Spoon - Kill The Moonlight

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.

Comments (41)
  1. Small Stakes is one of my favourite openers ever!! It never kicks in!! It Just builds and builds!!

    • Beast and Dragon, Don’t Make me a Target, Before Destruction, and Small Stakes…all opening tracks and all songs that have at one time or another opened a mixed CD of mine.

  2. A great, great album. One of the best of the noughties, it proves that terseness and simplicity can give way to perfect little pop-nuggets.

  3. “Paper Tiger” still slays

    • I see “Paper Tiger” as the album’s thesis in many ways. Taking a song down to it’s absolute bare essentials (and then some), and coming away with something more. It really is a wonderful record.

  4. The something to look forward to -> stay don’t go combo alllllways gets me

  5. Jonathan Fisk might be my favorite Spoon song. Just great, great stuff.

  6. i hope immaculate songcraft will come back in style soon

  7. This album came out during my last semester to high school so it always reminds me of the ending of my high school days and beginning college (but it’s hard to believe that was already ten years ago!). “Jonathon Fisk” was/still is my favorite track from KtM. I also enjoy “Back to Life.”

  8. Can we stop dancing around how “The Way We Get By” is the best song on the album? And how the bass entrance still wows us, even though we try to anticipate it every time?

    There’s actually a shuffle I do while driving in my car that I am unable to reproduce unless “Back to the Life” is playing. Right during the bridge, after the keys cut out and it’s just the Spoon-claps, Jim Eno shaking some maracas, and Britt’s huge acoustic riff.

    You know, THIS part: http://youtu.be/lFGQrGc_oYM?t=1m45s

    Also, when I want to scare people, I mimic Britt Daniel’s laugh at the start.


  9. This is one of those albums that I practically wore out when I first got into it, and while I don’t listen to it much now, I’m always really happy when one of these songs comes up on shuffle. This was the first Spoon album I really got into (the first few were great too, but I hadn’t known about them yet).

    And I agree with HeiBrau that The Way We Get By is probably the album’s best song. There are others I may like more from time to time, but that song is just pure quality.

  10. This album was my graduation into developing my own taste in music, hearing small stakes for the first time is still one of my favorite adolescent memories.

    Shit, hearing any of these songs for the first time is a favorite adolescent memory.

  11. I like spoon one of my favorite bands

  12. A lot of Spoon’s albums kind of blend together for me, but I was listening to some of them while putzing around with that Pitchfork reader’s poll and I came to the conclusion that Kill The Moonlight is their best one.

    Great band, it’s tough to get too excited for a new Spoon album b/c you kind of know what to expect but for me when I do hear it I’m always reminded why I like them so much.

    • It’s a very tough call.

      I think I went with Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga but it is definitely a toss up between that and Kill the Moonlight, for me.

      • Yeah Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is definitely their best. Almost every song is a classic on that one

        • I can’t really argue with Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, I’m actually a big fan of transference as well. Maybe the real conclusion I reached was that their best album is not Gimme Fiction.

        • I prefer Gimme Fiction from start to finish, but I think the peaks in Ga, Ga….. are higher. Cherry Bomb, Underdog, Finer Feelings, and Black Like Me are real highlights, but for some reason there’s a couple songs that don’t really do it for me. Gimme Fiction is just consistent excellence all the way through.

  13. I must be odd in preferring Girls Can Tell, Gimmie Fiction, and Ga… to Kill The Moonlight. Something about those Spoon albums beginning with the letter G…

    At times, the minimalism at play in Kill The Moonlight is just too abrupt for me, whereas those other three albums (particularly the two that came after Kill The Moonlight) all do the “Spoon thing,” but manage to feel more accomplished while doing so. For instance, why doesn’t Small Stakes ever build up? It would be just as fun as Jonathan Fisk if the drums just hit the same way. I also think the overall songwriting is just better on the G albums. Aside from Don’t Let It Get You Down, Kill The Moonlight takes a bit of a turn for the worse starting with Paper Tiger.

    Overall, I look at Kill The Moonlight as a good album from a great band, but it’s not what I’d consider to be their defining work.

    • I can’t think of it as anything BUT their defining work. I see Girls Can Tell as the idealization of Spoon Mach 1 and KTM as the re-definition. Everything since is a repetition on that theme, for better or worse (there’s really no “worse” with Spoon, just some albums seem easier to move on from – I stuck with Kill The Moonlight the longest).

      • Kill the Moonlight feels like a distillation of their sound to its purest form to me (same with Transference sort of). However, I do think that Girls Can Tell has some stronger songs. ‘Everything Hits at Once’ has a cool angst to it that KtM, for me, never quite reaches.

  14. “Stay Don’t Go”!!!!!

  15. It’s the 2nd best album in the last 15 years, behind Kid A.

  16. Fantastic album. I can see why some consider it their defining album. It is definitely a mission statement of sorts. My favorite is probably “Girls Can Tell” though.

  17. I should also say that I love the minimalism of Paper Tiger and Vittorio E. Spoon have never done “stripped-down” better.

  18. I’ll always remember a really interesting girl I used to hang out with that introduced me to Spoon. This was the particular album and I was instantly hooked. I wonder what she’s up to these days?

  19. 2nd favorite after Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

  20. this makes me feel old

  21. awesome. the album that made spoon my favorite band ever forever…

  22. Still my favorite Spoon record. Probably always will be. Paper Tiger is just the fucking coolest/most beautiful thing around.

  23. I wish Stereogum would have made an article about me when I turned 10.

  24. Is it just safe to say that 2002 was a watershed year in the pantheon of music?

  25. In all this discussion no one mentions Transference. Much like Kill The Moonlight presented a shift in their sound, I really think Transference will prove to be that too. They kind of reached the apex of accessibility and sterling crafted pop songs with Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, and Transference strips that all down. It’s the most reductively Spoony Spoon album. Instead of filling out melodies, it tries to see how little of one you can have while still being pop music. It’s kind of a visionary record too, I think, and one that will grow in people’s estimation as it ages.

    As for this record, it was the record I fell in love with Spoon with. I’d only heard “Cvantez” on a mix a friend made for me before Kill The Moonlight. It became the default car cd every time I went out with friends, and in that horribly literal way you consume things in high school, we did end up smoking a fair amount of pot in the back seats of my mom’s car. That’s a depressing sentence.

    Great record!

    • Kill the Moonlight was the first Spoon album I heard and so I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for it, but I actually agree that Transference is their best album. Just a truly great record in my opinion. And “Before Destruction” might be the best album opening song since albums started getting opened with songs.

  26. I feel like this is an extremely minority opinion, but, while I really like KtM and all their other albums, for me A Series of Sneaks is their most astonishing feat, and one of the most underappreciated records in modern popular music. ASOS was when they first demonstrated their range and power, as well as making the definitive post-Nirvana album. For me it’s far more breathtaking than anything that came after – as great as all those records are.

    Fantastic band.

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