Utensils, Robots, Clarity
New albums this week from Spoon and RJD2
By Gabe Meline
Singers find their voice, writers find their style, and bands, like Spoon, find their groove. Since their wonderful 2001 release, Girls Can Tell, the Austin-based band has continually outdone itself in a public experiment of re-imagination. Four excellent albums beyond Girls, the band this week slows down with Transference, which is more arty and less oomphy than their previous album, the weirdly titled Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. The studio serves as the fifth member here, as leadoff track "Before Destruction" sets the tone of cobbled recordings mixed as a re-edit of demos and professional sheen. With this semi-psychedelic tinge—and allusions to "Hurdy Gurdy Man" and "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds"—there are the usual Spoon touches: "Written in Reverse," with Daniel's manic yowl; and "Who Makes Your Money," with all the obtuse imagery Spoon have become known for.
Support for Spoon is provided by NPR, which streamed the album a week before its release and which, according to local record stores, is now more responsible for selling records than Top 40 radio, Rolling Stone or that once-dominant cable network that airs Jersey Shore combined. That the power of community radio should reign over commercial media outlets is reflective of our new times, but that fact shouldn't obscure Daniel's immense talent, nor a good headphone listen or three.
Also out this week is The Colossus, a "comeback" album from Columbus DJ/Producer RJD2. RJ's previous record, The Third Hand, was a troubled affair; its borderline Jack Johnson acoustic guitar ballads were a sharp and unsuccessful departure from his usual minor-key crinkled hip-hop textures, and hopes were high after a lead-off single featured beats and horn stabs.
But on the whole, The Colossus is just another retro-rock/soul album with sad lyrics sung too earnestly, reminiscent of Gnarls Barkley's last record or Jamiroquai's later work. "Games You Can Win" boasts barely a beat, navel-gazing into itself, while the runway-ready "The Glow" cops major-seventh chords and tambourines in a version of lazy beach life as seen from a Midwest window. RJ's recently started his own label and reissued his magnificent first two albums, Deadringer and Since We Last Spoke, both of which still tower as skyscrapers of accessible instrumental hip-hop, and a better place to start than the shaky walls of The Colossus.
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