It’s possible—and probably correct—to say that Spoon is the most consistent, if not the outright best, rock band of the last 20 years. Since forming in Austin in 1993, the group, led by singer-guitarist Britt Daniel and drummer Jim Eno, has grown from a twitchy, over-caffeinated indie-rock act blending Wire and the Pixies into one of the most reliable festival headliners in the country.
Spoon’s music has always been more visceral than lyrical. The sound always hits you first, before you bother to pay attention to what Daniel is saying. Oftentimes the best moment in a Spoon song is what you don’t hear: the horns neatly tucked into the background of “The Underdog”; the rhythmic tap of drumsticks on “Paper Tiger.” These guys understand the importance of a good groove, a strong melody and never letting a gratuitous guitar solo get in the way of a perfectly placed “c’mon!”
After a four-year hiatus, during which Daniel started side-project Divine Fits with Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade, and Eno produced albums for the likes of Telekinesis and !!!, the band returns with eighth album They Want My Soul. Defining a group with so much great material is never easy, but this playlist—which excludes the band’s two biggest hits, “The Underdog” and “The Way We Get By,” which should be familiar to anyone—is a stab at doing just that.
“Everything Hits at Once” (Girls Can Tell, 2001)
On Spoon’s first two albums, Daniel and co. were obsessed with trying to be the American version of English post-punk legends Wire, punching out short, spiky songs best suited for a crowded dive bar. Though both Telephono and A Series of Sneaks have their share of gems, the band didn’t really hit its stride until third record Girls Can Tell, and “Everything Hits at Once” is a harbinger of what was to come next. All nostalgic rush and swift drums, this is Spoon’s first song meant to be blasted in a car.
“Don’t You Evah” (Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, 2007)
Otherwise known as the One Where Britt Tells Jim to Record the Talkback. A cover of a track by the Natural History, “Don’t You Evah” is all repetition and swagger, an updated version of “Stay Don’t Go” that ditches the played-out beatbox sample for a killer Eno drum take.
“Do You” (They Want My Soul, 2014)
Now this is more like it. After They Want My Soul early release “Rent I Pay” had a little too much Black Keys in its DNA, the record’s first official single is classic Spoon—with a twist. The ghostly backing vocals and muffled drums come straight from producer Dave Fridmann (the Flaming Lips, Sleater-Kinney’s The Woods), but the melody ranks with anything Daniel has ever written. A late contender for Song of the Summer.
“I Turn My Camera On” (Gimme Fiction, 2005)
Spoon’s best single is also the closest it’s ever come to making a disco song. Led by a walking bassline that struts as much as the Stones’ “Miss You,” the song is all bravado, with Daniel’s killer falsetto and the indelible line “It hit me like a tom.” The only Spoon jam guaranteed to tear up a wedding dance floor.
“Laffitte Don’t Fail Me Now” (The Agony of Laffitte/Lafitte Don’t Fail Me Now, 1999)
Recorded after the band was dropped from its contract with Elektra just three months after its major-label debut, this is one of indie-rock’s ultimate kiss-off tracks. Instead of taking it to a former flame, Daniel rips into A&R man Ron Laffitte: “How does it feel to go home/ And not be honest with anyone?” Burn!
“Trouble Comes Running” (Transference, 2010)
One of the band’s most tuneful songs could have been a big hit but is obscured by a weird recording (most of the track is a demo Daniel recorded by himself, likely in the Portland basement he was living in at the time, on what sounds like a cassette tape) that gives the track an urgency that could have been lost with cleaner production. It sounds like you walked into a Spoon session and recorded a long-lost Modern Lovers song on your iPhone, and it’s awesome.
“You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb” (Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, 2007)
In a recent interview with Salon, Daniel mentioned that in the studio the band members will often play a new song as if they were another band, like the Supremes or the Misfits, when they get hung up on a particular arrangement. “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb” is obviously Spoon in full-on Hitsville U.S.A. mode. Led by an insistent four-on-the-floor beat, this is pure pop music.
“Small Stakes” (Kill The Moonlight, 2002)
Spoon is often tagged by critics as “minimalist,” and this is the one song that surely fits that description. Here’s what we’re working with: Wurlitzer organ, tambourine, vocals and a few odd sound effects are all you hear until the drums come crashing in the last 30 seconds, like Eno’s entire kit was dropped down a flight of stairs.
“The Ghost of You Lingers” (Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, 2007)
A mood piece that somehow comes off as the band’s most affecting song, “The Ghost of You Lingers” is the true highlight of Spoon’s poppiest record, a disorienting, weightless gem that works equally well as a headphone masterpiece and set-list staple. The live version, with Eno’s booming drums, hits the biggest emotional high.
“Inside Out” (They Want My Soul, 2014)
The second track off They Want My Soul is for anyone who tries to say that every Spoon song sounds the same. Led by glistening keys and a forceful, almost hip-hop beat, “Inside Out” is an outlier in the band’s catalog, but a gorgeous one. “Time’s gone inside out,” Daniel sings, almost pleading to the listener. “I don’t make time for holy rollers/ They do not make me complete.” Also: harp solo!
“I Summon You” (Gimme Fiction, 2005)
Daniel has often stated that he cares more about melody than his lyrics, and for the most part, he’s right: Spoon songs aren’t so much about what he’s singing as the way he sings them. “I Summon You” is the perfect storm, marrying one of his best vocal performances with one of his most straightforward love songs. Though “I Turn My Camera On” and “The Way We Get By” were bigger hits, this is the one I heard most often in dorm rooms in 2005.
“Metal Detektor” (A Series of Sneaks, 1998)
“Metal Detektor” was a mixtape staple back when people still made mixtapes. Daniel would go on to write better material, but none of his songs resonates at 2 am with a bottle of whiskey quite like this one.
Spoon plays at 8:30 pm Aug. 17. Info and tickets at musicfestnw.com.