On last year’s terrific Girls Can Tell, Austin’s Spoon finally outran the long shadow of the Pixies with a taut strain of pop informed as much by 60s soul as postpunk austerity. Front man Britt Daniel surfed the lean grooves like the perfect wave, slipping in and out of the tube. On the surface the subject was his disgust with the music industry–Elektra had dropped the band just four months after releasing Series of Sneaks in 1998–but the songs ultimately conveyed a more universal disillusionment. The new Kill the Moonlight, Spoon’s second album for the Chapel Hill indie Merge, is even better, with catchier and smarter songs that take more chances sonically. The minimalist opener, “Small Stakes,” is driven by a stabbing minimalist electric-piano pulse, and aside from some late-breaking drum fills the only other instrumental component is a steady tambourine rattle. Daniel’s guitar playing was spare on Girls Can Tell and here it’s almost invisible, deployed as rhythmic punctuation, pushing keyboardist Eggo Johanson’s grooves to the fore. Several tunes transform samples of ordinary human-made sounds–snaps, hand claps, breathing–into percussive loops that interact dynamically with the piano riffs. Daniel’s singing is still improving as well–key indicators are his soulful falsetto on “Something to Look Forward To” and the cool sneer he brings to “Jonathan Fisk.” Lyrically he favors characters who’ve come to dead ends or are debilitated by fear–and he likes to slam them face first into the vagaries of what it means to make life meaningful. John Vanderslice (see Rock, Etc. in Section One) and former Kid Million front man David Singer, who’s just released his second solo album, open. Sunday, September 15, 9 PM, Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace; 773-478-4408.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Frank Swider.