Thursday, August 22

Soundbite: Spoon

Britt Daniel, Spoon’s delightful front man, sounds more like a Brit than any other singer in Texas. But the fact remains that he is ours, America, and we should milk that fact for all the nationalist pride it’s worth.

Daniel is a capable and versatile singer, confident enough in his voice to send it freewheeling about. He’s often at his best when he sounds strained or even unhinged, though he’s also got a sweet white-boy falsetto to give John Mayer a run for his money. And Daniel has a way of phrasing so precisely the wonderfully odd lyrics he writes for himself, presenting them like a craftsman showing off his latest piece of work.

Daniel’s voice is a welcome entry point into “Transference,” the band’s seventh album, because there’s little else to hold onto the first time through. Their last outing laid out its intentions from the beginning: it called itself “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga,” and followed through with 10 fun, nonsensical songs. But it’s hard to know what to do with an album called “Transference,” and the music is slow to relinquish any clues.

The opener, for example, ominously titled “Before Destruction,” begins with Daniel’s voice coming through muted and distant as if sung through a telephone; the first line we hear clearly is “Everyone loves you for your black eye.” Next comes the jaunty “Is Love Forever?,” with Daniel forsaking any kind of contained melodic pattern. Nine tracks later, “Transference” leaves an underwhelming impression aside from the energetic lead single, “Written in Reverse.”

But Spoon has surely earned our patience by now, and given time, what “Transference” turns out to be is something like a classic Steely Dan album. These are two groups who believe quite strongly that dance music can be an intellectual exercise, that the presumed dichotomy between pop and art is a false one. The tricks and flourishes of the recording studio are integral to “Transference,” but so is rhythm, built upon Jim Eno’s deceptively simple drumming.

The pacing of “Transference” is the opposite of most pop albums, with its three most straightforward, upbeat songs coming at the end. “Out Go the Lights,” “Got Nuffin,” and “Nobody Gets Me But You” would all be at home within “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga,” but on the tail end of this album they serve as a kind of musical secret weapon. Following songs that were, for the most part, quietly fascinating, this trio is like the climax of a slow-building action movie, and when it’s through, there is no option but to start the album from the beginning again.

And stuck into the middle are two of the most adventurous tracks Spoon has made. “Who Makes Your Money,” its title phrase sung repeatedly as if from underwater, rides a loping bass line and bubbly, echoing keyboards. “Trouble Comes Running,” on the other hand, has all the jagged rawness of the early punk movement; that these two songs can coexist so naturally on one album speaks to the great variety of sounds that we’ve come to expect from Spoon.

My fear is that “Transference” might go the way of Gnarls Barkley’s “The Odd Couple,” a similarly ambitious album that, due to a botched release and the lack of a hit single, went criminally unnoticed in 2008. Britt Daniel and company are ours for now, but it’s up to us, America, to appreciate them while they’re still around.

E-mail Goodman at [email protected]

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