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Spoon’s tenth album, Lucifer on the Sofa, is the band’s purest rock ’n roll record to date. Texas-made, it is the first set of songs that the quintet has put to tape in its hometown of Austin in more than a decade. Written and recorded over the last two years – both in and out of lockdown – these songs mark a shift toward something louder, wilder, and more full-color.
From the detuned guitars anchoring “The Hardest Cut,” to the urgency of “Wild," to the band’s blown-out cover of the Smog classic “Held,” Lucifer on the Sofa bottles the physical thrill of a band tearing up a packed room. It’s an album of intensity and intimacy, where the music’s harshest edges feel as vivid as the directions quietly murmured into the mic on the first-take. According to frontman Britt Daniel, “It’s the sound of classic rock as written by a guy who never did get Eric Clapton.”
While Spoon’s last album, Hot Thoughts (2017), bristled with drum machines, synths, and astral moods, the nonstop touring that followed in its wake tugged the band back toward a stripped-down sound. “I liked where we’d gone on Hot Thoughts – it had a specific style and it covered new ground for us – but we kept noticing on the road that the live versions of the songs were beating the album versions,” says Daniel. “And it got us thinking: The best rock music is not about dialing in the right patches and triggering samples. It’s about what happens in a room.”
It took some relocating. In fall of 2019, Daniel moved back to Austin from Los Angeles. A month later, guitarist/keyboardist Alex Fischel followed him with a car full of gear. The move to Texas added up for a lot of reasons: Daniel was born and grew up there, and his family never left. Drummer Jim Eno has his Public Hi-Fi studio in Austin, which allowed the band the luxury of recording at whatever pace they liked. Above all, regrouping in Austin would help the band break with the sound and the feeling of the last few Spoon albums.
That return felt like less of a homecoming than a jolt to the system. Here was an opportunity to write amidst the creative lawlessness that inspired Daniel to make music in the first place — a city where everything from outlaw country to psychedelic punk have long co-mingled at honky-tonks, house shows and backyard barbecues.
“We wanted to make a record where we could experience and draw from a scene,” says Daniel. “Where Alex and I could write all day, then go out and see Dale Watson at the Continental, then come back home and write some more.”
That scene would yield everything from the scorch and bite of “The Hardest Cut,” the first song written by Daniel and Fischel after returning to Texas, (“I spent a lot of 2018 and 2019 listening to ZZ Top,” Daniel explains), to the gentle dizziness of “Astral Jacket,” a ballad tracked after a night out at the now-shuttered Austin nightspot, Stay Gold. Bathed in atmosphere, it’s the sound of coming down – meandering Wurlitzer, brushed drums, and the thump of a timpani suspended in predawn stillness.
Working alongside producer/engineer Mark Rankin (Adele, Queens of the Stone Age) – and with contributions from Dave Fridmann and Justin Raisen – the band’s strategy was straightforward. “I’d come in with a couple new songs and instead of piecing it together like we did the last one, we said ‘Let's rehearse it’,” Daniel says. “Let’s play it in this room over and over til it becomes something. And let’s just do it with as few instruments as we can.”
Halfway through the recording process, the pandemic hit. The studio shut down, but Daniel continued writing. “There are songs I wrote last spring [of 2020] that I wouldn’t have come up with otherwise,” he says. “It was that first-of-its-kind moment."
The album’s title track snapshots a late night walk through downtown Austin during shutdown, steeped in the eerie dissonance of isolation and intimacy. Daniel explains: “I didn’t know where that image came from but it felt right, this idea of Satan sitting with me on my couch, staring at me. But after the song was written I figured out that the Lucifer on the sofa is the worst you can become – the bitterness, or lack of motivation or desperation that keeps you down and makes you do nothing or self-indulge. So it’s a song about the battle between yourself and that character you can become, the conflict being played out through a long night walk through downtown Austin.”
It’s also the song where the colors change, the lights turn down and the rules of the record go out the window, the way last songs on a record sometimes do. "It was always gonna be the last song. It wouldn’t have fit anywhere else,” says Daniel.
When the band reconvened in October, Daniel had a new batch of songs, and a fresh sense of momentum. “It’s certainly something we didn't take for granted, that feeling of being in a room with each other,” Daniel says. “That moment was a once in a lifetime kind of feeling.”
Lucifer on the Sofa is the sound of that moment, a record of defiant optimism, the sound of a band cracking things open and letting them spill out onstage. At a time fraught with uncertainty, it’s shutting the door on the devil you know and never looking back.
– Andrea Domanick
On Margaret Glaspy’s long-awaited second album, Devotion, this highly acclaimed young artist reaffirms her status as one of the most sharp-eyed singer-songwriters of her generation while managing to audaciously reinvent her sound. She fearlessly defies expectations -- and the results are exhilarating.
Coming home after nearly three years on the road in support of her 2016 debut album Emotions and Math and the 2018 follow-up EP Born Yesterday, Glaspy was eager to challenge herself as an artist and start to make a new album with a clean aesthetic slate. Her bold experimentation has paid off, with tunes that are her most melodically confident, rhythmically compelling, and often incredibly romantic. The arrangements are unexpectedly lush at times, especially on the torchy “Heartbreak,” and often boast an impressive groove, on such tracks as “You’ve Got My Number” and the title song, “Devotion.” Glaspy announces her radical approach at the very start of Devotion, where digitally altered voices serve as the prelude to “Killing What Keeps Us Alive,” and she fills the album with surprising sonic touches, right up to the haunting electronics-and-voice soundscape of album closer “Consequence.”
For Glaspy, Devotion is more about evolution than total transformation. The distinctive personality that marked Emotions and Math is still very much in evidence here. On her debut, Glaspy could be bracingly direct as she chronicled the trials of being alone or the tribulations of being together. She brought swagger, as well as sensitivity, to her lyrics and her performances. On Devotion, she still does, but her perspective has changed: "This record is very different from the last. It’s not about being righteous or all-knowing, it's about letting love in even when you don't know what will happen when you do. It's about devoting your heart to someone or something, against all odds.”
Glaspy toured throughout the USA, Canada, Europe, China and Australia behind Emotions & Math, including dates with Wilco and The Lumineers among others – she also appeared on NPR’s Tiny Desk, CBS Saturday Morning and CONAN. Finding herself in her Brooklyn apartment after all of her travels, Glaspy admits, “It was such a shift for me that I didn’t know what to do with myself when I closed that chapter. I was feeling pretty shy. I like to be alone and I had constantly been around people for two or three years straight. I took a long breath, reorienting myself, trying to find my in to get inspired and to get excited about making records again.”
Glaspy enlisted L.A.-based producer and multi-instrumentalist Tyler Chester, who has collaborated with Blake Mills and Jackson Browne among many others, to produce Devotion - recorded at Atomic Sound in Red Hook, Brooklyn, where they made the bulk of the album. As Glaspy notes, “Tyler and I proved to be a very good match in the studio. I love being very hands-on with my records and he was a force of nature without restricting my sense of what the record should be. His instincts and ability are truly inspiring." They brought in Glaspy’s touring drummer Tim Kuhl to complete the picture with his brilliantly artful and austere sense of the kit paired with Chester’s programming. Brooklyn-based engineer, Mark Goodell captured these performances masterfully and James Krausse (Los Angeles) mixed Devotion in a way that Margaret says, “she has always envisioned her music sounding like.”
“It has been amazing to be able to stretch out,” she says, “to not define myself just by the music I make, but to follow my nose toward all the things that make me happy.” A good example: Glaspy enlisted herself in distance education through Harvard University to fulfill her dream of getting an education outside of music: “Embracing being a student has made me feel like a child again and I think that has helped to propel my music forward so much more. My brain feels happy.”
Devotion, then, is like a series of hard-earned life lessons. Glaspy’s evolution over the last few years has been both musical and personal, which makes the album that much more compelling: “I’m learning that life is painful but you take the bad with the good; that love is hard but if you love someone, you make yourself available; that life is short and it’s okay to be sincere. I’m starting to be able to write about these things and it’s a feat for myself as an artist and growth for me as a person.”