On March 17, 1994, Beck and Johnny Cash played a legendary SXSW showcase at the old Emo’s Austin on Red River. That same night, a few doors down, a nascent Austin band named Spoon were onstage at the drag bar and punk rock venue The Blue Flamingo, also making history. I was there. So was Gerard Cosloy of Matador Records, who eventually signed the band.
Twenty-five years later, Spoon is opening for Beck (as well as Cage the Elephant) on a tour that swings through Texas every night this weekend: Friday, July 26, in Austin; Saturday, July 27, in Dallas; Sunday, July 28, in Houston. They’ve also released Everything Hits at Once: The Best of Spoon, out today on Matador.
Spoon frontman Britt Daniel has always had a knack for writing terse, tuneful songs, while also making albums—in the CD and streaming ages alike—that typically don’t run longer than forty minutes. Everything Hits at Once is no exception, and crams the band’s nine-record career into just a dozen tracks (plus a brand-new song, “No Bullets Spent”). “We decided we’re not gonna make a three-disc greatest hits that includes rarities and b-sides,” Daniel says. “It’s a concise record for the newly initiated. The most immediate songs, and the songs that we’re still playing [live].”
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Founded in the early nineties by Daniel and drummer Jim Eno, with a lineup that now includes multi-instrumentalists Alex Fischel and Gerardo Larios, plus new bassist Ben Trokan, Spoon have proved to be more enduring than Pavement, more active than the Strokes, and as consistent and adventurous as Wilco (with whom they share a “screwed over by the label” story, as well as many lineup changes). They have become America’s signature contemporary rock band. According to a 2010 Metacritic analysis, their four-album run of Girls Can Tell, Kill the Moonlight, Gimme Fiction, and Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga made Spoon the best—or at least best-reviewed—band of the decade.
By 2017’s Hot Thoughts, not a thing had changed: “Arguably the greatest indie band of the last 20 years,” proclaimed The Ringer. Should you be reading this article in a sunny all-day restaurant or darkened cocktail bar, odds are you’ll eventually hear a Spoon song (according to Eater, it will be “The Way We Get By”).
The fact that Spoon has never been truly huge, or even had that one unquestioned breakout hit, is probably a big reason for their longevity. Tell Daniel that Spoon has never made a bad record, and he’s not inclined to disagree, having just listened to each of them for the first time since they were new.
“I was pleasantly surprised,” he says. “None of them disappointed me when I listened back. Is that big-headed to say? I don’t know. But I really did like them all.”
Which made narrowing things down to twelve songs even harder. But Daniel was inspired by New Order’s Substance and the Cure’s Standing on a Beach, retrospective albums that made their own statements about history and context, while also delivering hit after hit to fans who weren’t there the first time. “That’s what Standing on a Beach was for me,” he says. When that Cure record came out in 1986, Daniel was a fifteen-year-old living in Temple (though he bought the record at a Sound Warehouse in Dallas, while visiting his father). “I’d never bought a Cure record before. Then I went back and got all the rest. That was sort of the design on this one.”
When Matador announced Everything Hits at Once, its press release noted that “complaints about what songs are missing can be directed to the Twitter ether,” a bit of snark the label has since doubled down on by having a promotional #mybestofspoon Spotify playlist contest. So here’s mine—a theoretical Spoon’s Greatest Hits disc two, broken down into a few broad categories, with words from Daniel.
The Early Years
“Not Turning Off” (Telephono)
“Metal Detektor” (A Series of Sneaks)
“I Could See The Dude” (Soft Effects EP)
Some artists come out like gangbusters with their first two records. Others peak with numbers three and four. “We were in the latter camp,” acknowledges Daniel. So one way you can cram a nine-album career into twelve songs is to skip your first two records—in this case, Telephono and 1998’s A Series of Sneaks—entirely.*
“I don’t feel like it’s representative of the band’s best work, or what we’ve been about for the last however many years,” Daniel says of the debut album. But “Not Turning Off” still sounds great—sharp and snarly and only a little bit overtly Pixies-influenced.
Daniel likes Sneaks more—it set the template for what Spoon became—but its highlights still didn’t get over the “hit” threshold. Personally, I was torn between “Quincy Punk Rock Episode” (as much for its title, which was a fresh reference at the time) and “Metal Detektor” (which was Alex Fischel’s choice). Daniel also likes “Car Radio” (which totally could have fit: it’s ninety seconds long!).
“I Could See the Dude” was actually Daniel’s choice to open the record—back when they were still considering a chronological, multidisc set. “I still feel that Soft Effects EP was one of the best things we ever did,” he says. “It’s just not going to make the greatest hits.”
Greatest Hits That Weren’t Great Enough
“My Mathematical Mind” (Gimme Fiction)
“Sister Jack” (Gimme Fiction)
“The Beast and Dragon Adored” (Gimme Fiction)
If there’s a thirteenth previously released track on the Everything Hits at Once cutting room floor, it’s surely “My Mathematical Mind,” which remains a live show stalwart. “It was a hard one to pull,” Daniel says. “I wanted to put it in there.”
You can make just as strong a case for the jangling “Sister Jack,” a total pop confection. And “Beast,” which opens Gimme Fiction, is also a live standard. “I love that one too,” Daniel says. “We tend to put the things that we’re the proudest of at the moment first on the record. It’s a weird one.”
All three of those songs are from Gimme Fiction, which is deserving of the extra love. I’m taking them all over Kill the Moonlight’s “Jonathan Fisk,” another banger.
The Cover Song
“Me and the Bean” (Girls Can Tell)
The one song Daniel didn’t pen on Everything Hits at Once—“Don’t You Evah”—was an unreleased track by Spoon friends and tourmates the Natural History. Daniel liked the song so much that he actually tried to contribute to the original recording. Then the Natural History broke up, and the song never came out. “So when we were working on songs for Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, I’m like, ‘I know this one song that nobody else knows, and it’s a hit,’” Daniel says.
“Me and the Bean,” from Girls Can Tell, is part of the same tradition. It’s by Daniel’s friend John Clayton, of Austin bands Balloonatic, the Sidehackers, and the Rite Flyers. Besides being an incredible (and impeccably arranged) song, you really can’t have a Spoon best-of without a little Clayton—he also wrote the b-side “Irrigation Man,” is name-checked in lyrics of Telephono’s “Plastic Mylar,” and played bass on Kill the Moonlight. “I think it’s my dad’s favorite song,” Daniel adds.
“Anything You Want” (Girls Can Tell)
“Waiting for the Kid to Come Out” (Soft Effects)
Adding the languid, hooky “Anything You Want” to this means I’m implementing two more songs from Girls Can Tell—the right amount, given that it was the band’s breakout. “When I listened back to all the albums again, Girls Can Tell really stood out to me,” says Daniel. “That was the one that really surprised me. I knew it was great at the time, but I guess I’d forgotten the weight of that one.” And since “Anything” mentions the now-shuttered Austin record store Sound Exchange, we’ll also throw in the Soft Effects track “Waiting for the Kid To Come Out,” with its reference to the defunct Austin rock club the Electric Lounge.
The Personal Wild Card
“Finer Feelings” (Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga)
Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is already one of the most-represented albums on the best-of, but this is the Spoon song that is always in my head, the one I always hope they’ll play when I see them live (it happened a lot when that record was new, but lately not so much). “That’s a good one too,” Daniel says. “That record has plenty of, uh, immediate songs on it.”
For me, being a journalist, it’s probably the newspaper reference in the lyric that seals it for me (“Sometimes I think that I’ll find a love/One that’s gonna change my heart/I’ll find it in Commercial Appeal”). “Right,” says Daniel. “Which most people do not get. I was just walking in Memphis, saw that newspaper and I was like, ‘that is a bizarre name for a newspaper.’”
The Julian Cope Factor
“Small Stakes” (Kill the Moonlight)
Another personal favorite. My history with Daniel’s music goes back to his college band, Skellington, which is named after a famously experimental album by Julian Cope, whom we both love. And this has always struck me as Spoon’s most Skellington-esque song.
“It is kind of a Julian song,” Daniel concedes. “Even down to the chord progression, which is all one chord and then it goes up a step. After I wrote the tune, I was like, where am I getting that from? And I think it’s from “I Gotta Walk” (from Cope’s 1994 album Autogeddon). It’s not the same riff, but they do the same kind of thing where it’s all one chord and it modulates up for the chorus. And that’s the whole song, you know?”
The Black Sheep
“Written in Reverse” (Transference)
Daniel has suggested that 2010’s Transference is underappreciated, but there’s still only one song (“Got Nuffin”) on the greatest hits. That’s because it was more of an album-album, with less, uh, immediate songs than its predecessor (the live shows around it, with the pre-Fischel four-piece of Daniel, Eno, and the since-departed Eric Harvey and Rob Pope, were also more sonically impressive than the record itself).
“Even as we were making it, we kind of felt like, ‘We’re gonna make an ugly record,’” Daniel says. “‘We’re gonna make a record that may fall on its face, but it’s going to do so in an interesting way. I feel like a band is more interesting if they’re willing to do things like that every now and then.”
“Written in Reverse” was the first single off Transference, and it was a weird damn single. So it’s going on my disc two.
“Vittorio E” (Kill the Moonlight)
This is another one of Daniel’s “what-might-have-beens” (it’s on Fischel’s playlist too). “One of my favorite songs we’ve ever done,” Daniel says of the haunting, fragile, kaleidoscopic final track on Kill the Moonlight. “It’s not a single, of course, but it just has such a great vibe. It gets me feeling something. I wanted it to be on there, but it’s an ender. It’s hard to put it anywhere else.”
*(For the sake of this exercise, I too only had to pick from seven records. With three songs from They Want My Soul, and with Hot Thoughts being so recent, I felt those records were already sufficiently represented on the best-of.)