Released 17th March via Matador
Let’s get straight to the point — Spoon’s new album is fucking exceptional. Not that you should ever expect anything less from them, arguably the most consistently brilliant indie rock band ever.
Their latest effort is yet another hit in a string of fantastic records stretching all the way back to 1997’s Soft Effects, with not a single dud in twenty years; even Transference, the band’s least critically acclaimed release, is a glorious scratchy mess of wonder.
Hot Thoughts initially seems to be something of a departure for the band. There are walls of synth and ambience, and seemingly no acoustic guitars whatsoever.
On first listen, it sounds like their first mistake in my lifetime. However, a couple more listens later it all clicks — as with every Spoon album, it takes a while, then you wonder what you were ever worried about.
Eight of the album’s ten tracks are absolutely massive, swaggering clouds of groove and poise. Jim Eno’s drums are more hip-hop inspired than his usual tick-tock perfect timekeeping — ultra-processed to the point where you can’t tell if they’re man or machine, they’re just percussive slabs, coupled on most songs with super-slick bass that sounds like it’s been dragged out of a tar pit.
‘Can I Sit Next to You’ is a great example of this, a hyper-tight funk masterpiece that’s always focused on the beat, even when it bursts into manipulated strings and ambience.
The guitars are now just as carefully considered as everything else — deployed only when strictly necessary. In ‘whisperi’lllistentohearit’, a standout in an album of standouts, they spend the first half muted, building tension behind the wall of keys, bursting out only in the peaks of the second half, snapping out a wiry and brilliant riff over Britt Daniel’s repeated demands to “come on and give me some spirit”.
The new focus, then, is a deep dive into synths to explore more textural sounds. ‘I Ain’t the One’ is built around a slowly repeated Rhodes pattern and washes of echoes, finally ending in a sudden blast of static. The experimentation is best on the two more ambient tracks, which are genuinely different to anything Spoon have ever done before.
‘Pink Up’ is a patient, slowly swelling track that moves through vibraphones, enormous reverberated fills and a final wash of soft piano and backwards manipulated vocals similar to Radiohead’s ‘Daydreaming’. But ‘Us’ is the real masterpiece — a steady series of mournful saxophones, ominous waves of noise and long spaces of near silence that sounds straight off the second half of Low, Heroes or Dirty Beaches’ Love is the Devil. It’s shockingly beautiful.
Instead of a sea change though, Hot Thoughts is really a continuation of what came before — the mastery of albums like Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga and They Want My Soul came in the little moments of weirdness — screwed up samples or tape hiss bursting out for just a moment.
Hot Thoughts just brings these weirder moments to the fore, whilst diving into their biggest influences’ most essential and experimental records. The overall effect is a record that sounds like a cross between Prince, Bowie and Kid A, whilst still remaining quintessentially Spoon, with all their strutting majesty.
Is it as good as that sounds? Not quite — that would be the greatest album ever made, but it’s amazing just how close Spoon get. It’s only March, but it’s going to be hard for anything else this year to come even remotely close to this astonishing record.