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Spoon creates welcome stir

'Kill the Moonlight' is the Texas combo's best record

Indie rock ain't what it used to be. With groups like Pavement, the Grifters and Sebadoh throwing in the towel, Jon Spencer treading stylistic water and Guided by Voices bouncing between labels, what was once a vital and viable movement has become rather listless. There still are plenty of diverting bands, but very few are seasoned vets with any real songbook history to draw from. Spoon is one of the exceptions.

This Austin, Texas, combo came up in the mid-'90s, when the indie scene was still stocked with potential winners. Spoon was always the determined opening band that turned heads of the fans lucky enough to have arrived early.

Led by guitarist-singer Britt Daniel, Spoon put out a couple of lively, though somewhat undistinguished, albums in 1997 and 1998. The latter release was on Elektra records, but like most quirky bands, Spoon was given just a single opportunity to break out before being sent back to the minors.

The recurring knock was that Spoon was a solid band that couldn't quite break away from a very crowded pack of 'pretty good' bands. Daniel's songs were catchy and revealed influences such as the Pixies, Elvis Costello and patches of '60s pop melded to new-wave spaz beats.

Yet his songwriting skill was often attributed to inspired mimicry rather than genuine ability. Daniel was perceived as a musical dilettante, blithely juggling styles and sounds. In some ways, this pattern also mirrored the shortcomings of indie rock: plenty of sass and attitude but short on real songwriting artistry.

With last year's record 'Girls Can Tell,' Daniel began to stretch out a bit, dropping hints that a distinctive songwriter was finally emerging from the limitations of the indie cocoon. The gorgeous '1020 AM' was a wistful ode to the days when radio actually played music worth listening to, as realized by a musician who obviously grew up listening to swirling, baroque '60s pop on his headphones.

Spoon's latest is the topper and proof positive that Daniel finally has outgrown his precious adolescence. 'Kill the Moonlight' (Merge Records) is as richly varied as any other Spoon record, but Daniel seems to have solved the mystery of how to imbue his songs with spirit and soul instead of being satisfied with mere cleverness. Even better, every song is a whopper.

The album opens with a bang on 'Small Stakes,' a raucous tune built around a relentlessly bouncing electric piano that sounds as if it were being pounded by Stevie Wonder after 10 cups of strong coffee. 'Something to Look Forward To' is pumped full of glam-boogie swagger, summoning shades of T. Rex, Bowie and Mott the Hoople. 'All the Pretty Girls Go to the City' is a dark, biting song about young ladies who want to experience everything Ñ right now. Steely Dan couldn't have done a better job with similar subject matter.

Throughout 'Kill the Moonlight,' Daniel takes risks with his chords and his choice of instruments, never settling for a facile arrangement. He constantly beefs up his beats, instills the keyboards and guitars with off-kilter wanderlust and gets his voice to flex confidently in order to chew up some real emotional grit. Pass the word: Spoon has arrived.

Contact John Chandler at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .