There’s a moment on every Spoon album, typically within the first five songs, that you realize that these guys are on top of their game like no other band around. Record to record, there’s no significant drop off in quality, just fussed-over pop songs with hooks to spare, all deceptive in their simplicity. Because while most of Spoon’s tracks sound like they were conceived of and committed to wax in 10 minutes, main Spoon man Britt Daniel has been obsessing over this stuff for years in some cases. All that matters to him is that it kills. And for more than a decade, it has.
That moment on Transference, Spoon’s seventh album, occurs at track five, lead single, “Written in Reverse,” a stomping rambler that finds Daniel in shambles, making obtuse lyrical distractions (“I’m not standing here!” Daniel shouts more than once) like he’s a static-headed mad scientist. Meanwhile, the guitars crackle like lightning strikes over the choruses, the rolling barroom piano provides a fine counter melody, and longtime drummer Jim Eno taps out one of his trademark fat and simplistic rock backbeats. It’s a jam that slots nicely between about a dozen other memorable ditties (“I Turn My Camera On” from Gimme Fiction, “Don’t You Evah” from Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, “Fitted Shirt” from Girls Can Tell, most obvious among them), to the point where I’m not entirely convinced it hasn’t already been on a Spoon album.
As Daniel has taken to noting, Transference might be Spoon’s most “Spoony” album yet. It’s an odd thing to say, but it makes sense in that Spoon is the only band that sounds just like Spoon, and Transference is as good an entry point into the band’s oeuvre as any. Everything that made Spoon an indie-fave after Kill the Moonlight is present here in droves, and there are enough new tics (balladry via “Goodnight Laura”) to differentiate the album in their discography.
The big change between Transference and the band’s Billboard-cracking album, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, is the refocusing on bottomed-out grooves and bristly songcrafting of the band’s earlier work (particularly A Series of Sneaks and Kill the Moonlight). Transference eschews the friendly poppiness of Ga songs like “The Underdog.” The foggy “Who Makes Your Money,” “Out Go the Lights,” “Troubles Comes Running” and “The Mystery Zone” don’t have flashy choruses or effervescent horn sections; they float on by on their high-wire tension for their runtimes, and they sort of collapse on themselves in an abruptly satisfying way. In other words, this is Spoon at its most Spoony.
In a myriad of ways, Transference is an answer record, the album where the members of Spoon deal with their indie stardom and mainstream acceptance by diving back into their catalog, paving the path for recent indie stars (Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear, etc.) that are faced with following up a hotly tipped album after a string of under-exposed albums. Transference is a good bar to judge against: It doesn’t so much as provide relative newcomers with a Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga 2 as present the band as a different entity, one that’s the same as it ever was.