From the electric guitar licks that give you your first taste to the chaotic percussion that kicks in shortly after, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s new record will have you in a vice grip so funky, you’ll submit willingly to its force. Freedom Tower – No Wave Dance Party 2015 is just that: a force, and a weird one at that. But that’s what we love about Spencer and his band, and since they reunited five years back, they’ve been embracing that wackiness no holds barred. The song titles alone will throw you for a loop, especially if you’re new to the JSBE (e.g. “Cooking for Television”, “Betty vs. the NYPD”).
Tower finds Spencer and the gang tapping into their classic rock (Rolling Stones) and hip-hop (Beastie Boys) influences, adding a jolt of electricity and energy, and then throwing that sound in a high-speed blender with a hearty helping of soul and funk. It’s messy, but it tastes divine, and if you ain’t dancing your ass off after one sip, you’re not hearing what I’m hearing. “Born Bad” is one of the best tracks for dancing on Tower, and when it hits that guitar solo toward the end, you’ll understand why. The guitar spirals down at the speed of light along with Spencer shouting “Come on!” and “Let’s hit it!” and “All right!”
Even when they take it down a notch or so, like on the bluesier “Down and Out”, the energy level is still through the roof. This is in large part attributed to Spencer’s charismatic, but juiced up vocal delivery. He frequently alternates between his dynamic howl and spat out spoken word, and both are equally effective.
The real star of Tower is the electric guitars, especially on “Crossroad Hop”. It’s impossible not to be completely mesmerized by the insane sounds those guitars make, and they’re even more potent when paired with the constant monotone chanting “DANCE! DANCE! UH HUH!” at the end. Between Spencer and guitarist Judah Bauer, the guitars are center stage, and rightfully so.
“Dial Up Doll” finds the band exploring a techno aesthetic, and blending it maniacally with their fierce rock and roll thrashing sound. And “Bellevue Baby” is intoxicating and imperfect, featuring Spencer’s most distorted vocals on the record.
“Tales of Old New York: The Rock Box” is perhaps the most poignant track on Tower. It begins with a handful of muffled recordings of voices talking about rock and roll in the 1990s, and you quickly realize it’s the voices of JSBX in an interview about pushing the envelope in the music scene back then. That 90s throwback theme is threaded through almost every aspect of Tower. It’s got a punk-grunge spirit, and feels in many ways like a reconnection to their beginnings as a band.
Though they’ve been steadily making new music for the last five years, Tower feels like more of a culmination than anything else they’ve done. It doesn’t break new ground, but it’s self-referential in the smartest way. It’s JBSX getting in touch with their roots, something they’ve always done, but less obviously. And like pretty much everything that’s come before it, it’s a blast.