Monthly Partnership with Block Magazine
Feature Article by Ben Krieger
I have no idea if Howard Gardner, the psychologist who coined the theory of multiple intelligences, pays attention to the evolution of the indie music scene (I doubt it), but if he did, I bet he would find the Black Spoons to be one fascinating band. The year is 2006 and at least for the time being, the days of hopelessly introverted, auditory-musically intelligent artists rising to the top of the club circuit are over. It's not just Greg Ginn and Ian Mackaye anymore; countless musicians are running their own shows.
The Black Spoons represent a new breed of indie rock artist who are finding success not simply because they are great songwriters, but because their eggs are spread across a multitude of skill baskets: literate, talented, poetic, extroverted, ambitious, techno-savvy, and good with time management. Skip Spence and Syd Barrett wouldn't stand a chance. More importantly, this isn't a Neil Young scenario where the artist's other talents exist behind the curtain only to be revealed when a biography is published. The Black Spoons wear their multiple talents on their sleeve, and that has helped them cast a significantly wider net in regards to achieving success.
Let's step back and talk about the music for a second. Plenty of reviewers have thrown David Bowie's name around, Leonard Cohen pops up, Jeff Buckley drifts in; guitarist/vocalist Tom Sean acknowledges these influences and adds Tom Waits and Roberta Flack to the mix. Drummer Ruben Dario Mercado and bassist Dave Horton keep the rhythm section primal and complex with the occasional deviating time signature. Musically, the Black Spoons recall not only the influences above, but also a unique combination of the Afghan Whigs and Sebadoh.
These are just songs, after all, and with Horton pursuing a degree in forensic psychology, Mercado fine tuning his craft through various musical institutions and Sean running the Indie Night School, finishing up a PhD in Chinese history and probably learning a fifth language, the Black Spoons are a versatile bunch of young men. Taken out of context, the second paragraph of this would simply describe (if I've done my job) a great rock band with well-crafted songs and emotional, literate lyrics. The Black Spoons are more than that. Like it or not, the DIY approach has evolved to the point where simply making your own t-shirts isn't enough anymore. Sadly, some amazing songs will never see the light of success simply because their creators are lost in their own worlds and wouldn't know a pocket planner or good promotional techniques if they bit 'em in the ass. One can argue whether or not this change will help or hurt the body of music that reaches the public ear, but the Black Spoons are riding the wave quite well. Playing consistently sold-out shows in well-respected venues such as Piano's and the Mercury Lounge, this band is an innovative new species in the indie rock survival of the fittest.
Lyrically, the Spoon's second release, The History of Modern Science, plays (and reads) like a beta-male version of Gentlemen; if Greg Dulli had a younger brother who ended up pursuing a PhD instead of jail time, he would front a band like this. The characters in these songs are wounded and wounding. To them, love is a volatile thing, and if two hearts were initially eager to entwine, they are now slashing at connections with rusty power saws. The poetry is graphic and beautifully visceral, with blood, wine, whores and spines popping up quite naturally within the verses. Make no mistake, though, this is a record for people who like their artists winking from the stage. What separates a record like this from Devotion & Doubt or Black Love are the chuckles and detached self-deprecation that pop up throughout. The Star Wars reference is meant to be obvious. The printed lyrics step outside of themselves several times; the moments when the listener is most likely to scramble for the CD booklet to decipher Sean's wail are the moments when they will find "[unintelligible]" printed where the words should be.
The Black Spoons
The History of Modern Silence (2006)
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This article presented by Jezebel Music and can be found in Block
Magazine's upcomming monthly section of Uproar.