I was a little apprehensive when I first listened to Spoon s new album, Transference — there was just something unexpected about it. I’d identified the indie rock band’s sound to be defined by the cadenced drum beats, crisp piano/guitar pulses, and overall pathological catchiness à la “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb” and “Don’t You Evah” from Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (2007). Where was the hook that first drew me into the band?
The discrepancy lies in the fact that Transference is Spoon’s first self-produced album. Without a producer, the band held the creative license to craft whatever they pleased—a victory for all you hardcore indie enthusiasts. In an interview with NPR, Britt Daniels — the band’s frontman — emphasized that creating Transference without a producer gave the album a “more amateurish” sound. “I wanted to live with those bits of humanity,” Daniels profoundly reflects. It’s clear that this album was Spoon’s chance to create something its own. As a result, the band managed to churn out a sometimes darker, sometimes more subdued, and altogether less polished sound.
The first track makes this attitude quite clear with the title “Before Destruction.” It opens with a standard drum beat, and the vocals of Britt Daniels enter the scene sounding muted and distant. The composition of the song is relatively simple; there are no complex instrumentals or melodies and the indistinct lyrics are sparse. Rather, Daniels wordless voice is layered to create a ghostly effect through much of the track. It’s exactly this sort of stripped-down style which characterizes this album and showcases Spoon’s talents—the grainy vocals of Daniels, the clean instrumental progressions, and the flawless way things are put together.
At the same time, though, there are tracks like “Trouble Comes Running,” which sounds like it might have been recorded in somebody’s garage. From the beginning, the guitar progressions have a lo-fi quality about them, and they are joined by an uncharacteristic crashing of drums. Don’t get me wrong; the song is catchy, and I personally love the amateurish sound (after couple of listens). If you give this album a chance, be prepared for the step-down in production quality.
Similarly, if you heard “Goodnight Laura” outside the context of this album, you might not recognize the band behind it. In this peaceful lullaby, Daniels’s voice is honest and bare, accompanied by nothing but blurred piano chords. It’s a rare treat to hear Daniels so soothing and unadorned — such an obvious departure from the band’s typical oeuvre of peppy indie rock.
Despite the more subdued sound of Transference, it’s still a Spoon album not without the catchy instrumentals, beats, and Britt Daniels’ enchanting voice — they’re simply not thrown at you with the same ferocity as in previous albums. It may have taken me a few listens to appreciate the difference, but it was definitely worth it.