Spoon, 'Transference' (Merge)

7
Transference
Critical Mass
Label: Merge

by Melissa Maerz

If Spoon had been meant to ride a comet out of the collegiate airwaves into modern-rock radio ubiquity, they'd be kickin' it with Jack White by now. True, the Austin, Texas band has already reached some checkpoints along that arc: getting signed to (and dropped from) a major label, scoring their first Billboard Top 10 debut with 2007's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, watching frontman Britt Daniel defect to Portland, Oregon, where Modest Mouse and Death Cab for Cutie are living out their second acts.

But unlike those bands, Spoon never have enjoyed a gold-record breakthrough. So, on their seventh album, they re-embrace indie-ness, reviving the live-in-the-studio sound of their early albums. Rarely going beyond three chords, Transference is an aural Zen garden: minimalist lines and meticulously rendered patterns anchored by Daniel's brittle cool.

With little more than tense bass, wiry guitar, and that signature uh-AH-uh-uh-AH percussion, the songs (recorded on the quick in Daniel's house) crackle with the freshness of rough-cut demos. It's enough to make their once-hardened frontman sound young again. There he is, asking big questions ("Is Love Forever?"), writing shy lullabies ("Goodnight Laura"), and being seized by epiphanies. "I saw the light," he sings. "I never felt so permanently alive!" And the way he gasps the words, you do, too.

WATCH: Spoon, "Written In Reverse"

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