October 3, 2014

Test Spins: Spoon, Weezer

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Spoon – They Want My Soul

Where would alternative rock be in this decade had Spoon not swooped in and breathed some life into it? Could there have been indie guitar rock as we now know it? Could there have been punk-infused aughties music like Franz Ferdinand or Vampire Weekend had Kill the Moonlight not dropped like a bomb in 2002?

The Austin, Tx band has been an anchor for the indie rock since the turn of the millennium. Their repertoire is impressive: Records that rival Wilco and the Strokes in influence, deserved award show appearances, an avid and vocal fan base and their unique blend of college rock sensibilities, punk edge and appreciation for classic rock melodies and instrumentation. With They Want My Soul, their first release since 2010’s Transference, Spoon do exactly what they do best. They make some good ole’ indie rock.

The first song on They Want My Soul, “Rent I Pay,” is classic head-bobbing indie music, with strong drum tones and a heavy, distorted bass line. It’s impossible to not chant “That’s the rent I pay / Like my brother say it” when the chorus rolls along. “Let Me Be Mine” — the album’s strongest pop song — bounces along with chiming guitars into defiant lyrics: “Auction off what you love / It will come back sometime.” The lead single from this album, “Do You,” has the cheeriest melody this side of “Young Folks,” leading into the grandest chorus on the record.

Spoon’s best moments are the quick interludes preceding some of their songs that dabble in the electronic. “New York Kiss” begins with a simple synth line that is intensified by a simple drumbeat that is vaguely reminiscent of The Rapture’s “House of Jealous Lovers.” They flirt again with dance punk on “Knock Knock Knock,” which sounds like LCD Soundsystem blended with indie road trip music, complete with organ ambience, whispery vocals and intense guitar licks.

However, with this being said, this album is retreading old ground. In fact, most of their newer work just sounds like reprising their classics. All of the songs blend into one another and into the previous work of theirs, primarily Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. Part of the issue is the cadence of lead singer Britt Daniel’s voice. He is the band’s selling point, with his characteristically nasally and angsty-college-kid delivery; it’s how many people (myself included) were first introduced to this quirky band’s discography. They’re not trying to reinvent the wheel; they’re pretty content with their legacy as is.

Part of this problem stems from Spoon’s fan service. Spoon knows their audience and its unwavering devotion and their audience isn’t expecting anything new to arise from this band. They suffer from constantly playing the hits, like a 70s pop-rock band that still tours only to play the same ten or eleven songs night after night, except they make those hits sound the exact same as their newer releases. I can’t shake the resemblance between “The Underdog” and “Do You;” in practice they’re very different, but in essence they’re cut from the same cloth. They’re both indie anthems about growing up and finding your way in the world and the anxiety that ensues when you realize you aren’t neatly categorized. More concretely, “Outlier” makes a not-so subtle jab at Garden State, a reference that is assuredly made to harken back to the early aughties, back when Girls Can Tell was still fawned over. This album isn’t so much an artistic expression to me, but intelligently understanding the wants and needs of Spoon fans everywhere.

All in all, They Want My Soul is great for two types of people: avid Spoon fans and those just getting into Spoon. It’s meant to pacify their fans and appeal to possible new fans that are just trying to dip their toes in the water. But, if you were looking for something remarkable from this band, I’d look back to their earlier releases. It’s just a shame that a band with such talent refuses to fully explore it.

Weezer – “Lonely Girl”

Weezer has gone through a plethora of transformations over their career. First they were nerd rock novelties, with song titles like “Undone: The Sweater Song” and “My Name is Jonas.” Then they embraced emo music in full on their sophomore record Pinkerton, were ridiculed for it and only just recently have been recognized as significant. Ever since then, they have been trying to strike a balance between their nerd-punk side and their lonelier side. “Lonely Girl,” the first single off their upcoming release Everything Will Be Alright in the End, is another of those bridging attempts. It doesn’t really stack up to classic apathy-loves-apathy anthems like “El Scorcho,” but it can still play ball with songs like “Island in the Sun.” This does, however, show a nice progression of the band away from immediately marketable alternative rock like “Beverly Hills” and “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To.” They embrace noise on this song, forgoing a smooth pop experience in favor of something sounding like a sad Wavves song. I can only hope that the new album sounds more like this than the companion single “Cleopatra,” but only time will tell.