[8 October 2008]
The Spinto Band aren’t a difficult band to want to love. Since they formed in 1996, they’ve consistently delivered a contagious celebration that is playfully puckish and totally bereft of pretension. Moonwink, remarkably the band’s sixth album proper, is their latest 11-track collection of sugary, woozy, cutesy three-minute pop ditties.
First single “Summer Grof” (in the band’s words “a vague tribute to the great comedienne Janeane Garofalo”) captures this exuberance perfectly. Jaunty hand-claps give birth to saccharine keyboards and jangly guitars. Add an addictive chorus of “I won’t lie, I won’t lie, I won’t lie, I won’t lie, I won’t lie” and you’ve got a superb indie anthem. It’s a shame that it arrived in October and not July, because “Summer Grof” could truly have ruled the summer.
Since their days as Free Beer, the Spinto Band have made music that is at once outlandish, kinetic, and luminous, and this latest record is no different. Often there are flashes of brilliance (notably “Summer Grof”, “The Carnival”, and album closer “The Black Flag”), but vocalist Nick Krill, keyboard player Sam Hughes, and guitarists Jon Easton and Joey Hobson are so keen on repeating themselves that much of their work, and a lot of this album, often frustrates.
The two opening tracks, “Later On” and “Vivian, Don’t”, offer the same rich, textured guitars, unconventional orchestration, and multiple-part vocal harmonies that made 2006’s Nice and Nicely Done such a critically acclaimed and (comparatively) commercially successful album. The familiar hyperactivity continues through “Pumpkins and Paisley”, an irresistible, relentless, flat-out indie-pop tune that ramps up the keyboards and the “la la las” to become the most morish, adorable song on the album.
Lyrically, they remain deceptively clever. “They All Laughed” touches on much darker undercurrents than the airy keyboard might suggest. The song documents success that is all-too-fleeting, a subject you might imagine the band need to be very wary of. Indeed, it’s not long before Moonwink begins to grate. These are the same emphatic choruses, the same staccato verses, the same irritating kazoos, the same dinky keyboard tunes that they’ve been trading on for nearly a decade. Amongst the Spinto ranks, there appears to be little or no willingness to tinker with the formula that’s got them this far. It’s a real shame, because, deep down, you really believe that they’ve got it in them to break their own mould.
The introductory burst of horns aside, “They All Laughed” reveals little that the band haven’t achieved since 1998. “Ain’t This the Truth” steers too closely to “Trust Vs Mistrust” from Nice and Nicely Done, and “Needlepoint” sounds like a ham-fisted attempt to re-make the outstanding track from that breakthrough album, “Crack the Whip”.
Against this lack of innovation is the Spinto Band’s effortless charisma and juvenile charm. Back in 2006, Nice and Nicely Done was a burst of sugar-rush excitement that has proved enduringly enjoyable. The fun to be had listening to the three tunes that stand out on Moonwink may yet prove to be similarly long-lasting, but it’s difficult to truly believe that.
You dearly want to rally behind the Spinto Band, and they certainly deserve some affection, but if they don’t take a chance once in a while, how can you ever really love them?