Reviewed by Austin Powell, Fri., Jan. 22, 2010
Onetime local underdogs Spoon were recently calculated by Metacritic to be the most critically acclaimed band of the last decade on the strength of four indisputably great albums – Girls Can Tell (2001), Kill the Moonlight (2002), Gimme Fiction (2005), Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (2007) – each one reacting to and building upon what came before it. Following the breakout commercial and chart success of its pristine predecessor, Transference takes a slight retreat as Spoon's first self-produced album. While even the band's most marketable material has been spiked with acute studio experimentation – the background chatter and double-tracked vocals in "Don't You Evah" for example – left to their own devices, those details dominate the band's seventh album, style consistently disguising a lack of structure and self-sustaining songs, which separates the LP from its most obvious comparison point, 1998's A Series of Sneaks. "Is Love Forever?" bears a classic Spoon stamp, Jim Eno's percussive bounce locked with taut, staccato guitar and frontman Britt Daniel's robotic echo-chamber vocals, but never builds beyond that. Likewise, opener "Before Destruction" gets lost in a demo stage, the peripheral sonic details unable to bring the bigger picture into focus. Five-minute "The Mystery Zone" could pass for an extended DFA remix, slowly developing behind a spacious, swaggering bassline and space-needle guitar break – ghosts lingering in its keyboard accents – but the effect gets negated by a truncated ending. There are notable exceptions: the shimmering disconnect of the downtrodden "Who Makes Your Money," the glorious Krautrock build of "I Saw the Light," and the surprisingly delicate piano lullaby "Goodnight Laura." "Written in Reverse" should be earmarked for a future hits compilation, shattering-glass piano and guitar capturing Daniel at his most jaded and cool, effortlessly shifting from his cocksure falsetto and cryptic beat poetry to a full-throttle scream, while the 30-gallon tank and midnight streak of "Got Nuffin," the lone holdover from last year's EP of the same name – recorded at Brooklyn's Rare Book Room – still burns with white heat. Transference is a good album, just not in league with what's become par.