Premature Evaluation: Spoon – Transference

Premature Evaluation: Spoon – Transference

It was way back in June that Spoon released Got Nuffin, a brief collection that gave us our first taste of Transference via the dusky, percussive rocker that gave the EP its name. A couple of weeks later we heard a live take of “Is Love Forever?.” At the time we said it sounded like more chaotic, dubbed-out early Joe Jackson. A couple of weeks after that we were introduced to “Written In Reverse.” We didn’t have the final title at the time, but we did know it came with noisy guitar, loud piano, fuzzed bass, and one of those repetitious Spoonerisms that you should be aware of at this point. By October we also had a title and complete tracklist for the Austin band’s seventh album. And the songs kept coming. All this to say, will anyone actually be surprised by Transference?

When “The Mystery Zone” surfaced in November Britt Daniel noted:

This is the first record we’ve made without a producer or heavy of any kind and I don’t know for sure because I’ll never hear this record in the same way that someone who didn’t make it will, but I think you can tell it. When I listen to it I think, hey, that’s how I woulda done it! Which is really what you wanna to hear from a band, isn’t it? This one is pure Spoon. For better or worse and all of it.

So before you dug into the William Eggleston-wrapped album you also knew what textures to expect. Still, all the preparation and background is different than sitting down and absorbing it from the eerie organ strains of “Before Destruction” to the crisp “Nobody Gets Me But You.” It’s weirder than Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. And longer. It has the spacious minimalism of parts of Kill The Moonlight, but stripped bare, expanded upon, and stretched. It’s not as “showy” or polished. At the same time, you feel all these different elements finding sharper cohesion.

Look no further than the organ and high-hat opening of “Before Destruction”: The song takes its time and sets a spare, slightly ominous and very dreamy mood. When the organs drops out and we get Daniel’s voice with a guitar, it sounds like he’s in the same room, standing somewhere not to far away from you. This immediacy remains throughout the collection.

Same with inventive production details: Think about the dubbed vocal echoes (and clips) of “Is Love Forever?” and the strange sand-bag flange of the song’s drums beside the crisp guitar pulse. It’s followed by one of the most straightforward tracks, “The Mystery Zone,” allowing an easy breath before the warping organ and prismatic vocals textures of “Who Makes Your Money.” Of course, it’s Spoon’s talent that no matter how many studio tricks they offer up, the songs are all pretty easy listening. (See, for instance, the understated guitar build of “Who Makes Your Money”‘s 2-minute mark. Even a skeleton’s an anthem.)

As you know, “Written In Reverse” tears out, a bona fide rocker with Daniel’s busy throat-shredding falsetto, splashy drums, and piano noise brushed beneath the big guitars. After a late-song pause, it turns more into a party (even before the laughing studio chatter). Again showing a taut sense of dynamics, it’s followed by the bottled energy of “I Saw The Light.” People will have sex to this song (and feel pretty classy doing it during the piano breakdown).

“Trouble Comes Running” would work well on Ga Ga and Kill and in an indie film. After the climactic anthem we get the dusky piano ballad/lullaby “Goodnight Laura” (strings, tears) and “Out Go The Lights,” which also finds Daniel making sure you rest well and keep your chin up and proud. The pick-scraping sound and deep echo of the late-song percussion add some extra gorgeousness. The album ends with a song you know well by now — soulful, raucous, piano-spattered “Got Nuffin” — and “Nobody Gets Me But You,” which adds subtle layers until the layers aren’t as subtle and you’re getting chopped black of noise atop the tight rhythms.

Again, it doesn’t matter how many Spoon songs you hear live prior to a release: These guys treat the studio like a lab. Seeing how the songs work together and fall apart in the right places it what makes Spoon Spoon …. and Daniel was right: They do a good job being themselves on this one.

Transference is due 1/19 via Merge. You can stream it at NPR right now. You’ll also find the “Written In Reverse” B-Side “Mean Red Spider” floating around:

Spoon – “Mean Red Spider” (MP3)
(via We All Want Something To Shout For)

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