Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
poon has made a career out of being terse. “Cryptic.” “Economical.” Early on, we could chalk up their obscurity to shyness: Britt Daniel was just another guy with the sniffles and some feelings and was it okay if he talked about them as long as he did it really indirectly? The band will only play one verse and one chorus, and all guitar solos will be promptly aborted. What might’ve been shyness though, turned out to be cultivated mystery; turns out that as Spoon became a commodity, they didn’t stop wearing sunglasses, they just bought more expensive ones. A duality emerged in their sound: 2002’s Kill the Moonlight was an album full of good ideas about how to starve indie rock into new shapes, but it was also where they showed they could write “The Way We Get By”: terse, crytic, economical, blah blah blah blah blah—and ostensibly a classic rock song. If Spoon are indie’s reigning rock minimalists, why does this record sound like a trash heap? The word “ga” repeated five times is a waste of a title. And a lot of the sounds on—am I really writing this?—Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga are wastes of a record.
Like characters in film noir, you’d think Spoon means a lot because they only use a few vague words to express themselves, but really, these exchanges pile up into a heap of verbal detritus—cutaways, fragments, noise. It’s a redefinition of excess. Like, when in the Motown shuffle of “You Got Yr Cherry Bomb,” the line “You’ve got to know what’s on your sleeve” is inexplicably swathed in vocoder—and it turns out to be the best moment on the album. A second later, the song quiets, and a backing vocal shouts a single syllable. Boo. Britt Daniel is too cool to spare extra vowels for the song’s title, and a pertinent guitar line runs for a bar before being snuffed, but a vocoder? Make room.
The vocoder, like everything on Ga, sounds both arbitrary and essential. Fragmentation has always made them an arty indie-rock band, but more and more, they’ve managed to reconcile it with their emotional tenor—crushed-down feelings, opaque returns, threats. Classic-rock formalities are more and more a part of their sound—the obligatory paranoiac’s rant “Don’t Make Me a Target”; the Thin Lizzy-isms of “The Underdog”—but the details are sharper than they’ve ever been: “Target” opens with two tenuous notes, an interrupted conversation.
But if the album’s heart lies anywhere, it’s in the juxtaposition of “The Ghost of You Lingers” and “…Cherry Bomb.” Sure, Britt Daniel writes about loss, heartbreak, etc., but it’s the placement of sound that carries the feeling—wayward vocals sweating out a drum-less mash of piano dissonance: Loss. “…Cherry Bomb,” sure, has handclaps and vibraphones and falsetto, but it’s defined by its clutter. Clutter clutter clutter. If “Ghost” is about the past haunting the present, “…Cherry Bomb” is about the noisiness of nostalgia, a feeling where everything comes to mean something—napkin scrawl, faded photos, overheard conversation.
On “Black Like Me,” Britt boasts to “humanize the vacuum” over a mid-tempo high-fiver as sweet as “Sister Jack”—Spoon have made their own little version of “Cheers,” and it feels great like old shoes. But there are two vacuums: most modern rock is boring and artless; most arty rock bulldozes feelings. And then there’s Spoon’s own vacuum. Their tendency to scour the margins of song structure—Kill the Moonlight was almost aggressively radical—has always made them seem aloof or disaffected. One of my favorite Spoon songs is 1997’s “I Could See the Dude.” It might’ve been about Britt walking in on an ex-lover with a new boyfriend (he talks about rubbing snot into his jeans—this is as close as he’ll ever come to admit to crying); it might be about watching a stripper (the excruciating last line “As the crackers watch you take it off again”). It was abrupt, intriguing, emotive, and obtuse—these have always been within Spoon’s grasp, but rarely have they felt as unified as they do now, a baby’s first word burped up five times.