By wes jakacki
January 19, 2010
The music of Spoon is like a good roommate. First, it has a dynamic personality; it’s cool, clever, and resourceful, being able to accomplish a lot with a little. Spoon’s music is also extremely easy to get along with, as almost anyone wouldn’t mind being in a room with it. More than anything, though, Spoon’s music has the best quality of a roommate; it’s reliable. The Austin-based group has been consistently great, especially with the four outstanding full-length releases since 2001's Girls Can Tell. However, the one divisive characteristic of Spoon’s music as a roommate may be that it can be particular, as the band’s perfectionist mentality in the studio can be heard in every little detail. This has become more and more apparent with each new release, as their most recent release, 2007’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, was not only more varied than their previous work, boasting sounds from Motown to reggae, it included a more precise and perhaps calculated studio sound. So Spoon’s new album, Transference, will come as a welcome change for those who thought Ga Ga ... was too controlling, as Transference is more loose and dirty than usual ... but it and a could be a disappointment for those who love Spoon’s clean and orderly approach.
This is the first album that Spoon produced on their own, and they take it in a raw, noisier direction giving it a vibe similar to their earlier work (especially 1998’s A Series of Sneaks). The songs are not tidied up much considering about half of the songs on the album are actually demos. This is something that may upset many fans, as one of Spoon’s specialties has been their expertise and resourcefulness in the studio. That’s not to say Spoon still doesn’t work some wonders, as several of Spoon’s signature effects are employed. Transference is a very deep and dark album that finds its sound mostly from 80’s post punk (i.e. Joy Division, Public Image Ltd.), with jagged and singular guitars, dark and personal lyrics, and long, hollow and hypnotic songs.
Spoon opens Transference with the spacey sound of “Before Destruction,” which contrasts Radiohead-like moments of an organ drone and spooky layers of vocals with sparing moments in which it sounds like lead man Britt Daniel’s and drummer Jim Eno are recording in a bedroom with just an acoustic guitar, a snare and a cymbal, creating an appealing spectrum of sound. “Is Love Forever?” features a very jagged guitar hook that is countered by heavy percussion blows, and serves as more proof of Spoon’s special ability to create so much with so little. The guitar bounces back and forth between two chords, the drums only strike conventionally on beat and there are only a few lines to be sung, yet Spoon creates magic with Britt Daniel’s punkish vocals and the signature vocal feedback they so often use, bringing forth the lyrics and the tough questions that Daniels asks on this album.
While much of Spoon’s lyrics remain somewhat oblique, the theme of trying to understand and deal with life’s conflict is apparent on Transference. Whether it’s Daniel trying to make sense of a relationship falling apart (“Before Destruction”) or even struggling with how to survive financially (“Who Makes Your Money”), Transference appears to be Spoon’s most human album. This is ever so emphasized with the instrumentation and production which sounds in a lot of ways like life itself: it sounds close yet distant, upbeat yet gloomy, and beautiful yet occasionally frightening.
Transference shines through the gloominess throughout its 10 tracks. “Mystery Zone” uses the kind of guitar echo delay effect that would make The Edge proud, and sucks you in like a black hole, starting very bright, before hypnotizing you into a moody abyss. “Who Makes Your Money” is quite hypnotic like the “Mystery Zone” though doesn’t develop as much making it less intriguing. “Written In Reverse”, the band’s first single, has Spoon’s energy is turned up to 11, as each instrument sounds unrestrained yet groovy. The song is basically Spoon’s version of the Beatles “Oh! Darling”, as Daniel’s voice shrieks like McCartney’s while pleading to a leaving lover “I wanna show you how I love you/I can see you blankly stare.”
“I Saw The Light” starts out ordinarily enough, with grungy guitar and pretty standard Spoon pop before descending into a fixating instrumental coda highlighted by an exclamatory piano solo which leads into an awesomely off-kilter guitar solo. “Trouble Comes Running” is what it would sound like if Britt Daniel was backed by the Who, as the falsetto backup vocals are reminiscent of Pete Townsend’s and the raucous drums splash like Keith Moon’s. “Goodnight, Laura” is a somewhat uncharacteristic intimate piano lullaby, but is a wonderful change of pace after the raw driving rock of “Trouble Comes Running”. “Got Nuffin’” has the insistent drive of Kill The Moonlight’s “Jonathon Fisk”, and the lyrics contain equal urgency: “I’ve got nothing to lose but darkness and patterns”.
Spoon’s transformation and body of work shows they have been truly one of the finest of this generation, from their garage rock debut Telephono in 1996 to the great pop albums they created in the 2000’s to now Transference, which is self-produced and their most cohesive work of art. While Transference will divide fans more than albums past with people questioning their choice of a looser, darker direction, Transference ultimately acts as a beautifully dark yet intimate album that will be added to Spoon’s exceptionally consistent canon of work.