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Wednesday May 25th

Spoon Survives Rock Abyss With Research-Worthy Release

Spoon
Kill the Moonlight

Some albums warrant investigation. But only great albums require research.

Spoon understands the science of rock 'n' roll, where listening isn't a pastime, it's required study.

In researching the band's new album, Kill the Moonlight, the bass-heavy, reverb-laden soundscapes offer the listener completely different messages through headphones, cars and stereos.

The new focus on guitarist/vocalist Britt Daniel's angular melodies and the band's masterful control of space between notes clearly reveals a band in top form.

Considering its lush predecessor, Girls Can Tell, it's easy to first mistake the album as a step backward. But listeners shouldn't be fooled by tracks like the epileptic "Paper Tiger" -- here, silence and space does not equal emptiness.

After Girls Can Tell, it felt like Spoon had nowhere to go but headfirst into the massive slouch-rock abyss inhabited by The Strokes and The White Stripes. But with the sparse Kill the Moonlight, Spoon most certainly will not be proclaimed the "reluctant saviors of rock" on the cover of "Rolling Stone" next month.

As if taking latent cues from Radiohead's Kid A about-face, Spoon reins in its trademark jagged guitar lines in favor of the album's huge rhythmic combinations of keyboards, drumkits, saxophone and plenty of reverb.

There is nothing here that will drop jaws like Girls' "Everything Hits At Once" or hit as viscerally as "The Guestlist/The Execution," off 1998's A Series of Sneaks. Yet further inspection reveals hooks hidden by thundering drumbeats and the best use of rock piano since Billy Joel went adult contemporary in the early '80s.

"Someone Something" exploits its piano shuffle like it's working for Larry Flynt -- it's slammed into your face so hard that you forget what made it sexy in the first place.

And "The Way We Get By," based around its swaggering, Ben Folds-ish piano riff and spot-on lyrics about hanging out in the street, would be the perfect centerpiece to a musical about the kids who loiter at the post office.

If the band's music is now saying more with less, so is Daniel's writing. In "Jonathan Fisk" and the skull-crushing "Back to the Life," Daniel subverts each song's lyrics by subtly twisting single words and avoids any guess about the songs' meanings.

Daniel's lyrics now speak to new frustrations in songwriting. "Small Stakes" discusses the temptation to retread past triumphs, while "You Gotta Feel It" suggests that Daniel felt pressure to deliver for Moonlight. "You gotta feel it, don't take notes/Just clear out your mind/Let go your pride/Feel it inside," he croons.

But whatever pressure the band felt before will probably only be increased by Kill the Moonlight. This new direction leaves the sky wide open for Spoon to manipulate its sound, piquing the curiosity of listeners who cannot fathom where the band could possibly go next.

If Girls was Revolver, then consider this Spoon's equivalent to Sgt. Pepper's -- a promise fulfilled, with even larger promises to now deliver on.

The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at artsdesk@unc.edu.

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