Fluxing miscellany. If you're looking for top 10 film lists, click here.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Spoon's Transference

Spoon, Transference -- transference, of course, being the Freudian idea of something reminding you of a past event whose past, inappropriate needs and emotions are transferred to the present. Something like that. Point being, transference is an emotional experience, and Transference is accordingly Spoon's most emotionally direct album, and certainly the most so since Girls Can Tell. The occasional personal interjection aside, Britt Daniel generally prefers being the narrator rather than the protagonist; first-person songs are rare. But on Transference, almost every song is, at least ostensibly, about him. "Before Destruction" has him looking at the girl who walks away: "Just as you're leaving you turn around and take a cold shot." The nature of love is then worked on very literally in the spritely "Is Love Forever?," probably one of the bounciest songs they've ever done but earnest as can be, playing upon childhood fears of being abandoned in the supermarket as a metaphor for every kind of abandonment. Then there's "The Mystery Zone," Britt Daniel's version of Springsteen, 5 1/2 minutes in search of danger in a place "where your dad's not around" (that would be adulthood). The game-changing goes on and on; this makes Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga look staid.

What's constant is the personal emphasis — the "I" that keeps getting rejected and panicky; Transference is all edge, but it's not particularly cool edge. "I Saw The Light" has Daniel especially frayed. It's a tense jam, a nebulous escape from "the walls that tie me down." Most of the time, Daniel's singing about emotional uncertainty and needing love. "Is Love Forever?" is a real question. This, hilariously, led Coke Machine Glow reviewer Chet Betz to bitch about how "it’s difficult to avoid letting rumors of Britt’s mackscapades taint one’s perception of the theme here (CMG’s got friends you never called back, Britt [or just creeped out])." Whoops, though it hardly seems to matter. As always, Daniel's lyrics can be cryptic, hoarse and disconnected: his own personal vernacular is a code that's possible to crack, but where tone is easy to pick up on. (Daniel's been known to say his lyrics are chosen for their slot-filling sound rather than meaning; he's a liar.)

There's two landmark songs for Spoon here. Daniel has for years referred to the "Golden Motown sound" as a guiding influence in his songwriting -- which may well be true, but I've never been able to hear it before now. On the calm, collected "Who Makes Your Money" (a song so implacable the main action is some bass-guitar harmonies halfway through rather than any melody), Daniel practically sounds like he's levitating; he's achieved the serenity he's previously denied himself. (Btw, referring to Spoon as an "experimental" band is stupid. Just because they're careful with their sounds doesn't make them fucking Animal Collective, c'mon.)

But "Out Go The Lights" is the real stunner, the kind of song that could make you cry on a bad day. Daniel's attention towards his crush is heartbreaking: he's lovestruck but not stupid enough to spill his guts. He sees her in fragments — "standing there in my black wig" — and doesn't tell her too much about exactly how he feels; the feeling's overwhelming though. It's as vulnerable as this most inscrutably cool of frontmen has ever gotten. She's a mess too, one of those girls who "made it where most never been, all fixed up outside and broke within," just like "Don't Let It Get You Down"'s Kate; for this unnamed girl, "they fall for you like a brick," but "nobody woos you when you're down and kicked." For all Spoon's cool patina, the loneliness is real. I have a feeling the title will work with me transferring everything from this extremely weird first quarter of 2010 onto the record and having it flash back on me in years to come. This is a major record, not a minor transitional one.

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