SPOON - Transference
Tuesday, January 19, 2010 at 04:30PM
soundscapes in Pop/Rock

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.

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