Spoon hit indie darling status by 2007 with the groovy Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, which ended up appropriated by countless TV shows and soundtracks. They’ve followed up that critical high-point with a far more jagged release, however, jammed with rough-sounding, rawly emotive tracks hinged on uncertainty and urgency. Named for a Freudian concept in which a patient develops a romantic attraction to their analyst, confounding the openness and intimacy of that relationship for real love, Transference carries that sense of desperation and difficulty, both in the choppy instrumentation and Britt Daniel’s elliptical lyrics.
Possibly the most infuriating – yet intriguing – thing about this record (their seventh) is how abruptly many of the songs end, cutting off mid-phrase. It’s aggravatingly attention-grabbing, but also fits well with the emotional indecision this record is rife with. Daniels is tongue-tied by his relationships, by his place in the world, and this gets manifested in the way sound drops out entirely, leaving the listener hanging and vulnerable. Spoon takes a highly organized approach to the way their songs dip and rise, bypassing simple verse-chorus-verse structure, and this cerebral nature pairs well with how raggedly stark Daniels’ lyrics and vocals often are.
Transference launches out with “Before Destruction,” built around little more than roughly strummed guitars, Daniels’ slightly fuzzy vocals, and slow-burning drumming. It’s definitely not a sparkly opener à la “Don’t Make Me A Target” (Ga Gb Ga Ga Ga), but this brooding, minimalist sensibility informs the rest of the album. Yet there is that old Spoon jauntiness to be found here, like on the jangling beats of “Is Love Forever?”, though that sunny quality gives way to Daniels’ increasingly pained exclamation, “Are you quite certain, love?” and the track’s sudden cutoff.
The material here may seem a bit unfocused and off-the-cuff for a band as clean and slick as Spoon, but listening carefully to these cuts reveals the same sense of intricacy and feeling that made them such a sensation. “Who Makes Your Money” is all hazy echoes and ominous trills, while lead single “Written In Reverse” sounds almost like Ben Folds Five with its heavily plunked piano chords, though Daniels’ vocals are positively seething as he screeches, “And I wanna show you how I love you / But there's nothing there.”
The band produced Transference themselves, and ended up putting half the songs here on in their original demoed form, resulting in this interplay between polish and rough textures. For example, “Goodnight Laura,” the album’s sole ballad, derives much of its power from being recorded in raw demo form, lending this quiet track an immediacy that cuts straight to the bone. Meanwhile, “Out Go The Lights” sounds radio-ready, peeled of its imperfections and strangely pretty with its calm, twinkling instrumentation.
Transference is an album that is meant to be delved into, for even the catchiest of cuts have a deeper meaning underpinning them. There’s an energy here as well that cannot be ignored, which stands out even more owing to the lo-fi production. Spoon is indie darlings once again, and they prove time and time again to have the chops to back that title up.