Spoon’s ‘Hot Thoughts’ finds sweet spots between pop rock, electronica

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Spoon Hot Thoughts | Matador Records
Grade: B+

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In 1996, the Austin-based band Spoon released its first LP Telephono. More than 20 years and eight albums later, the band has repeatedly demonstrated versatility within a continually changing industry. With the March 17 release of its latest album, Hot Thoughts, Spoon confirms once again its ability to establish a distinct stance at the intersection of musical genres.

Lead and founded by vocalist/guitarist Britt Daniels and drummer Jim Eno, Spoon has explored junctions between electronic distortion, angry dissonance, upbeat pop hooks and every imaginable manifestation of rock — classic, heavy, garage, alt, indie, you name it. The band’s longevity derives in part from this readiness to explore and merge styles. But Spoon’s vital foundation is an almost formulaically consistent base of tight, precise and energetic drum-and-bass lines. The band has maintained this characteristic drum/bass style while exploring slight style tweaks with each album — Hot Thoughts is no different. Though every track isn’t exactly ear candy, Spoon builds on its familiar foundation to deliver an album that lies at the crossroads of electronic synths and rock stylings.

Hot Thoughts’ title track opens the album with the band’s familiar, clean, commanding bass line and crisp percussive elements. At the same time, Spoon clearly shifts away from more straightforward rock sounds of earlier recordings like 2014’s They Want My Soul. “Hot Thoughts” aptly opens the album and sets the stage for Spoon’s entrance into the realm of modern electronic sounds. Echo, distortion and varying synth styles organically come to life over insistent drum-and-bass lines. These electronics are refreshing additions to Spoon’s established style.

The band also shows growth out of its predominantly upbeat earlier releases with slower tracks such as “Pink Up.” Eno’s sharp drumlines and bassist Rob Pope’s unrelenting hooks continue to push the album forward; what’s new is the band’s exploration of slow tempos. “Pink Up” somehow offers a full-bodied, simultaneously energetic and melancholy listening experience. Pope’s bassline at once lulls listeners into a trance and pushes energy forward. Characteristic snappy snare rolls and punchy lyrical quips work together with contrasting slower elements, culminating in a standout track.

Through tight basslines, sharp percussion and experimental electronica, Hot Thoughts establishes a merging of electronic and pop rock styles. Spoon shines in tracks where it pushes the limits of these intersections. A highlight of the album, “I Ain’t the One,” starts with cleaner, more traditional keyboard sounds. Layers of sound expand upon the song’s initially slowed and stripped down vocals and piano hook. A moment of saturated vocal harmony builds listeners up into a rhythmic escalation out of crooning ballad and into the experimental electronic noise characteristic of the album. In blending these styles and musical skill sets, “I Ain’t the One” typifies Spoon’s growth.

Spoon has long drawn on pop hooks; “Tear It Down,” features a fun series of “na na na’s” that harken back to the days of middle school pop punk angst. “Can I Sit Next to You” is a standout initially reminiscent of Spoon’s earlier, more upbeat and punchy rock hooks. But just as “I Ain’t the One” successfully features varying styles, over the course of “Can I Sit Next to You,” Spoon is able to mix dissonant electronics into their familiar hooks. This track demonstrates the unwillingness to adhere to any one musical genre that makes Hot Thoughts a standout album.

Track 10, “Us,” is an engaging product of the band’s dedication to experimentation.“Us” offers five minutes of mellow, soulful sax that build into the final moments of the album. Arrhythmic  drum hits break listeners from the mystical haze produced by electronic dissonance and blaring brass. Distorted and cathartic, the lyricless final track speaks to Spoon’s dedication to pushing the envelope.

Hot Thoughts isn’t just a generally successful amalgam of disparate musical stylings; it pushes listeners to think outside the confines of popular music. Spoon collapses perceived boundaries and, for a moment, reminds listeners of the unlimited possibilities available to modern musicians.

Contact Claralyse Palmer at [email protected].