Spoonfed Tribe is a polarizing band, especially for a lot of locals, who associate the quartet with the worst of jam-band culture: hippies, weed, unused bars of soap, Birkenstocks, the whole deal, including most significantly, well, jam-band music itself.
A shame, because Spoonfed, as I’ve always said, is a lot more. Call my defense old-hat or clichéd or something your moms used to say when you were a kid, but judging a band by its image is cheap. Granted, most of you don’t get paid to listen to music and evaluate it, so, naturally, you’re going to give a band one or two listens – tops – before you giddyup and continue on your merry way. Bon voyage. But before you fire off letters to me about Spoonfed, letters that question my ability to review music or my sanity, go out and get Public Service Announcement, the band’s forthcoming album and potentially its best and most fully realized work to date.
Based on three sample tunes posted on MySpace.com/SpoonfedTribe, PSA is a throwback to the band’s roots, primarily Fishbone and early Red Hot Chili Peppers: funky bass lines, snappy beats, great vocal melodies, and strong, sometimes staccato, sometimes fluid guitar riffs. The tuneage, however, is more poppy where Fishbone was math-rock-ish and math-rock-ish where the Chili Peppers were poppy. Simply put, the three new tunes have a new-old quality, giving rise in my head to all sorts of combinations of influences: “the Chili Peppers if they’d been born in 1975 rather than ’66” or “What Fishbone’s offspring would have sounded like if they’d been raised on the Chili Peppers” or, perhaps most genuinely, “true Tribe.” One of the tunes, “Consequence,” is a good snapshot of the band’s new direction. All of the musicians say a lot in a few incredibly economical yet incredibly colorful words. Some of the Tribe’s older, more popular tunes, I’ve always thought, are slightly emotionally fraudulent, as if articulating a thought or progression clearly was a sign of defeat, a sign of having succumbed to The Man or the mainstream or the lowest common denominator or any one of the other names we have for the monster of conformity that hangs over every smart, passionate artist’s head.
But clarity, as all kinds of artists have proven over the years, doesn’t necessarily equal simplicity. Clarity presents its own kinds of challenges. Setting up the architecture of a song (or story or movie or ballet) and letting the listener (or reader or watcher) fill in the gaps, emotionally and intellectually, requires that the artists have a clear sense of where their song or story is headed. Into the sunshine. Into a dark corner. To the window ledge. Into reverie. Artists don’t just wing it – they analyze their surroundings, appraise their skills and deficiencies, and then map out their approaches much in the same the way that, say, an architect or literary novelist does. In the case of Spoonfed Tribe, carefully charting a course instead of doing the jam-band-y thing (smoking some dope, stumbling into the studio, and dedicating to polycarbonate the first clump of notes that sounds remotely decent) has paid off. Public Service Announcement comes out August 14.
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