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Published: 2005/06/02
by Chris Gardner

Gimme Fiction – Spoon

Merge 265

Not all online magazines manage to suppress their emotional attachments and
write with the stark critical distance Jambands.com is so widely known for.
Sometimes, sometimes mind you, writers (again — other writers — nobody
around here) get carried away. They get swept up and write fawning fanboy
pieces that virtually fellate the artist. Hyperbole and gross exaggeration
spill forth; perspective and that omniportant critical distance vanish like
the extra "u" in nuclear as the writer presses on in sycophantic reverie.
It's sad, really. After all, what do you as a reader learn? So the album
makes one guy wet himself? So what?

That said, Gimme Fiction is the best album of the year, and it might
just be the best album ever. Also, I could be in love with Britt Daniel.

There's not a note, not a beat, not a faux-Brit utterance out of place here. The "band" (often just Britt Daniel and drummer Jim Eno) spent the three
year lapse between this disc and the critically slobbered upon _Kill the
Moonlight_ holed up with paring knives and scissors. Spoon is a paradox:
rich minimalism. To hear him tell it, Daniel's songwriting process looks
something like this: 1) write killer song 2) flesh out killer song 3) slowly
whittle killer song to the chalky bone 4) decorate with hand claps, finger
snaps, or buried vocal tracks as necessary. I tried to apply the same
aesthetic principles to an early draft of this review. The finished product
looked something like this:

Gimme Fiction is the best album of the year, and it might just be the
best album ever. Also, I could be in love with Britt Daniel.

Obviously, Daniel is a better whittler than I am. Of course, I don't have a
Jim Eno at my shoulder helping me decide which words, sentences, and phrases
to delete. Eno's drumming is damn near an insult to other drummers because
he makes it seem so simple, and it is perhaps through him that it is easiest
to grasp the whittling approach. His kit work is spare and workmanlike. I
imagine him challenging himself to use fewer and fewer pieces of his set as
he finds his place within each song, as if drumming is at heart an exercise
in abstinence. There's a hint of "Name That Tune" to it as well. You
imagine him boasting, "I can play that song using three pieces or less." As
a result, Eno sounds like he is drumming in a graveyard, the ghosts of
discarded rhythms, fills, and accents hovering around him as he slaps out
the barest skeleton of the original rhythm.

Daniel and his other
accomplices stay true to the course. Daniel chops at rather than strums his
guitar, leaving frequent, gaping holes of silence between chords. The piano
is often monosyllabic, single fingers crushing single keys menacingly, and
the insult here is almost more brazen — "I can kick you ass on this piano
with one finger. One!"

The result of course is that, when the restraints fall off, the album sounds
huge. Daniel's anti-solos are frazzled, jagged explosions. When Eno cracks
open the hi-hat, it feels like he's screaming, and when he lays into the
cymbals proper, you hear them ringing off all the walls. When the balance
is right, it's hard to argue with. The opener, "The Beast and Dragon,
Adored" nails it. Daniel spare chords hide behind Eno's drumming, which
manages to make a single tom thwack feel like Godzilla stomping holes into
Sixth Street. Sustained, single piano notes stretch out, filling the gaps;
then Daniel shouts "Would you believe they call it rock and roll" and falls
into blistered bursts of sound.

Better still is "My Mathematical Mind." I don't know a damn thing about
time signatures, but this one's a beauty. Eno lays out his lesson simply.
The synchronized kick and closed hi-hat fall regularly, and the snare smacks
every sixth beat. The piano and bass augment things perfectly, tucking into
the gaps, but it's Daniel's lyrics that bring it all out. "My mathematical
mind can see the breaks." He stretches the "my" and rushes the
"mathematical," and you can almost hear him counting. Then he swears he's
"gonna stop riding the brakes," and starts spitting out lyrics. You feel at
once the rhythm of a surfer riding the breaking swells as they come in on
time and the tension of a driver squeezing the brakes, holding back,
refusing to cross that line until the beat comes around. It's laughably
taut, casually tense, and when the guitar cuts loose and the cymbals rattle
on and the horns bubble up almost imperceptibly under the swooping strings
you just want to punch someone in the teeth for joy.

The songs here each reveal themselves in turn, simple origami figures that
cleverly hide their intricate folds. Hidden bits (those buried vocals and
sneaky snaps) peek out on the nth listen, and you always feel duped because
the minimalist elements convinced you so long ago that these were simple
little songs. As you unpack each, pulling out an array of up front strings
and clandestine electronics, you begin to realize that this just might be
one of those albums. Each song (save perhaps "Sister Jack," whose open
chording would been more at home on Guided By Voices' "Earthquake Glue" and
which might just be a reach at a single) can be the one you skip forward to,
each a rotating favorite. The pulsing falsetto of "I Turn My Camera On" may
be more Jimmy Fallon than Mick Jagger (or for that matter Mike Gordon), but
the question is moot. Either way, it's the kind of insidiously irresistible
track tailored to make white people look stupid. "They Never Got You" does
more with the stock Footloose/American Girl/Last Night drum beat and a few
hand claps than should be allowed. Even "Was It You" is 80s in a cool way.
I deleted that previous line six times before I finally admitted it to
myself. You get the point.

Gimme Fiction might not be the best album of the year so far. It may not be the best album ever , and I
may not be in love with Britt Daniel . At the very least
though I can safely say this: it is an album so good it inspires in its
fans the exact tendencies it so meticulously eschews itself, and that alone
is a pretty neat trick.

Comments

There is 1 comment associated with this post

Dedy July 14, 2012, 01:50:41

Thanks for chiming in, Kyle. I like the idea of relaly deliberate limitations as a sonic composer, for various reasons. I am working on a project right now based on specific rules, actually (I wrote about it in the previous blog entry on this site ). It seems like limitations are often built into curricula, and I resist those limitations as a writer for some reason. It makes me wonder why I like limits in the sonic and do my best to break them in the written. As usual, more questions than answers :)

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