Saturday, January 23, 2010

Spoon - Transference

Two things make a Spoon record great. Second of these is Britt Daniel’s songwriting, which is generally full of great hooks, both lyrical and musical. Songs like “Sister Jack”, “Don’t Make Me a Target,” and “You Got Your Cherry Bomb” don’t need any bullshit to make them solid, they just stand on their own. But the first thing that’s great about this band is drummer Jim Eno’s impeccable talent, a timekeeper with this mysterious groove who always seems just a whisker behind the beat, lending an immediacy to the songs. Those drums have also been remarkably well-recorded, such that I can visualize the stick cracking the head with every midtempo beat. Unfortunately the band screws up both of these factors on their latest release, Transference.

The LP starts off with a grooveless dirge, “Before Destruction”, which displays the raw aesthetic sought on the record as a whole. I’m okay with somewhat lo-fi recording, hell I love classic Guided by Voices, but when a band at Spoon’s level of professionalism adopts it, the statement is a little concerning. The following tune, “Is Love Forever?”, has a decent groove, lyrically and musically. Unfortunately there’s an unnerving phased drum snap which reeks too much of gimmicky David-Fridman/Flaming Lips bullshit, when the washed, echoed vocal track kicks in, my fears are realized: these guys are trying to make an Indie/Artie record rather than a Rock record. “Mystery Zone” comes next with a decent, B-grade Spoon groove that’s making me question my doubts. Maybe this record will turn around? No, because “Who Makes Your Money” starts with a phased keyboard riff that could have carried the tune if it weren’t all fucked with, then the chorus comes in with more of that same echoey phasey shit. Nice bass line in there, though. The final cut on side A (yeah, I got this on vinyl, so for 20 clams I'm entitled to an opinion), “Written in Reverse,” gives a little taste of that Spoon groove I was looking for, with a heartfelt vocal, nice little harmony touches, and a killer bridge leading to a decent breakdown, false stop, and wrapup. Okay Britt, whatcha got for side 2?

“I Saw the Light” kicks it off in good style, a slow burner with nice build and song dynamics. This ‘raw’ production is starting to annoy me though, as I seem to be hearing a bit too much clipped distortion. C’mon boys, you’re too good to follow along with the distorto production trend! Just when it sounds really crap, they shift into a nice drawn out march to the finish, but unfortunately the breakdown/solo at the end is a phasey minute of “brum, brum, brum, brum” followed by a crazy distorted (er, digitally clipped) “bumbumbumbumbum…” that thankfully just ends to stop the song. Stop it now! But as they say on late night TV, There’s More! “Trouble Comes Running,” a Faces-style rocker, sounds absolutely atrocious, all tinny and clipped. What’s worse, this has the best vocal hook and harmony so far on the record. These guys are starting to remind me of the smart girl who acts like an idiot bimbo to impress the boys. You’re too good for this shit! Stop, please! And stop they do, only to shift into full piano ballad mode on “Goodnight Laura.” The sound isn’t bad, but the song is pretty much a ripoff of “Golden Slumber” from Abbey Road. “Out Go the Lights” comes back in with one of those great-sounding hanging snare grooves, a typical mid-tempo Spoon tune. Nice sound on this one, they must have recorded it on a good day, or before they heard the latest Flaming Lips record. The little echoey touches are nice and not overdone here, which makes me admire how post YHF Wilco has been able to integrate the ubiquitous laptop blips without them talking over. Boom bap, Boom bap; in kicks “Got Nuffin”, the leaked singleish money track. Nice rocker there with a well-used phased guitar lead and tinkly key accents. The record finishes with “Nobody Gets Me But You”, another marching song, with that fucked-up distorto drum sound and another nice bassline.

Conclusion: it’s great they picked up a consistent bass man, whose prominence is welcome. Obviously I can’t stand the distorted production crap, and given that this is the first record they have produced themselves, the blame all falls in their lap. After so many great records, I guess I expected more from these guys. Still, it’s a Spoon record, not Tapes n’ Tapes, so even their crap gets 3.5 stars.