A handful of Monday nights ago at the Bowery Ballroom, the band Spoon was playing selections from its forthcoming studio album, the unfortunately titled "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga," when a strange clicking noise came spilling off the stage into the front row. After a few moments, the conspicuous absence of a sound tech bounding from the wings to fiddle with the band's equipment led those who could hear this noise to believe it wasn't a malfunction or a mistake. As it turned out, it was drummer Jim Eno's metronome, steadily setting the band's pace with the precision only a machine can offer.
For those who hadn't seen or heard a metronome since the days of their grandmother's Steinway, it may have seemed incredible that a band with more than a decade of experience would need one, or, even more so, that the cadent tick-tock would be audible over four instruments and a room full of hipsters. But for those who have followed Spoon from sloppy Texas bar band to tucked-in riff monsters, it made perfect sense. And for those who hear "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga," which will be released tomorrow by Merge Records, it could even be considered the fifth member of the band, the not-so-silent partner.
If that sounds ominous, it's worth noting that "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga" (or "Penta-Ga," as I prefer to call it), is the most open-aired and wide-ranging Spoon album since the band's 2001 milestone, "Girls Can Tell." Occasionally brilliant and always solid, the record is a sonic delicacy of rhythm and restraint, where kotos and chamberlains dance seamlessly with guitars and pianos, and where something as austere as a metronome (though inaudible on the record) plays just as important a role in the tonic.
That's because Spoon, which is known to be one of the tightest bands in the world, has always worked within self-imposed limits, a minimalist ethos that has less to do with sparse soundscapes and more to do with applying a particular process to rock 'n' roll and seeing what can be made within and without of carefully crafted parameters. The White Stripes, who just released their own sixth studio album, are proponents of the same theory, if not the same aesthetic, and it explains why both bands have managed to avoid being criticized for refusing to update or rearrange their styles.
"Penta-Ga" opens with a classic Spoon riff on "Don't Make Me a Target," a descending guitar trot that empties out into a wash of bass guitar and drums before rising to a pulsing, symbiotic fusion of the band's key elements: leader Britt Daniel's guitar and voice, Rob Pope's faithful bass, and Mr. Eno's signature drums. Unlike any other successful indie rock band, Spoon is consistently able to transform its three primary instruments (and even a piano, which has recently become a staple for the band) into rhythmic tools, eschewing grandiose melodies for clipped, electric cadences.
Essentially, the band is a single beating heart, pumping songs in and out with the same steady force of life. "Don't You Evah" rides along on Mr. Pope's rolling bass line as Mr. Daniel's guitar provides attentive flourishes to fill in the rhythms. "Eddie's Raga" employs stabs of reggae chords on the offbeats, with Mr. Eno's hi-hat taking the place of that metronome, bringing out a work of art with the slightest of brush strokes .And"My Little Japanese Cigarette Case," with its repeated harmonies and metrically repeated lyric — "It's / just / my / jap / a / nese / cig / a / rette / case" — becomes an exercise in rhythmics, like the musical equivalent of Peter Piper's peppers or the woodchuck's wood. It's something akin to dance music for the indie rock set.
When Mr. Daniel, the band's chief songwriter, does decide to toy with the band's stated formula, he leans decidedly toward his soul influences, which, if they weren't overtly apparent in years past, come confidently to the fore on "Penta-Ga. "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb" is pure pop confection, with dancing horns, ringing bells, and a sweet-toothed melody that rivals the Supremes' "You Can't Hurry Love" and other tunes by the Motown te am of Holland-Dozier-Holland . On "The Underdog," Mr. Daniel again reaches back for a soul gem, but arrives instead at a 1970s-style approximation, where a more subtle horn section mingles with an acoustic guitar and evokes Paul Simon more than it does Al Green. It's a "Cecilia" for the 21st century, all sing-along giddiness and spine-tingling musicality.
All the while, Mr. Daniel's voice envelopes the proceedings like a security blanket, which, for many of the band's longtime fans, it has in fact become. His is an assured tenor, poised and assertive as always, pained in places and dulcet in others, leading his band and his fans alike to the sanctuary of a great tune. As those people have come to expect and rely, Mr. Daniel rules "Penta-Ga" with a benevolent hand, subtly updating what Spoon has accomplished heretofore and pointing to what it has still to accomplish in the years ahead.