Album Review: Spoon
In “Hot Thoughts,” Spoon finds the next stage in its evolution, but doesn’t lose track of its roots in the process. The ninth studio album from the Austin based indie-rockers hit shelves on March 17, and is distributed by Matador Records.
“Hot Thoughts” follows Spoon’s 2014 album “They Want My Soul” which was critically and commercially well received. “Thoughts” builds on this momentum by not trying to outdo what came before, instead opting to abandon some of the band’s more conventional sounds in favor of electronic influences.
Despite this switch in style, “Hot Thoughts” is still very much a Spoon album. The same punchy guitar hooks and piano riffs that defined the 2007 album “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga” can be found in tracks like “Tear it Down” and “Can I Sit Next to You.” These hooks are accentuated by keyboardist Alex Fischel’s wavering synthesizer interludes. Frontman Britt Daniel’s vocals and songwriting are the glue that hold the album together and are belted out with gusto and his signature half-rasp.
Despite the higher level of production and polish compared to previous Spoon albums, “Hot Thoughts” feels less like an industry production and more like an experiment of sound. There are things that work, and things that don’t.
The album’s opening track, the eponymous “Hot Thoughts” is a clear attempt at making a hit. Despite its catchy and expertly crafted beat and instrumentation, the track falls victim to repetition both sonically and thematically, with the general crux of the song being thoughts about an attractive girl. Spoon has never been accused of being the most profound band on the market, but their vividly specific lyrics and larger than life sound do elevate them above the level of what “Hot Thoughts” aspires to be.
Following “Hot Thoughts” the album takes a step up in quality and fun. Tracks like “Do I Have to Talk You Into It?” and “First Caress” ditch the repetitive nature of “Hot Thoughts” for fun beats, synth waves and vibrant guitar hooks. “Talk you into It?” turns the echo and reverb up to 11 for a funky Bowie-esque jaunt. “First Caress” takes an upbeat approach to love lost and the memory of a first embrace.
These two tracks are followed by the slow and haunting “Pink Up,” which trades the more obtuse synthesizer sounds for a marimba and drum machine. Daniel’s voice only enters after two minutes of lo-fi melodies, and the verse is over in under a minute. The rest of the song features hazy background vocals and interruptions from a steel drum and string ensemble. This radical departure from the other songs on the album and can feel a bit jarring, but does provide an interesting break from the other tracks.
“Hot Thoughts” wastes no time in turning the dial back up on listeners with the second half of the album. “Can I Sit Next to You?” evokes Spoon’s earlier track “I Turn my Camera On”, and is likely to be the hit track that “Hot Thoughts” was designed to be. Both “I Ain’t the One” and “Tear it Down” feel like the most comfortable songs on the album, as the band members are re-treading familiar ground. These are the tracks where Spoon fans will feel the most at home, as Jim Eno’s drum beats, Alex Fischel’s plucky piano chords, and Britt Daniel’s guitar hooks all return for a sound that isn’t exhausted or alien.
The album’s penultimate track does its best to turn the previously established familiarity on its head. “Shotgun” is manic and claustrophobic and accelerates at a breakneck speed until the silence and first few notes of the final track, “Us.”. The track is completely instrumental, and is a bookend to “Pink Up,” with a saxophone ensemble that dominates much of the song. The sound is almost ethereal. “Us” is Spoon’s farewell on the album, and in a sense a farewell to the familiar conventions upon which they built their previous success.
“Hot Thoughts” is a perfect place for new listeners to get into Spoon and will be enjoyed by returning fans. Spoon’s latest experiment in sound finds a rocky yet satisfying middle ground between electronic influence, and the riff heavy sound of older albums.