THE CRITIC: Spoon’s “Transference” Another Successful Chapter in an Indie Rock Story
Spoon – Transference
Listening to another Spoon album is like slipping on an old, beloved coat (or sandals, if you’re like me and would never spend more than two hours above the Mason-Dixon line). It might have been a while, but everything just seems so right; the fit is snug, the feel is comfortable, and the sense of becoming reacquainted with a long-lost friend is undeniable. It’s been like this for a while with Spoon, to the point that it wouldn’t be surprising if they just kept making the same record over and over again. It speaks to their creativity and Britt Daniels’ general inability to sit still that this has never been the case – from the definition of their sound in 2001′s Girls Can Tell to exquisitely sleek, fat-free album that was 07′s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Daniels and the band have used each new record as an opportunity to refine their sound. The turn of the decade finds them sharpening the Spoon aesthetic to yet another fine edge, sanding off some of the worldly influences and focused songwriting on Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga to make an album wholly different in tone and mood, but one that is, at its heart, thoroughly Spoon.
For most of their career Spoon have built themselves an identity on drummer Jim Eno’s clock-like rigidity and pinpoint rhythms and Daniels’ distinctive nasally snarl, but it’s apparent from Transference opener “Before Destruction” that the band is looking to tinker this time around. Not that anything appears much different to start off with, as a simple drumbeat anchors a wavering keyboard before Daniels’ ragged pipes and a loose guitar roll in. Rather, it’s the devolution of the song as it continues that speaks to something new and exciting, layers of Daniels’ harmonies building up on each other into a fulfilling, almost Eastern-tinged atmosphere.
It’s subtle and relaxing, a wave of sound that is more calming than revolutionary, and as Transference continues along past the bouncy “Is Love Forever?” and “The Mystery Zone,” both songs that could have been plucked from either of their last two albums, one wonders whether it was just a minor burp in what seems to be a retread of their sound. A happy, eminently enjoyable copy, to be sure, but still a copy. But then a song like “Who Makes Your Money” or “I Saw The Light” comes around and Transference finally comes into its own. Whether immersing itself in a muddy, haunting minimalism that would make Kill The Moonlight shudder in delightful revulsion, or reveling in the dark layers of noise and tension that make up “I Saw The Light” and “Got Nuffin,” Transference takes Spoon and sends them to an atypically shadowy place.
Spoon have been known for getting to the point, so it’s a bit disconcerting and even more illuminating when so many of the songs here meander about long after Daniels’ has finished saying what he has to, beyond the obligatory howl and moan. It’s what makes songs like “Who Makes Your Money,” “Before Destruction,” or the dissonant mess of closer “Nobody Gets Me But You” so refreshing, and what makes the sharp jabs of guitars and the typically Danielsian wordplay in more stereotypically “Spoon” songs like “Written In Reverse” and “Trouble Comes Running” stand in such high-toned contrast. It’s a pleasant mix, one that cherrypicks from each of Spoon’s previous albums yet adds a dash of something subtler, an undertone of angst, confusion, and instrumental tension made clear in Daniels’ problem in “Written In Reverse:” “I wanna show you how I love you / but there’s nothing there.”
But it’s Transference’s simplest and most unusual moment that is its strongest. “Goodnight Laura” is Daniels at his most heartbreakingly earnest, a short, sincere ballad that is as close as Spoon will ever get to a straightforward love song. It’s bare-bones nature and disarmingly naked emotion is almost shocking to longtime fans accustomed to the layers of cynicism and sarcastic wordplay Daniels has built up like armor over the years. At its core, though, it’s also quintessentially Spoon – stark and honest, and when Daniels’ best exclamation of love is to intone mournfully as the song ends, “don’t you know, Laura, you’re alright? You’re alright,” one is reminded that this is still the Spoon their fans know and love. It’s memorable for its uniqueness and its utter disregard for the formula that has worked so well in the past, and like Transference as a whole, it’s another successful chapter in one of indie rock’s most consistent stories.