Since 1998’s wiry A Series Of Sneaks, Spoon has attained a level of consistency that is unparalleled among their modern rock contemporaries. Especially from 2001’s swinging Girls Can Tell to the glossy pop-rock perfection of 2007’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Spoon produced a quartet of albums that are all drop dead classics (three of which were among my 50 favorite albums of the decade). It’s an almost mechanical, inhuman run of music - so good that, to me, there’s no one else that even comes close to matching them over the past ten years. So it’s with great anticipation that I’ve awaited the release of Transference, which finally arrives this Tuesday, January 19.
Unsurprisingly for a band that has stayed close to the boundaries of a very particular sonic aesthetic (but what a fucking sound) for the majority of their career, Transference doesn’t stray too far from the comfort zone. Spoon is what it is, and at this point they probably won’t ever attempt a grand departure from the skin and bones mentality that‘s long been the foundation of their songcraft. The difference here is that, for the first time, the band is working without an outside producer, choosing to shape the songs themselves. The results are, fittingly, even more stripped-down and raw than ever - in other words, the most “Spoon” Spoon album to date.
As always, the differences between Transference and earlier recordings are subtle. The warm, inviting organ and a simply strummed (though still helplessly rhythmic) acoustic guitar of “Before Destruction” gives the song a more organic feel than usual. The oddly beautiful “Who Makes Your Money”, perhaps one of only two songs here that don’t have easy points of reference from their back catalog, toys with a dub influence and features mildly distorted, layered vocal effects on the chorus. The other unfamiliar tune is a surprisingly straightlaced piano ballad, “Goodnight Laura”. With its “hang in there” sentiments and reassuringly pretty humming, the song introduces a previously untapped element of heartfelt feelings into Britt Daniel’s songwriting repertoire.
In other places it’s business as usual, if only a bit rougher around the edges. “Written In Reverse” is a manic rocker with Daniel sounding nearly unhinged over pounded piano keys and piercing guitar work. The shimmering “Trouble Comes Running” recalls the 60s garage/pop/Motown vibe heard previously on “Sister Jack” and “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb”, while the sly “Out Go The Lights” has a almost 80s new wave feel reminiscent of “They Never Got You” (though slowed down and fully realized). And both “The Mystery Zone” and “Nobody Gets Me But You” feature the bass heavy, serpentine grooves previously perfected on “I Turn My Camera On” and “Don’t You Evah”.
If most of Transference sounds familiar, it’s very likely meant to. That fact is perhaps the record’s greatest strength, as the patented rhythms and repetitions the band has long championed are still, at times, undeniably exciting. But familiarity is also, in a way, its biggest weakness, as a handful of songs here drift into monotony, lacking the memorable melodies and sharp hooks of Spoon at their very best (and may have benefited from a pair of outside ears producing to bring them to fuller life). With a fan base built from six prior albums and years of touring, Spoon have become a “career” band - one that’s now moved into their third decade and up into hallowed venues like Radio City Music Hall. Though many bands at a comparable career stage lose their bite and are content to coast, Spoon are above such clichés, delivering a very good record that’s worthy of a place in their esteemed catalog. That Transference falls just short of the spark and immediacy, in other words - the greatness, of their best material can’t be surprising at this point. They are, after all, human. Aren’t they?
Stream :: Transference