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Spoon - Kill the Moonlight

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Artist: Spoon

Album: Kill the Moonlight

Label: Merge

Review date: Sep. 19, 2002

Spoon's Medicine Goes Down Easy

In many important ways, Kill the Moonlight is an exercise in restraint: its songs simmer close to the surface, perilously approach a spilling-over at the 3 minute-mark, and then are finally tamed by the men at the stove's controls. These men, the Austin quartet known as Spoon, definitely know how to bring a pot to boil. So take heart rock fans. No need to throw away that fluorescent orange child’s tee-shirt. Darling, you don’t need to go and cut your hair, just because Pavement abandoned you - Spoon has returned with a worthy follow-up to last year’s Girls Can Tell… and they’re going to kill you (relatively) softly.

If you haven’t heard, the always imaginative music critics of America describe Spoon as “Modern Lovers meets Wire” in the new millennium, and its frontman / chief singer-songwriter Britt Daniel as equal parts Elvis Costello and Frank Black. Now, I don’t know about all this, but I do know that Moonlight puts me in a tough spot about explaining how good it really is. It’s that rare record that’s equal parts innovation and familiarity, or what one might refer to as a perfectly designed and executed experiment in indie aesthetics. Never inaccessible, but always pushing some part of the sonic envelope, Moonlight balances sharp hooks and even sharper lyrics with interesting rhythmic pulses, quirky production, and a stripped down sound that stirs the soul with cathartic longing. It's not that the songs don't provide a release (i.e. they do rock) - it's just that the energies provided by the guitars, the drums, the constant piano and occasional sampling work off each other instead of on top of each other. The overall volume never gets high enough to invoke chaos, prevalent in the work of, say, a Wire circa Chairs Missing. In this sense, Moonlight will not satisfy a listener's hunger for heaviness or complexity. Rather, it relies on a kind of space and a unique, refined sense of style that worked so well for Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

Take, for example, the songs that Merge's promo material calls the hit singles of the record. "The Way We Get By" lays down the piano hook (played in cheery Ben Folds fashion by Eggo Johanson) from the outset, but waits a solid minute before John Clayton's beefy bass tones and Jim Eno's mid-tempo drumming kick in. Combine these elements with tongue-in-cheek lyrics like "You bought a new bag of pot...said let's make a new start" and hand-clapping, and you do, in fact, have your radio-friendly single. But Moonlight features more than just pop brilliance. The human beat box rhythm of "Stay Don't Go", chopped up and sampled beat of "Paper Tiger", and extreme panning in the mix of "Don't Let it Get You Down", are all examples of Spoon's adventurous side.

By Jeff Rufo

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