After a 4-year break from the studio, Spoon has released their latest, They Want My Soul, on vinyl and hi-res 96kHz/24-bit audio on HDtracks, in addition to the usual formats. The new album from the Austin-based band isn’t a vast departure from previous releases, yet it still sounds fresh and new. Fans of the band’s minimalistic style will be glad they’re back, and new listeners will wonder why they haven’t heard of them before.
Spoon’s eighth studio album has two different producers, but the sound has a cohesive clarity throughout. Joe Chiccarelli and Dave Fridmann share the producing and engineering credits. Some tracks were recorded by one, and mixed by another. I was afraid it would be apparent that the tracks were mixed by two different people with very different sonic styles, but the album has a consistent, smooth flow. Two things remain as constants throughout the mixes: extreme panning of instruments hard left or right, and excessive use of detune on the keyboards and guitars. They’re interesting choices.
“Rent I Pay” was the first single, released long ahead of Soul. In a style that’s maintained all throughout the album, the song has a massively wide stereo image —listening over headphones is a must. Make sure they’re really good headphones, too, as the bass on this track is amazing — dirty, deep, and wonderful. The extreme panning of the guitars while the raunchy snare drum is locked dead-center along with Britt Daniel’s vocals keeps things sonically appealing.
The trippy-trance feel of “Inside Out” features exotic, Asian-inspired keyboards and very interesting use of reverb, or the lack thereof. The song is lush and indulgent, but one line of vocals is repeated in the second verse with a dry sound to make it stand out from the track. Soul is full of little sonic treats like that.
“Rainy Taxi” is a more traditional rock song — driving, angry, and featuring a harsh, distorted guitar track. The mix in the bridge is so full and complex, it’s easy to imagine how cluttered it would sound in a low-res file. This song also has some interesting things in the mix: a weird keyboard pounding sound and other detuned instruments create a menacing, creepy feeling, especially as the song fades out.
In contrast, “Do You” has an upbeat, retro beat that could have easily been released in the ’60s. (Which is ironic, because another track on the album was! More on that in a bit.) It’s a little too sunshine-and-lollipops for my taste, but there is a wonderfully reverberant flute over the fadeout.
“Knock, Knock, Knock” is an engineer’s dream mix. There are so many subtle layers to pick out: lush string riffs, distorted guitars, impeccably clean acoustic guitars, and a phased snare drum that any ’80s music fan will adore.
Perhaps the most interesting and driving track on the album, “Outlier,” also has a dark, rich, lush sound — a departure from the minimal mixes of the past. Notice how the track shifts completely to the left channel and fades out from there.
The title track starts out with a simple drum and rhythm track — nothing fancy, but it lets Daniel’s vocals shine. It’s refreshing and clean, but there are still some of the recurring trance elements mixed in later in the track, including a trippy guitar break that bounces back and forth between the left and right channels.
The cover of Ann-Margret’s 1961 hit “I Just Don’t Understand” stays true to style with a fabulous, slightly out-of-tune upright piano emphasizing the 3/4 beat of this bluesy, dark track. This track was more famously covered by The Beatles on Live at The BBC. Beatles fans, be prepared: This might become your preferred version of the song.
“Let Me Be Done” is another upbeat, seemingly simple track, but with each listen, subtle little cues come through. Detailed background vocals, a dense background synth in the choruses, and shifting EQ changes throughout the instrumentation build and then drop back to a simple bridge.
The last track, “New York Kiss,” features a marimba sound — and who doesn’t love a nice marimba? The deep bass notes of the keyboards should also be noted. The ending fades into a smattering of static and noise — a satisfying ending to an interesting album.
One technical critique, however: Soul was mastered such that the songs overlap. When listening to the entire album in sequence, it’s nice to hear the crossfade between tracks. However, when listening to individual tracks, you get a snippet of the previous song at the very beginning, and if the song has a long fadeout — like “Do You” does — the track cuts off abruptly. Interesting but questionable production choice, for sure.
They Want My Soul is a tasty collection from Spoon, especially in a format that lets you hear all the details the way the band intended. Britt Daniel’s cutting vocals overlay catchy, hooky songs, and there are enough interesting sounds, mixes, and lyrics here that you’ll find yourself singing Soul for days.