Always on the backburner, never up front, Spoon scored victories with the Matador rarity Telephono, the dodgy A Series of Sneaks and rallied with the indie notable Girls Can Tell. Yet Spoon never seems to have found its spotlight — until now, that is.

The stripped-down production and eerie, taunting lyrics of Kill the Moonlight have pulled Spoon from relative obscurity to become that band that college students love to reference. Within weeks of its release date, Kill the Moonlight has found its audience in colleges, coming in at no. 2 at Madison’s own WSUM and no. 12 on CMJ’s top 200 (College Music Journal 786). To Spoon’s credit, there is very little not to love on the 12-song disk.

From the beginning, it is evident that this is not the same ride that Girls Can Tell took listeners on. There are no more frivolous keyboard lines or guitar licks — there’s very little frivolous anything, in fact. Kill the Moonlight doesn’t overwhelm the listener with thousands of buried sounds and melodies. Everything is on top, naked for the listener to inspect.

The structure that manifests itself on Kill the Moonlight is simply amazing. Every sound has been chosen for a specific purpose. It’s not hard to imagine contemplative lead singer Britt Daniels listening to a freshly recorded guitar line, sullenly shaking his head, then rising to tweak a knob a fraction of a centimeter before sitting down to try again. One doesn’t imagine that “good enough” was an aspiration. “Right” seems more apt.

Daniels’ lyrics seem to capture the same sentiment. “Small Stakes” charges along, backed by a tremulous keyboard line as he shouts, “The small stakes leave you with the minimum blues / you can’t think big, can’t think past one or two.”

Likewise, “Paper Tiger”‘s expansive space is populated by sparse backward tape loops and thrifty keyboards, while Daniels wryly rasps, “We could go kick down some doors together / stay out ’til morning sharp as knives / The new war will get you, it will not protect you / but I will be there with you when you turn out the light.”

The charge of Telephono and A Series of Sneaks finds small purchase on the album, its closest relative being the hissing Jonathon Fisk. Guitar and bass speed along while a desperate Daniels keeps pace, shooting out remarks reminiscent of Idiot Driver: “Jonathon 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.”

The poetic charge of Daniels’ lyrics is undeniable. The narrator seems not so much dark as mysterious and conscious of his own transgressions. Girls are asked to stay (none too suggestively) by a convincing tongue that hints it knows more than they do (“Stay Don’t Go”) and is chided with more empathic predictions (“You Gotta Feel It”).

Through it all, Daniels remains aware of his own misgivings, warning, “Everything moving so fast / it’ll take you to a place where you can’t get back / and I’ve seen enough / you gotta make me shut up,” on “Something to Look Forward To.”

Spoon falls into a category of bands that continue to evolve. The new is never the same as the old, the old never the same as the older. Yet given the whole process, everything flows — that which may have seemed somewhat backward at conception seems to make perfect sense in its forward rush. The energy and timbre of Kill the Moonlight dwarfs other Spoon albums once the overall process becomes apparent.

And all the hidden language and colored notes somehow always seem to lead back to the title. Somehow all of the dark knowledge and bad judgment all lead back to those two hands reaching toward the moon that emblazon the cover. Kill the Moonlight, end the nighttime.

Daniels seems less-than-joyous about his current situation, but whether he would prefer daytime or a longer darkness is uncertain. It’s a chilling phrase and a brilliant album to give it life.

Grade: A/B