Monday, June 1, 2009

The Greats, Volume 2: Spoon

Based in Austin, Texas, Spoon are the ultimate Indie band. They've managed to break into the Top 10 on the Billboard Album Chart without feeling mainstream. Their music provided the soundtrack for Stranger Than Fiction, and brought them notoriety, but, again, they still feel like they belong to the audience. It's an impressive balance they strike, and it's in large part thanks to lead singer, guitarist, and song writer Britt Daniels. Spoon, make no mistake, is his band, and always has been.

First of all, a lot of their sound is owed to his voice, which I once heard described as a less-refined Billy Joel, and I'd be hard-pressed to improve on that. Just a touch rough around the edges at times, he brings emotion and urgency to the words and melodies, and is the heart and soul of their aesthetic. That, and his guitar, which is always just enough. His guitar lines are lean, effective, and angular. Perfect is another word.

Spoon's leader is Daniels, but no leader is without his lieutenant, and Britt has drummer Jim Eno (I always get his name scrambled in my head with Brian Eno and John Brion). The only other constant member of Spoon, he has a minimalist style that never draws attention to itself, but always reinforces the song. That's the part I like most about this band; everyone is in it for the song, not for themselves. Those are always the best ones.

A Series of Sneaks
They came out of the gates with a simplicity and ferocity they'd never match, but, then, they haven't tried to repeat the post-punk, XTC-meets-Pixies template laid down here. As wrestless as any modern band, albeit in more subtle ways than, say, Radiohead or Wilco, they used their debut as a launching pad. But don't take that to mean it's lackluster. Spiky, and a grower, but so is their catalogue.
Grade: B+
Girls Can Tell
They went from spiky to smooth, incorporating a sort of generalised 80's indie-rock influence. To try to dissect it would take too long, but, rest assured, it's good. While GCT contains the only outright bad song they've commited to tape ("10:20 AM"), it also comes with"Everything Hits at Once," which alerts us to Britt's occasional gifts as a lyricist: "Don't say a word, the last one's still stinging," the album begins.
Grade: B+
Kill the Moonlight
Here, Britt Daniels figured out what he wanted to establish as an aesthetic; write the song, and strip it of everything. Build around it a minimalist city that's still hooky, catchy, and can create something as essential as "The Way We Get By." Use keyboards where appropriate (re: everywhere), and put away the guitar from time to time. Is it an improvement? Maybe. But the best is yet to come anyway.
Grade: B+
Gimme Fiction
They took that sparse thing and took it in its natural direction, towards the darkness. Sparse settings almost never want to be happy, and while "Sister Jack" and "I Summon You" are their finest pure-play pop songs, "The Beast and Dragon, Adored" is a heavy, heavy monster when they play it live. This one has to grow more than any of the others, but it's well worth it.
Grade: A-
Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
"Don't Make Me a Target" is surprisingly forward with its subject, but, with its raggedly brilliant chorus, Britt feels like he might, just might, be loosening up. "The Ghost of You Lingers" takes care of the experimentation, while everything after that does what they do best, only better. If the words meant more, it would be perfect. They get better with every album, and if this is the peak, they built one hell of a mountain.
Grade: A

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