Critical Voices: Spoon, Transference

January 21, 2010

Seven LPs deep and one thing is abundantly clear: Spoon has the paradoxical gift of consistent inconsistency, a sense of “progression” without dilution. Transference, the Austin band’s fifth album in a decade, has the all the trimmings of a Spoon record—the quiet seductiveness of Girls Can Tell (“Before Destruction”), the quirky pop experimentation of Kill the Moonlight (“Is Love Forever?”), the purist, less-is-more songwriting of Gimme Fiction (“Mystery Zone”)—but it still has a soul it can call its own.

If there’s one thing guitarist/singer/songwriter Britt Daniel seems bent on accomplishing with this latest batch of songs, it’s distancing himself from the Sixties-glazed nostalgia of Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, the group’s 2007 pop opus. Can a song like “Trouble Comes Running” make it onto the radio like “The Underdog” did? Probably not—the first 13 seconds sound like they were lifted directly from a demo rather than meticulously mixed by Berry Gordy Jr. The same goes for “Before Destruction,” when Daniel’s vocals first emerge.

Transference seems to intentionally indulge its own rough-around-the-edges aesthetic: “Mystery Zone” cuts out unexpectedly, as do the reverberant vocals on “Is Love Forever?” These are the sort of amateurish moments that peppered A Series of Sneaks, but 12 years down the road, “sloppy” doesn’t seem like the sort of sound Spoon should be bringing to the table. But it’s the looser qualities that give the brilliant bits that much more weight—like when the guitars cut back through “Mystery Zone,” or “I Saw the Light” transfigures into something completely different.

Comfort in imperfection—it looks dangerous on paper, but it seems to hold Transference together just fine. Call it maturity, existentialism, or blissful sabotage—it’s what allows Daniel to sing “Are you quite certain of love?” while dancing around the room.

Voice’s Choices: “Before Destruction,” “Trouble Comes Running,” “Is Love Forever?”

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