REVIEW: Spoon – Transference

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"I will write this to you in reverse..."

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I will state for the record that I, as of this writing, still haven’t listened to anything before Kill The Moonlight. The article is based on my experience with the aforementioned album, as well as the two following it (i.e. Gimme Fiction and Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga.

Have Spoon lost it?

By asking this, I am not asking if they’ve lost their minds.  My question is that of many fans: Spoon has walked a tightrope since their true breakthrough way back in 2002 with Kill The Moonlight, persistently growing as a band whilst never losing a single drop of the flair that they have always exuded. Even without his band to back him up, Britt Daniel still manages to translate all of the songs into small solo pieces, almost independent of the original article. In person, he embodies the same warmth and energy that the band has always brought to the table, never quite wavering from the all-around-good-guy personality. Spoon has never been drive-you-to-tears or game changing, which is not a bad thing, considering: Spoon have always seemed to sacrifice the possibility of putting out one mind-altering album, in favor of merely releasing wholly solid album after wholly solid album. So the question still remains: have they lost it?

Short answer: Of course, they haven’t.

The long answer: Transference, for the most part, scraps the jam band feel that was so prevalent before on Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, in favor of a sound more at home with Gimme Fiction‘s cohesion and sense of style. At first glance, Transference may be the new showstopper in the band’s catalogue, due to the presence of two things:

  1. The one-two punch of “Goodnight Laura” and “Out Go The Lights.” The former is something that Spoon have always threatened to do, but (as far as I know) have never pulled through on: a piano ballad. A lullaby of sorts, Britt serenades the titular Laura, singing her to sleep, with some of the most gentle lyrics he’s written to date. In addition to this, the word “singing” here means “singing,” rather than the half-sung vocal patterns that are oh-so prevalent on any given album.
    The latter, “Out Go The Lights,” (which I noticed, after writing the first half of this bullet-point, contains the phrase “one-two punch.” How strange!) Feels just as gentle, but almost feel more like a plea than anything else. It’s slower than most of the band’s songs that sound this powerful, but still packs a kick that is so unique to their sound. It is, undeniably, very, very pretty.
  2. “Got Nuffin” and “I Saw The Light.” While the two songs mentioned above bring a sense of grace to their sound, these two songs, to be quite frank, KICK OUT THE FUCKING JAMS. “Got Nuffin,” the album’s first single, sounds (for lack of a better word) sinister, as a monotonous-but-never-annoying bass riff burns away in the background and Britt persistently states that he’s “got nothin’ to lose, got nothin’ to lose.” On the surface, it’s a tremendously fun song, but under that is a low-key but still awesome rock song, featuring a Ga^5-era jam to end the song. They do this on “I Saw The Light” as well, where the first half is almost an appetizer for the jam session that ensues, proving that there is no soul in the band who hasn’t learned to play for their lives.

What do these two things mean? It means that Spoon has grown, yet again. While they have always been able to, as said, kick out the fucking jams, they have never done it with such grace, leaving you 10 seconds to the end and wondering what the hell happened there. It mean that Britt has grown as a songwriter, and instead of becoming the world’s best garage band, they’ve become something entirely different, something hard to put a tack on. They are a band that have a “sound,” i.e. when I hear a Spoon song, I know it’s a Spoon song without having to be told (this is true of only a few bands, though the best example is The White Stripes). The best way to describe it is like Voltron: if a piece were missing, it wouldn’t work, but as it is, every single piece of the sound fits together to make something that only sounds like itself. Spoon are not truly unique as a band; however they are a band who embody a distinct sound and style.

Transference also shows how adept the band is at filling the spaces in things. For some bands, this isn’t a good thing, leaving you feeling claustrophobic and drowned in sounds. It’s almost impossible that a band of four can fill everything up as well as they do, but here, they do it oh-so well. They piece everything together in a flawless fashion, and when truly listening, you get a sense that there aren’t any holes in any piece of music on-record. It’s tight, but without being overly technical.

Spoon may never make an album that defines the band entirely. Kill The Moonlight is unbearably fun and well put together, Gimme Fiction is written flawlessly and has an atmosphere that most artists strive for but never achieve, and Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is a streamline example of how bands like Grateful Dead are born. Where could Transference be placed? To my ears, it places nowhere: it’s joyful without being sugary, moody without being dramatic, and balls-out-rockin’ without being muscular and overbearing. For Spoon, it’s definitely perfect. Or, it’s as perfect as they ever will be. I don’t care if they’re perfect: with a hot streak like this, it’s doubtful that I will ever be disappointed.

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