What doesn't kill Spoon makes it stronger. After seven years, an indeterminate number of bassists, and as much luck with the record biz as the Democrats had with Florida, the Austin combo hits the high-water mark with this tense, graceful, spike-pop jewel. Spoon already enjoys an in-the-know following, but Girls Can Tell should take the band to another level of acclaim from critics, college radio, and overseas scenesters—à la El Paso's At the Drive-In and Austin's . . . And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead. This is music any rock and roll fan can love, 36 minutes of punky minimalism and breathy melody, brought together with haunted Mellotron, giddy surf's-up guitar, and sinewy hooks that snarl and repeat around Jim Eno's toe-tapping drum work. Britt Daniel's lyrics bare romantic wounds and reveal a documentarian's eye; his gruffly gorgeous vocals go from raw to beauteous to just plain exasperated. Less angular and more emotional than the band's previous work, Girls Can Tell is moody enough for soft-light listens at four in the morning but catchy enough for deafening car-stereo sessions. "If I told you the best band in the state of Texas had neither a) bad afros or b) an improbably long name, would you believe it?" indie tastemaker Gerard Cosloy asks in the band's official biography. The backhanded comparison may be gratuitous, but the value judgment isn't.