HOT THOUGHTS by Spoon
Genre: Indie Rock
Favorite Tracks: “WhisperI’lllistentoit,” “Can I Sit Next To You,” “Shotgun”
Spoon has been making very good records with remarkable consistency for just over 20 years now, but if there’s any complaint to be had about them, it’s that they’ve more or less stayed in very similar sonic spaces for their entire career. Spoon usually plays a highly rhythmic and melodic version of guitar-driven indie rock, born out of the sound of bands like Pavement, Cake, and Guided by Voices. On HOT THOUGHTS, Britt Daniel and company continue to play with synthesizers a little bit more and add just a hair of ‘80s influence to an already established and functional formula, creating a sound that feels far more focused than 2014’s THEY WANT MY SOUL, where their synth experiments began. HOT THOUGHTS does not so much deliver a changed version of Spoon, but an evolved one that adds some much needed diversity to their repertoire.
That ‘80s influence is most prominent on the first two tracks of the album, “Hot Thoughts” and “WhisperI’lllistentohearit.” “Hot Thoughts” scans very similarly to older Spoon songs at some points, but drummer Jim Eno (one of, if not the best, drummers in the indie rock sphere) takes the wheel, creating an exciting and well-layered melange of auxiliary percussion instruments. “WhisperI’lllistentohearit” is exciting and dramatic in a way that few Spoon songs are, eventually settling into an almost Pat Benatar-like uptempo rock song that, in a very un-Spoon-like way, feels like it could fill a stadium.
The later tracks on the album stick more to the sound that Spoon rests its laurels on. “Can I Sit Next To You” is built on a groove that reminds the listener more than a little bit of “I Turn My Camera On” from GIMME FICTION, but perhaps with more mindfully created musical layering. The song constantly adds and subtracts parts, keeping the listener engaged as they build around a simplistic musical idea. Album closer “Shotgun” is vintage Spoon, driven by chunky guitars, a pulsing rhythm, and some snarky lyrics from Daniel, who may be one of the best “petty” songwriters ever. No Spoon song ever has a musical hair out of place, sometimes to an extraordinary extent, and HOT THOUGHTS is no different. The album is full of those same meticulously placed rhythms that they are known for, and like with other albums, they live and die by their rhythm. Songs like “I Ain’t The One,” which are more atmospheric and slightly less rhythmic, tend to drag and lack energy, which is the main negative consequence of their increasing incorporation of keyboards into their albums.
Even if HOT THOUGHTS is a fine piece of work and undoubtedly a success for the band, it still suffers from a lack of musical ambition. Spoon does seem like a smarter, more technically proficient band now than they ever have been, but their style of music isn’t aging particularly well. Like some of their contemporaries (think Death Cab for Cutie, The Shins, Modest Mouse, or even Weezer), Spoon is trying to outrun the ticking clock that measures their artistic relevance, and HOT THOUGHTS shows us that they are trying, but perhaps not hard enough, to stay “hip.”
At the same time, why should they try to evolve into something they aren’t? In the tenuously defined and ever-changing indie rock landscape, Spoon could probably be fairly defined as a “dad band,” both because their members have reached actual middle age and because there’s more than a few bands out there that owe a lot to their influence. They’ve built enough of a legacy to be a permanent occupier of the second or third line on a festival poster, and they’re still making quality records that build on a sound they’ve spent 20 years tinkering with and gradually improving. Sure, you won’t find a mind-blowing, album of the year-quality record with HOT THOUGHTS, but it’s always fun to see that Dad can still show the kids a thing or two.