“The Rent I Pay”
by Trevor Johnson
As far as guitar-driven indie rock bands go, Spoon has always evinced a taste for different routes. The band’s grooves are frequently angular, and it’s knack for sidestreets follows suit. So often what you’re experiencing with Spoon isn’t so much defined by what you’re hearing, but what is happening in the spaces that would normally be filled with layers of thicker sound. A great deal of what makes Spoon great is defined by what isn’t there; the band has thrived on its light touch, building on simplistic drum and bass grooves with sporadic, fizzling guitars and fierce fits of keys.
So it’s especially intriguing to find Spoon’s latest track, “Rent I Pay”, (the opening track off the forthcoming They Want My Soul) sporting a three-guitar line up — especially since all three guitars seem to be in concert on a sharp, pulsing progression throughout the first half of the song. But as the Portland-via-Austin band has proved again and again in their decade-plus together, no theme is ever in ink. The song’s post-chorus whirls into a noisy guitar battle between Britt Daniel and new member Alex Fischel. Rather than actually taking the listener to an entirely new place, the rhythm section stays static in its whirring stagger-groove and the guitars bubble up, always hinting at some looming shift in tempo but settling back in time for another verse.
Britt remains in top form, his biting, tensed-up tenor bursting into first syllables with scratchy heft, his melodies dragging across beats in a way you’ve come to expect but can never quite anticipate. One has a framed sense of a Britt Daniel performance, yet the man is deceivingly difficult to sing along with – his rhythm is flexible and imaginative. The song’s hook — “That’s the rent I pay/Like my brother say” — is entirely representative: not only a strange variation on a more common idiom, but a quick, simple sentiment that matters little as a message and far more as a tool of pop songcraft. The song bears a more-than-passing resemblance to “Take Me To The River,” a song similarly built around an uncannily perfect sentence. Just how “Rent I Pay” fits whatever room Spoon built for this record will likely be another experience entirely. Spoon have always invested more in decorum than elaborate construction. Indeed, you get these sense that they’d knock a few walls out if they could, given their taste for subtraction. The initial live song premier (a recorded version arrived the next day) is both interesting in it’ originality and deeply intriguing in its ability to provoke as many questions as answers. Or, in other words, Spoon are up to old tricks again, same as always.