Sometimes indie just isn’t pretty. I find myself frustrated by the increasing trend toward “lo-fi” music that seems more focused on degrading the quality of sound than having a tune. That’s why it’s a welcome change to see a modern band harness classic rock and roll, reminding us why we fell in love with the genre in the first place, other than the obvious need to get away from the likes of Ke$ha and Miley. Spoon’s seventh album “Transference” is one of those reminders.
Spoon has grown up with “Transference,” and each member of the band has eliminated a clutter from his sound, letting a cleaner, purer rock sound shine through. Lead singer and guitarist Britt Daniel’s voice bursts out with a ragged beauty only hinted at in previous albums, and it’s a pleasure to fall in love with his characteristic “oohs” and simple hums that take the place of lyrics.
A departure from the slightly more upbeat, commercial vibe that permeated their last two albums “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga” (2007) and “Gimme Fiction” (2005), “Transference” brings out a more cynical, broken, and mature side to this indie rock staple band. The album is more reflective and less poppy — it leaves behind the glamour of popular success gracefully as Spoon finds a more focused sound.
From the moment I saw the track names, I could tell I was dealing with an altogether different Spoon. The first track, entitled “Before Destruction,” is the harshest song on the album: “I want to believe,” Daniel cries in this first track, and, later, in “Written in Reverse,” he reflects that he finds a frustrating nothingness in the act of reflecting itself, concluding in the repeated line: “I’m not standing here … I’m going to write it in reverse.” And go in reverse they do — back to a classic rock sound reminiscent of the Smiths or even vintage Lennon.
But they don’t want to scare away their fan base, many of whom hopped on the bandwagon with the release of “The Way We Get By” on the O.C. soundtrack: the album doesn’t go as totally-bare-bones as it could, it maintains a poppy appeal and some of their gimmicky backbeats. Though the second track, “Is Love Forever?”, asks a hefty question in its title, it does so with the help of a cheerful keyboard accompaniment, though the song does seem to end as if cut off in the middle at two minutes.
The album has some duds, though: in “Who Makes Your Money,” Daniel’s voice is lost momentarily in the layers of electronic effects and the repetition of the line “who makes your money” doesn’t do much. But the whole is saved with “Written in Reverse,” which follows immediately after, and it only gets better from there.
Starting with the track “I Saw the Light,” Spoon’s back-to-rock-and-roll feel finally gets some soul. The slow, sweet “Goodnight Laura” displays keyboardist Eric Harvey’s gentle yet newly restrained touch. Spoon has cut out some of its overbearing layers of banging keyboards and chilled drumbeats in favor of more of Daniel’s voice and less of his electric guitar. Daniel — the true hero of this album — sings with just the right amount of scratchiness, offset by the earnestness of his lyrics and a new care and placidity in his voice. “Out Go the Lights” and “Got Nuffin” are particular gems, mixing the band’s newfound simplicity with a maturity they didn’t have before. Spoon has found time to reflect, and in doing so, they have gone back to a time “before destruction,” before they got caught up in the periphery of their sound. They are less concerned with the creation of a funky beat, and more concerned with finding a purer form of music.
“Transference” is a sure winner, if only because it’s a thrill to watch an indie band with commercial success get back to basics.