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Spoon
Transference Charles Ubaghs , January 28th, 2010 08:36

'Consistent' is a dangerous word to be followed by. Steady and reliable is one way to define the term. Yet who really remembers the quiet kid sitting at the front of the class, never late, always diligent, with a star next to his name for perfect attendance? Consistency breeds union and cohesion. It also breeds familiarity and expectation. At its worst, boredom.

Austin, Texas' Spoon currently bears the title of America's most consistent indie rock act. Seven albums deep into their career now, it's an honour they've earned through good old-fashioned hard graft and a knack for cranking out fat-free pop tunes with a reductive streak, toying with the artier ends of the rock spectrum without ever forsaking a solid melody. Add to that reputation a long history that includes a disastrous major label stint in the late 90s and a subsequent regrouping on Merge records that's seen every album since 2001's Girls Can Tell enjoy a greater commercial and critical success than the previous one, culminating with 2007's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga skimming the Billboard top 10, and you have a band with the kind of triumphant, hardworking underdog appeal that helped make a nation – or at least a few Rocky movies.

Spoon charms have yet to successfully woo the UK but in their native land they're the little indie band that could, and they've climbed that hill with near unanimous critical support almost every step of the way. A rare thing. The only point critics can't agree on is the group's high-water mark. For some it's the white boy soul for the indie set heard on Girls Can Tell – think Elvis Costello weaned on a steady diet of the Pixies. For others it's 2002's Kill the Moonlight, which tossed propulsive, rhythmic twists into the Girls blueprint. Every album since has oscillated between these two poles, but all of them fall under the larger umbrella of a singular, erudite form of pop rock that for many can only be described as 'Spoon-ish.' It's a descriptive that now carries with it the weight of expectation and Spoon have so far satisfied those demands by continually rolling out new editions of their formula with workman like precision.

And so we come to Transference, album number seven, or perhaps version 7.0 would be more appropriate. Jettisoning longstanding producer Mike McCarthy, frontman Britt Daniel and company are flying solo behind the production desk. What they've concocted is a mix merging raw demos with the glossier studio sound that defined Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga – often within the space of a single song. It's a trick that might jar with those endeared to the buffed shine of Transference's predecessor but the effect gives Daniel's songs some much needed room to breathe. The result is Spoon's most atmospheric album to date. Highlight 'Who Makes Your Money' pivots around a taught keyboard and a stuttering yet balmy rhythm section as Daniel softly croons the titular question. The opening chords of 'Trouble Comes Running' are strummed through a decidedly lo-fi filter before the band explodes out of the gates, chasing down a charging melody that's only finally put to rest by the ruminative dirge of follower 'Goodnight Laura'.

Daniel claims Transference is an uglier record than Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. It's true that opener 'Before Deconstruction' has a rougher, more downtrodden disposition than the gleaming pomp of Ga Ga's 'You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb' but for all of Daniel's minor bluster, the likes of 'Out Go the Lights' and 'The Mystery Zone' wouldn't be out of place on any Spoon record.

Which brings us back to the sticky issue of consistency. Transference does react in part to Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga's gleaming façade, but its gruffer overtones are little more than a minor slackening of the well-worn stylistic guide rope that Spoon have been using to hoist themselves into what is now a third decade of existence. Transference is simply Spoon, the 2010 edition, same great features with a few new details. Always the same yet…always the same, then.

The consistent tag clearly fits the Texan quartet and it should rightfully be one of the lesser of many plaudits applied to any band with Spoon’s reputation. But if consistent is the only real virtue given to a body of work that, while finely executed on the surface, revolves around one constant, subdued emotional tone that’s almost always lacked the dynamic roar of, say, the Pixies or the blustery swagger of Costello, then perhaps the cult of consistency that surrounds Spoon is nothing more than just a celebration of the technically proficient but entirely mundane. And is that really something worth shouting about?

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