Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Rating: ******** (8/10)
There a number of indie groups who, over the last decade, have managed to establish themselves as household names, maybe not in most homes, but thanks to the support of NPR and news magazines trying to seem hip, in most upper-middle class, white, college educated ones. Spoon is one of these and their every release is anticipated, then celebrated by their pseudo-indie fans almost by rote.
I've never fully understood the popular reaction to Spoon - I think the band at their best are universally lovable, but their output is certainly not universally great. Their last album, 2007's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, was greeted with high praise and I still can't figure out why. If one hadn't heard Spoon before, maybe it would come across as pretty nifty, but as compared to Girls Can Tell and Gimme Fiction, it seems bland, formulaic and uninspired. Sure, it may step up sonically, showing the telltale signs of a bigger budget - added instruments, more meticulous engineering - but the songs themselves are weak.
Not so with Transference. In an established pattern of making a great stride on every second album (Telephono but not Series of Sneaks, Girls Can Tell but not Kill the Moonlight, Give Me Fiction but not Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga), Spoon was due to put out a good one and they have delivered. Transference takes what few strides the band forced into Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga as well as the more heartfelt progress of Gimme Fiction and carries the sum to yet another level of maturity.
It's clear from the opening of "Before Destruction" that Transference is a step forward. The song begins with warm, intimate layers of sound, breaking over Britt Daniel's naked vocals. Some songs are classic Spoon at their best, like the riff-focused "I Saw the Light" and the piano clunk of "Written in Reverse." But others, like "Who Makes Your Money," indicate bold progress, much as the song "I Turn My Camera On" did a few years back. Circling a slick beat, "Who Makes" is tense and edgy but at the same time, peels away another layer of timidity and announces yet another slew of conventionally un-cool influences. Once again, Spoon proves they can pull off almost anything they try.
Lyrically as well, the band has further let down their guard. The songs are the band's most immediate and personal since 2001's Girls Can Tell. Also, as Spoon's first truly self-produced LP, Transference does away with the almost sterile sonic perfectionism of albums like Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. "Trouble" boasts the sound quality of a 60's garage band's high-end home recording. Even the more sonically complex songs like "Before Destruction" and "Who Makes Your Money" have a raw immediacy and the sincerity the last album so lacked.
Transference is the result of Spoon's broadened sonic vocabulary finally finding space to lock in to the band's more emotional, vulnerable tendencies. It's all of the band's explosive creativity and none of their cerebral overreaching. It's everything Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga wasn't and everything Spoon should be. Finally.