Given Spoon’s reputation for consistency, it’s not a surprise that Transference is good. However, it manages to be good in surprising ways. This time, the band’s quest to get to the heart of their songs led them to take matters into their own hands and produce this album themselves -- a first, which seems somewhat remarkable, considering the band’s tight control over their sound. The single “Got Nuffin” preceded Transference by six months, and its stripped-down rock was the first hint that this album might not continue Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga’s meticulous production and pop songcraft. As marvelous as the precision of that album was, the rough edges here are refreshing. Transference’s title may refer to subconscious emotional shifts, but these are some of the most direct and uncompromising songs Spoon has written. They have all the gritty promise of demos
(in fact, many of these songs are basically demos), with a roomy sound that just underlines their urgency. Compared to Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga and Gimme Fiction’s polish, the Who-esque “Trouble Comes Running” might as well have been recorded on a four-track, while “Goodnight Laura”’s intimacy and imperfections make it a braver and more vulnerable lullaby. Any veneers in Britt Daniel's writing have been stripped away along with the sonic gloss, revealing songs that are more emotional, and filled with more emotions: “Written in Reverse” is the fieriest Spoon song in years, all bashed pianos and snarled vocals comparing the odd happy moments in a dying relationship to high school poppers. “I Saw the Light” is pure, in-the-moment discovery with an expansive instrumental coda that’s just as impassioned as Daniel's vocals. While Spoon’s music is almost always economical, it’s rarely simple, and Transference throws their complex contrasts into high relief. They ask the big question “Is Love Forever?,” but the more the beat hammers down and the more Daniel repeats “are you quite certain, love?” the more elusive the answer seems. “Who Makes Your Money?,” on the other hand, cloaks another tough question in a sinuous groove and spacy keyboards. Spoon take a zigzag path with each album, and Transference often feels like an equal and opposite reaction to Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga’s immediacy. But just because the band’s pop side isn’t the focus here doesn’t mean that moments like “The Mystery Zone”’s insistent groove aren’t earworms in their own way. Even if these aren’t Spoon’s easiest songs, they still deliver the best things about the band -- smarts, wit, hooks -- without any difficulty.