"Kill The Moonlight"


Last year's low-fi boom opened the floodgates for a lot of noteworthy acts, one of which was Austin Texas' Spoon, who'd already garnered a big cult following and had made three full-length records and an EP by that point.  The twist with Spoon is that they're a low-fi band that isn't really low-fi.  This might take some explanation.

Spoon's "Kill The Moonlight" almost sounds like what would happen if Vince Clarke (Depeche Mode, Yaz, Erasure) produced a rock record.  Okay, maybe it's not quite that polyphonic (and you certainly can't dance to it), but Spoon's keen use of negative space and silence certainly conjured up the production of albums such as Yaz's brilliant "Upstairs At Eric's" for me.

Spoon has unquestionably almost perfected the art of minimalism in rock.  "Kill The Moonlight" is like an unfinished portrait...but one you can't stop looking at.  I call it low-fi because almost the entirety of the record sounds as if it could have been rehearsed/arranged/recorded in a garage.  The rub is that the production is absolutely crystal clear...every instrument is mic'd so well and shines so brightly that it sounds as if the band is playing right there in your living room.  The atmosphere is so tight that you frequently expect it to crumble.  When one instrument suddenly comes in out of nowhere, the whole picture changes.  It seems completely raw...but it isn't.

The other reason I maintain Spoon is low-fi is because the studio trickery on "Kill The Moonlight" is at an absolute minimum.  Aside from a few random spurts of locomotive guitars drowned in slap delay, the Ween-ish voice and human beatbox of "Stay Don't Go" (to my knowledge, the first rock song ever built on a human beatbox sample), things are pretty clear cut.  Moreover, none of the band members are virtuosic on their instruments.  The parts are all fairly simple but come together to create one fascinating picture.  In the words of Van Gogh, "how difficult it is to be simple."

What "Kill The Moonlight" effectively creates is a sense of atmosphere, the exact likes of which I have never heard on a rock record (maybe I just don't get out enough).  Right from the getgo we've got "Small Stakes," which sounds like a Pulp b-side.  But the only instruments behind Britt Daniel's voice are a whirring, grunting organ straight out of the early '70s and a tambourine.  Daniel's vocals--which often remarkably conjur up the phlegmy growl of Elvis Costello--are drenched in echo and are enough to keep the song going.  In time, the tension breaks...the magnificent coda arrives, with bursts of psychedelic delayed guitar and a big booming drum solo...but then the song fades.  That's all you get.

Track two is the wisely seated single, the brilliant, jaunty "The Way We Get By," the track that broke Spoon into the collective consciousness and saw them getting high profile gigs on the likes of "Late Night With Conan O'Brien," "Austin City Limits" and "Last Call With Carson Daly" (okay, so maybe that last one isn't so high profile).  It's easy to see why this was chosen as the single...it has a great rhythm, an indelible melody, clever lyrics and is shrouded in a mysterious sort of nightlife (a shroud that covers most of this album, to my ears).  When Daniel belts out lines like "We go out in stormy weather, we rarely practice discern, we make love to some weird sin, we seek out the taciturn," you believe him.

I've heard Spoon being compared to The Pixies before, but frankly, I don't hear it.  Perhaps this was an influence more prevalent on their earlier albums.  Having said that, though, there are plenty of other reference points throughout "Kill The Moonlight."  Both the revved up rocker "Jonathon Fisk" and the piano 8th note driven "Someone Something" hearken the wiry east coast rock of The Velvet Underground and The Modern Lovers.  The lovely "Paper Tiger," with its dangling electronic piano chords and melancholy lyrics, sounds a bit like Eels.  The gorgeous closer "Vittorio E." hearkens Beck's work with Nigel Godrich.

But maybe the best moment on the album is the damn near perfect "All The Pretty Girls Go To The City," which, both lyrically and musically, seems to perfectly conjur up seedy, surreal images of nighttime city life.  It's led by a bluesy piano line and rubbery guitars.  The song is almost jazz without really sounding like jazz, with its almost scat-like lyrics.  (I suppose "jazz without sounding like jazz" is almost as confusing a phrase as "low-fi without sounding low-fi," but it goes some way towards explaining the obtuse beauty of this album.  Its strength lies in its inherent contradictions.)  Half the lyrics of "All The Pretty Girls..." consist of "do d-do d-do," "don't they don't they do my love," or "don't they don't they do, don't they do my love."  Remarkably, Spoon makes even this work.

Having said that, the one somewhat sour point herein is the lyrics.  While Britt Daniel convinces me that he's completely capable of writing great lines when he puts his mind to it, there doesn't seem to be enough of them.  A perusal of the lyrics will reveal many gems, but unfortunately, many of the strongest lines are obscured by the music or not accompanied by worthy melodies, rendering the words lifeless.  When Daniel comes up with nifty slogans like "religion don't mean a thing, it's just another way to be right wing" or brilliant, evocative lines like "we could go kick down some doors together, stay out 'til morning sharp as knives," they work because they seem to flow almost effortlessly.  The strength of Britt's lyrics and the melodies that accompany them waver, making the best ones seemingly come out of nowhere.

But this is a minor gripe, considering "Kill The Moonlight" is one of the most novel, creative, interesting rock records I've ever heard.  By the time you get to the splendidly majestic "Vittorio E.," with its mesmerizing acoustic guitar/piano duet and glorious echoed vocal harmonies, you get the distinct feeling that you've just been a passenger on a very strange car ride...and then, of course, the album starts over, because you already want another ride.  "I took a river and the river was long...it goes on..."

Rating: A-

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