Going Ga Ga over Spoon

The indie-rock quartet gives its sixth studio album -- and most engaging set -- an in-the-moment feel

April 10, 2008|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,Sun pop music critic

Despite the use of note-enhancing software, the music had to feel human.

When Spoon entered the studio in late 2006 to work on Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, the indie-rock band's acclaimed sixth studio album released in July, the quartet wanted to ride on pure inspiration.

Although the result is largely precise and streamlined, the flubs and distorted noises here and there give the music a certain warmth.

"There's a fine line with that. There's a balance we're just good at," says Spoon lead vocalist and chief songwriter Britt Daniel. He and his band mates -- drummer Jim Eno, pianist Eric Harvey and bassist Rob Pope -- headline Sonar Lounge tomorrow night. "We worked with an engineer who was very good. He looked at the benefits of making mistakes."

Studio chatter, messy bass lines and lyrical fragmentation give the album an in-the-moment feel. But the CD, perhaps Spoon's most engaging set, is still a detailed record. The music, mistakes and all, was filtered through ProTools, software that has long been used to edit recordings in the studio.

"About 95 percent of the records made today are made on ProTools, which means there's less inspiration in a take," says Daniel, who last week was at a tour stop in Kansas. "When you take out every breath, it dehumanizes [the music]. It ends up being a very sterile-sounding record."

Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga -- whose title comes from the melody line of "The Ghost of You Lingers," one of the album's best cuts -- is anything but. The evocative instrumentation braids strains of punk, new wave and even vintage Motown.

"We used the ProTools to do creative sonic manipulations you can't do with tape," says Daniel, 36. "As far as the sound, the only conscious thing I tried to do is make the record sound the way records were mixed in the '70s, where there wasn't a lot of low-end -- not a lot of heavy bass."

The album -- which cracked the Top 10 on Billboard's pop album charts, a first for the 14-year-old band from Texas -- is musically leaner than its predecessor, 2005's Gimme Fiction. But the overall approach is more adventurous yet refined. The sounds of chamberlains, a koto and vintage soul-derived horn lines all float through the mix at different times.

"We didn't want to fall into being predictable with each record," Daniel says. "You try different things to stretch yourself."

The band started in Austin, Texas, in 1994 with just Daniel and Eno. Early on, a rotating cast of supporting players helped concoct Spoon's sound. With the release of 1996's Telephone, the unit's debut, comparisons to Sonic Youth and the Pixies abounded. After self-releasing another album, 1997's Soft Effects, Spoon signed with major-label Elektra Records. The company released A Series of Sneaks in '98, but the band was quickly dropped when the record didn't sell.

Since then, Spoon has steered clear of the major-label route, recording for Merge Records, an independent company in North Carolina.

The band has felt no pressure to tailor its music to certain trends or label mandates. Its most recent work, especially Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, creatively defies categorization.

"I think at a certain point it all becomes subliminal -- the way your influences and your own style come across in the music you make," Daniel says. "When I bring songs to the guys and we're in the studio, the pattern of sounds isn't done consciously. We go with what works. But this time, we wanted more frayed edges. I like it to be a little dirty."

rashod.ollison@baltsun.com

See Spoon at Sonar Lounge, 407 E. Saratoga St., at 8 tomorrow night. Tickets are $25 and are available through Ticketmaster by calling 410-547-7328 or going to ticketmaster.com.

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