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Aug 11

Spoon: “Jonathon Fisk”

Spoon

(Pssst...the moonlight's coming from the other direction.)

As I typed the post title, it occurred to me that today’s song at a quick glance could seem to be read as a song titled “Spoon,” by the artist Jonathon Fisk. But it’s not. So movin’ right along…

Spoon has been one of the most consistently great bands of the past decade; they hit their stride with their third album, Girls Can Tell, in 2001, and four albums later haven’t looked back. Their taut, often lean songs have a tension, in both their rockers and slower numbers, that sets Spoon apart from their peers. Band leader, primary songwriter, and vocalist Britt Daniel sings in a nasal voice that sometimes sounds like he literally had a cold when recording the song, ranging frequently into falsetto tones as well, but oddly enough, it works. Overall there are echoes of Elvis Costello in their music (who, after all, has quite a nasal voice as well and used it to great effect especially on his first few recordings), as well as Revolver-era Beatles, the Byrds, even Thin Lizzy, but they have a sound all their own.

Their fourth album, 2002’s Kill the Moonlight, was an extremely stripped-down release, featuring bare-bones arrangements, unaffected instrumentation, and relentlessly excellent songs. Even where there are more fleshed-out songs with a greater variety of instruments, each instrument stands out clearly in the mix; very little is mixed down to blend in with anything else. One track, “Stay Don’t Go,” uses nothing but Daniel’s vocal exhalations as the rhythm track, human beat-box style — odd, but again, they make it work. The album’s most flat-out rocker is “Jonathon Fisk,” a song (according to Daniel in a Pitchfork interview) about a bully that used to beat up Daniel on a regular basis — the song’s sense of frustration is out front in both the song’s tightness and Daniel’s vocal. The moan that starts the song sounds like Daniel is pulling himself off the pavement after another run-in with his nemesis. The pounding rhythm and guitar drive the point home, and lyrics like

Jonathan then says it’s a sin
But he don’t think twice ’cause to him
Religion don’t mean a thing
It’s just another way to be right-wing

give Daniel the final say in the matter. Daniel clearly wishes he could have gotten back at the bully, and the guitar freak-out moment that ends the song feels like a musical metaphor for beating Jonathon around the head with his guitar, the best he can hope for at this point. At least he got a great song out of the experience.

2 Comments

  1. SteveL says:

    Enjoyed the blog, as always, but surprised you didn’t mention the striking thematic and musical similarity between this song and “David Watts” of Kinks/Jam fame (although kind of the opposite in the thematic sense).

    1. Dave Gershman says:

      Thanks for pointing that out — as obvious as the musical similarity seems now, I have to somewhat sheepishly admit that I didn’t make the connection! I’m not so sure about the thematic similarity, other than it being a character sketch of a person by name — as you point out, they’re very different people (although both dislikable). But certainly it seems that Britt Daniel may have had “David Watts” in mind when he wrote “Jonathon Fisk”!

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