Spoon’s latest is a welcome return to real, raw rock

by Aidan Morgan

They Want My Soul
Loma Vista
4 out of 5

Britt Daniel has the perfect rock and roll voice: bruised, raw and sanded down, edges of consonants ground away and vowels exhaled like a whisky belch. It’s a lived-in voice, a less stagey and damaged version of Tom Waits’ growl, comfortable in its range but always capable of breaking into a track-long falsetto.

They Want My Soul picks up where 2007’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga left off, skipping the spare sounds of the recent Transference and returning to the fuller, blues-inflected sound that the band started honing back as far as 2001’s Girls Can Tell. (One YouTube commenter memorably summed up Soul succinctly, calling it “Girls Can Tell 2.0.”) The Spoon sound is still instantly recognizable, but the lyrics have grown more opaque and guarded as the years have gone by.

They Want My Soul is a prickly work, full of challenges and refusals (like, “And if that’s your answer/Then no I ain’t your dancer,” from “Rent I Pay”). In the title track, Daniel lists the people who want his soul — a roster that runs from cardsharps to preachers to “educated folk singers.” “They got nothing left that I want,” he says. “All they want’s my soul.”

If you like Spoon, you won’t find a weak track on the album, with the possible exception of album closer “New York Kiss” and its unconvincing synth line. “Rent I Pay” is a great opener, a stripped-down guitar-and-drums piece with a production style that recalls Steve Albini’s work (the producers here are Joe Chiccarelli and Dave Fridmann). The standout track may be “Inside Out”, which encapsulates everything that makes a Spoon song great: a slow build of lines and hooks that slip and shift and recombine, compelling you to listen again and again. ”Inside Out” insists that “I ain’t got time for holy rollers,” but the contemplative pace and shimmering fade-out suggest that Daniels is finding his own way around the ones that want his soul.

cd-coldspecksCold Specks
Arts and Crafts
3.5 out of 5

Al Spx of Cold Specks found a lot of beauty in the spare moments on her 2012 debut, I Predict a Graceful Expulsion, nicely contrasting the harsher, darker side that was also present. That’s not to say the record didn’t feature anything except Spx and her guitar, because it did. But it’s telling that, by comparison to Graceful Expulsion, her follow-up Neuroplasticity feels full-up and rich with instrumentation, even if it’s less than a blown-out sound explosion. The full band elements are often held back, or used sparingly to good effect. Anyone can hear her skill in arranging these dark crescendos, like on “Exit Plan”, a track featuring Michael Gira of Swans. She’s building a body of work comparable to folks like Mark Lanegan, and it’s exciting to see. /James Brotheridge

cd-newpornographersThe New Pornographers
Brill Bruisers
Last Gang
3.5 out of 5

Leading up to the release of Brill Bruisers, Carl Newman — head of the group that features Neko Case, Dan Bejar and way more other talented people than is really fair — took to Twitter to rank the band’s records. His criticism of fan favourites like Electric Version and Twin Cinema was a little surprising, but if you’re part of one of Canada’s notable groups of the past 15 years, you’re clearly allowed a bit of reassessment. Where Brill Bruisers will fit in remains to be seen, but for now the initial word will no doubt be, “This is the record where they go crazy with the keyboards.” There’s twinkling all over this record, driving it forward at a restless pace and setting a tone that suits Newman’s continued love of vocalizations in all their wide varieties. I hear a bit of “Failsafe” (from 2007’s Challengers) in “Backstairs”. For whatever reason, I slept on that album at the time, which seems goofy to me now. Don’t tell anyone. /James Brotheridge

Bahamas Is Afie
4 out of 5

Judging by most reviews of Bahamas’ catalogue, describing his music as laid back, easy listening or, worst of all, “summer-ready,” is too tempting for writers to resist. It’s true that the singer works in smoothness and prettiness. But if Bahamas Is Afie is beach listening, it’s a helluva lot more complex, layered and thoughtful than the last time your buddy pulled out his guitar by the campfire. On songs like “Can’t Take You With Me” and “Like a Wind” he continues –– and masters –– his practice of almost meditative song-building, circling a mood repeatedly, adding layers and wrapping you up in his contemplation. Bahamas writes a great heartbreaker: they litter this album, often hiding in irresistible soul songs and light, warm pop numbers. Any song featuring his indispensable vocal ensemble is a highlight –– see opener “Waves”. The collection saunters around the Bahamas sweet spot: sincere and seemingly effortless. These songs are some of his best yet. /Rhiannon Ward