Release Date: Mar 24, 2015
Record label: Mom + Pop Music
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Punk Blues
For a band whose approach was so thoroughly elemental -- two cheap guitars, one small drum kit, and enough energy to power a freight train, just like Hound Dog Taylor & the Houserockers -- the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion spent a lot of time looking for cool ways to trick up their approach on record after they mastered the recording studio on 1994's Orange. While the electronic-influenced shape-shifting on 1998's Acme showed off an impressively broad range, 2002's Plastic Fang attempted to polish the Blues Explosion's sound with limited success, and while 2004's Damage and 2012's Meat + Bone were better, in many ways they sounded like holding actions as the band rallied its energies and formulated a long term strategy. With Freedom Tower: No Wave Dance Party 2015, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion seem to have finally figured out what to do and how to do it when making a record: wail hard on the blues (or whatever mutated variant this is) and don't fuss over the buff and shine.
Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s deconstruction of blues, garage, punk, funk and hip hop may seem tongue-in-cheek but their music has developed its own authentic identity. The tight-knit trio of Jon Spencer, Judah Bauer and Russell Simins jam with precision, as Spencer’s grunting and yelping overlays a ferocious assault of riffs and grooves like nobody else. Their material from the ’90s may have been more subversively experimental, but after almost 25 years in the business they still sure know how to rattle some bones.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. A return to form and then some, Jon, Judah and Russell have re-discovered the simple joys of noisy belligerence. Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, at the height of their abilities, could hide an asteroid-sized chunk of genius in plain sight. Brash they were, and intelligent too; always being as much about fusion as fun.
It’s hard to hear an album like Freedom Tower and realize that the members of long-lived NYC three-piece the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion have been doing their shtick for just shy of a quarter-century. Nobody else sounded like them back when they got their start back in 1991, and although their sound’s been cleaned up a little since then, Blues Explosion is still a band out of time. Both flaunting and transcending the group’s novelty-act status, frontman Jon Spencer still swaggers like the world’s coolest Elvis impersonator, drummer Russell Simins blends styles from a half-century’s worth of dance music like a human sampler, and Judah Bauer’s guitars are as funky as ever.
"Come on fellas, we gotta pay respect," announces the self-proclaimed "funkiest man around." What are Jon Spencer and his Blues Explosion comrades paying respect to, exactly? Well, to New York City, of course. Freedom Tower - No Wave Dance Party 2015 is the band's tribute to New York, to its people, its history, its chaos, its ugliness, its beauty, its music, and its noise. And how do the trio pay their deepest and most earnest respects? With greasy riffs, twanging licks, tight drumbeats, banging, clattering, handclapping, and leather-trousered ass wiggling.
"Come on fellas, we got to pay respect!" These are the first words we hear Jon Spencer shout on the new Blues Explosion album and it’s a surprisingly conciliatory statement from a guy who built his reputation on blasphemy. Whether horking up scum-punk phlegm balls like "Cunt Tease" and "You Look Like a Jew" with Pussy Galore, or treating Blues Explosion songs like 1-900 hotline advertisements for his sexual stamina, the Jon Spencer of old was never too concerned with exchanging pleasantries and making friends. But for Spencer, indecency and sincerity were the same thing, fuelled by a devout belief in the sort of primal, provocative, persona-driven rock'n'roll embodied by everyone from Little Richard to Iggy Pop to James Chance.
“C’mon, fellas, we gotta pay respect,” Jon Spencer directs in a Big Bopper-like bellow to start off Freedom Tower – No Wave Dance Party 2015, his 10th outing at the front of his bizzaro rock outfit the Blues Explosion. Reverence is something of an odd fit for the Blues Explosion, a band whose deconstructionist tendencies have always subverted their love for blues, punk, funk, and soul. To hear Spencer rally his longtime cohorts — guitarist Judah Bauer and drummer Russell Simins — around such a firm directive is interesting to say the least.
Despite his unquestionable rock heritage, Jon Spencer has gotten himself into a rut. Don’t be fooled by the title of his band’s latest – there’s no No Wave music burning inside here, just more of the grunting, frenetic tempo shifting and skittering drums that made his name nearly 25 years ago. At many points you’d think you were listening to exact moments on 1994’s Orange, or maybe identikit run-throughs of numbers from 2002’s Plastic Fang.
Tighter than a gnat’s ass stretched across a rain barrel and funkier than a mosquito’s tweeter: that’s the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, who on their 11th proper long-player turn their lovingly deranged gaze to their hometown of NYC. Is it possible that the trio (JS, plus co-guitarist Judah Bauer and drummer Russell Simins) has been kicking out their singular jams since ’91? That’s pretty long in dog years, and even longer in terms of rock band years, but aside from a protracted layoff during the second half of the ‘00s, they have indeed been perfecting—“refining” might be too tony a term when you’re talking JSBX—their gutbucket gospel and bruised blooze style to the point that it’s as instantly recognizable as, say, John Lee Hooker’s sinewy boogie. Recorded, for the most part, at Bushwick’s perfectly-named studio the Daptone Records House of Soul, Freedom Tower oozes garage-rock swing and hip-hop swagger in the manner of acknowledged classic Orange.
Freedom Tower, the ninth proper album by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, and their second since their official 2012 reunion, begins with the exhortation: “Come on, fellas! We got to pay respect!” To what, exactly, Spencer doesn’t say. But if you know the Blues Explosion, you know that this is one of the band’s tenants: respect, celebration, and love for rock ‘n’ roll (and, of course, its godfather: blues). From their early career and up through their current elder statesmen-hood (the dreaded term), JSBX have clearly positioned themselves as part of a lineage and also as scholars of said lineage: working to carry the tradition of American music while constantly analyzing and annotating it, viewing it as though through a cracked mirror, with distortion, refraction, and omission.
Jon Spencer Blues Explosion — Freedom Tower: No Wave Dance Party 2015 (Mom + Pop)Jon Spencer Blues Explosion revisits its Dinkins-era youth in this spare, electro-shocked tribute to pre-luxury condo NYC, where punk was getting sidetracked into no wave and hip hop was getting born in Brooklyn and the trains were covered, end to end, with tags. “C’mon fellas, we got to pay respect,” are the first words out of Spencer’s mouth this time around, and there is, indeed, a whiff of nostalgia hanging over the proceedings, taut and shit-kicking as they are. This is a stark, stick-drawn iteration of JSBX’s punk-soul-r’n’r aesthetic, less monumental and overdriven than 2012’s Meat + Bone, with a big nod to the hip hop influences that shaped Acme and Experimental Orange Remixes.
Not since Beastie Boys' 2004 album To The 5 Boroughs has an album been such an impassioned love letter to New York City. The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion are back to fight for the city's right to party, and to paint a town turned beige with globalisation back to red. Jon Spencer doesn't care if a multinational coffee conglomerate has moved into Alphabet City.