Spoon had been around nearly a decade before they released Kill The Moonlight, and they’d been places. They’d gone from indie label to major, then to major label purgatory, and then back to the indies. They’d gone from terse, charged-up, Pixies-damaged postpunk, on their first few records, to genteel and stripped-back power pop on the great 2001 outing Girls Can Tell. But I still feel like Spoon didn’t fully become Spoon, the band that’s become an indie institution, until a year after Girls Can Tell, when they fully figured out everything they were trying to do, when everything finally clicked perfectly into place, when Spoon figured out what they were doing that nobody else was doing. The album that came out of that was Kill The Moonlight, and to these ears, it’s still Spoon’s single best album, and one of the best indie LPs of its era. It turns 10 today. Let’s talk about it.
Here’s something that blows my mind: The same month that Spoon released Kill The Moonlight, frontman Britt Daniel collaborated with Conor Oberst on an EP, and it didn’t turn out to be a mess or anything. Of course, both guys were pretty close to their creative peak at that moment (Bright Eyes, lest we forget, had just released Lifted), and both had fairly identical fanbases, so things made sense culturally. But aesthetically, I can’t think of too many frontmen more opposed than those two. Because Oberst was all about messy emotional splurge: Venting the most desperate parts of his soul in a strained, teary yelp and dragging his gut-emptying confessions out as long as they needed to go, regardless of anyone’s idea of proper song length. He always presented as a young man on the verge of breaking. Daniel, on the other hand, couldn’t have been any more composed. He used his voice in terse, economical ways, his syllables sharp little stabs against his songs’ rhythm, his lyrics never displaying enough of him for anyone to take advantage of. There was a robust swagger to his focused yip; he never sounded like someone who’d flagellate himself over lost loves. He was all blithe breeziness, and Kill The Moonlight was where he and his band figured out how to make that blithe breeziness the only thing that mattered.
The Spoon of Kill The Moonlight brought a few hints of influence: toothy Wire minimalism, mid-period Motown strut, Kinks-y melodic twinkle. And I’d love to know whether Daniel and Jim Eno were listening to the Timbaland tracks that were dominating pop and rap radio at the moment, since they brought the same sense that empty space was a virtue, that a perfectly-placed sound-effect could be the most memorable part of a song. But Kill The Moonlight is remarkable for being the moment where Spoon sound most like themselves, where every single production choice seems perfectly measured and thought-out. The tambourine on “Back To The Life” comes in at the exact right moments, and so do the handclaps; the echo on Daniel’s voice is timed to sound just like backing vocals. Songs don’t ease toward their endings; they cut off abruptly, almost startlingly, and it takes a second for us, the listeners, to figure out that, yeah, that was a good place to end it. The entire rhythm track on “Stay Don’t Go” doesn’t even quite qualify as a human beatbox; it’s just a guy breathing funny, and it works. And even the bits of muffled studio chatter that we hear during certain songs somehow add to their effect. It’s weird.
Kill The Moonlight came out at a moment when indie rock in general wasn’t that exciting to me, not when commercial rap and R&B were making such weird creative leaps. It took me months to hear it. When I finally bought the thing, I felt like an asshole for ever doubting it. Just like the visionary pop producers I was so besotted with, these guys were making oblique and risky creative decisions without ever losing track of melody or rhythm. They were making pop music, after a fashion, but it was more about pulling the listener into their sound-world than imitating the listener’s ideas about what pop should sound like.
Since that album, Spoon have rode that sound, with minor adjustments, and gone on to become one of the bigger bands in indie-dom. But except for obvious examples like White Rabbits, or sneaky cases of production-minded indie-poppers like Girls, I can’t say they’ve been all that influential. The Animal Collective storm was brewing, and it took the indie nation in the exact opposite direction, toward chaotic whorls of sound instead of concise and immaculate songcraft. And I think that part of the reason behind that is that you could hear Animal Collective and imagine doing some version of that yourself. Spoon’s form of wizardry, on the other hand, seemed way less attainable, more innate. People didn’t imitate them, because how the fuck could you imitate that?
And now, as the album hits its 10th anniversary, what lingering effects has it left with you? Do you think it’s proved especially influential? What memories did it soundtrack? What songs were your favorite? And let’s watch a couple of videos below.