What’s your favorite Spoon album? Well, okay, I’m sure a lot of you might say Kill The Moonlight. But, what’s your favorite Spoon song? That’s much more likely to vary, and there is assuredly no wrong answer. Spoon has a pretty universal appeal, which means different sounds for different tastes. Singer/songwriter and Spoon-founder Britt Daniel has grown throughout this nearly 20-year run, finding interesting ways to make a piano sound punk and cautiously experimenting in more ambient and electronic adornments, but he’s never lost his knack for a good groove. They’ve essentially become the ol’ reliable of the indie-rock wheelhouse (though they’re not exactly “ol’” yet). So, it’s easy to make a list of “best” songs when a band’s catalog already has a surplus of solid jams, but it was too hard to keep it to 10, even leaving off the “hits.” We tried to pick the songs that were the most definitive of Spoon as well as the most integral to their progression.
Soft Effects / They Want My Soul
The first track comes from 1997’s Soft Effects EP, a time when Spoon were initially being pegged, by most people (understandably), as derivative of either the angular post-punk of Wire or the eccentric rambunctiousness of the Pixies. But there was something about that stretched-out riff on the guitar as it patters around Daniel’s mumbled chip-on-the-shoulder narrator and the playful rhythmic spill across the entire drum kit, it seemed to be the first spark of Britt Daniel coming into his own as a songwriter.
We thought it’d be an enlightening way to kick off this list by tying “Waiting For The Kid,” one of their oldest songs, with one of their brand new ones (from They Want My Soul). First we thought “Outlier” but then it sounded a bit too much like a distant cousin of Arcade Fire’s Reflektor. Then we tried “Knock Knock Knock” and dug it, but the interlaid electronics into jangly guitars with spooky-cool whistling sounded too much like Broken Bells. We needed something that sounded indicative of a new path for them to follow, particularly one where they didn’t sound like they were getting lost or fumbling for directions. “Inside Out” goes for the gusto in terms of chill, orchestral electronica, (have those three words ever been used in succession to describe a Spoon song?) “We got nothing else to give cuz time’s gone inside out.” What an intriguing lyric to wind out this song, as we look back upon this band’s rich catalog.
A Series Of Sneaks
You don’t need a music writer to tell you what Spoon sounds like. You know! It’s taut, aerodynamic and kinetic. It pulls as it pushes. And this, from one of their earliest albums, is when Spoon started to sound like Spoon.
Girls Can Tell
Now, Spoon are a rock’n’roll band, we’re sure of it. But isolate the beat from this track and it could easily supplement either hip-hop or funk. Then again, maybe it sounds a bit like Zeppelin’s “Kashmir?” Still, that ratatat riff bolsters the percussive impact, affecting an irresistible bob-and-weave groove that gives this “rock” song permission to populate the dance floor.
This song throws its shoulder into you. That piano’s simple, slamming hook perfectly blends the cool cavort of funk with the snotty shove of punk. “Written In Reverse” is the assertive recess from most of Transference’s ambient-doused, downbeat numbers. Lyrically, it could be an anti-love song or it could be a conceptual stab at surrealism. Or, it could Daniel’s exercise in remedying some writer’s block in a moment of creative disorientation through the wake of excitable blog-fame from hits like “Way We Get By” and “Turn My Camera On,” writing himself backward to the beginning again. With a worn, hollow kind of timbre recalling piano-bar blues, the ivory keys are jingled and jangled through the second verse, easily keeping up with the shuffling bass and slicing guitars.
If any Spoon song comes close to sounding like “folk-rock,” or at least some kind of singer/songwriter type ballad, it’s “I Summon You.” It works well, though. The rollicking acoustic guitar is lightly chilled, here and there, by a fleeting warble of steely reverberations, but aside from that, it’s just drums, strums and voice. There’s a hush and a rush in that opening guitar that gives it a cinematic air, with Daniel’s lyrics sounding instantly endearing, lifting up against “the weight of the world” and wondering aloud, “…how’d we get here?”
Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
If Kill The Moonlight is Spoon’s quintessential, (or at least their most captivating) album, then we insist that Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is their most emotional; particularly this song. “Ghost” is a stark track predominated by a pounding piano and just Daniel’s vocals; in fact, it’s understandably unnerving upon the first few listens. But if you put on your headphones and listen closer to the dynamics, the multi-tracked vocals, the haunting beauty of Daniel harmonizing with himself and the particular registers he hits on one channel with the high, foggy falsetto and then the a lower, earthier croon on the other, then you start to feel goosebumps. It’s calm and restless, all at once.
Kill The Moonlight
There are days I think “Don’t Let It Get You Down” may be the ideal Spoon song, at least in arrangement. An unspooled-sounding acoustic guitar stumbles in after an intentional false-start, building upward until this sudden cresting of an electric guitar’s riff starts cascading back downward. But THEN…the warm, chiming pianos build it up again along with Daniel’s “oooh oooh ohs” until the strutting drums finally stop the wavy give-and-take, kicking things forward. This track is a shining example of Daniel’s sensibility for giving a song space to breathe so that every instrument can resonate. The sentiment of the chorus might ring cheesy after the 14th time you hear it, but we’re not putting this track on here because of the lyrics and neither is that the case for “All The Pretty Girls Go To The City.” These tracks, it should be noted, are side-by-side on Kill The Moonlight and both prove to be fine cases of their charming utilization of the piano, primarily in finding ways to counter its warmth with the grittier growl of a guitar. Spoiler alert: We didn’t see it necessary to include “I Turn My Camera On” since you’ve probably heard it 99 times by now. But maybe this is an opportune time to learn some new dance moves to the careening bass and strutting beats of “Pretty Girls.”
“Don’t Let It Get You Down”
“All The Pretty Girls Go To The City”
Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
Here we have the essential Spoon rhythm, that being, something you could either jog to or dance to. The bass shimmies and the guitars rake and rear back. Their experimental side is flourishing on this album and it shows here on “Finer Feelings”; to enter this song means squeezing your head through a loud, crowded five seconds of static and distorted, unintelligible vocals until those cool guitars all but grab your collar and yank you out into an open space where the drums have just set up a dancefloor and the singer is ready to spill the autobiographical beans about the day jobs he had to bear between bands of his youth until he finally could read his name in newsprint. But just when you think the song might be fading away and that surreal slop of ambient sounds from the intro start surging back up, the guitars cut back in again for a minute-long outro of riffing under wordless “do do doo-do do-do’s.” In fact, those “do-do-doo’s” that close “Reverse” can be heard at the opening of one of their recent singles, “Do You.” Daniel has a knack for knowing just when, where and how extensively he should deploy those melodic/wordless vocalizations of his.
Girls Can Tell
The groove of the rhythm downplays some of the angst, but, really, the snare sounds more like a punching-bag. Indeed, the drums match the frustration of the vocals, with Daniel getting close to a bluesy vibe here as he affects a bit of poignant soulfulness to his tone even as his lyrics are cramped up with dejection. Spoon’s allure was always their subtlety, a tasteful balance of instrumentation and a seemingly effortless way of establishing of mood by means of sparse arrangements. Thus, we have that beautiful, haunting organ, with its owlish coo rippling outward with just one note every sixteen measures or so (because that’s all you’re gonna need for impact). The lyrics are written, seemingly, in a moment of hopelessness; one could read it as the ominous tale of a band on the verge of going nowhere. Believing (or just staying optimistic) is an art-form onto itself. “Think about it a while, the end ain’t that bad.” In fact, he repeats “…the end,” a couple times, as if suggesting that a band’s failure could be equated to the end of the world, itself. “Take out the trash with one hand / it falls apart like a band / Just hold onto it tight.” More than 10 years after this album came out, Daniels never let go.
Kill The Moonlight
“The Way We Get By,” the second track off this 2002 album, was essentially Spoon’s “breakout” song, so you’ve likely heard it by now. “Get By” is given a leg-up by that seamless transition from the excellent album opener “Small Stakes.” A fuzzed-out organ skitters under Daniel’s reverb-splashed vocals while an excitable tambourine loops around like a caffeinated bumble-bee—and that’s it, really, aside from a buried beat and various auxiliary clatters like some looped-in feedback. Spoon’s thesis? Less is always more! It’s an ideal song to lead into their “breakout,” with lyrics about self-deluding yourself into appreciating your modest, somewhat meager existence as you’re eking along from weekend show to weekend show in your midsize car. It seems to defiantly ask, who wants fame, anyhow? And then “Way We Get By” got onto the soundtrack for The O.C. (remember that show?) and the rest is history, more or less.