Late in Spoon’s new Transference, Britt Daniel sings the pretty piano ballad “Goodnight Laura” in a detached voice that almost sounds overheard—as though someone caught Daniel while he was playing around with ideas for a new song. In fact, a lot of Transference is like that. After the assured, almost conclusive Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Transference finds Daniel and company back in exploratory mode. Nothing here is a radical departure from the past, but on track after track, Daniel seems to be fighting to preserve the spontaneity of a guy sitting at a piano, making stuff up.
Transference features immediately winning songs like “Who Makes Your Money,” “Written In Reverse,” and “Got Nuffin,” all thickly groovy in the classic Spoon style, and it breaks some new ground on the aching, twangy “Out Go The Lights,” which finds Daniel paying homage to Factory Records. But the album’s dominant mode is exemplified by the chopped-up, minimalist closer, “Nobody Gets Me But You,” which sounds like a kid with a brand new Casio, changing settings every few seconds just to try them all out. (“And now… celesta!”)
More significantly, a lot of the songs on Transference—“Nobody” included—are about the process of fumbling for a mode of self-expression that cuts through the clutter. The rousing “Trouble Comes Running” and the swinging “The Mystery Zone” evoke exciting frontiers and dangerous people, in lyrics and music designed to move listeners physically and emotionally. And the album-opener “Before Destruction” uses its structure and sound as a kind of call to arms, just by resolving clashing strums, synths, and wordless hums into a single voice and a single instrument, and then inevitably bringing back the noise.