Music

Spoon: Gimme Fiction

Zeth Lundy

Fifth full-length from Austin indie luminary is, simply put, a triumph.


Spoon

Gimme Fiction

Label: Merge
US Release Date: 2005-05-10
UK Release Date: 2005-05-09
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

As a destined classic, Gimme Fiction doesn't announce itself like we expect "classics" to, beating its chest and assuming its superiority; instead, it transmits its ideas in clandestine asides, on scraps of graph paper passed around the room, through a generous give-and-take of modestly elastic proportions. It exhibits all the tell-tale signs of an oncoming storm without the messy aftereffects of a natural disaster.

In the eyes of many, Spoon (the Austin, Texas group's core is singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Britt Daniel and drummer/engineer Jim Eno) has already reached its apex; depending on who you ask, the band's artistic zenith is either the oil-and-gas-fumed A Series of Sneaks (1998), the Motown-hallucinating Girls Can Tell (2001), or the brilliantly streamlined Kill the Moonlight (2002). (Those who cite the 1996 debut Telephono as the band's best simply haven't been paying attention.) Spoon's major label molestation story (oft-told, recounted here for posterity) is a familiar one of other great bands in the late '90s: after signing to Elektra Records and recording A Series of Sneaks, the label released the record and the band at roughly the same time. Finding solidarity with indie dynamo Merge Records (the label that has nurtured the band since), Spoon really established its own identity with Girls Can Tell and Kill the Moonlight, marrying Daniel's unique, uncompromised songwriting with the taut, spacious production of Elvis Costello circa Get Happy!!! and Trust.

But if every Spoon album is a refined link in the band's subtle evolution, Gimme Fiction must be seen as its crowning achievement to date. While it's not specifically a grab-bag amalgam of the band's greatest moments, Gimme Fiction does seem to draw wisely on the band's strengths: the spiny bite of Sneaks, the blue-eyed soul of Girls, the fevered urgency of Moonlight. The sound of Gimme Fiction is as ideal a conceptualization of the band as could be imagined; Daniel and Eno's distinctive piano and drum sounds are familiar and progressive propellers, the songs themselves are initially elusive to fully grasp and only gradually work their way deep under the skin.

As album sequencings go, the 1-2-3-4 blast that opens Gimme Fiction is as good as they get, the songs distant cousins stylistically but blood brothers coherently. It begins at the shoreline of the primordial swamp: "The Beast and Dragon, Adored" is the fish adapting to land, legs functioning but waking from sleep, lumbering from the muck and taking in air for the first time. Ill-omened piano chords sit atop Jim Eno's big beat; Daniel's mouth's full of marbles split and broken, the soft bits caught under his tongue and the jagged edges grating his teeth; the lyrics allude haphazardly to the songs yet to come and the ideas forming within the song's spacious atmosphere. Then Daniel's guitar comes in through the bathroom window and claws the wallpaper from the walls.

Gaining mobility, "The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine" wakes up to questions of duality and performance. The narrator's drawn to the titular role, for "he gets to swordfight the duke [and] kidnaps the queen"; the song itself explores the possibilities in such a performance and, in turn, creates its own little theater. Brought to life like marionettes, the instruments' hearts throb in your head and pulse in your legs, the bass' buoyancy picking up signs of life from the drums (aside: Daniel's bass playing makes this record), all of it sheltered by velvet curtain of the Tosca Strings. The record cements its mobilization with "I Turn My Camera On"; it's Sandinista!-era Clash running through a sexed-up Prince icebreaker between takes of "The Magnificent Seven" and "The Call Up". The band's head becomes cognizant of its groin, the skeletal guitar/bass/drums wrapped around a confused sexual awakening: "I turn my feelings on inside / Feel like I'm gonna ignite".

A tape machine starts up, a piano bangs out a seesaw chord augmentation; Daniel hollers "Oh!" and then, more confident and sly, "Yes!" "My Mathematical Mind" blows it all to hell. The song hangs on one wobbling, incriminating chord, a chord that has just turned its back to the bar, raised its ass slightly from the barstool, hovering there not so much from libation-fueled lightheadedness, but from picking up the scent of entitlement and desiring to annihilate it. It shoulders its way through the refuse -- mangled guitar abstractions hurled like shot glasses, tom fills and cymbal crashes that fall like the wood of overturned tables splintering on the floor, the veiled threats of "Bringing about the apocalypse / Is not considered cool" -- and comes out scraped and bruised on the other side, triumphant. "My Mathematical Mind" is all intimidation and leather pose, barking, taking a licking and licking its own wounds.

The record's middle third -- "The Delicate Place", "Sister Jack", and "I Summon You" -- acts as a sort of transition from its turbulent birth to the circular fever dream explored at its end. "Sister Jack", the most conventional and ridiculously catchy pop song of the bunch, soars like "And Your Bird Can Sing" and wrangles sampled sound like "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite". "I can't relax / With my knees on the ground and a stick in my back," Daniel sings in double-tracked vocals that shift almost imperceptibly, and the song furthers that edginess and insecurity, retaliating against a sucker punch with its fists casting blurs around the room. "I Summon You", Gimme Fiction's most naked, introspective song, is also its malleable gateway back into the world from which it came. Here Spoon is reduced to its most basic, unadorned instrumentation, proffering a melody and chord progression both knotty and flirtatious with words that ache, pine, and shoulder burdens: "You got the weight of the world coming down like a mother's eye / And all that you can give is a cold goodbye".

Moving into its final third, Gimme Fiction becomes a cauldron of atmosphere, manipulating its simple arrangements into swirling, groove-oriented soundscapes. "The Infinite Pet" coaxes a stingy blues riff into some moonlit cornfield ritual, beckoning the ghosts of bluesy woe ("Resigned myself to the fate of the failed and the conned") and vacuuming them up into an intensifying black hole. "Was It You?" seeks to identify a fleeting encounter at night, caught up in its own suspicious, obsessive repetitions of sound; over a taciturn groove of bass and drums, instrumental patterns criss-cross, interlope, and react as parallels and adjacents. The melody of "They Never Got You" is vintage Plastic Ono Band-esque Lennon, its hypnotic construction practically as meager as "I Summon You"; yet even without the embellishments of a song like "Was It You?", its stringent reinforcement of a cyclical pattern creates the illusion of a tense climax. "Cover your tracks / Cover the path to the heart / Don't let those footholds start / And don't let no one in," Daniel advises, wearily, not so much negating the record's previous honesties as he is guarding them.

When Gimme Fiction ends with the passionate percussions of "Merchants of Soul", it's over all too fast. Its evolutionary track -- emerging thornily, grappling with its own upright equilibrium, and then throwing off the scent in the woods -- is swift, carefully plotted, and dangerously confident. This is how the new century will be built: from the ground on up, brick by brick, chord by chord, ushering new concepts in vessels of the familiar, charting the untold expanses of the simple, provoked by stark reductionism and snowballing creativity. Whether in Austin, Texas or Paterson, New Jersey, Spoon's implied insistence of William Carlos Williams's ideal will resonate: "No ideas but in things!"

10

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image