Spoon have recorded some of the world’s finest rock music since their 1996 debut Telephono, and their newest release, Hot Thoughts, once again sees them gently expanding their range while still revolving around the core sound that has served them so well. 2014’s They Want My Soul saw a welcome shift towards electronic-tinged rock, layering shimmering synths on funky, syncopated bass and rhythm guitars, to create a unique sound. Hot Thoughts shows a subtler evolution; the electronic elements return, but feel oddly warped, at times decayed, industrial. There are dense string arrangements, jazz influences, new understated guitar tones. It’s a much darker sound for the most part and one which shifts their emotional pallet significantly into an almost neurotic anxiety and at times weariness.
All of this was hinted at by the two lead singles (Hot Thoughts and the Can I Sit Next To You), but to a much lesser extent. Both of these tracks are classic Spoon, but in the grand scheme of things emerge as two of the most predictable offerings on the record, excepting Tear It Down and Shotgun. Hot Thoughts opens on a single violin note, hardly traditional Spoon, but by the time the floor-filling drums kick in, we’re in familiar territory. Britt Daniels’ vocals are as powerful as ever with his distinctive growl, but this track is built on contrapuntal harmonies not usually found on Spoon records. The chugging guitar solo after each chorus is also excellent, including the infectious hand claps.
Can I Sit Next To You revolves around a funky syncopated guitar line, the rhythm guitars interplaying perfectly with it, and the piano adding another layer of complexity. However it’s after the chorus, when the strings come in, that the song shines. Three, sometimes four layers weave in and around each other, all hitting highs and lows at different times, all ebbing and flowing independently in a hypnotic fashion. It’s refreshing to hear dance music infused with traditional string arrangements in a darker way, a world apart from the saccharine pop offerings of bands like Clean Bandit who seemingly only use it as a touchstone of classical authority.
Despite these two singles having perhaps the most immediate impact, the less catchy, less riff-driven numbers are superior, and really what make the album worth repeated listening. WhisperI’llListenToHearIt feels like a cut from Atoms for Peace album AMOK, the way it builds on synth polyrhythms to a drop propelled by a screaming high end and powerful organic bass below. Do I Have To Talk You Into It wears its Nine Inch Nails influence on its sleeve, using a syncopated Bond riff and wonderfully creepy descending piano and sax parts to create a disturbing texture that blows up in the chorus, distorted synths and impassioned yelps echoing the classic track Closer. First Caress mixes the danceable electronic punk of LCD Soundsystem and Hot Chip with a darker and more knotty sound lent by the creative chord progressions, fuzzy guitar parts, weird piano touches, dissonant synths.
The highlight of the album comes immediately after. Pink Up is a truly stellar track, from its measured build-up with sparse percussion and fuzzed background, to the understated but poignant vocals, and the ending piano line ripped from Radiohead’s Bloom. In fact, this track and a few other moments suggest a heavy influence from Thom Yorke; even the reverse vocals at the end conjure Daydreaming or Like Spinning Plates. What really elevates this track above all the others is the lyricism though. Most of the other tracks have little to offer lyrically - the catchiest moment on First Caress is “Coconut milk, coconut water, you still like to tell me they’re the same”, and while the words roll Britt’s tongue effortlessly, they’re little more than a throwaway slice-of-life detail you could find even on an Ed Sheeran track. On Pink Up, however, the lyrics are enigmatic and abstract, but needle at the listener with little hints and touches. The hook (“Everything you think we are, we are” and “Everything you fear we are, we will be”) encapsulates this: It’s catchy and effortlessly touching; resigned, apologetic, scared and a little defiant. With lyrics like this, similarly engaging I Ain’t The One could also be a classic, but unfortunately its rather tepid refrain can only be elevated so far by the luscious soundscape.
With so many new sounds coming throughout the album then, it’s amazing that the closing track, Us, still surprises. And yet it does. An instrumental Spoon song is incredibly rare, and especially like this. Tender, breathy sax parts, swelling chords, explosive and unrestrained drum fills that give a free jazz feel. This whole track encapsulates the darker tone of the album, ending on a reflexive note that encourages immediate revisiting. If you’re anything like me, you’ll honour that encouragement again and again.