Spoon is a band that has never disappointed, even when they haven’t revolutionized. They’re a band with a distinct style. From frontman Britt Daniel’s coarse and strained voice to the band’s funky garage rock aesthetic, it shouldn’t be hard to determine if you’re listening to Spoon. Their eponymous 2005 record “Gimme Fiction,” was packed with great tracks such as “The Beast and Dragon, Adored,” “I Turn My Camera On” and “Sister Jack.” In 2014 they gave us “They Want My Soul,” a record which, while not particularly stunning, was a solid rock album through and through. It was catchy and made for easy listening; that’s all you need sometimes. Now, with their ninth studio album, “Hot Thoughts,” Spoon has hit all the right marks once more whilst simultaneously reaching a few more.
With ten tracks and clocking in at a little under 42 minutes, “Hot Thoughts” is a great record. The trademark Spoon style is still present here, showing just how impressive Britt Daniel’s voice is to have not changed over the past 21 years. The restrained and rather simple instrumentation still provides the foot-tapping bliss that Spoon are known to produce, and Daniel’s sometimes-nonsensical, sometimes-repetitive lyrics make their appearances. On this record, however, Spoon seems to have treaded furthest from their aforementioned garage rock aesthetic.
“They Want My Soul” was a rather straightforward album, with the usual lineup of a bass, two guitars, drums, vocals and sometimes a keyboard for each track. It was solid — that shouldn’t be downplayed — but it didn’t really take any risks: critically acclaimed, but rather short in its lifespan.
After the world tour in support for “They Want My Soul,” however, multi-instrumentalist Eric Harvey left Spoon. The effect this had on the music is unclear at the present moment, but it’s evident that “Hot Thoughts” is a slightly different direction for Spoon. It’s been released to acclaim and, while not scoring as high as “They Want My Soul,” it scratches a few itches for me that their last album just couldn’t reach.
The first and most obvious track to discuss is the leading single and the first song of the record: “Hot Thoughts.” “Hot Thoughts” starts directly in the middle of a seemingly-sampled violin chord before a simple beat kicks in and Daniel’s overdubbed, high pitch vocals come into focus. “Hot thoughts, melting my mind,” the many voices sing alongside only the drums and the violin, creating a sort of haunting, almost unsettling landscape before the chorus strikes and the violins disappear, replaced by a simple-but-catchy guitar riff and harder, more to-the-point percussion. “Hot Thoughts” alone as a single is fresher and more interesting to listen to than the entirety of “They Want My Soul;” it’s a song in parts, with different feelings and emotions at different moments. There may be fewer instruments, but Daniel has written the song to utilize them to a much greater extent than he was able to on the previous record. “Hot Thoughts” sets the tone for the record as a small band filling a big space.
The streak continues going with “WhisperI’lllistentohearit,” a song that starts off abysmally decrepit and lacking in substance. It’s composed of a mere keyboard loop pasted on Daniel’s vocals and a guitar riff that feels like it’s rising but never seems to go anywhere. This all changes when the drums kick in and the song turns into a funky, bass-driven track with backing synthesizers and vocal effects reminiscent of the best parts of the 80s.
The record takes its first experimental turn with “Pink Up,” however. The track leads in quietly and electronically with a shaker-tambourine combo on top of a keyboard loop with what sounds like a marimba dropping a few notes here and there. It sounds nothing like Spoon. This record seems to mark the most they’ve played with electronic sounds, and this song is the pinnacle of that experimentation. As the ambient soundscape expands further, with toms and more keyboards, Daniel’s vocals make their way into the track. He self-harmonizes once more, but sounds rather somber and restrained: unusual for his normal style of straining his voice harder than he has to. I can’t fault the band’s past efforts for the lack of change, though, without also pointing out that “Pink Up” doesn’t quite go anywhere either. It stays rather ambient and electronic through its entirety, though the electronic schtick begins to wash away in the song’s outro as violins and pianos replace the digital with the physical and the track slowly fades into a final note.
“Hot Thoughts” is Spoon’s most refreshing work since “Gimme Fiction.” There’s only one truly mediocre track on it: “Shotgun,” which is nothing more than a repetitive and rather boring verse-chorus combo on top of a rhythm composition that sounds far below Spoon’s abilities. Besides that track however, “Hot Thoughts” is truly a hit-after-hit type of record. Most shocking, however, is “Us,” the closer track with no vocals. It’s made unique with the several echo-y saxophone dubs that play over themselves. The song is structured almost like a post-rock song, with vastly different musical themes overtaking previous ones every minute or so. So much is told by the song in the span of five minutes; it’s almost worth a negative note to end the record on a track that leaves the listener wanting so much more. This isn’t because the track doesn’t provide the listener with enough, but it’s because it gives them a taste of Spoon as we haven’t heard them, leaving us wanting more sounds of the caliber. But, the drums never kick in, Daniel’s voice doesn’t quietly sweep over our ears and the song just ends as it began: one solemn, dejected-sounding saxophone.
Spoon isn’t reinventing the wheel here. They know the genre they’ve contained themselves in over the years, and they know it rather well. They know it well enough to try bending the barriers a little, to try dipping their toes in other waters, but they still leave their other leg in known waters. Perhaps “Hot Thoughts” isn’t doing as well as previous albums because of this very effort (quite a shame were that to be true), but it stands out nonetheless as one of their most honest and resonating albums to date.