Saturday, June 5, 2010

Spare & Muscular: Catching Up with Spoon

I have a swamp of discs piled up that I am listening to, but before getting to those, I need to finish writing about the last batch, all oriented at my effort to fill in some major holes in my listening from the last decade. Now by know, you know I started this project because of Paste's Best of the Decade list, but in the case of the band Spoon, the real imperative came from the fact that they also topped the big board's decade list (although apparently in the twisted world of music criticism, Spoon's consistency can also become a problem--one The National should worry on--um, yeah).

Now, of course, Spoon recently released a new album, but, as is my want, I went back in the catalog and started with the critically acclaimed Kill the Moonlight which made me wonder how it was possible I had not been listening to this band as this is an absolutely solid indie-rock album. That made me drop back one album to Girls Can Tell which is not quite as strong of an overall album for me--although is still very, very good all the way through and has a couple killer tunes. It is also a little more straight forward rock with Kill the Moonlight introducing a bit more techno-synth sound. These albums are both on the short-side (better than on the long-side in my book), but are just packed full. As Pitchfork notes in their review of Kill the Moonlight:
Spoon's latest is their magnum opus to date; it takes a scalpel to the highlight reel of their career, cutting and pasting a 35-minute tour de force that ends too soon.
If I hadn't know so ahead of time, I think I would have assumed these gents hailed from the UK given Britt Daniel's punky drawl which is Joe Strummer like at times. But, of course, Texas is where Spoon calls home which might help explain the Austin-slacker attitude in their songs and the bluesy-rock feel which underpins many songs. Both of these qualities are key to why I find them so appealing--they typically take on very small, discrete everyday objects, events and ideas in their songs. That is not to say that the songs are simple--their may be a larger point to the songs--but ultimately, they don't over-reach. Observation trumps preaching.

But what is most intoxicating to me is the music. It too is simple and straightforward, but not. First of all, there is a whole bunch of space in the music and you really get a sense of the band consciously leaving that space between the instruments, riffs, vocals and melodies. At the same time, the music is very muscular--I can't think of another word to describe it. The bass and drum are not only insistent and solid underneath these songs, you get the feeling that the whole song is built around them--and yet they do all this without tons of notes or fills. The guitar (and on the more tech-oriented Kill, keyboards) do all kinds of wonderful lyrical filling in--but again always in a sorta-punky-rockabilly-chord-rippin' way. It is somehow lyrical and edgy simultaneously. And then there is Brit Daniels vocals which are growly, tense and urgent one minute, laid-back and whatever the next but always a perfect fit.

So I am far from done with Spoon. I will probably jump into the 2007 effort Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga next, or perhaps I will even try to start being current and pick up Transference. Any thoughts there? Until then, here are a few from these two wonderful albums. As usual, I am going with the order I experienced the albums, rather than chronology. Also going to try to give you a little mix of tempo and style.

Vittorio E.
Lines in the Suit (Girls Can Tell / Buy Album)
Take a Walk

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