A collection of musically themed musings by Brendan Bush in Burlington, VT

Still Disappointed By Spoon’s ‘Transference’

Filed Under: Album Reviews, Guest Post
Written by Aaron
Friday August 13, 2010

Ed. Note: Brendan asked me to fill in for a few a few days. I’m happy to oblige.

I’ve struggled all year with Spoon’s latest album, Transference. With the band on the road this month (supporting Arcade Fire), I thought I’d revisit this record. I’ve tried to find more to like on Transference. I’m not sure I’ve been successful.

Some of Spoon’s more challenging and typical gimmicks are on display throughout — but the reverb, the left/right pans, and the abrupt cutoffs aren’t adding much anymore. (To wit, the end of “Mystery Zone.”) Maybe it’s just that the element of surprise is gone for Spoon. Or just played out.

But enough about my hangups. There are some subtle good things about this mostly ungreat record. My favorite spots:

  • The cover art – More on that later.
  • “Trouble Comes Running” – A neat little rock song with trademark sharp drums and fun melodies. Simple but good.
  • “Goodnight Laura” – A sparse, sweet, un-Spoon ballad that only seems Spoon-ike in it’s “alright, you’re alright” repetition.
  • “Got Nuffin’” – Not too bad. A great buildup from “darkness and shadows” traces its way to some pleasing guitar rock. But then it peters out. I love the line, “the flowers bloom and the trains collide, I’ve got nothin’ to lose.”

Transference isn’t Spoon’s best work. By far. If it hasn’t been obvious before, now it’s certainly clear how much Britt Daniel drives this band. A January New York Times interview painted a picture of bandmates who live in scattered cities, waiting for Daniel to send along his latest material. There’s nothing wrong with that model. And there’s nothing wrong with a band that has one very-central frontman. [As an aside, the 2002 split EP that paired a solo Britt Daniels with Bright Eyes is something you should definitely have in your collection.]

In that same Times piece, the band talks a bit about their carefree aesthetic. They’ve never done beards. They don’t care about hair… Whatever. It seems like they care a good deal about appearances these days. And it’s commendable. It’s hard to watch their live performances and not notice the stark black and white uniform — with Daniel himself often dressed entirely in white. The video for “Written In Reverse” carries that look forward with high-contrast black and white treatment throughout.

But nothing points to a keen non-musical aesthetic like the smart cover art on Transference. They’ve chosen a great photo from William Eggleston. The famed photographer (who died after Transference was released) snapped this image in Sumner, Mississippi in 1970. It works for the album and it keeps me looking back at the image when I’m listening to the tunes. [Spoon aren't the first band to choose an Eggleston photo for their cover.]

Perhaps Transference will grow on me. Perhaps I’ve already spent enough time trying to come to different conclusions. It’s a darker and less-fun record for Spoon. I would have really enjoyed a return of the horn section that graced some of their more recent records (and that joined them on tour as recently as last week). There are elements in Transference of Spoon at their best — or of Britt Daniel doing some great writing — but still… something is missing here.

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