The seventh album from Austin’s Spoon is the kind of “experimental” that really might be better described as “adventurous” — taking enough calculated risks to explore new territory without stretching too far beyond their comfort zone. The loopy song structures and crude vocal effects suggest Spoon’s not afraid to make mistakes, but if they effed up during the Transference sessions, we won’t hear it until an expanded commemorative version drops a decade from now.
If you’re not familiar with the group, you’re excused for confusing the first moments of opener “Before Destruction” for an unfinished demo, but the sparse acoustic strum and lazy kick drum are all the help singer Britt Daniel’s multi-tracked vocals need to carry the song. “Is Love Forever?” follows, and Daniel ponders the question in a conversation with himself in both channels, soundtracked by the kind of simplistic bouncing guitar riff the band seems to have unopened boxes of, and percussion manipulated to sound like the type of fart you’d check your underwear after. “Who Makes You Money?” employs a science-fiction echo effect and nearly sounds like the band’s attempt to avoid playing any overlapping notes. Two-and-a-half minute “Goodnight Laura” is a direct descendant of John Lennon’s White Album ballads, but “I Saw the Light,” the album’s longest track, accommodates an extended instrumental breakdown accented by a hint of grunting hogs.
“The Mystery Zone” and “Got Nuffin” might be the closest to what you’d call “normal” Spoon songs, but both forgo choruses in favor of aerodynamics: “Nuffin” fashions a hook from a noisy guitar riff, and “Zone” sounds like its refrain was edited out by over-anxious TV censors before it could take hold.
The experimentation, in other words, is nothing you couldn’t figure out how to do in an afternoon of messing around with Garage Band, but that’s Spoon’s greatest asset. The seeming simplicity gives Transference an effortless, brilliant-by-accident feel that probably couldn’t be further from reality, but hasn’t been faked this convincingly since Terror Twilight, or at least Kill the Moonlight. — Jeremy Martin