Transference – Spoon



Merge Records


Spoon’s new album came out last Tuesday.  Although I don’t have any qualms (ethically or otherwise) about downloading music for free, I prefer to buy cds.  For one, I love the feeling I get when I’m in a record store, all stressors leave and I’m able just to focus on albums and music and bands and everything else of that nature.  And secondly, for some reason, I listen to albums I buy, more than I do with ones that I download.  I would throw in support for the bands as well, but lets face it, record companies make most of the money on album sales anyway.  Up here at school, there are (was, I’ll get to that) five record stores in the area.  Three have closed between these past two semesters – and the other two are too far away for me to make the trip during the day with school work and everything else.  So, I wasn’t able to get Transference until this weekend when I went home, and found my trusty Coconuts which has been very good to me during the past few years.  And yes, this anecdote does have a point.  What do I see when I finally open up my prized album?  The sentence “Buying records in record stores is cool.” 

I love record stores almost as much as I love records.  That being said, Transference is a record that you have to work to love.  They’ve thrown out many of their pop sensibilities, to make an artistic album.  Ok, that came out bad.  All of their albums (that I’ve listened to – I still haven’t heard some of their earlier ones yet) are amazing.  I love Spoon.  What I mean to say is that Transference is an album that pushes the band, pushes their music, and pushes their audience.  One might not get their developing ideas on the first time through, and that makes for an interesting set of notions. 

In a surprisingly insightful review, Pitchfork expressed a view that Transference puts forth a theme of “distraction and tongue-tied indecision.”  Whether or not this is actually apparent on the album or not is arguable, but it definitely seems that Britt Daniel and his band are articulating a vulnerability barely seen from them before.  To set this mood up, they employ a variety of studio and production techniques which catches listeners completely off-guard.

The first song, “Before Destruction” shows the first of Spoon’s different ideas taking place.  It’s a track that sets up the mood perfectly.  One significant technique that the band uses on this album is splicing demos with studio versions of songs.  The beginning of “Before Destruction” takes this to an extreme.  Jim Eno’s drum track sounds very clean and crisp.  Over that we get Daniel’s distant vocals.  Another major approach to the production is the cutting out of music when it sounds like it’s still supposed to be there.  For instance, that clean, crisp drumming?  Yeah, it leaves within a few seconds of the vocals.  These two tactics seek to create an album full of duplicities.  The lyrics, like normal Spoon lyrics, are great.  I especially love the image of “Everyone loves you for your black eye.”

“Is Love Forever” is the brilliant second track.  The drumming introduction sounds computerized, and the band’s rhythmic pounding pushes the song along.  However, Britt’s vocal line for the verse refuses to be catchy and melodic; instead it focuses on a straightforward pitch, which creates its own melodic ideas.  The chorus, mainly an easy “Is love forever” culminates with numerous vocal tracks all over each other.  Oh, and that dropping out of music occurs here, only with the vocals.  While doing that with guitars and drums may sound strange but not too bad, doing so in the middle of words provides a startling feeling.

“The Mystery Zone” sounds like a clichéd title (much like the previous song as well, actually), but it’s another great song.  Rob Pope’s bass line is simple, yet effective.  The guitar chords enter and exit with an echo, a contrast to the apparition like mood of the song.  The whole song leads the listener’s ear along pushing and pulling in every direction, without finding an attainable comfort for itself.  This is proven especially when the song cuts out vis-à-vis “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” style.

“Who Makes Your Money” is my second favorite track, next to the next track (I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist the convoluted sentence).  It’s another groove-filled song, with the drums plodding along, the bass adding melodic confirmations to the vocals, and an atmospheric keyboard.  Daniel’s vocals are very passionate, especially during the chorus and the ending of the song.  These two sections play with cutting out vocals during words, and using volume controls to mess with it as well.  Before we get to that, I have to talk about the middle section though.  The music drops out and gets into a whole other groove which leads into a very melodic singing sections (“When all is quiet and on your own, And all your love, there it goes”).  The production value on this song is extremely high as it plays with one’s senses to get their message across.

This leads to “Written in Reverse” which I previously just said is my favorite song.  It’s a very ferocious track with attitude.  The guitar is extremely aggressive, and Daniel actually screams some of his vocals, something I’ve never heard before.  This creates an uncomfortable feeling, unbalanced even. The lyric “Somebody better call a hearse” comes out as comical with a hint of trepidation.  Although it’s four minutes long, it feels much quicker.

Musically, “I Saw the Light”  jumps all around: in volume, style, and music.  The pounding groove is quickly established.  With instruments jumping in and out, it’s actually relatively easy to feel comfortable with right away.  However this is offset by the jump in the middle of the song.  Right when a climax sounds like it’s coming, the song cuts out into drums and Harvey’s piano, only to be built back up again from scratch.  Yet again, another great idea pulled off by the band.

“Trouble Comes Running” almost sounds like an older Spoon song, as it’s sound kicks back to “Gimme Fiction.”  To me it’s sounds like “Sister Jack” meets The Who’s “Happy Jack.”  However, the song does fit on Transference, it has the air of a demo track which retains apprehension mood found on the album.

The short, piano-driven ballad “Goodnight Laura” is a very beautiful track.  Daniel almost whispers his vocals above the resounding pianos and quiet background humming.  It’s a mock-confident song.  It sounds like the band is trying to comfort the “Laura” character while also trying to comfort themselves.  It’s very pretty.

“Out Go the Lights” is another good song.  Not great, but good.  The chords and notes of the music for the verses keep going up, making Daniel’s vocals having to reach for higher notes.  Strangely, when there’s nothing to sing, the band let’s the music wash over the audience.  It’s a very soothing song, instrumentally speaking.

The penultimate track is the single “Got Nuffin.” It’s a song that’s been around for a while now, on its own EP that came out last year.  It’s another upbeat and aggressive track, though not as much as “Written in Reverse.”  Unfortunately, it’s not as catchy as older singles, but serves more as an introduction for their new sound.  An introduction in the sense that the song came out before the album, not because it’s a latter track on the album.

Lastly is “Nobody Gets Me But You.”  It’s a very minimalist track in the sense of normal instruments.  However, it’s probably the most chaotic song on Transference.  While the groove stays the same through most of the song, sounds come in out of nowhere at times.  The musical anarchy that occurs is a fitting end for an album so unsettled, so unstable, so tumultuous as this one.

Spoon have made an intrinsically challenging record.  And if you’re willing to listen, truly listen to Transference and let the band push your preconceived notions of music and sounds into abstraction, it’ll be an album that will mean so much to you.  It’s an utterly great album that may take a while to grow on you, but it’s completely worth the confusion and defiance that it causes.  Much like the idea of still buying physical albums in such a digital age, it’s an art that you simply have to work at, but it becomes much more sentimental to you if you follow through with it.

Buy This Album

Official Site Page


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