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The shift in power toward independent alt-rock labels is highlighted by the 2005 success of Austin's Spoon. Led by diabolically talented singer-songwriter Britt Daniel and his creative partner Jim Eno (drums), the band made a splash on respected Matador Records before moving to industry powerhouse Elektra, which didn't work out for them. Now they're celebrated as a jewel in the crown at the simpatico Merge label run by members of the North Carolina indie-punk outfit Superchunk. Ironically, Spoon's mainstream profile has risen despite Merge's off-the-radar image.

Spoon's early music recalled the "angular," pleasingly harsh sound of early Pavement and Archers of Loaf, with Daniel's impressionistic lyrics filling the empty spaces with an offbeat economy and the hint of a smirk. Matador issued Telephono and the Soft Effects EP before Spoon signed with Elektra for 1998's A Series of Sneaks. Their mightiest display of post-punk tactics, the record was nonetheless dead in the water before its release. Following this commercial disaster, the band's A&R champion at Elektra, Ron Laffitte, won himself the honor of a two-song CD single, "The Agony of Laffitte"/"Laffitte Don't Fail Me Now." (A Series of Sneaks was later reissued by Neil Young's Vapor imprint.)

Burned but game -- and seemingly determined never to release two similar albums in a row -- Spoon got back into the game with the Merge EP Love Ways and the subsequent Girls Can Tell. Named for a little-known Crystals/Dixie Cups number co-written by Phil Spector, Girls built on Spoon's reputation for literate, sophisticated, sometimes pounding rock. It became a staple at radio and scored high with critics, some of whom had no doubt missed out on the glories of the Elektra disc.

Branching out further, Daniel and Eno leaned more heavily on piano and even danceable grooves for 2002's Kill the Moonlight. Frequent airings of "The Way We Get By" made a slight erosion in the wall between alt pop and mainstream pop. Spoon achieved further renown with their third Merge long-player, 2005's Gimme Fiction. Agony? No more.
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