After more than 20 years of activity, Britt Daniel and his band Spoon have cultivated such a reputation for consistency that it's tempting to overstate any shift in the group's carefully managed ecosystem.
Yet Spoon's new album reflects moves that seem truly significant for the band, which formed in Austin, Texas, in 1993 and went on to make seven increasingly acclaimed records before going on a brief hiatus following 2010's "Transference."
Released on Tuesday, "They Want My Soul" is the group's first album since Daniel moved to Los Angeles in 2011. It features a new member, keyboardist and guitarist Alex Fischel, and two high-profile producers the band hadn't used before.
And after a decade-plus run on the proudly independent Merge Records, "They Want My Soul" marks Spoon's fresh relationship with Loma Vista Recordings, an L.A.-based company with ties to the major-label system that Daniel once abhorred.
"We took a break, and when you come back from a break, you have a lot of new ideas," the singer said recently. "This just felt like a time to make a change."
The jolt paid off: With its juicy melodies, enigmatic lyrics and imaginative arrangements, "They Want My Soul" is Spoon's strongest album yet, something rarely (if ever) said about a band's eighth record. The basic approach sticks to the template Daniel and drummer Jim Eno devised more than 20 years ago: slashing guitar licks and Daniel's parched singing over taut grooves that suggest a kind of post-punk R&B.
But the songs keep flashing new colors, as in the synthed-up "New York Kiss" and "Inside Out," which shimmers with the delicate plucking of what appears to be a harp. Throughout the album, the band sounds more urgent and propulsive than it has in years — at least until Eno slows the beat for "Knock Knock Knock," which Daniel referred to as the band's homage to Dr. Dre.
"I wanted this to be a visceral record," he said, curled into a corner seat at a wine bar near his home in Los Feliz. Dressed in his usual crisp button-down shirt, Daniel, 43, was headed out of town the next morning to begin a tour that comes to Hollywood Forever Cemetery on Friday. "The idea was 'inventive' but not too brainy."
"Transference," he added, might've been a bit too brainy, with woozy, densely textured songs that didn't play especially well onstage. But things were happening for Spoon — bigger crowds, more robust record sales, licensing deals for its music to be used in movies and TV shows — so the group stayed on the road "maybe longer than that record wanted to be toured."
"We were signed up for at least 11 months, and we had to live that out," Daniel said.
By the end, relationships in the band (which also includes bassist Rob Pope and guitarist Eric Harvey) had frayed. A break sounded like a good idea.
Daniel knew too that he wanted new surroundings; he chose L.A. over New York because here he could more easily "make noise in my house." In 2012 he formed another project, Divine Fits, with Dan Boeckner of the indie-rock band Wolf Parade; eventually they made an album and toured together.
Yet Daniel never doubted that he'd return to Spoon, which he did last year accompanied by Fischel, who'd performed live with Divine Fits. Daniel played keyboards on earlier Spoon records, but "there's certain things he can do that I can't do," the singer said, such as play solos that don't just sound like showing off.
"Alex's soloing is really moving," Daniel said. "There's no Clapton to it, you know what I mean?"
In search of additional energy, the band enlisted Joe Chiccarelli and Dave Fridmann, producers known for their collaborations with acts including the White Stripes and the Flaming Lips, to oversee separate studio sessions in L.A. and upstate New York. Both encouraged Spoon to broaden a sonic palette that's often been described as minimalist, even if Daniel said he'd never use that term himself.
"I mean, I get it," he said. "We started hearing that [in 2002] with 'Kill the Moonlight,' and that album opens with a song called 'Small Stakes,' which is just a Wurlitzer [organ], a tambourine through reverb and a vocal through reverb."
With the album completed, Daniel felt determined to present his latest effort in a fresh way. Spoon's partnership with Merge, he acknowledged, was working; "Transference" entered the Billboard chart at No. 4, a huge accomplishment for an indie label.
"But maybe it wasn't working well enough," Daniel added.
Loma Vista promised the possibility of something more — without the show-biz phoniness that once inspired Daniel to write two songs about an Elektra Records executive whom he felt had neglected the band.
Headed by Tom Whalley, a music-industry veteran who tried to sign Spoon to Interscope in 1995, the label bills itself as a boutique shop with the reach and wherewithal of a major. (It's distributed by Universal Music Group, the world's largest record company.)
"I'm someone who can help Britt maintain his strength of independence while providing opportunities to expand his audience," said Whalley.
He and Daniel were vague regarding the specifics of how that might happen, though the singer pointed to several recent music videos — each of which gained considerable traction online — as a sign that he's being more thoughtful about promotion.
Like most artists, Daniel claimed to be less concerned with the commercial than with the creative. But he didn't deny that one affects the other.
"Success brings benefits, and you start to think that you can throw money at your problems, or you can delegate," he said. "But at some point you still have to make the record. And I think that's why we're good. We spend the time to do it right."
Where: Hollywood Forever Cemetery, 6000 Santa Monica Blvd.
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Tickets: Sold outCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
For The Record
Aug. 7, 11:08 a.m.: An earlier version of this article referred to a song called "New York Kids." The song is in fact called "New York Kiss."