No one's gonna mistake Spoon for the Stones, but it's worth remembering that they've been around a while: Telephono, the Austin guitar-pop outfit's first LP, came out in April of 1996, a few months before Tupac's tragic shooting and, yes, the wildfire debut of the Spice Girls. Indie rock has amassed serious cultural capital in the intervening years—recall Arcade Fire's Grammy triumph—yet Spoon, which shares a label with that arty Canadian crew, still awaits its household-name moment. In the wake of a brief, messy late-90s major-label tenure, the band has persisted, and thrived, in a weird middle zone: too big for the underground, too small for a mass-audience takeover.
You get the sense that Spoon leader Britt Daniel is cool with that. The group's crafty power pop is the kind that's made by and for connoisseurs. Spoon's best songs function like great techno: The parts fit together so well that you don't realize how much is actually going on. Consider "The Mystery Zone" from 2010's Transference, on which Daniel & Co. gradually stack spacey textures atop a spare, funky rhythm track, yielding a lush rock mantra that feels like it could go on forever. On "Written in Reverse," from the same album, Daniel lets a skeletal R&B vamp carry him into raw-throated, Lennon-ish pop catharsis. As you can tell from Spoon's brief moniker, sourced from a Can song, this is a band that believes in maximizing minimal materials.
That was clear right from the start. The band's debut release, The Nefarious EP—issued in 1994, the year after Daniel formed Spoon with Jim Eno, the drummer of his prior band, the Alien Beats—indulged in a little Pixies-styled weirdness, but mostly, it sounded like the start of a quest for the perfect hook. Fortunately, the band's embrace of a more polished sound over the years hasn't dulled its outsider charm; Daniel, the band's mercurial center, still comes off more like a possessed pop preacher than a crowd-pleasing showman. Mainstream success may have eluded Spoon, but there's an upside: Nearly two decades after their founding, they still sound like hungry upstarts.
By Hank Shteamer
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