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Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2009

Spoon’s Decade-Long Hot Streak

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It’s official: Spoon is the artist of the decade. The review aggregation site Metacritic made the call this month after crunching the numbers to determine the decade’s best-reviewed band.

“The band topping the list was a surprise to us as well, albeit a pleasant one,” the site wrote. “The Austin, Texas, indie-rock band Spoon may not be the most prolific band of the decade, but they were the most consistently great. From 2001’s stellar Girls Can Tell to 2007’s, well, stellar Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, the Britt Daniel-led group received accolades from the music press and music fans for their impeccable songwriting and addictive songs.”

Daniel calls the honor “pretty wild,” but doesn’t put much stock in it. “They had a very specific formula for calculating that and coming to that conclusion,” the Spoon frontman says. “It was really tilted in our favor.”

Indeed, Metacritic’s wonky, sometimes arbitrary criteria did penalize some more likely candidates for that honor, like Radiohead, Arcade Fire and Kanye West, but it’s hard to refute the site’s conclusions about Spoon’s consistency: No band as productive has so reliably impressed critics. Spoon’s challenge heading into a new decade, then, is to maintain that consistency without becoming stagnant.

The band’s upcoming album, Transference, due Jan. 19, 2010, promises to shake things up a bit. Unlike Spoon’s quartet of ’00s records, this one was recorded without longtime producer Mike McCarthy, and revels in a rawer, unadorned sound.

“A lot of what you’re hearing on the record is the first takes, sort of the demos,” Daniel explains. “I had this belief that those demos shouldn’t be messed with. In the past, I’d demo, then we’d go in and re-record the tracks, which does work, getting things more hi-fi sounding and allowing for lots of contributions from the producer, but I didn’t want to do that this time. We’ve made four records with Mike McCarthy, and we knew we could make a good record with him—we’ve done it four times—but it was time we tried something else.”

There’s always been an edgy undercurrent to Spoon’s albums, with even Daniel’s most precious songs sounding fractured, as if crucial components of them had been torn out then crudely replaced by percussion and clatter. Transference embraces that roughness.

“It’s kind of an uglier record,” Daniel says. “While writing it, I was getting jazzed on songs that stayed in one place, stayed on just two chords the whole way through. When you’ve got a song like that, the value of it is really in the intensity you get from saying something with so much repetition.”

The new approach is particularly striking on Transference’s lead single, “Written in Reverse,” a terse, almost angry song that strikes a far different tone from “The Underdog,” the jaunty, lovable single from Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga.

“With a song like ‘Underdog,’ the value is in the pop sensibility,” Daniel says. “That song has about 30 chords.”

Transference, then, could be a divisive departure for the band, the record that sinks Spoon’s batting average with critics, but Daniel isn’t too worried about it. He knows there’s always the possibility of a backlash.

“It could happen at any time,” he says. “But hopefully it will happen when we actually make an album that’s not good. I think this is a good one.”

Spoon headlines the Riverside Theater’s New Year’s Eve event with opener Jay Reatard.