BY FRED MILLS
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. Like that 1995 album, this one bounces from gnarly call-and-response funk (opening track “Funeral,” which nods, improbably enough, to Aretha Franklin, the Beastie Boys and the “Jack & Jill” nursery rhyme) and mutant disco (“Down and Out,” wherein Spencer namechecks sundry Big Apple landmarks) to minimalist Mississippi blues (“Bellevue Baby,” boasting a groove similar to vintage Fat Possum records) and—speaking of the Beastie Boys—snarky-but-smart rap/rock (“Tales of Old New York: The Rock Box,” which could’ve been lifted from the Beasties’ acclaimed Paul’s Boutique). The sound is unapologetically upbeat, as if Spencer & Co. are in constant motion, a blur of spastic hands and twisting feet constantly beckoning the listener to join the fray.
The operative term, then, is explosion, and the JSBX effectively conjure the jittery, edgy, colorful vibe of the city they live in.
Consumer note: Buy the vinyl LP – it’s on cool green wax, Jack!
DOWNLOAD: “Funeral, “Tales of Old New York: The Rock Box”