Spoon get irreverent on the line, while Vampire Weekend lead a peppy rally
SONIC REDUCER Riddle me this, Indie Rocker: what happens when life kicks the nice, cozy crutch of irony out from under you? Where do you go the morning after cynicism, after tearing it all down and finding the ground crumbling below? The joke may be on guess who. And you're not out of line to hear the latest albums by Magnetic Fields, Spoon, and Vampire Weekend as the equivalent of the apocalyptic scenarios cluttering nearby cinemas like The Road and The Book of Eli — post-crash-and-burn manifestations of the late-'00s that stare into the bombed-out, blank face of hopelessness.
Sure, it's a postmodern dilemma, this crisis of what-next. The '90s made it so easy to snark sourly — we were all in on the joke yet went for the money shot. The '00s began with a dot-com crash and towers crumbling, and as prez-for-a-decade Duh-bya settled into terrorize the populace, it became easy to feel the sourness curdling into bitterness. How do you turn a brave face to the future when you were defined by knowing jadedness? Talking about you, Spoon, justifiably embittered by being wooed and ditched by Elektra Records. You, Magnetic Fields — too forbiddingly smart-ass to ever be "Seduced and Abandoned," as the words of your new song go. And you, Vampire Weekend — seemingly constructed around the cynical premise of appropriating Afropop jangle by way of early childhood exposure of Graceland (Warner Bros., 1986). Which way out?
"Everybody loves you for your black eye," sings Britt Daniel at the onset of Spoon's Transference (Merge). From the title that references the transfer of emotions from a patient to therapist, to the song trajectory that implies the end and beginning of relationships, Transference sees Spoon — playing the Fox Theater April 13 — questioning the whys and wherefores of love. Clinical takedowns aren't surprising from a band that has always boasted a razor-sharp suspicion of easy emotions and facile pop hooks and prided itself on its tough-minded lyrics and honed musical contours. Those sharp corners haven't changed altogether, but halfway through around the ambient throb of "Who Makes Your Money," the piano-driven blues of "Written in Reverse," and the Velvets adoration of "I Saw the Light," the music begins to break down. And open up, culminating in Spoon's tenderest love song, "Goodnight Laura." The baby talk of Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (Merge, 2007) — and its prescience concerning a certain Lady pop idol — has morphed into more adult feelings, and Transference sounds like a moment when Spoon's defenses fell and Daniel discovered new reserves of power in vulnerability, while foregrounding fall-down-the-stairs piano and fizzing horror-filmish effects.