Think back to the pre-release chatter concerning Spoon’s confoundingly titled 2007 record, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, the first track available for Internet-savvy fans being “The Ghost Of You Lingers.” The track announced itself with incessant piano pounding and not a whole lot else besides Britt Daniel’s ethereal vocal take and some funny sound effects. One hell of a red herring, “Ghost” turned out to represent virtually nothing about the rest of Ga, instead being surrounded by so many of the band’s immaculately crafted pop songs and perhaps their finest collection of such yet. Printed boldly in the album’s liner notes were the words “This record is a hit!” and indeed – whether or not it could be properly labeled as their “breakthrough” – I’ve heard “The Underdog” in places I’d never have expected to hear a Spoon song.
Enter Transference, now two and a half years after Ga. Not counting “Got Nuffin’,” a track which appeared on its namesake EP last year and is found here as well in slightly altered detail, the first taste of Spoon’s latest offering came in first single “Writing In Reverse.” The track is everything the aforementioned “Ghost of You Lingers” was not – a stomping, snarling pop song with as much swagger as anything with Spoon’s name on it. Turns out, the bait-and-switch of Ga applies here as well, only in, erm, reverse; “Written in Reverse” turns out to be one of the few tracks here that’s immediately recognizable as the kind of pop music Spoon have been so expertly producing the past decade. This time out, Britt & Co. lean heavily on production trickery and lean grooves rather than their trademark ascetic precision and tight hooks.
Coming on the heels of Ga, it’s immediately tempting to classify Transference as the band’s “experimental” record – an intentionally more difficult set and a reactionary “suck on this!” statement to anyone standing by for another “The Underdog.” Tempting, though not necessarily accurate. While it’s true that most of the songs on Transference eschew traditional song structure for less obvious routes toward melodic payoff, the payoff is still there and it’s still characteristically Spoon. “Is Love Forever,” the second track and arguable MVP of this record illustrates my point: it’s a stilted, two-minute jolt of clanging guitars and Britt Daniel rhythmically spitting out phrases, the only discernible chorus coming in the form of periodic, increasingly feverish shouts of the song’s title – yet the track has the same stick-to-your-ribs quality of Spoon’s finest. Elsewhere, the initially murky “Before Destruction” burns slowly before allowing Daniel’s vocals out from behind a curtain of buzzing keyboards. “I Turn My Camera On” heir-apparent “Who Makes Your Money” stealthily gets under the skin and won’t leave until the aforementioned follow-up track “Written In Reverse” forces it out.
It’s important to note here, though, that this isn’t the kind of record Spoon haven’t made before, it’s rather just one they haven’t made in a while. A Series of Sneaks makes for a good reference point, as the band revisits the kind of road warrior grooves of something like “30 Gallon Tank” on tracks like “I Saw the Light” and album closer “Nobody Gets Me But You,” as well as gritty, snarling near-pop on “Trouble Comes Running,” which could easily sit on the second side of Sneaks, 12 years after the fact. And as Transference runs over 40 minutes long, which nearly constitutes bloat by Spoon’s standards, the record recalls some of the more drawn-out aspects of Gimme Fiction, only almost overstaying its welcome.
In looking at Transference in the context of Spoon’s catalog, one of the most indomitable in indie rock, it’s not exactly any kind of revelation, but it’s certainly another excellent record in an ever-growing string of them. It’s always been hard to point to one Spoon record that’s a cut above the rest, and Transference does nothing to change that. What the band may have done in this record is solidified their place as one of the most valuable makers of music today. With such remarkable consistency and a kind of malleable singularity, Spoon truly are the sort of band we ought to be thankful for.