Long-running indie-rockers continue their hot streak with 'Hot Thoughts'
I get nervous every time Spoon releases a new album, because there may not be a more consistent indie-rock act of the last 20 years than Spoon. Since 1996's Telephono and through this year's Hot Thoughts, the Austin band led by casually cool frontman Britt Daniel has released nine albums and a handful of EPs, plus 2012's A Thing Called Divine Fits, a side project with Dan Boeckner and Sam Brown that hopefully won't be a one-and-done outing. And there's not a stinker in the bunch.
Hot Thoughts pushes the band into new territory. Closing track “Us,” for instance, is an instrumental saxophone jam that harks back to the days when artists used hidden tracks at the end of CDs to experiment with far-out sounds and forms. Keyboard player Alex Fischel (also of Divine Fits) plays a more prominent role, as well, but the record is still unmistakably Spoon.
Spoon songs are all about the beat, thanks in no small part to drummer and founding member Jim Eno, who also plays the producer role on many of the band's records. Every track is a toe-tapper without ever quite veering into dancy, post-punk territory. The arrangements are given room to breathe, and then spiked with hand claps, a fuzzed guitar, a short run of keyboard notes and/or Daniel's staccato, emery-board vocals.
I once heard an interview with Eno during which he said that Daniel is always looking for ways to keep the band's sound fresh. Sometimes Daniel will send his bandmates a demo and ask them to imagine how another artist — Iggy Pop, Elvis Costello — would play the song. It's a simple, effective tool for evolution, and I often wonder, when listening to a Spoon song, which artist inspired the arrangement (I'll proffer Led Zeppelin for Hot Thoughts track “Do I Have to Talk You Into It”).
People still revere the Strokes for Is This It, but the shadow of that record followed Julian Casablancas and crew for years (and still does). Spoon albums do well, but the band has never had a No. 1 hit to live up to, which has probably worked in its long-term favor. But it also leads to the band being taken for granted. Hot Thoughts seems like a good excuse to pause and pay homage.