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Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2002

HIGH NOTES

Spoon: "Kill the Moonlight"


Since forming in the early '90s, the Austin, Texas, band Spoon has continually sharpened its sound to such a fine edge that its new album, "Kill the Moonlight," could conceivably be performed live with only singer-songwriter Britt Daniels on vocals, drummer Jim Eno on tambourine and a tape of the simple piano fills that are featured on almost every cut.

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Arriving late in the irreverent indie postpunk boom occasioned by The Pixies and expanded by Pavement, Spoon's 1996 Matador debut, "Telephono," was minimalist only in theory. The album was so dominated by slashing guitars and neurotic-sounding vocals that Daniels' meaty pop hooks were mostly buried. The 1998 major label effort, "A Series of Sneaks," which Elektra deleted right after it was released, was, to the few who heard it at the time, the sound of a band on the verge of something great. (Everybody can hear it now, since Spoon's current label, Merge, re-released it in June.) Deeply disappointed at being dropped so unceremoniously, Spoon perversely denounced so-called alternative rock. Their next album, last year's note-perfect "Girls Can Tell," cut the guitars by half and boosted the sort of airy grooves that propelled the old soul singles Daniels loves so much.

Taking this aesthetic line of reasoning to its natural conclusion, "Moonlight" is like a demo of raw, passion-fueled riffs performed loud in a large, empty room. A mush-mouthed Motown disciple, Daniels delivers such melodic and thematic riches with his voice alone that the only thing these songs need is rhythmic rigor and textural filigree: a scratched guitar here, an otherworldly organ swirl there. Even background vocals would be clutter, so he uses none.

The beauty and excitement of the record is cumulative. Though Daniels' pounding insistence already has you in its grip by the second cut, he saves his most irresistible compositions until the end. "All the Pretty Girls Go to the City" is a demented hip-shaking ode to female pulchritude. The penultimate "Back to the Life" layers treated keyboard doodles over a choppy acoustic guitar-and-maracas riff that, despite the title, marches headlong into nothingness. Daniels fashions his lyrics around his singing style rather than the other way around, and he often finds it difficult to complete his sentences. Whole choruses consist of lines like "It's a it's a it's a" or "Don't they now." It's a common evocative device of classic soul music, where the listener is invited to fill in the rest of an idea. But with these songs you don't really need to. Spoon dishes out everything you need.



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