Friday, August 31, 2007

[078] Kill The Moonlight

Album: Kill The Moonlight
Artist: Spoon
Release Date: August 2002
Label: Merge
Producers: Britt Daniel, Jim Eno, & Mike McCarthy

"Small stakes give you blues
But you don't feel taken, don't think you've been used
Cuz it's alright Friday night to Sunday
It feels alright, keeps your mind on the page"
- from "Small Stakes"

Some of these albums are easier to write about than others. I thought Spoon’s Kill The Moonlight was gonna be tough because, even though they’re probably my favorite band at the moment and I’ve listened to this album a couple hundred times, the songs are so…skeletal, just some choppy guitar or ghostly piano or whatever; at first I was worried there wouldn’t be enough to sink my teeth into. But I was wrong. It turns out that Britt Daniel has a very specific lyrical theme running throughout these songs, and as is usually the case with Spoon, it’s yet another sly element of his songwriting that contributes to the band making universal Pop music that doesn’t talk down to its listeners. I could've taken the stance that because the relationship between integrity and Pop music has been virtually non-existent for the last decade that this album was on the list to represent that Pop music could still be great and offer something new. But I didn't do that, because that would be too easy and no fun. The fun for this entry was in finding Daniel's theme, his reasons that made up my answers, looking for something new in an album I thought I was as familiar with as I was going to get.

Whenever I sit down to figure out my approach to an album, I always go for the ‘why’. The ‘who’, ‘what’, and ‘where’ are almost always too easy, and the ‘how’ is good only so far. ‘Why’ will tell you everything you need to know. In this way, I felt like Spoon; I was breaking down my writing the way they break down their music. But I didn’t want to do another Spoon write-up that talked all about their deconstruction of Pop, even if this album is their most deconstructed (though why that is, surrounded by lush pop records like Girls Can Tell and Gimme Fiction, would also be an excellent question to try and answer, as would why this album became their most beloved by fans). So I start as I always do – Why is Kill The Moonlight on this list? My initial answer was because its songs are such perfect little morsels, but I can’t stretch that to 700+ words. Why are the songs so perfect? Well, because they’re fun. They feel good. They say fun things. But that’s what I feel; that doesn’t mean that you’d feel the same. But it’s possible. Like I said, the best thing about Spoon, their biggest selling point, is they’re as universal an music artist as you’re likely to find nowadays, and these songs may be their most so. Why is that?

Well, what in an adult’s life is universal? Universal is the presence/absence of love. It’s the challenge of employment and personal finance. It’s movement of all kinds, whether it’s physical travel or figurative change of station in life. All the songs on Kill The Moonlight are about these things. “Small Stakes” mentions minimum wage against Morse code organ. “Paper Tiger” covers devotion under a starry night. “Something To Look Forward To” tackles breaking up with lurching guitar, while “Someone Something” prepares for domestic life with a backing of robust horns. Virtually every song talks about going somewhere; Over and over, Daniel sings about going, “Stay don’t go” or “When I get there”. “It’s only got to go just as far as we let it go" or “All the pretty girls go to the city”. Even on the new wave thump of "Jonathan Fisk", he admits it's just “how the story goes”. Also, he’s constantly trying to “get back” to something or someplace or someone, like “Go back to the life” and “We’ll go back tonight the way we came”. It’s incredible how this pops up in every song; he tosses it off like he doesn’t even realize he’s doing it. In "The Way We Get By", the band's best song to date, Daniel starts with visions of backseats and mobile homes. He sings of the “long way home” in two songs, even on the 90-second “You Gotta Feel It”, managing “You’ll wind up where you don’t want to get.”

Pretty much anything in your life relates directly to these things, and the one thing that can relate to all three of these things at the same time for pretty much everyone is The Weekend. Today’s Friday – how bad do you want it to be 5 o’clock?? Kill The Moonlight is a Pop album for the working class, an album to hold you over, to keep you smiling until that Friday whistle blows, and that applies to anytime during the work week. It’s a commuter’s album; I realized this, of course, while listening to it on the way to work yesterday morning. “Small Stakes” says it all – First, “It’s alright from Friday night to Sunday”, then it's “Small time danger in your midsize car”. The album is 35 minutes long; the Census Bureau average commute time for my county is 34 minutes, but for me personally, my commute is half that, so the album lasts me to and from work. For Spoon, in Austin, TX, the average is a little more than half, but they could probably still make it to the recording studio and back in time. Spoon have given us a soundtrack for our lives that’s about our everyday experiences. It’s about actions. It’s about verbs. Universal Pop hinges on action, going and doing, from “Baby, Let’s Play House” to “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, from “You Really Got Me” to “You Shook Me All Night Long”, shit, even “Working For The Weekend”. So, if you ask why Kill The Moonlight is on the list, this Spoon album over the others, it’s not just because it's a lesson in deconstructive minimalism or because it's substantive Pop, it's because these songs can speak to everyone, and make those weekdays easier to get through.

01. "Small Stakes"
02. "The Way We Get By"
03. "Something To Look Forward To"
04. "Stay Don't Go"
05. "Jonathan Fisk"
06. "Paper Tiger"
07. "Someone Something"
08. "Don't Let It Get You Down"
09. "All The Pretty Girls Go To The City"
10. "You Gotta Feel It"
11. "Back To The Life"
12. "Vittorio E."

"The Way We Get By" [video]

- BONUS: "Small Stakes" [video]
- BONUS: "Jonathan Fisk" [video]
- BONUS: "Paper Tiger" [live at Bowery Ballroom, NYC, 09.02]
- BONUS: "Small Stakes" [live at the Paradiso, Amsterdam, 11.02]
- BONUS: "Someone Something" [live in Austin, TX, 03.02]
- BONUS: "Stay Don't Go" [live at the Bumbershoot Festival]

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