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. Freedom Tower is JSBX's most basic long-player since Now I Got Worry in 1996, and for sheer blues wailing fury, this is one of the most purely enjoyable albums they've unleashed to date. Freedom Tower cuts to the chase and puts the focus on Russell Simins' hard swinging drums and the interplay between Judah Bauer's scrappy, minimal lead guitar and Spencer's low-end six-string buzz, with Spencer's vocals (pitched between high-attitude soul shouting and old-school rap science) lurking just beneath the surface as the band generates a boiling cauldron of fractured blues and detourned funk. And the band was shrewd not to put much sonic distance between themselves and the tape -- the JSBX are ferociously tight on this set, turning these 13 tunes into a set of lean, mean party jams that will set your head bobbing and your feet moving. Lyrically, Freedom Tower is a raw but sincere love letter to New York City, celebrating the gritty joys of life in the pre-gentrified city, and this music speaks to the sweaty ecstasies of a basement punk rock show and the joyous grooves of a pumping block party at the same time. Freedom Tower: No Wave Dance Party 2015 isn't quite the best album of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion's career, but they've never made one that documents the frantic energy and atmosphere of their live show as well as this, and for a band that's been making music since 1990, this album is little short of a triumph; at 35 minutes, this LP's greatest fault is it leaves you wanting to shout for an encore.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming