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“Looking Back on Kill the Moonlight After 15 Years, with the Priority of Measuring and Evaluating the Band’s Talking Heads Influence”

Wow, I’m in one of those moods where there’s so much I want to say. Good thing I’m talking about a band, Spoon, which is very relevant to this day and has undoubtedly been so for over 20 trips around the sun. They’ve waded, in their time as a band together, through the murky quagmire of file sharing’s pervasion and the industry’s ensuing stinger. In many regards, including this one, they can be compared to Wilco, who bizarrely got dropped from WB subsidiary Reprise only to be retangled in another Warner subsidiary, Nonesuch, for the same album. So you might say their hands aren’t QUITE as dirty with the mucky circular reasoning of the entity of record labels in a panic — also Britt Daniel had the habit of copying Jeff Tweedy’s soloing style on Gimme Fiction (following as it did Wilco’s A Ghost is Born), but Spoon best Wilco in the art of expedited pop catchiness, so in a sense they’re apples and oranges.
I made the point this past week on facebook, when I was finally recovering emotionally from the death of Chris Cornell and so sharing the Shins song “Those to Come” (featuring the line “Something bad inside me went away”), that The Shins indeed came out during what I dubbed as a “tough time for alt rock.” Now, this assessment, of course, can be construed in two different directions. On one hand, the early ‘00s were problematic for the enterprise of bands which gathered a wide array of sophisticated influences and delivered artistic or metaphorical lyrics toward the endeavor of actually making MONEY on what they were doing (whereas the Counting Crows arguably had less trouble, making music not different to a definitive extent from the ‘00s’ “indie,” necessarily) [1]. On the other, of course, the stuff that DID pass for alt rock, for anybody who’d lived in the ‘90s with the eclectic array of Tonic, Creed, Our Lady Peace and Fastball, to name a few, was tough to listen to. But with this being the case, it only makes sense that a select few albums issuing in this industry commercial nadir — say, Chutes Too Narrow, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Is This it?, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and then assuredly Kill the Moonlight, would have a special quality of a resiliency about them, like a defiant perfection, and would be flawlessly produced. [2]
Kill the Moonlight is generally regarded as Spoon’s best album and I happen to agree with this prevailing sentiment, but it’s not really of ULTIMATE importance as to whether it is or not. There’s undeniably commendable material as well on Girls Can Tell, which preceded, as well as Gimme Fiction [3], Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Transference, They Want My Soul [4] and Hot Thoughts, each of which followed. In other words, it’s neither inferior nor exclusionary and shouldn’t spawn rivalries between albums, or anything like that. Great alt-rock of around this time should garner all the nurturing and support which is possible, because it was clearly an eagle with a temporarily wounded wing.
It’s funny, I think music was better in the ‘90s and early ‘00s, because I have this memory of this girl I was seeing at IU in ’03 naming Spoon as her favorite band, whereas I was of the opinion that “Jonathan Fisk” was a PRETTY good song, helped a lot by the isolated guitar solo at the very end. Listening to it today, I relish in Britt Daniel’s penchant for syncopation — starting one lyrical phrase on a one beat, and the next on a four beat, so that the middle part, not the beginning, of the following musical phrase falls on the next one beat, lively, natural modifications on deadening normality which were once a foregone conclusion in music, but now seem like studies in ancient scripture. It’s ironic that both Spoon and Ryan Adams put out an album this year, because I find them fairly similar to each other — they’re both astronomically talented, no doubt, but equally, each takes oneself extremely seriously and has the annoying habit of making albums sound like sterilized sequences of separate songs, rather than continuous, somehow spatial artistic projects. [5] But, I guess I just “won’t let it get me down.” And I won’t. This whole project has many earmarks of excellent production — from the vocal balancing on “Don’t Let it Get You Down,” to the array of inexplicable percussionless instruments in the showstopping opener “Small Stakes” right on to those booming drums at the end of that song which I believe were produced by the band themselves.
Along the lines of Spoon being an essentially Talking Heads-influenced act, “All the Pretty Girls Go the City” makes the strongest impression SONICALLY upon contemporary listen — music almost violently enjoyable, tapping into something truly preternatural in the listener. With minor chords and relative voluminosity versus its compatriots, “All the Pretty Girls Go to the City” is an altogether fearsome entity upon early-‘00s contemporaneity, juxtaposed all the more starkly for the POP superiority of the final two tracks on the album, “Back to the Life” and “Vittorio E” (tracks which to a greater extent appealed to drunkard in me). And do I detect a faint strain of Soul Coughing influence with these ominous piano hits, harkening directly to “Moon Sammy”? This is a stretch, but I like stretches, especially with it being baseball season right now — Talking Heads paved the way for white boy funk, Soul Coughing perpetuated it by interweaving a hip-hop element and retaining every bit the melody thereby establishing a cult following in Texas likened by their late-era song “Houston” [6] and then went on to influence Spoon SONICALLY, though hogging all the lyrical influence themselves, boasting the bathroom appliance references “Below the sink there is a drain” to Talking Heads’ “Pull out the plug / The water was runnin’ out”. Spoon’s lyrics are more spectral and mind-boggling than Soul Coughing’s, which is saying something, since Mike Doughty is quite the lyricist himself. The latter, though, tends toward fictional depictions, the former issuing firsthand, gruff accounts of everyday life (“Jonathan Fisk speaks with his fist” [7]; “I’ll take it any way you let it go”; “I will not protect you / But I will be there with you when you turn out the lights”). I’ve said before on this blog that for an album to be classic, it has to have versatility (The Strokes perhaps being a notable exception, thereby perhaps establishing “coolness” as a worthy alternative), but either way, on Kill the Moonlight, Spoon had already mastered the white-boy disco strut a la “All the Pretty Girls Go to the City” and the R.E.M. pop perfection of “Back to the Life” and “Vittorio E” on the defining career statement which would go on to in this way, heterogeneously, go on to inform everything they would do following, from “I Turn My Camera on” to “Black Like Me” and beyond.
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[1] Of course, the whole situation is almost rendered moot when you consider that for laboriously recording the album that would get them dropped from Reprise, Wilco already owned their own studio in Chicago, “The Loft,” whereas many mainstream alt rock acts such as Green Day were actually technically produced by the exact person who’d signed them to the label.
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[2] Some bands even took production matters into their own performative hands, such as The Strokes’ Julian Casablancas, who would do that voice-muffling thing by cupping his hands over the mic, to which he held his mouth really close, not moving at all while singing, never playing a guitar or keyboard.
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[3] It seems, it seems, it seemeth it seems, that Spoon’s album Gimme Fiction actually spawned a movie Stranger than Fiction, to which Britt Daniel directly contributed soundtracking fare. Wikipedia cracks me up because they stated that Stranger than Fiction came in 2006, after relating that Gimme Fiction was from ’05, and they established the fact that Daniel gave it music, but at no point to the establish a TITULAR connection between the two productions. That would be quite a coincidence, both documents containing the word “fiction,” one would have to admit. Either way, it’s a compelling case of the underdog industry of music, crippled by file sharing, baring its true teeth and artistically wielding enough efficacy to sway minds in and influence cinema, not unlike the “New Slang” phenomenon a la Garden State. Ope, Spoon rips on Garden State on They Want My Soul! I personally didn’t think that movie was that bad, but remember, Austin is the home of Slacker, as well as the phenomenal late-‘90s MTV series Austin Stories.
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[4] I have on this blog ripped on They Want My Soul as an overall enterprise, seeing especially as it starts out sounding something like Nirvana’s “Scentless Apprentice,” but I’m also proud to say I don’t find it to be entirely without certain songs which possess some artistic gravity.
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[5] The example I always offer as masters of this is everybody’s favorite band, Pavement, a la the between-track interludes on Slanted & Enchanted and Brighten the Corners, as well as all the goof-off sessions on the Wowee Zowee reissue such as “Sordid,” “Sentinel” and the disc two (fu** you vinyl) “Kris Kraft.”
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[6] Austin Stories had a somewhat troubling reference to a “Soul Coughing CD” someone had doled out for borrowing: “Ugh! It was horrible! I could barely get three dollars for it!”
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[7] I have a theory that “Jonathan Fisk” might actually be Britt Daniel’s alter-ego. I doubt, too, that I’m alone in this position.

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