Release Date: Mar 17, 2017
Record label: Matador
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock
S poon have released nine albums since the early 1990s, the last three reaching the US Top 10. So they have nothing to prove, but you wouldn't know that from the 10 songs here: Hot Thoughts is loaded with tunes, invention and adventure. Take the title track. Its arrangement never sits still - elements of post-punk jerkiness and dub appear and then are gone - but at its core is a descending-chord motif that is pure simplicity.
If you're in the generation that grew up on '80s hooks and textures just in time to have those instincts meet the sucker punch of '90s irony, squaring that circle of conflicting poses and passions is the ultimate musical challenge. Nine albums in, Spoon just might have finally cracked the code. Hot Thoughts succeeds first and foremost as a disarmingly subtle way of taking a meaningful evolutionary step as a band.
For the past two decades, Spoon have remained one of the most reliably consistent indie-rock bands in the country, releasing sturdy collections of well-crafted pop-rock originals every few years. After releasing their predictably solid album They Want My Soul in 2014, the band is back with the much more adventurous and playful Hot Thoughts. Spoon's 9th record trades in the band's penchant for riffs and melody for dance grooves and rhythms, incorporating heavy elements of funk, jazz, New Wave, and R&B.
We got our own ideas Twenty-four years into their career, Spoon are still busy chipping away at their aesthetic, a single-minded pursuit that should have been old hat about five albums ago but still draws blood. Hot Thoughts continues to tinker with a sound that long ago proved perfectly unique, yet the band is still able to somehow find something novel in past works: a new flaw to be lovingly exposed, another unforeseen feature painstakingly unearthed with a sculptor's eye. The core of what makes Spoon Spoon remains well in evidence.
Hot Thoughts is the second album Spoon have released since their "hiatus" of 4 years after 2010's Transference. After that album received only positive reviews, and not overwhelming praise (as they had become accustomed to), the band took a break to pursue other projects, most notably Britt Daniel and Alex Fischel teaming up with Dan Boeckner to form Divine Fits. They returned in 2014 with They Want My Soul, which seemed like a reaffirmation of their songwriting prowess; 10 relatively straight forward pop-rock songs each following the rubric of strong verses and choruses, with sing-along lyrics and relatable stories.
So much is made of how consistent Spoon are that it's easy to overlook just how much they change things up on nearly every album. On Hot Thoughts, the differences aren't subtle: Spoon alternated between drifting songs and driving ones on They Want My Soul, but this time, they bring together their twin fascinations with structure and atmosphere with a rawness and sophistication evoked by the album cover's watercolor skull. Helping them add color to the bones of these songs is David Fridmann, who feels more in tune with the band (and vice versa) than he did on They Want My Soul; by Spoon's standards, songs such as "Pink Up" and the ghostly saxophone reverie "Us" are downright lush.
The title track of Hot Thoughts starts like a Kraftwerk tune: electronic drone, metronomic beats and clipped robotic vocals. Then the guitars crash in, and you're reminded almost no one engineers post-punk propulsion into precision-tuned rock-and-roll melody better than Spoon auteur Britt Daniel. Nearly 25 years in, his group has made maybe their best record yet - a line that been repeated, accurately enough, with most every record they've made.
Nothing is certain except death, taxes and great Spoon records. So it really isn't really surprising that the latest effort from the Austin veterans is great. No, the big shock here is that the band's ninth record, Hot Thoughts, is the biggest re-invention of their career. Over nearly 25 years they've always tinkered with the mould rather than breaking it, experimenting liberally but still keeping the ship steady.
Last time most of us saw Spoon, the four-piece indie rock band was playing They Want My Soul's second single "Inside Out" on the late night talk show circuit. The group suddenly had five members, two of them were playing synthesizers, and Britt Daniel was singing the song with his guitar nowhere to be found. Just listening to "Inside Out" on the album, it didn't sound all that different from most of Spoon's material.
Spoon's distinct identity, a deft balance of concision, swagger, vulnerability and taut grooves, coalesced on 2001's Girls Can Tell. The following year, Austin-based co-founders Britt Daniel and Jim Eno perfected their recipe with the following year's minimalist masterpiece Kill The Moonlight, an album that still sounds radical a decade and a half later. After four more beguiling and nervy albums, Daniel and Eno have made another sonic shift as bold and striking as the Girls-Kill segue, but in this case the transition is expansive rather than reductive.
Spoon have been together for over 20 years now, yet it's clear from this ninth full-length that their inspiration remains plentiful. In fact, Hot Thoughts is a surge of vivid creativity that veers between straightforward indie-pop (the jerky, dancefloor-oriented title track and the not-quite-upbeat quite-upbeat but still funky insistence of Can I Sit Down) and more experimental art pop (the sinister pulse of the infuriatingly titled WhisperI'lllistentohearit, the angular quasi-Krautrock/post-punk of Shotgun). Elsewhere, frontman Britt Daniel channels the spirit of the late, great David Bowie on both Do I Have To Talk You Into It? and Tear It Down.
Despite remaining perennial indie rock favorites over the last decade, Spoon have always been about that small-stakes life. They aren't going to alter the course of your existence--frontman Britt Daniel would probably smirk at such a claim--but occasionally Daniel's hyper-specific details will creep into your mind unexpectedly. Is Dorian's a real place? What's the corner by Sound Exchange in Austin look like anyway? And why don't more people talk about how much Garden State actually sucked? This is not to say that Spoon's songs don't often overflow with sound, as they increasingly have.
Some ideas are repeated a million times for a good reason. Take, for instance, the line about how easy it is to take a new Spoon album for granted. When a band releases four near-perfect records in a row, from Girls Can Tell in 2001 to Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga in 2007, even an excellent record like 2010's Transference (which is better than people gave it credit for at the time) can start to suffer due to the band's remarkable consistency.
If 'They Want My Soul,' confronted frontman Britt Daniel's feelings about fame and music industry politics, 'Hot Thoughts' represents an attempted escapist rush. There are fewer lyrical or existential burdens here as he whips through title track, 'Hot Thoughts' and its funky go-go backdrop. It's a visceral rush, and Spoon forge into new sonic territory with the disco inflections of 'First Caress,' the surging club backbeat of 'Shotgun,' and the sweeping synthesisers of 'Can I Sit Next To You.' At times it feels more like The Scissor Sisters.
Austin, Texas, veterans Spoon operate in a strange world, enjoying non-stop critical acclaim while being a thousand miles from actual stardom. Metacritic's most well-reviewed band of the '00s (ahead of Radiohead and The White Stripes, believe it or not), they've barely slipped up since forming in the mid-'90s. And every one of their records, from 2007's anthem-packed 'Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga' to 2014's more surrealist 'They Want My Soul', picks up on a trusty template set by the Britt Daniel-led group's early work.
For better and for worse, Spoon's Hot Thoughts betrays the band's usual intersectionality of crowd-pleasing strains of rock n' roll: classic-rock mimicry, indie-rock aloofness, pop-nodding danceability. While it's the most atypical and surprising Spoon album in recent memory, with its heavy electronic focus and relative lack of straight rock songs, it's also arguably their least consistent. While every Spoon release has had its own distinct sonic identity and experimental quirks, from the living-room intimacy of Girls Can Tell to the big-beat funkiness of Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, their new album feels like frontman Britt Daniel is reaching for an aesthetic that he hasn't quite mastered and doesn't fully understand how to integrate into his band's taut, stinging groove.
Hot Thoughts is an inscrutable obelisk of rock and roll. Because Spoon records contain such a large measure of subtlety, our culture of musical immediacy can overlook their genius. Not critically, mind you; they are darlings for a reason. But to the average body-painted festival goer, they sound similar to the Franz Ferdinand or Band of Horses or something.
No one would ever characterize Spoon as a dance band, but its core is as much about groove as songs -- an emphasis that has never been more pronounced than on "Hot Thoughts" (Matador). It swings, in the raw guitar-centric tradition of the Rolling Stones' "Black and Blue" or Prince's "Kiss." Spoon is all about the art of what's left out. Songs are stripped of frills until all the elements are focused on the same destination.
"Coconut milk, coconut water, you still like to tell me they're the same–who am I to say?" Britt Daniel sings over disco-punk drums and a moiré pattern of overlapping studio effects on "First Caress," the fourth song on Spoon's kaleidoscopic ninth studio album Hot Thoughts. Delivered with the rakish assurance that Daniel brings to all of his material and punctuated with a couple of Elvis Presley uh-huh s for good measure, the line almost sounds like a taunt to the listener. Can you believe we're getting away with this, it asks, singing about coconuts and still making it sound like rock'n'roll? It's the most memorable lyric on Hot Thoughts , if only by dint of its silliness.
At 46 and 45 years old, respectively, James Mercer of the Shins and Spoon's Britt Daniel might be the most prominent middle-aged guys in indie rock. And true to the passive-aggressive tendencies of the genre they represent, neither has risen by saying precisely what he means: To look back over these bands' sizable catalogs is to behold a trove of cryptic sentiments regarding phantom limbs, Japanese cigarette cases and bakers cutting their thumbs and bleeding into their buns. So it comes as something of a surprise to see that the cover of each group's new album -- the Shins' "Heartworms," which came out last week, and Spoon's "Hot Thoughts," due Friday -- features a creepy rendering of a skull -- about as literal a symbol of mortality (and one's uneasy recognition of it) as can be imagined.