A GUEST POSTING FROM JONNY THE FRIENDLY LAWYER
I don’t remember ever seeing Spoon mentioned here at JC’s place. I did a little half-assed searching through the blogs of some of the regular contributors and didn’t find much mention there, either. Could it be that Spoon are new to the TVV crowd? or is it that folks are familiar with the band but don’t think they rate any notice? Whether the former or the latter, here is a survey-type ICA of the band, spanning (most of) their 20-year recorded career to date, aimed at inspiring either a first or another listen. All songs are singles unless otherwise stated. As Spoon are a VERY stripped-down minimalist act I’ll try to keep the dialog brief.
Formed: 1993 in Austin, Texas
Members: Britt Daniel, singer/guitarist/songwriter; Jim Eno, drummer (no relation); bunch of various musicians over the years.
Band name: after ‘Spoon’ single and last track on Can‘s 1972 ‘Ege Bamyasi’ LP.
First release: ‘Nefarious’ EP (1994 Fluffy).
First LP: ‘Telephono’ (1996 Matador).
Why I love Spoon:
I’ve admitted from time to time that I am an okay bassist and a crap guitarist. It’s hard for me to get excited about buzzy new bands, or even beloved old ones, if their music is so basic that I can play it. I’m not enamored of proggy math-rock specialists and I don’t need amazing musical virtuosity to get into a band. There are numerous crucial exceptions (Ramones, for example) but, like I say, if the tune is simple enough that I know just from hearing it that I can play it, I remain unimpressed.
That said, I can’t think of another band whose songs are simpler than Spoon’s. Often they’ll just be playing two chords all the way through, or sometimes just a handful of notes. Any budding musician can pick up one of their LP’s and figure it out in a couple of listens. What does it for me is Britt Daniel’s unique voice. I love it. It’s raspy, expressive, tuneful, powerful even when he’s singing softly. With Daniel on the mic, Spoon accomplishes more in 2 minutes than other bands get done on an album side. Most of all he doesn’t hold back, he sings it like he MEANS it, and you always know it’s him. Hear for yourself:
Waiting For The Kid To Come Out : From ‘Soft Effects’ EP (1997 Matador).
Spoon had released the ‘Telephono’ LP a year earlier but, by that point, the band didn’t have its own sound. Like lots of other acts in the mid-90’s, Spoon started out as another overdriven guitar band, tinged with grunge and devolved from the Pixies. So, I’m skipping it. On Soft Effects, you get the Spoon blueprint: couple of chords, minimal drums (no fills), no effects, Daniel belting out a melodious vocal and then getting the hell out of there.
Car Radio : From ‘A Series of Sneaks’ LP (1998 Elektra).
Still so stripped down that the band drop out completely a couple of times, even though the song is only 90 seconds long. But you do get a third chord! Perhaps too limited for the masses; ‘Sneaks’ was the band’s first and last recording for a major label.
Everything Hits At Once : From ‘Girls Can Tell’ LP (1998 Merge).
Extending out here with some more instrumentation on a longer selection. This single was the first song by the band that I ever heard. I found the repetitive music and Daniel’s interesting vocals really hypnotic, and have been hooked since. I saw them on the tour for this album and liked that the band were friendly, relaxed, and certainly not taking themselves too seriously.
I Didn’t Come Here To Die : From ‘Love Ways’ EP (2000 Merge).
Around this time I read an interview with Spoon. The gist of it was that the band had been around for over 5 years, enjoyed what they were doing, but still had day jobs and didn’t expect they’d keep at it forever. Daniel said flat out that he wasn’t earning a living from his music career. It made me like the band even more because they had no expectations — they were just carrying on with what they loved doing. I don’t know, I found the sentiment really…honorable, I guess is the word.
The Way We Get By : From ‘Kill The Moonlight’ LP (2002 Merge).
This single is probably the one song people might be familiar with as it found its way into a number of films. ‘Moonlight’ also received glowing critical acclaim and appeared on many “best of” year end album lists. Still, it’s classic Spoon: two and half minutes and all you get is vocals, piano, tambourine and the occasional bass line before the drums kick in after the minute mark. If you’re going to give the band a try, ‘Moonlight’ is where to start.
Don’t Let It Get You Down : From ‘Kill The Moonlight’ LP (2002 Merge).
An album track and my personal favorite Spoon song. Stripped down to the same limited instrumentation as the previous song, there’s something just so catchy about Daniel singing the title over and over. This one seems to finds its way onto every compilation I make; I sing along, hit repeat and do it again.
I Turn My Camera On : From ‘Gimme Fiction’ LP (2005 Merge).
‘Moonlight’ got the band the notice they deserved and sold enough to let them make a go of it. ‘Fiction’ also was very-well received and the single ‘Camera’, in particular, received some airplay on the widening variety of internet radio sites and blogs, if not mainstream radio. It was even featured in a Simpsons episode. I saw them again about this time and was glad to see the band really enjoying themselves, having finally arrived after a full decade in the trenches.
Don’t You Evah : From ‘Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga’ LP (2007 Merge).
Despite its stupid name Gax5 is a really fun, relaxed record that continues to grow on me. Not that you’d know it but this single is a cover tune: the song (actually titled ‘Don’t You Ever’) was written by NYC band The Natural History, which opened for Spoon on a few tours. It’s a testament to Spoon that everything they do sounds only like them.
Got Nuffin : From ‘Transference’ LP (2009 Merge).
About as aggressive as Spoon get. I’m not that fond of ‘Transference’ if I’m honest, but this single is okay and a good snapshot of the LP. There’s an American television program called Live from Austin City Limits which features loads of great acts (Beck, Radiohead, Wilco etc.). Spoon appeared on it during the tour for this LP if you want to get a sense of what their concerts were like at the time.
Rent I Pay : From ‘They Want My Soul’ LP (2014 Loma Vista).
After a long layoff while Daniel busied himself with side projects, Spoon returned with a great LP on their own label. On this single the band is instantly recognizable. The formula hasn’t changed much; simple guitar chords, unflashy drums, Daniel carrying the whole business start to finish. By now, 20 years on, Spoon had become a more refined and sophisticated version of themselves, if that makes sense.
If you like what you heard you may be pleased that a new Spoon LP is expected this year.
Bonus Track – The Divine Fits: Would That Not Be Nice : From ‘A Thing Called Divine Fits’ LP (2012 Merge).
The Fits are something of an indie supergroup, with members of Wolf Parade and New Bomb Turks in addition to Daniel. Of course, with him on vocals it sounds like Spoon. Daniel has had a lot of side projects over the years, recording under the name Drake Tungsten, working with Interpol and Bright Eyes among others. In 2014 he was invited to perform in GeorgeFest, a one-off concert organized by George Harrison‘s son, Dhani, alongside the likes of Brian Wilson, Ben Harper, and Norah Jones. Daniel sang ‘I Me Mine’ and, for me, that was the highlight of the show.