Spin Control

July 8, 2007


Spoon, "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga" (Merge)

Critic's rating: 4 stars

The Austin, Texas-based art-punk band Spoon has been one of the most promising lights in the indie-rock underground for almost a decade now. Like Modest Mouse before them, bandleader Britt Daniel and his mates have steadily expanded the ragged elements of their basic sound -- stripped-down, propulsive rhythms punctuated by jagged, insistent keyboards and Daniel's impressionistic and sometimes haiku-like observations of the modern world -- to incorporate irresistibly smart pop hooks. They've made slow but steady inroads toward mainstream success (their music has been featured in several TV commercials as well as serving as the soundtrack for the film "Stranger Than Fiction"), but their sixth album is the one that finally breaks things wide open.

Despite its infantile name, "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga" features some of Spoon's most inventive and sophisticated songs yet ("The Ghost of You Lingers," "My Little Japanese Cigarette Case") while at the same time boasting some of the catchiest ("The Underdog," "Don't Make Me a Target," "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb"). Unexpected roots in Motown and Stax/Volt come to the forefront over minimal grooves that swing harder than ever, and which are deliciously goosed by the exquisite use of a horn section.

The result is not unlike the light-bulb moments many listeners had in 1980 with the Talking Heads of "Remain in Light" or the Wire of "154," when people who hadn't "gotten" those groups to date suddenly hit themselves in the head and said, "Hey, this is a great dance band!"

T.I., "T.I. vs. T.I.P." (Atlantic)

Critic's rating: 1 and a halfstars

Now more than ever, when chart-topping gangsta rap hits' casual use of words such as "bitches," "ho's" and "niggas" has spurred renewed debate in the hip-hop community following the Don Imus scandal, there is a timely and vital nugget of an idea behind the fifth album from T.I., a k a Clifford Harris, the self-proclaimed "King of the South" and platinum-selling, Grammy-winning purveyor of the Southern rap sound. The disc is a concept album that finds that two sides of T.I. -- the calculating businessman (T.I.) and the tough-talking street thug (T.I.P.) -- warring with one another.

Unfortunately, both of T.I.'s personas are obsessed with violence, macho posing and sexism -- where's the conflict when this sort of played-out and cliched hip-hop is good business? -- and neither character steps forward to offer a vision of what hip-hop could be minus its violent and hateful obsessions.

T.I.'s acclaimed flow sounds stilted and uninspired on several tracks, the production is unusually weak and cameos by superstars such as Jay-Z and Eminem are phoned-in and instantly dismissible. In the end, it's hard to imagine a weaker or more selfish reply to Oprah Winfrey's charge that hip-hop is betraying its roots in community activism than this: "Look at what hip-hop has got us / It allowed us to run a business ... So excuse me, Oprah, honey, I'm sorry, really I promise / Niggas, ho's and bitches do exist, I'm just being honest." If that's the best the King can do, than the emperor has no clothes.