A SPOONFUL OF THE WORLD’S BEST INDIE BAND. ACCORDING TO THE CRITICS SCORES. AND, THE MUSIC DUDE. WELCOME TO OUR FAVOURITE TRACKS BY YOUR NEW FAVOURITE BAND. LADIES & GENTLEMEN, THIS IS…SPOON.
I can tell you exactly when I first discovered Spoon - it was April 2009. I’d come across a session by the band on the niche online site for fans of very indie music - Daytrotter (since absorbed into the Paste culture magazine). For each artist passing through a recording studio somewhere deep in the American mid-west, Daytrotter had 3-4 live recorded studio track sessions, and the site had some cool original band artwork to go with each posted session. What a great idea!
Anyhow, that Spoon session included tracks from the band’s then forthcoming album, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, including the song The Ghost Of You Lingers. I remember exactly - because I blogged about it. This is what I wrote:
This track has infected me. There’s something strangely compelling about it – the way it pulses nervously, urgently along (the keyboard on the track is used as a rhythm instrument, which is a sound I have always been attracted to). It’s experimental in structure, but melodic too – nearly all of the melody supplied by the vocal. I don’t think I could ever get bored of listening to this track. It is however, a bit menacing – it’s an anxiety trip – especially with some weird interference sound buzzing towards the end (this is what first caught me ear with the track).
The lyrics and the music could not be any more together. And the lyrics are to a pop song what Pinter prose is to a play. There’s something mysterious going on with this song. The singer’s voice is concerned, reflective. The lyrics are a riddle:
Put on a clinic ‘til we hit the wall
Just like a sailor with his wounds being salted
I had a nightmare nothing could be put back together
Would you settle the score?
If you were here
Would you calm me down?
The ghost of you lingers
I have never got bored of listening to it - across an entire decade.
Well, I hope my writing has improved over time, but what about Spoon’s music? Back in 2009 the band had been on a roll creatively and commercially for a sustained period - hitting that rare zone for proper indie bands when the art finds the audience and music finds the charts. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga was a fine record, coming off the back of the band’s previously hugely successful album Gimme Fiction. A few years later at the start of 2010, on the eve of their next album Transference, the UK Guardian famously ran a feature headline of them as the ‘best band of the past 10 years’ (Dave Simpson of The Guardian having checked his stats on the review aggregation site Metacritic).
However, all of this success was happening largely in their native USA (the band is from Austin, Texas). Internationally speaking, Spoon remains an enigma. They have never quite fully landed over here beyond a cult following. It’s hard to explain, especially given their heavy British influences - The Jam, The Cure, The Attractions perhaps, and The Clash - standout as obvious inspirations. Europe’s refusal to succumb to Spoons charms is something of a mystery, and I wonder when things will change.
Off the back of the recent issue of a retrospective, Everything Hits At Once, it seems like the ideal time for The Song Sommelier take on a singular band that sounds like nothing else around today. Funky, shuffling rhythms, choppy guitars, with the occasional visceral noise riff, all embellished with sonic effects. Spoon often sounds like a funk-pop-indie-punk cacophony in which indeed, everything does hit at once.
This is all fronted by Britt Daniel’s nonchalant, nasal vocal delivery and his unorthodox, nervy guitar playing - part of the signature Spoon sound (to these ears). Not a technical player (Daniel’s has explained his right hand technique is far superior to his fretwork), the guitar often comes across off-kilter, in a style somewhere between rhythm & lead. Hear the work on Hot Thoughts for example, or the wonky riffs accompanying the closing chorus of Finer Feelings (check out the crazy bass twists on that track as well). No other player sounds quite like him, just as Spoon sounds like no other band.
To my mind, Spoon’s golden era was just getting underway as they were hitting those high Metacritic scores a decade ago. The three albums after ‘GaGa’: Transference, They Want My Soul and Hot Thoughts I’ve somehow categorised as a triumvirate of LPs that usher in a change in direction for the band. Much like Kid A was for Radiohead, Transference (2010) was a conscious shift to more sonic experimentation and rhythm. They Want My Soul (2014) felt like something of a reset, incorporating new member Alex Fischel, on keyboards and guitar. And then to 2017’s Hot Thoughts, where everything comes together: the bands funk rhythm stylings, broad sonic palette, appetite for the experimental, wrapped around some really great songwriting. It’s their best work yet - and is heavily featured in this particular collection.
Spoon are that rare thing, a credible indie band that have bridged critical and commercial success and sustained a lengthy, fruitful career. Like their fellow US indie legends The National. Like their British counterparts Radiohead. That ability to keep it going through nine albums (Radiohead are also on nine, The National have made eight) is a commendable thing - harder to navigate in today’s industry than any of us could imagine probably. And incidentally, the band produced one of my favourite ever songs about the record industry - Laffitte Don’t Fail Me Now - as previously featured in our Stick It To The Man collection.
For a good decade up until the 2010’s my stock answer to “who’s your favourite band/music” was “Radiohead”. And then I changed my answer to “Spoon” - not because they took over in a literal sense (who has a favourite band in this day & age?). But it made for a more intriguing answer and led to more conversations, largely because so few people over here know who the hell they are. Well friends, this is Spoon…welcome to your new favourite band!
I’ve gone with their more accessible funkier side for the first half of this playlist - Spoon you can dance to or even to run to. But by the time we get towards the final third, we give way to their more experimental side, before the inevitable conclusion that is ‘Ghost Of You’. It does linger.
Next Up: Darker nights, cold snaps…you need New Troubadours Vol. 2, and…it’s coming.