Series of Sneaks

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With A Series of Sneaks, Spoon became one of the unsung heroes of the guitar-driven post-punk tradition inhabited by bands such as Wire, Gang of Four, Hüsker Dü, and the Pixies. These were the guitar wizards who could package a variety of taut, terse, and inventive guitar sounds and unpredictable melodies into short, tight bursts one could still consider pop songs. Lead singer and guitarist Britt Daniel acts as the overachieving honors student of this tradition, flushing the spaces in between with an expansive melodic vocabulary comparable to Robert Pollard's.

But Sneaks wouldn't work if it were merely a repository of all the right influences. Thanks to John Croslin and the band's detailed production, shards of jagged guitar lines chime in from every direction, creating a language that blends with Daniel's charismatic vocal licks to form something so tuneful and compelling that the majority of Sneaks sticks in the brain just when you've thought you'd heard it all before. Daniel's voice can range from a throaty rasp to a falsetto to a spoken growl, peppered with some "bop-bop-bops," "c'mon's," and hand clapping. It's as if Jonathan Richman had been on SST Records, or even the old Sub Pop. But it's the production -- the constantly shifting vocal mixture and placement of Daniel's guitar, Joshua Zarbo's bass, and Jim Eno's drums around bits of melody -- that binds Sneaks into more than the sum of its parts.

Amidst this kind of sonic engagement, it is the search for meaning in music amidst the open roads and open spaces of the American Southwest that form a central character in Daniel's fragmented and oblique lyrical universe. In a few brief lines, a drive to New York on the interstate becomes a meditation on rock and youth in "Car Radio," while "Metal School" seems to be a reassessment of the purpose of post-punk.

Elektra, the major label that originally released the CD, must have reassessed its purpose too. The band was ditched soon after its release but has since reappeared on an independent label, Vapor (and again on Merge in 2002). The enthusiasm behind its resurrection and the anticipation of its full-length follow-up after the two years that followed is a testament to its strength.

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