reative evolution’s a boon and a bane. In many ways, Spoon’s idiosyncratic progressions forced them to forge a new fan-base with every record. Each album alienated many of the followers gained from the previous recording, typically with the charge that the band had changed their sound to widen their appeal. On the other side of the fence, new listeners embraced them as though they were still debuting, finding the same charm in the band’s recent output as those base-level fans had seen in their early material—midnight-croon melodies, devastatingly simple but forceful beats, and Daniel’s whiskey-drawn voice (and what a fucking voice to tie a band around). Those who first fell in love with the crackling spawn punk of Telephono and Series of Sneaks—cloaked in the lore of the Pixies, Sonic Youth, and Wire—cringed at the clean grooves and college-radio friendly Girls Can Tell. Likewise, of course, those who swooned in the pre-dawn robustness of Girls turned their back on the sparse eccentricity of their masterpiece, Kill the Moonlight.
So of course it’s time for another set of well-wishers. Britt Daniel and Jim Eno have emerged with their fifth album as indie’s favorite songwriter-drummer duo with revolving stagehands, Gimme Fiction. True to form, Fiction is certainly a break from the experimental minimalism of Kill the Moonlight. Where Moonlight crammed entire cityscapes with its quiet focus on single instruments and experimental sound-waves, silencing the crowds and the streets to create the impression of living Heston’s Omega Man life, Fiction wants the bodies near and the floor heaving with immaculate strangers.
Moving away from their parsed-down horseplay, Daniels and the band, who holed up in Eno’s Public Hifi Studio in Austin for most of 2004 to put the finishing touches on a record that’s gone through multiple name-leaks and plenty of internet rumor-milling, have flushed out their sound again. Each song glows with infinitesimal joys, tiny pointillist production flourishes noticeable only under close scrutiny. But in rounding out their sound, they brought the viewer close enough to see the brushstrokes and the smudges. They honed in on their oblique songwriting and their unique musical backdrops—from the Wilco-esque glory-day strut of “Sister Jack” to the acoustic beach stroll of “I Summon You” or the EA Poe mysterioso of “The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine”—without losing sight of their knack for slanted pop. The result is most likely their most enduring work yet.
“I Turn My Camera On” tooths you like a Gila, its jaws riddled with decay and toxic grime. A stark beat and rhythm guitar back Daniel as he goes falsetto, but beneath, Eno and Mike McCarthy spark the closeted spaces with deep chimes and tones. The effect is sly and monstrous at once.
Likewise, “The Delicate Place” never really shows you its needle-marks, but gives you enough glimpses into all its subtle madness to keep you seeking them. Daniels shades his hand again, offering you shadowy asides like “Looking through your window /Into the delicate place / Reflections stating obvious mating holds.” After a slow acoustic start, the band gels into a classic Spoon groove, owing far more allegiance to dated terms like ‘classic rock’ than anything on Moonlight.
The album’s final third brings its strengths to a head. “The Infinite Pet” is a serpent’s glide. Scary, smooth, and tempting, it’s the kind of pet you lock away in a closet and only show to friends you’ve had for years, those who won’t judge you quite as harshly for your peculiar tastes. Dark, minor-keyed piano augers into broiling synth lines, while deep in the mix, a cavernous set of gurgling sounds and chimes curls cold beside Daniel’s multi-tracked vocals. “Was It You?” shuttles its disco-punk deep into space, stranded without oxygen by modern-punk basslines and helter skelter fears. The most experimental track on the record, it’s like a DFA mix nibbled by insects, and for just a moment, Spoon seems to cock-eye their followers.
As “They Never Got You” tonsils up rain and thunderstorm-grit, hazy synth lines join static-laced guitars and a throaty beat. Daniel chants “I never got them / And they never got me,” and those words reverb through the album’s murky recruit. Giving into a plate-shift whose tremor won’t be felt until the audience has their say, Daniel seems to presage another fan-base break for Spoon. But as the band verges on Elder Statesmen-ship, Gimme Fiction may be the platform that brings all the camps and all the weary protestors back into the fold, reinvigorated and in the mood for chat-room championing again.