Nearly three years after breakout album Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Spoon have returned with their seventh full-length studio effort, Transference. As some may have figured, a lot's changed in that time span. The band has reached stunning mainstream commercial success, both in sales and promotions, becoming a fixture on movies and shows geared toward 20-somethings the world over. And yet, with that achievement in mind, Spoon's changes do nothing if not make them more endearing to their already loyal fan base, while still appealing to new listeners. Energetic, enterprising and just as nonchalant as ever, Transference still represents a higher level of musical achievement than the band has ever encountered-- not an easy feat, but impressive just the same.
From the opening notes of the record's intro "Before Destruction," it's evident that Transference is a much different type of collection than its predecessor. Everything is raw, distant and increasingly rock-oriented. Putting aside their previous pop sensibilities, frontman Britt Daniel refocuses Spoon's honest, witty delivery to a musical background that is equal parts experimental and rock 'n' roll-influenced. Instead of a rigid, boxed in song structure where the surrounding noise can build and develop, songs like "I Saw the Light" and "Nobody Gets Me But You" let loose and flourish in promoting a functionally haphazard approach the likes of which we've never seen from the band. Electronic beats and sounds burst in from underneath stretches of guitar and piano soloing, as Daniel lets his voice simply contribute as another instrument, instead of functioning as the crux of each track.
The singles on the album, though definite highlights, are not the type of songs that seem to stand apart from the effort as a whole. "Written In Reverse" and "Got Nuffin" (which was featured on an EP of the same name last summer) stand out, yes, but are overall a microcosm of Transference's purpose. Possessing driving melodies, and honing in on Daniel's icy, cool delivery, the songs lurk in the shadows, except when breaking for the surprising solos that pepper the entire effort. In fact, "Written In Reverse" almost appears downright raucous, as it grinds to a tune seemingly influenced by The White Stripes' Get Behind Me Satan. Angsty and offbeat, the song represents the less deliberate nature of the album, and shows a distinct departure from the group's comfort zone-- a fact that can be both admired and appreciated in its execution throughout the effort.
Even tracks that come off more as ballads conduct themselves in a way that fails to disrupt the album's energetic flow, but instead, reinforces it. The traditional "Goodnight Laura" is piano driven, and subdued in comparison to the songs around it, but also largely reflective of the album's darker mood. Same goes for "Out Go the Lights," which mixes a pleasant vocal presentation with its active instrumental section. Even in his more sentimental moments, Daniel's bothers give off an air off either vindictiveness, or invulnerability. Though always viewed as confident, Daniel seems to be completely unflappable now, and that sort of positive energy flows freely as a real boon to the album's outlook.
Change is always difficult for both listeners and artists alike, hence why few artists truly attempt to revolutionize their sound much from record to record. Spoon hasn't scrapped their sound on Transference, but they have redefined the public's perceptions, and maybe their own concepts of themselves as well. We can no longer see Spoon as a straightforward bastion of infinite popular appeal for indie rock. Rather, the band has used this album to try something inherently new, while maintaining the parts of who they were that allowed so many to be drawn to them in the first place. From this angle, it's a job well done after what could possibly be the best release of the band's career.
Best Track: "Got Nuffin"
[Previously on Animal Noises: Best of 2009: Most Anticipated Albums of 2010]