Spoon is a hard band to pin down. I admit that I dismissed their first record, 1996's Telephono, as too influenced by the Pixies; that misjudgment caused me to pay little attention to their major-label outing, A Series of Sneaks, which went out of print pretty quickly when label politics got the group 86-ed. Now Merge has reissued Sneaks, which shows songwriter Britt Daniel coming into his own; but as good as it is, it doesn't prepare you for Moonlight.
The fuzzy organ riff and smattering of tambourine that open "Small Stakes," overlaid with Daniel's lonely, un-Texan vocal, sounds like the work of some obscure British Invasion band. It is 180 seconds of suspense, getting your pulse up for a release that, intentionally, never comes. When the group starts from zero on the next track, you might wonder where everything's going, but the song's irresistible chorus kicks in quickly, and is repeated over and over in between verses depicting the urban lowlife scene.For my money, the record could have coasted after those two songs instead, it punches hard with "Jonathon Fisk," an insistent chronicle of after-school bullying, and softens the blow with the coldly gentle "Paper Tiger," with little studio tricks adorning a modern love song in which all the singer wants you to know is "I will be there with you when you turn out the light."
In other "critics' darlings get their catalog revamped" news, Restless Records is putting out two cool new reissues from the Flaming Lips. The first, a three-discer called Finally the Punk Rockers Are Taking Acid, compiles the band's first three records, along with a host of B-sides, rarities, and their hard-to-find debut EP. Upping the weird-title ante is The Day They Shot a Hole in the Jesus Egg, which will pair one official album from 1990 with a slew of demos from that era.
It's all like icing on an already sugary cake, what with Lips fans still soaking up the brilliant new album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (Warner Bros.). Yoshimi may not be exactly a concept record, but the opening suite of songs certainly begs for that label. Rather than go the epic route, a la "Mr. Roboto," though, the Lips go syntho-folksy and low key, describing their robot-conquering heroine as if she were a cute indie-rock girl hiding at the back of the club. They depict the climactic battle wordlessly, with cymbal-smashing, drum-rolling chaos that sounds like the best Nintendo game ever made. After the first few narrative songs, the record drifts off maybe a little too far into a purple-golden sci-fi sunset, but the extra trippiness just serves to make the chiming epiphany of "Do You Realize??" seem more genuine.
Don't Adjust Your Stereo
That's not your CD player skipping as you audition the first track from Komputer's Market Led (Mute), even if it does seem to hop around and never get to the part of the track containing the song's melody. It's deliberate, and the overall effect is to make your living room sound like it were upstairs from a dance club, with only part of the bar's sound system bleeding through your floorboards. You get an irregular, dampened bass beat, a few quiet squeaks and squeals, and an intriguing keyboard fragment here or there which is awfully cool, so long as you're not worried it's going to keep going until 4 a.m. every Friday and Saturday.
Two tracks later, on "Mum," it's as if all the club kids have gone home and the speakers have started to talk to each other: One tweeter woos another with a fluttery smooching sound, a mid-range replies with a swooning, resonant thrum. It might bring a tear to your eye when, on "Keep Rocking," those amorous speakers start bickering with each other, launching into louder repetitive patterns and incorporating millisecond samples of human speech. Not to fear: The record's capper rocks along on an accelerated heartbeat, featuring the little chirps of new life. If woofers and tweeters can work out their problems and start families of their own, isn't there hope for the rest of us?