As the 33 1/3 book series proves, fans love learning every detail about a group's breakout album. Though less publicized, much can be learned about a band from watching how they follow up their big record. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Transference's concise pop predecessor brought the group overdue recognition, and though they've followed strong albums before, media expectations were previously less of a factor. Rather than embrace a commercially proven formula with Transference, the group take a page from Beck's book, veering away from their standard sound and taking the music in a fresh, challenging direction.
The change doesn't involve Beck-esque narratives about demonic Mexican food, but Spoon share Beck's interest in exploring previously uncharted musical territory. Just as Beck followed his first hit "Loser" with two ramshackle lo-fi discs and his hit machine Guero with the electronically distant The Information, Spoon forgoes a squeaky clean sequel in search of something different. Ditching the intense production that shaped previous efforts, Transference is primarily composed of demos and first takes. The words "gritty" and "rough" don't normally apply to the pop-centric band, but these terms apply in contrast with Spoon's back catalogue.
Transference dives in headfirst, immediately churning out upbeat pop, but this time filling it with echoed vocals, amateur effects and overtly choppy endings. Standouts like "Is Love Forever," and "Written in Reverse," are a blast, but after years of laboring over every note of every song, it's hard not to initially wonder if Transference is the sound of control freaks trying to fuck up on purpose. The album's latter half relaxes more, as embodied by Paul McCartney clone "Goodnight Laura." Though the album balances pace changes overall, Transference feels uneven when listened to in its presented order. But what it lacks in cohesiveness, it makes up for with spontaneity. The demo feel of Transference provides an intimate glimpse at a band figuring things out as they go along, and in its best moments it allows us to hear euphoric moments of discovery that are all too often glossed over in production.