Spoon’s “Transference”: Indie Lifers Get Dirtier, Looser
There’s something slightly absurd about the whole notion that Spoon could “strip things down” for their latest record. Here’s a band that built an entire career on the artful, methodical deconstruction of already minimalist bands like Wire and the Pixies. 2002’s “Kill the Moonlight” sounded like “Pink Flag” or the Cars with its guts ripped out. Only the songs’ scaffolding remained: pounding, eighth-note organ, jagged, two-chord guitar. And ever since—whether Spoon added a little more piano (2005’s “Gimmie Fiction”) or a little more guitar (2007’s “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga”)—the band has adhered to the minimalist party line with unwavering tenacity.
So what would a “striped down” Spoon actually sound like? Is such a thing even possible? What would be left—studio chatter and handclaps?
Of course, such a thing is possible, particularly with the band producing “Transference” themselves—particularly with bed-headed Britt Daniel behind the boards. So yes, Spoon’s seventh LP is their starkest yet—its songs only a couple studio tricks away from living-room demos. The record is ragged and rough-hewn, sloppy and a little silly, like Guided By Voices with a thing for Tommy Tutone. But whatever these songs lack in focus, they more than make up for in urgency. Daniel can imbue the most pedestrian of sentiments—say, the forgotten pleasures of fitted shirts—with lust and vitality. And “Transference” is certainly no different.
So while it lacks the drama of “Gimmie Fiction” or “Ga Ga”’s focused grooves, “Transference” may be the easier record to like, if only because it requires less of you. The songs are so simple they’re almost weightless—they could go anywhere at any moment.
And they usually do. “I Saw the Light” comes on like classic Spoon—tense and anxious, shot through with Daniel’s insistent guitar and Jim Eno’s metronome-perfect percussion—before shifting, suddenly, into a 6/4 dirge replete with drunken flange guitar and Elton John piano flourishes. The switch is laugh-out-loud abrupt—like the whole band punched in at once—yet it works, perfectly. Same with “Who Makes Your Money.” Shards of mangled synth, Rob Pope’s warped base, and Daniel’s hush-hush falsetto create an eerie beauty that’s interrupted at the two-minute mark with taut harmonies of warm, eighth-note guitar—a Spoon specialty. The song is frightening and reassuring all at once.
Predictably, there is the odd tune or two that could use some editing. In fact, “Before Destruction,” with its nagging organ and jumbled harmonies, could be cut altogether—a plotless opener to an otherwise stellar short-story collection. And while “Nobody Gets Me But You” comes on like an endearingly heartsick “I Turn My Camera On” with its tin-can funk beat and spastic piano runs, it’s already aimless and tired before the second minute. Give that tune to James Murphy, though, and you’d have every skinny jean sweatin’ till dawn from Bushwick to Silverlake.
Spoon, of course, wouldn’t be Spoon without straightforward, grab-your-beer-and-your-girl rockers like “Written in Reverse” and “Got Nuffin”—tunes that could have shown up on any album since the band’s 1996 debut, “Telephono.” The only difference now is that, with the rougher production, the songs’ seams are there for all the world to see, surely a mark of Spoon’s confidence and one Daniel seems to implicitly acknowledge. “I got nothing to lose but darkness and shadows / Got nothing to lose but loneliness and patterns,” he sings on “Got Nuffin.” So why not let the songs breathe?
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