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Album Review

Spoon embraces the bare essentials

January 18, 2010

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There’s a moment on every new Spoon album where you have to admire the bottom line: Lineup changes aside, these guys have been releasing albums since the mid-1990s yet still play with the curiosity and vigor of a band at its first rehearsal.

With “Transference,’’ the quartet’s follow-up to 2007’s “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga,’’ that epiphany happens five songs in. “Written in Reverse’’ is classic Spoon - Britt Daniel’s electric guitar clangs with blunt force over Eric Harvey’s equally plodding piano - but it’s also a case study of how well this band thrives on tension and economy.

The whole album, in fact, trades on a slackness that caroms off the taut song structures. “I Saw the Light’’ ambles along before shifting abruptly into three minutes of rhythmic soloing. “The Mystery Zone’’ is simultaneously lean and expansive thanks to Jim Eno’s clipped drums and the slight delay on Daniel’s jangly guitar parts.

“Transference’’ is Spoon’s first self-produced album, and that’s apparent in some of the indulgences. On “Is Love Forever?,’’ Daniel’s voice ricochets on the chorus, a production effect that feels unnecessary and already dated.

But Spoon isn’t angling for accessibility on “Transference.’’ If anything, the album almost feels reactionary to the band’s commercial success with “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga,’’ pulling back from the catchy melodies in favor of the barest essentials. Nearly half these songs are the original demos, which explains some of the austerity that makes it such a compelling listen from a band that’s still at the mercy of its muse. (Out tomorrow)

JAMES REED

Indie Rock
Spoon Transference
Merge
ESSENTIAL “Written in Reverse’’ Spoon plays at the House of Blues on March 27.