Spoon - Transference
Record Label: Merge
Release Date: January 19, 2010
What a joy it is that bands like Spoon exist. Easily one of the most consistent bands of the last decade-plus, they have become almost synonymous with their indie-cool swagger and their calculated and nuanced approach to making records, which employs grit and polish in perfect measure. Their unfailing commitment to craftsmanship makes choosing a best or favorite record of theirs a difficult and rather pointless exercise. With the announcement of each new Spoon release, you have a pretty good idea of what you're going to get, and yet, each one is no less impressive because of it. Spoon's steady performance isn't so much a reflection of predictability as it is dependability.
Needless to say, I was excited to hear Transference, and even more so after hearing its spiky single "Written in Reverse". Here, wrapped up in a little over four minutes, is pretty much everything that makes Spoon so enjoyable. The pounding piano and clanging guitar have that percussive quality that allows them to propel the song forward as much, if not more so, than the drums, and Britt Daniel delivers his lines with that slightly off-center bark that's become a trademark. It's all unmistakably Spoon, and it's hard to suppress a little smile when listening to it.
While it's unquestionably a strong single, "Written in Reverse", as you'd expect after the diversity and dynamics of 2007's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, is not exactly representative of Transference as a whole. Going against the trend of their last few albums, Spoon decide against opening with an easy hook, instead going with the free-form introduction "Before Destruction". It's a fitting beginning to a record that shies away from the typical verse-chorus song structures. Songs like the fleeting "Is Love Forever?" sound like only snippets of an idea compared to some of their previous work (nine of the ten tracks on Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga fell between three and four minute run times). It has some fun with echoed vocal effects and packs enough of a punch that it's refreshing and makes for a better cut than another more fully-realized track in a the traditional Spoon vein might have been.
"The Mystery Zone" heads in the opposite direction, as a rare five-minute tune, and also makes for an unusual addition to the Spoon catalog, as it's the rubbery bass line that keeps it plodding along. It's notable early on that we're listening to a more reserved band here, and that feel continues on "Who Makes Your Money". It plays like an analog to "The Ghost of You Lingers" from Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga as a wandering but tense piece whose release comes in the form of the song that follows it. The suspense of "Ghost" broke with "You Got Yr Cherry Bomb", while "Money" makes for an equally taut lead-in to the aforementioned "Written in Reverse".
"I Saw the Light" and "Trouble Comes Running" recall the Spoon from a few albums ago, with insistent post-punk strumming and ever-so-slight lo-fi production. These brash numbers set up for the very refined lullaby "Goodnight Laura". The piano has always been a hallmark of the band's sound, but here, it's used to supply melody rather than cadence. It's the guitar that takes a similar turn on the record's most stunning track, "Out Go the Lights". Sacrificing rhythmic effect for texture, Daniel's guitar creates a mood that flies almost directly in the face of the band's usual impregnable bluster. The wide open and exposed vibe is definitely something the band should explore further in the future.
Fans will recognize "Got Nuffin" as the title track and single from their EP released last summer. It stands out with "Written in Reverse" as one of the few moments on Transference that have real single appeal. The decision not to focus on immediate pop hooks is really a blessing, though, as this album showcases Spoon at their loosest and most diverse. The closing track "Nobody Gets Me but You" alone displays a level of artistic freedom they don't seem to have allowed themselves to enjoy in some time. Leave it to Britt Daniel and Company to drop a release on us that continues to push their creative boundaries in so many ways, yet remains so singularly Spoon.