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'Transference' Adds Layers To Spoon's Sound

Spoon, the Austin, Texas quartet, has just released its seventh album, called Transference. An indie band on a small record label, Spoon has gained widespread familiarity by having its songs played on TV shows such as Bones, Scrubs, Chuck, and How I Met Your Mother. Transference should help make this band, together now for fifteen years, an even bigger success.

Spoon's lead singer Britt Daniel likes to hear the sound of his own voice. I don't intend that as a criticism. When he enunciates the syllables that form his intentionally vague lyrics, he lets his vocal cords strain and fray. The result is a pleasing emotionalism — self-conscious, to be sure, but what indie rocker worth his salt isn't? And after fifteen years of Spooning and pushing forty, Daniel knows what works for him. Yammering vocals that add grit to sleek guitar hooks and precise drumbeats: that's not a formula — that's an aesthetic.

For a band that started out in the era of Nirvana, the alternative-rock style advanced by Spoon has moved into the mainstream. And that's without the band doing much to tinker with its sound, other than creating ever-more-tightly-wound songs, dense in the best sense. This is music that catches your ear immediately and continues to give up new layers and meanings the more you listen. I'm thinking of a song like this, the ferociously obsessive "Trouble Comes Running."

For me, the high point of Transference is the Spoon equivalent of a rock opera. The song "Written in Reverse" is a lengthy rant in musical form. It's a great showcase for every member of the band: Rob Pope's strong bass-line giving the slinky melody a spine; the keyboards of Eric Harvey providing a nice Jerry Lee Lewis-style hammering that alternates with Jim Eno's drumming. Britt Daniel lets loose with the sort of one-chord eloquence that punks and early period Elvis Costello fans can admire as much as anyone else listening. And Daniel's raw singing shreds the phrases about a light bulb going off when his narrator confronts his lover's "blank stare."

On "I Saw The Light," the song I played at the start of this review, Britt Daniel sings, "I make my case to the world." On songs like that, "Written in Reverse" and "Trouble Comes Running," Spoon bolsters its case: Accessibility comes wrapped in bleakness; the catchy arrives with a coating of romantic frustration. As he sings on yet another good song here, "Got Nuffin," quote, "Got nothing to lose but darkness and shadows." Don't you believe that for a minute.

Copyright 2022 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.
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