Austin, I always will. People from the outlaw capital of the US will always have it tough from the private school elite, and too often have great artists been snubbed simply for being from Texas (i.e. "for being hicks"). Spoon, however, lost what I thought was a really solid edge on their earlier work, 96's Telephono and especially Girls Can Tell. They were always a pop band, I had no problem with that aspect of their work, but they were always coming at it from a garage perspective. They had solid hooks but they made a racket locking into them.
The last three albums sacrificed the punch and focused on the pop, and people were generally thrilled about it, but to me I still think of "I Turn My Camera On" as one of the most monotonous songs of the last decade. So I wasn't thrilled about a new Spoon album coming out. I figured them for more of the same. I am dumb.
The first thing I noticed about Transference is that the production is very hot. Like it sounds like all the instruments are sizzling fat off of meat. There are some very Guided By Voices moments even, certain interludes and vocal passages occasionally sound like they're being done over a telephone only to then punch in at full hi-fi volume with all the meters in the red. The stomp of first single "Written in Reverse" for example is snarling and biting at you the whole way through, with Britt Daniels' howl resonating in you like a starving man breaking down a wall for a plate of raw meat. And this is the single I'm talking about!
On other tracks, the pop sound comes through a bit more, but always with sneering menace. On "Is Love Forever" for example, the guitar could have been stolen from the Strokes in their heyday, but the drums stomp on a seemingly completely different beat from the rest of the song and Daniels' voice is always one step behind. I'm not sure if words can explain it much better than that, but the whole track becomes hallucinatory as it all collides together into one cohesive groove.
Spoon - Is Love Forever
Another standout, my personal favorite track, is "Trouble Comes Running," which starts with the most compression-damaged lo-bit acoustic guitar of all time and then takes off on a drunk gallop. The room hiss, the tinny drums, the overbearing bass, these are elements that hark back to the oldest tricks in the lo-fi garage band's arsenal, and yet with the tight 3-part harmony you realize this is rock and roll tapped directly from the vein of the last decade when rock and roll was truly popular. Bands used to sound pissed off and sexed up all the time back when the Stones and the Who dominated the charts. And they'd still make fat paychecks. Spoon understands, and hopefully they will help others understand, that pop music doesn't need to be watered down. Rock and roll doesn't need to be fabricated.
Spoon - Trouble Comes Running