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Spoon - Transference

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Artist: Spoon

Album: Transference

Label: Merge

Review date: Jan. 19, 2010

Spoon’s Transference is as Zubaz stripes—belligerently jagged, though inorganically so, and to the point of tackiness.

The first jag is the vocals, which, characteristically for Britt Daniel, wear their tarnish like a sweet scar, as if it can’t be helped (badge of chronic masculinity: no harm, no foul):

Sample from “Written in Reverse”

You either identify with this kind of vocal gesture or you don’t, and nothing less than your interest in the entire Spoon project probably hangs in the balance. That’s been the case since the dawn of the band. But it’s a reasonable hypothesis that swing-listeners (like me), at least, would be particularly unconvinced by Transference’s strained growls, which suggest an absolutist’s dedication to rock doctrine, however conservative and awkward, a la late Lou Reed—or worse. Recall the cautionary moments in Some Kind of Monster. And none of this is helped by the sublime adolescentism of the words. (Paging Transference’s finale, “Nobody Gets Me But You.”) Aside from intermittent pockets of earnestness, they’re mostly about whatevs.

The second jag is the band’s more enduring sine qua non, the percussionization of everything.

Transition from “Is Love Forever?” to “The Mystery Zone”

“Is Love Forever?,” for example, is two chords played fast on the downpick, no changes, Daniel singing one syllable at a time. Between 40 and 55 seconds, the reverb on his voice is overwhelming, but with a very short decay. The result is a cut-out that creates, in effect, an extra beat each time. The song also ends without a fade or natural coda, and there is no silence between tracks, further heightening the effect. This is, as expected, the general texture of the record – anxious and assertive, with hooks made as much out of rhythm as melody, and is easily their most successful template. It’s the one element of Transference that comes off as inventive.

The third jag is the production, which is squeaky clean even when it’s lo-fi. The atmospheric opening moments of the album are about as believably gritty as Brooklyn on “Gossip Girl.” The intro, “Before Destruction,” is an unplugged straw man plain and simple, used to make the next song pop. As rock records go, this is a fine (if obvious) dramatic strategy. But it may also remind the listener that Spoon only sounds lo-fi when they feel like it. For a band whose stock-in-trade is rawness, as well as distance from the epicenter of the music industry, sounding slick seems more hazard than virtue.

Transference is the victim of an unfortunate irony—the more honed, the less it cuts.

By Ben Tausig

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