Formed in 1993 in Austin, Texas, Spoon, fronted by songwriter, guitarist and vocalist Britt Daniel, has offered an impressive catalogue of pop songs influenced in equal measure by early Gang of Four, Wire, The Velvet Underground and Can (the band's name is derived from a Can song). Instrumentally, the rhythms are angular, jagged and choppy, recalling the band's British art school-punk leanings (a la Wire and Gang of Four), while Daniel inserts his love for Beatles-esque melodies.
Starting with a burst of two successive releases in a two-year span, 2001's Girls Can Tell and 2002's Kill the Moonlight, Spoon came up with a sound that was both familiar and unique, then made several attempts at tweaking the combination. Despite the commercial success of their 2007 release, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, the band opted to swing back to the harder edge of their aforementioned earlier recordings. For the first time without the aid of longtime producer Mike McCarthy, Transference was self-produced, opting for a more spare production, or as Daniel described in a recent New York Times article/interview, "less glassy." Along with founding member and drummer Jim Eno, bassist Rob Pope and instrumentalist Eric Harvey round out the band's current lineup. Transference doesn't veer away from the "Spoon sound" -- it captures a vibrant energy and natural live sound of the band as a unit.
And there are a number of great surprises on this record. Transference's opening cut, "Before Destruction," with its scratchy metal acoustic guitar chords propelling the song, followed by layers of vocals, synthesizers and percussion, builds to a psychedelic pop ending reminiscent of The Beta Band. And it works.
With the designated single, "Written in Reverse," a John Lennon-influenced, hard driving number, the record truly takes off. The following song, "I Saw the Light," could be the album's jewel. Starting off sounding like a sped-up Gene Pitney ("Town Without Pity") song, it builds to a dramatic plateau, only to give way to several unexpected breaks and crescendos. It's Britt Daniel's songwriting craft (and the band's collaboration) at its best.
The lo-fi touches of "Trouble Comes Running" and "Got Nuffin," with its cool Siouxsie and The Banshees-era guitar riff, are classic Spoon rockers. The record's sole ballad, "Goodnight Laura," is a hauntingly bare, Paul McCartney-esque number, with a distant piano accompanying Daniel's lonesome vocals.
In the age of the iPod, it might seem ridiculous to be critical of the album's sequencing, but the record's arcs could be improved, for example, if some of the songs in the latter half were pushed up in the order. Aside from that, Transference is by far Spoon's finest release since the brilliant Kill the Moonlight.