Music Reviews

Spoon Transference

(Merge) Rating - 9/10

“Spoon had better be worth it” thought our devilishly handsome protagonist as he handed the cashier his debit card at his local record store. “They had better be worth $726 fucking dollars, twenty phone calls to Chase Bank and just as many headaches.” You see, the week before, tickets for Spoon’s tour featuring Deerhunter and Micachu went on sale in Seattle. Andrew, living about 150 miles north of the Emerald City, had to purchase them online from the theater. He bought five so that he and his friends could all sit together and have a grand old time, and received an email confirming that he had purchased five tickets. Chase, however, said he bought thirty goddamn tickets. He didn’t even have thirty friends, let alone thirty willing to go see Spoon.

After returning from downtown Bellingham, known to some as the City of Subdued Excitement, Andrew put Transference into his stereo. He enjoyed the first half, and by the middle of the second was falling on his knees and praising Britt Daniel for the mastery he repeatedly displays at his unique brand of songwriting. After he dried his tears, he went to his girlfriend’s apartment to be made a delicious dinner. After thanking her profusely, he returned to his own luscious abode and went in for listen number two, this time with a pad and a pen to transfer his thoughts into written words. As his thoughts poured out in a waterfall of unending praise he began to realize just how special this album was and just how special Spoon is as a band. He pondered their existence as a studio band, and how their identity had shifted on this record. Before, they could sample and layer and transform all they wanted and still sound like they were playing in a garage. It was something special about them, and it was a reason Andrew had loved them so much prior to Transference.

On this album, their studio trickery became far more obvious, but, unlike other studio oriented bands Andrew hated, like Muse, it never weighed them down and still took a backseat to the band’s songwriting craft. The album began with the spacey Before Destruction, full of vocal effects and guitar layers that advanced and retreated as the song wore on. It was tense and always felt as if it was building towards a massive finish, yet it went out with a whimper. Andrew thought that the feeling he got from the lack of a cathartic ending was similar to how Daniel was feeling in the song; his love was coming to a close, he got no happy ending. Andrew listened to the person he now thought of as his “good buddy Britt” (except not really) pine over lost love and relationships for the next four fantastic tracks. They were all more experimental than Spoon had ever been, and the sharp, unexpected left turns kept Andrew guessing and involved in the album. The songs still grooved like Spoon always has, but they never let him get comfortable. Is Love Forever was a bouncy track with unexpected chord changes and rough starts and stops. The Mystery Zone continued in the same style, and Who Makes Your Money took it all in at a slower tempo and used keyboards and delayed vocals to great effect.  

 When he got to Written in Reverse he saw a decent single transformed into a wonderful album track. Its claustrophobic, jittery piano followed by sections of open, loud guitars provided a perfect transition into the second half of the album, which revealed it to contain more conventional Spoon songs. Daniel still pondered love, but was slightly more upbeat about his prospects. “And he should be,” thought Andrew. “He’s a great musician and could probably drown himself in indie chick poon if he wanted to.” Yet Andrew thought his buddy Britt admirable for not going after just anyone, but instead waiting for love and longing for its return when it slipped away.

Even though the second half was more upbeat and conventional it still saw Spoon conquering new ground on their epic power pop journey.  The songs were not  as stripped down as before. They were far more dense and layered, though they still contained simple, driving rhythms and chord progressions. I Saw the Light contained an instrumental coda and Got Nuffin’ had a simple guitar solo. It relied far less on the smarmy charisma of Britt Daniel, something that had been seen as a big part of their success. They gave up on the thing everyone saw as great about them, and still remained to make a great album. They abandoned the traditional “Spoon sound” while still sounding like Spoon. They added disjointed guitars, strange stops, layered sounds and vocal effects and less snarky, more thoughtful lyrics.

On the second listen, Andrew still preferred Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, but every listen revealed more about Transference.  The album twisted and turned its already discombobulated songs around and around, never letting anyone get comfortable. It showed a more cerebral Spoon than ever before. Andrew felt smart listening to it. The sonic exploration thrilled him. The breezy arrangement made the album fly by and allowed for consecutive listens of the best Spoon album since 2002’s Kill the Moonlight.  It was Spoon’s most intelligent album in a catalog full of intelligent albums.

Andrew sat back, took a long drag off of his cigarette, and, with a satisfied look on his face, looked lovingly at the Transference case sitting atop his stereo. Spoon had been worth it, oh so worth it.