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SPOON - Transference

Since Spoon's minimalist reinvention via 2002's Kill The Moonlight (an album whose tracks could feature as little as mouth percussion, handclaps, and echo-laden vocals), this Portland/Austin-based band has gradually, but steadily, piled on the layers. Some of those layers have come courtesy of additional instruments, but just as many have arrived in the form of exhaustively nuanced studio edits. 2007's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga saw Spoon's minute attention to detail join forces with their strongest and most richly-arranged tunes to that point. The result was a record whose charms feel as fresh today as they did at first listen—there is practically no end to the discoveries to be made.

The same can be said of their latest, Transference, with one notable exception—no hits. Whereas Ga was stacked with indie-pop gold, Transference offers no quick fixes. Even first single "Writing In Reverse" is too cryptically pissed-off with itself to look its listener in the eye. Instead, the record steps sideways deep into a world of jagged panning, meticulously raw instrumentation and fiercely-applied effects. It makes sense, then, that to truly understand its charms, you need to slap on a pair of headphones, stop asking questions, and just let it ride, which is exactly what this album so confidently does. Years of honing his craft has allowed singer Britt Daniel to become a master of inflection and subtle communication. Whether he's tough or tender, the man can turn the most oblique lyrics into a barrage of naked, relatable emotion. Likewise, the band—even when doing little more than jamming out a riff for three minutes—is equally fluent in sonic human language.

And that's really what's at the heart of Transference's gamble. Can Spoon—a band that is quite likely only another couple of killer tracks away from becoming "made"—ignore the pop hits and trust in their considerable talents to carry the day? It's enough to make an A&R man (assuming they even exist anymore) tear his hair out. Certainly, there's no question that a whole lot of people will initially meet this album with a shrug of disappointment, but Transference is that esoteric oddball whose acquaintance is well worth making. In effect, it's Moonlight Mk. II—although far denser, it is similarly about an album-wide studio aesthetic that makes the most of every moment. It's living proof that Spoon's self-confidence may be its greatest asset.

Reader Comments (4)

Hmmm...this is just what I feared. Kill the Moonlight was my least favourite Spoon record, and I've been a fan since 1997. Gax5 grew on me, and I expected this album to require some patience, but comparing it to KtM makes me wary.

January 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJames

Have no fear, this is a very solid album. I agree that there aren't any stand-out hits akin to "You've Got Yr. Cherry Bomb" or "My Mathematical Mind", but this record gets better with every listen. Spoon is a master of understatement.

January 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMike

It don't think it necessarily sounds like Kill the Moonlight. It honestly sounds like a natural progression from everything that's come before. It's a little messier and a little more stripped down than Gx5 and GF, but it's not as tight and bare as KtM (my favourite Spoon album). Somewhere in between, or maybe somewhere outside of all their previous albums. Definitely worth checking out.

January 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJustin

Hi guys,

Thanks for posting on the site. Just to clarify what I meant by the whole KTM comparison... It wasn't about Transference sounding exactly the same (which it doesn't), but about it having a similarly uniform studio approach. Both albums really stand out in Spoon's catalogue as having a certain aesthetic approach that is applied across the board regardless of the songs themselves. KTM's is about stripping everything down to bare essentials, whilst Transference's is about a seemingly weathered and unfinished texture—vocals are cut off, songs end abruptly, etc. And to that end, part of loving both of those albums is about accepting its stylistic choices and letting them grow on you. At any rate, it is a really great record—as both Mike and Justin point out, whether you dig KTM or not, it's well worth a listen.

January 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJohnny

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