Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Spoon - Gimme Fiction

Britt Daniels has the best voice in indie rock.

There, I said it.

"But wait!" you shout. "What about Colin Meloy of The Decemberists, what about your girlfriend's dream-boyfriend Ben Gibbard, what about your new favorite band The Mountain Goats' John Darnelle?"

"Well, yeah," I stutter. "Maybe I'm talking out of my ass. But I still stand by it!"

Okay: Britt Daniels has one of the best voices in indie rock (happy now?). It's deep and low most of the time, high and lilting when he chooses, and definitely the most powerful weapon in Spoon's arsenal. He has a wonderful way with words, too, his lyrics hanging somewhere in the limbo between literary and lazy poetry. He tells real-world stories, fictional to the extreme, with the occasional detour to something wild.

Spoon's fifth album, Gimme Fiction, has little surprises. But that's not bad thing when it sounds this good. Over the course of the last two albums, the band has jumped into the electronic world by introducing keyboard flourishes and beat-box percussion to their trademark indie rock sound. Their last album, Kill The Moonlight, embraced the electronic and rode that pony to wonderful success, both musically and commercial. With this album, they've returned to their big guitar roots of their first two albums to create a strange kind of middle-of-the-road equilibrium.

A lot of bands who started in the fractured wilderness of the mid-90's (post-grunge, pre-Britney) have released albums this past year and a half that have tried to summarize their careers up to this point without actually breaking any ground (Beck, Radiohead, Oasis) and now Spoon can be added to this mix. Track by track, Gimme Fiction seems to reference previous "sounds" in the band's limited repertoire. But is that a bad thing?

Not really. Coupled with Britt Daniel's wonderful vocals is a sterling production value that surpasses anything they've done before. Spoon albums have always sounded good, but never this clear, crisp, and powerful. A few of the joys: the interplay of rain-slicked guitars and thundering violins in "The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine," the Midnite Vultures-groove of "I Turn My Camera On," the wild running-through-the-woods pace of "Sister Jack," and the relaxed head-swaying melody of "I Summon You." Every sound is in its perfect place, which is due to their skilled producer but also to the confidence and professionalism of the band. It's like reading the perfectly formed sentences of a master writer (Ursula LeGuin or Maureen McHugh) or the sing-song dialogue of a great screenwriter (David Mamet or Quentin Tarantino). I do, however, question their decision to include crunchy guitars on some tracks that would be more in-place in a Wilco album; it works on a few tracks, like the perfectly placed guitar solo in "The Delicate Place," but is distracting and, at worst, abrasive on more relaxed tracks like "My Mathematical Mind" and "The Beast and the Dragon, Adored." Still, it's another reference to the almost punk-like sound of their first two albums.

So, this is a Spoon album for Spoon fans. With indie rock bands exploding onto the mainstream at a pace of two or three a week (kidding), you have to hand respect to a band who could allow themselves to write an album of "Float On"'s to actually look back at their career and create an album almost exclusively for their fans. And if they pick up a few new ones on the way, all the better.

(Some other opinions: Allmusic, Pitchfork, Village Voice)

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