Friday, January 22, 2010

The More Things Change.

The new Spoon album has been out for several days now, & so probably I needn’t point out how good it is. I’m just going to have to assume you’ve heard it by now. Can we first agree on the following? That the songs are peppy, are poppy; that the sound is as meticulously & lovingly crafted as on any of Spoon’s numerous past albums. Would you also agree with me that, despite its consonance with prior work, Transference has a sound & feel all its own, & that “new” & “surprising” are among its apt descriptors?

So, the new Spoon record is the same & it’s different, I guess that’s my thesis.

Maybe the key is Britt’s voice, which has always carried a certain rawness even as, on balance, the music was pretty slick & pretty smooth. When I think of Spoon, I think quintessentially of the Girls Can Tell album (great title, btw), where there’s a constant sort of tension between the sheen of the production versus the grit in Britt’s voice.

“Grit,” now is a more prominent flavor on the new album than on previous ones. Rough, Raw, & Brash are other adjectives that came to mind on my first listen. (Oh, also: Chunky.) So there’s a new, rougher edge to this music that nonetheless fits seamlessly with the rasp that has always characterized the singing.

OK, but it’s still a Spoon record & so: meticulous attention to detail continues to define all sounds & all combinations of sounds. Nothing is permitted to be haphazard, even as a lot of reference is made here to a slapdash approach. Notice all those parts that seem, randomly, to just peter out or cut off abruptly, even at the expense of completing a chord change, or a lyric. Notice the deliberately graceless segues, into silence or into the next sound, the next song. It’s an interesting strategy, this feigned clumsiness in a work that was so clearly labored over, so plainly perfected. Overall, the impression is of a work that’s bursting with novel ideas, and tripping over itself (interrupting itself) in the service of just getting them all OUT goddammit.

It’s an exciting listen, it’s very fun. &, not incidentally, the whole thing just sounds delicious. One nugget among many that has my attention is how, in “The Mystery Zone,” the slow-decay echo on the guitar chords counterpoints the spunky bass line, whose sound is sharp, immaculate, & satisfyingly fat. The juxtaposition between those two instruments (& between their respective sound-textures) is incongruous, hence compelling to the ear.

Spoon-Mystery Zone mp3

Now, I realize that most people would regard this as a tangential point, but when I talk about how recorded music is now generally explicit in emphasizing its own artifice, this is exactly the kind of thing I’m talking about. Obviously, there are no samples, loops, & cetera on this album, this here is not a disco thing or a techno thing or hiphop or whatever. It’s not an Experimental recording in any kind of overt way. This is (“just”) the new album by Spoon, which as we know is (“just”) a four-piece, straight-up rock band. (With, now, a fantastic bass player, it bears mentioning.)

& yet, repeatedly & emphatically all over this collection, the point is made that these are studio recordings, constructed piecemeal from disparate components. Some bits are apparent leftovers from the original demos, & are then combined with the slicked-up “professional” parts. So, a particular rhythm guitar part might sound like it was, e.g., recorded on an answering machine in the bathroom –all tinny & flat & faraway. & then that’s juxtaposed with, e.g., a close-miked drum part whose sound is processed rich & full & all state-of-the-arty. I’ve described elsewhere how musical & dramatic impact can derive from the combination of sounds that could not have existed together in the real, physical world. Transference is just a great illustration of this; frequently & expertly on this album, sounds that plainly don’t belong together are combined & provoked into making music with each other.

1 comment:

  1. great post! I love it when you talk about production quality, not enough bloggers do.