On Spoon's astute, relevatory 'Transference'

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Photo by Tony Nelson
On last year's Logos, Atlas Sound solo-domo Bradford Cox spent a lot of time talking about lighy. For Cox, light carried with it a fair measure of mystery, apprehension, escape, esctasy. Light could represent rescue, egress, annihilation, salvation, or all four, wrapped up in anaestesia-numb acoustic strum and gauzy, muffled production. He sang, with misleading disinterest, of "the light that failed," of "attic lights" contemplated from the relative comfort of the hereafter; the unexhaustable loneliness at the core of the album could only be staved off, it seems, if some person or higher power just outside of Cox's fading frame of reference were to "shine a light" on him. Certainly, "Washington School" and the title track -- the visualize-whirled-fireflies one-two slush that winds Logos down -- conveys the impression that the heavens (or the bay doors of an alien spacecraft) have finally opened, and our pouting, glassy-eyed protagonist is at long, blessed last ascending to an unknown destiny.

In one sense, Cox is not alone. On Transference, Spoon front man Britt Daniels has a great deal to say about light. But for Daniels, light is more a means to an end than the end itself. Daniels is after clarity and perspective, here -- or at least the appearance of being in pursuit of clarity and perspective -- and that's of one of many reasons why Spoon's seventh album shines. Transference is the Austin quartet's most sincere offering to date, it's most mature batch of itchy-scratchy hybrid rock'n'roll yet.

There's a lot to like about Telephono, Gimmie Fiction, and Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, but it's difficult to come away from those records without thinking that you've just spent time listening to a bunch of swaggering, post-ironic royal assholes, or at least a band led by one; the winking, hijinxed gimmickry of tunes like "Sister Jack" (what else is this besides their attempt to out-"Heavy Metal Drummer" wilco?), "Waiting for the Kid to Come Out," or whatever that arch bullshit song about Japanese cigarette cases was called has had the effect of weakening the emotional effectiveness of every other song the band has written. (I'm sure Britt and the boys sincerely love funk and Prince, but fuck "I Turn My Camera On" and the Jaguar spot the band rode to mainstream acceptance on.) So after all of that, Transference is a breath of fresh, forthright air, even if that air can be caustic: the pitch-shifted, breakup-blister blues of "Before Destruction" full of cryptic metaphors that wouldn't necessarily draw blood ("Everyone loves you for your black eye/They feast upon the abundance of your house") or "Written in Reverse"'s Ben Folds-goes-roadhouse ivory-slam tantrum, where saying "I love you" doesn't necessarily mean somebody will mouth it back to you. "Now the light bulb's gone off," Daniels smirks in the same song. "I've seen it in your eyes, I've seen you blankly stare." It's one of the few light-related moments on the album that aches, but it feels like it comes from an honest, autobiographical place.

Meanwhile, the sun doesn't set on the rollicking "Mystery Zone," we're assured; the just-out-of-reach dimension that's what Never Never Land is to adulthood, where everyone disappears to once they've outgrown old friends, financial dependency on parental units, and living in the past, while waltz-time-gone-riff-factory-on-fire devotional "I Saw The Light" switches "Reverse"'s lightbulb back on in a flashbulb burst of realization, of love, of co-adoration. "Got Nuffin" and "Nobody Gets Me But You" carry the theme further, the former so punchily giddy-in-amor that it can hardly catch its breath, the latter transmuting its good romantic (or enhanced platonic) fortune into the sort of striding strut that cracks sidewalks, like the Incredible Hulk.

Transference isn't, alone, the reason Spoon sold out two nights of shows here April 2 and 3 -- but it sure deserves to be.


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