Spoon : Hot Thoughts

It’s been over 20 years since their debut album Telephono was released in 1996, and they have done nothing but look forward ever since. I have no problem saying that Spoon have released some of my generations best rock records, and they’ve done it continually on their own terms. Through a major label fumble that would have broke a lesser band, Spoon have built their sound on a steady diet of Wire, The Jam, the Kinks, the Pixies, and Brill Building pop. The result is something completely, well, Spoon.

Girls Can Tell was the album that, for me, officially started what would be their winning streak and Kill The Moonlight was the defining indie rock album of the 2000s. Britt Daniel’s white boy soul vocals and sparse, angular guitar work combined with Jim Eno’s powerful, clean drumming created a magic that producer Mike McCarthy harnessed in the studio.

From there the world was Spoon’s oyster.

Each album that followed redefined and honed their sound. Gimme Fiction, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Transference, and They Want My Soul all had something to offer and built on what came before. One thing each of these records have in common is a gradual lean into groovier territory. “I Turn My Camera On” and “My Mathematical Mind” to “Don’t You Evah” and “Eddie’s Ragga” to “Who Makes Your Money” and “Nobody Gets Me But You”, all of these tracks showed a much more groove-centric Spoon giving their dancier tendencies some play time. With 2014s They Want My Soul there was a push to mix the indie rock heartbreak of earlier records with a much more polished sound. The result was one of their most acclaimed albums yet. Now with the release of Spoon’s ninth album, the excellent Hot Thoughts, there seems to be no reason to believe Spoon can’t conquer the world at large.

“Hot Thoughts” was the first single released and it’s this opening salvo that seems to mix everything we’ve come to love about this Austin band, which includes Britt Daniel and Jim Eno, as well as Rob Pope and Alex Fischel. Dance-y rhythms with a touch of Stones-y flair all covered with an air of urgency. Daniel’s vocals seem to only get better year after year, and this year is no different. “WhisperI’lllistentohearit” is keyboard heavy, but in a 80s drama kind of way. There is guitar on this album, but it’s used sparsely and when engaged to great effect. There are some heavy Divine Fits vibes here, too. With the addition of Alex Fischel, that band’s keyboard player and Daniels’ bandmate, the comparison is not without its merits. This is not a bad thing, either. “Do I Have To Talk You Into It” is the most fun I’ve heard Spoon have on record in a long time, and it doesn’t hurt that the piano melody is pretty similar to Gimme Fiction’s “The Beast And Dragon, Adored”. “First Caress” is another dance-y number that gives you bonus points for indie rock and dance floor cred. “Pink Up” is a beautifully ornamented track that is pushed more by the music than vocals. It’s space-y vibes and jazzy tendencies is a new sound for Spoon and it works well.

The album is produced by Dave Fridmann, who sat in on a few songs with the guys on They Want My Soul. Here, his presence is known but his “in the red” production style doesn’t define the sound of Hot Thoughts. If anything, the guys just use it as a new color to fill in the lines of their already stellar songs. This seems like a great fit for all.

“Can I Sit Next To You” is a full-on come on in song form. Daniel puts his come hither falsetto to good use here, while “I Ain’t The One” feels like a theme for complete heartbreak(it’s use in the season closer for Shameless was damn near perfect). It helps I’m a sucker for that Wurlitzer sound(and I might have a man crush on Britt Daniel.) “Tear It Down” could’ve been a b-side from the Gimme Fiction days. It’s sorta perfect. “Shotgun” sounds like Spoon got onto a “disco Kiss” kick for an afternoon. The result is this tight leather pants-wearing groove fest of a track. The album ends on a space-y jazz instrumental, which is again kind of a genius move.

Is Hot Thoughts Spoon’s best album? Not by a country mile. But guess what? 20 years in and Daniel and Eno are still redefining themselves each time out. They’ve got this tight knit crew after all these years that seem to have found the right amount of slick, weird, heartfelt, and funky that “get it”. Head back in the wayback machine to 1996. Look around the scene and find the music tastemakers at that time, then head back to 2017. Of that musical might, who’s still moving forward? Who’s still pushing and still vital? It’s a small group, and Spoon are at the forefront.

8. 3 out of 10

 

 

Spoon :: They Want My Soul

the want my soulAs soon as the opening riff of “Rent I Pay” opens the new album from Spoon you know you’re in for a hell of a ride. With it’s Stones-y swagger and Britt Daniels’ vocals ripping through the speakers like razor blades it’s a pronouncement that Daniels and Eno have found that magic once again. Not that I think they ever lost the magic they nurtured and honed in Austin, Texas all those years ago. They just needed to walk away and do something else for a bit(Eno producing other artists while Daniels played in Divine Fits) and come back with fresh ears. What their break has done is given us the best Spoon album since 2007s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga.

They Want My Soul, Spoon’s newest long player since 2010s misunderstood Transference sounds like a band having a great time playing with each other. I don’t think the Spoon of 2010 could have written something so earnest and beautiful as “Inside Out”, a lilting pop track that is as good as anything you’ll hear on any album this year. “Time’s gone inside out/Time gets distorted when there’s intense gravity” Daniels sings, later declaring “There’s intense gravity in you/ I’m just your satellite” as synth strings carry us gently through. On “Do You”, a good vibes song that should be  the song of the summer(if that’s really a thing), Daniels belts in his rock n’ soul croon “I was on 45th I was half out of the bag/ Yeah I knew that you saw me you laughed when I looked back”, later asking the question “Do you wanna get understood?”

Listening to these songs you can tell that Daniels, Eno, Rob Pope, Eric Harvey, and new keyboardist Alex Fischel(of Daniels side project Divine Fits) are here to do one thing and one thing only: write great hooks and get us moving. Before, it seemed Spoon were at the forefront of minimal experimentation with a healthy dose of Kinks royal pop to lessen the sting of Daniels’ Wire and Pixies leanings. There’s still those backwards whooshes and reverbed blasts that come up from under the mix, but they don’t take precedent here. What takes precedent is songwriting and Daniels’ soulful growl.

“Outlier” is this tense, dance-y number with the soon-to-be classic line “And I remember when you walked out of garden state/ because you had taste you had taste you had no time to waste”. Whether that’s a knock on New Jersey or the Zach Braff flick, it doesn’t matter; it’s still snarky and beautiful. “They Want My Soul” has the pop giddiness of primo-era Hall and Oates, if The Jam had written “Kiss On My List”. There hasn’t been this much pop glee on a Spoon album since “You Got Yr Cherry Bomb”. Then, their excellent cover of the Ann Margaret song “I Just Don’t Understand” gets the Mike McCarthy treatment as he comes in to mix this excellent, jaunty piano-driven track with some of Daniels best-sounding vocals. If you’re not aware, Mike McCarthy produced all of Spoon’s albums up to Transference, which was self-produced. The guy doesn’t get enough credit in my opinion. I always thought he was to Spoon as Nigel Godrich was to Radiohead.

Just my two cents, folks.

“Let Me Be Mine” is longing and beautiful jangle rock at it’s finest, while album closer “New York Kiss” sounds like modern dance floor pop. Big disco beat and great synths carry the track as Daniels sings “There ain’t a thing I miss/ Not like your New York kiss”.

Do I wanna get understood? Sure. But I’m happy with They Want My Soul. Welcome back, Spoon. You’ve been missed.

9.2 out of 10

 

I Turn My Camera On

brittNothing like a fine Bully Porter to make the Friday evening even more perfect than a Friday evening normally is, am I right? This has been an extraordinarily long week at the spine factory, so this fine porter is well deserved.

Not much to report here, other than the house is clean, food is bought, beer is poured, and Spoon is spinning. Yes, the Austin, TX Spoon, not the Can song(thought that would be cool, too.) No, Spoon has been a favorite band of mine since I first heard them on Austin City Limits one December night back in 2004. I immediately purchased Girls Can Tell and Kill The Moonlight on Amazon after the broadcast was done. Five months later they released what I feel is their absolute, hands-down masterpiece Gimme Fiction. Now, a lot of folks would say that Kill The Moonlight was their hands-down masterpiece and I wouldn’t argue with them as it is a true blue classic of our time. But there’s something about hearing a band stretch their musical palette a bit and on Gimme Fiction Britt Daniel and Jim Eno -along with producer Mike McCarthy did just that. To my ears, this is an album that holds up to classic 70s beanbag albums. It’s the kind of record you’d put on in the basement after school back in 1975 and you’d drink your Faygo and smoke that sh*t you’d find in your big brother’s bedroom. Songs like “The Beast And Dragon, Adored”, “I Turn My Camera On”, and “My Mathematical Mind” are the kinds of songs you get completely lost in. They take you to some strange, far off place where Britt Daniel is your older pal. You two cruise the Austin parking lots looking for chicks in Britt’s 1972 Malibu, sharing tunes, tokes, and laughs. All I want to do when I hear a song like “Sister Jack” is drive in a car and sing as loud as I can. It’s a song that should’ve been a radio hit in some bizarrro universe. “I was in a drop-D metal band we called Requiem”. I get that sh*t, man.

I must admit that Spoon have an unfair advantage in regards to my absolute adoration of them. Back in April of 2008 the wife and I got to see them live at the Vic Theater in Chicago. It was -to this day- the best show we’ve ever seen. Spoon evoke this air of coolness and gravitas that no other band I’ve seen in my 40 years have ever shown. Effortless badassery. Daniel is the quintessential frontman, playing his Gibson ES-335 like a man on a mission. Jim Eno is one of the most underrated rock drummers working today. The guy isn’t flashy, he’s just solid and powerful. He’s like Charlie Watts on steroids. Rob Pope and Eric Harvey rounded out the quartet with bass and keys and created this live monster on stage. My wife and I were in awe. White Rabbits and The Walkmen opened the show and were amazing in their own right, but Spoon dominated the night. So, seeing them live and watching them make these songs come to life sealed the deal in regards to them becoming one of my absolute favorite bands.

When I started this blog, I wrote an essay about my top five albums of all time. This album was one of them. You can check out what I had to say about right here. If you’ve never heard this album(or this band for that matter) do yourself a favor and get to know this excellent band from Austin, Texas. But you MUST listen to this album. “I Summon You” is songwriting perfection if you ask me. You didn’t? Well, I’m telling you.

Enjoy your Friday evening.

Spoon-Gimme Fiction

It was December of 2004 and it was a Saturday night.  The Christmas tree was up and lit and my wife and two daughters were asleep.  We were a mere two months away from the birth of my son.  I was up and kind of restless, so I decided to watch some tv.  I found myself stopping on PBS and checking out Austin City Limits.  There was a band playing I’d never heard of.  There was something different about them.  An air of cool came through the television speakers.  A slickness that I hadn’t heard in a new band for a long time.  The satellite guide said the band was called Spoon.  Interesting.  So after watching their performance for 25 minutes and being entranced by the minimalist guitar lines, airy keys and metronome-like timekeeping of the drummer I headed downstairs and looked them up.  They weren’t as new as I thought.  They’d been around since the mid-90’s.  They were from Austin, TX and by that point had a handful of releases to their name.  Jesus, was I that out of the loop?  Why hadn’t I heard of them?  I subscribed to Spin.  I was informed, or so I thought.  So without even thinking I ordered their two most recent albums, ‘Girls Can Tell’ and ‘Kill the Moonlight’.  Within 3 days they arrived and after listening to them both in succession I was immediately hooked.  The slickness was still there.  The powerful, yet still subtle drumming of Jim Eno was the backbone of ‘Girls Can Tell’.  I immediately recognized ‘Everything Hits At Once’, the lead off track on ‘Girls Can Tell’ as the first song I heard them play on ACL.  ‘Girls’ was decidedly mellower and more of a conventional album than ‘Kill the Moonlight’.  ‘Moonlight’ had an air of recklessness to it.  More of a ‘use whatever we have in the studio’ feel.  Reversed drum machines, loops, shorter songs.  It was experimental and minimalist, yet still very much filled with an overwhelming pop sensibility.  I’d read that their earlier stuff was much more in the post punk neighborhood, with names like the Pixies and Wire thrown around.  I didn’t hear that at all with these two albums. 

I’d found a new favorite band, but had no idea what they were doing at the point where I had discovered them.  Imagine my excitement when after locating their website I’d found out they were recording a new album.  I followed them on their site everyday, eating whatever scraps they threw my way.  Demos for new songs.  Tracks from older releases.  I devoured them like a starving fan.  Then in May of 2005, they released ‘Gimme Fiction’.  It was a breath of fresh air.  Their sound had evolved from ‘Kill the Moonlight’.  The sound was less minimal and experimental.  It was more lush and classic sounding.  First track, ‘The Beast and Dragon, Adored’, came on like a 70’s-era John Lennon and Plastic Ono Band slow burner.  Big, ominous piano chords played over a slick, monolithic drum beat, slow burning it’s way into the mind.  Singer/guitarist Britt Daniel’s vocal coming across like scratched vinyl and a sleepy badger, not quite whispering and not quite shouting the line, “The beast and dragon, adored, you been gone so long, where you been for so long, I went to places unknown”.  Lyrics not quite making any sense, yet you get the feeling he knows exactly what’s going on.  Words as mysterious as the slow grooving track itself.  The album is full of puzzle box lyrics, minimalist guitar skronk, big drums and slick bass lines.  The instrumentation is more straightforward throughout, yet the post punk spirit lives in between the lines. 

There’s a decidedly funkier vibe, too.  Tracks like ‘I Turn My Camera On’, ‘My Mathematical Mind’, ‘I Summon You’ and opener ‘The Beast and Dragon, Adored’ have a groove that wasn’t present in previous albums.  There’s more of a 70’s soul vibe and less of the Wire/Gang of Four jaggedness.  The songs are allowed to breathe.  Dare I say, Britt brought the sexy?  Well, he did.  He also brought some top notch songcraft.  ‘Sister Jack’ should have been a number 1 hit, with it’s jangly guitar and sing along chorus.  It’s a perfect summer car jam.  It turns your frown upside down.  ‘I Summon You’ is an ominous, mysterious track that becomes deeper and more meaningful with each listen.  ‘They Never Got You’ sounds like a b-side from John Lennon’s ‘Walls and Bridges’.  Beautiful descending keyboard part in the second half makes you wish the song would go on for another few minutes. ‘The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine’ is a beat up pop song with a narrative about, well someone swordfighting the duke and making love to the queen.  Look up the video and it will all make perfect sense. 

‘Gimme Fiction’ solidified my absolute adoration for Spoon.  Britt Daniel is a songwriter to be reckoned with.  With this album they re-invented themselves without losing any of their integrity and that original fire that inspired them to be musicians in the first place.  They inspired me to create with this record.  I feel ‘Gimme Fiction’ was a re-starting point for me in my own songwriting and engineering of songs.  I truly think I needed this record to push myself forward. 

But over all else, this is just a damn great record of the highest order.  A classic, warm 70’s-inspired record.  A basement and bean bag listen.  One of the best of the last decade.  No joke.  Now go listen.