Documentary Evidence

Blues Explosion


Damage | Burn It Off / Fed Up And Low Down (single) | Hot Gossip (single) | Crunchy (single)

Blues Explosion 'Damage' CD artwork Blues Explosion 'Burn It Off' CD artwork Blues Explosion 'Hot Gossip' 7" artwork Blues Explosion 'Crunchy' CD artwork

album // Damage

mute records | lp/cd/lcd+dvd stumm236 | 27/09/2004 | track listing

2004's Damage found (the Jon Spencer) Blues Explosion – the trio of Spencer, Judah Bauer and Russell Simins – hooking up with a variety of producers, the effect of which was unfortunately to create a somewhat uneven album. The revolving cast members and multiple producers are a significant contributor to Damage's patchy quality, but listen hard enough and there's probably something for most people here. The album was supported by three exceptional singles, the double A-side of 'Burn It Off' and 'Fed Up And Low Down', 'Hot Gossip' (with Public Enemy's Chuck D) and 'Crunchy'.

The core of the album, and in many ways the best tracks here, were produced by Steve Jordan, with whom the band had worked on Damage's predecessor, Plastic Fang. Jordan's knowledge of the blues as a musician (including a stint as drummer for The Blues Brothers) and a producer (for the likes of Keith Richards) is here responsible for Blues Explosion delivering some of their most impressive tracks. 'Mars, Arizona' is case in point. The mixture of Spencer's rambling, macho megaphone vocal and pulsing synth, frantic drumming as well as some wild grinding guitar marks this out as one of the album's spectacularly loud and forceful highlights, and is certainly among the band's most trimumphant tracks.

The inchoate 'Rattling' (another of the Steve Jordan tracks) feels like extracts from a painstakingly-assembled studio jam stitched together with a dub aesthetic. I have no doubt that it's very clever, but it feels a bit like filler to me rather than a Can-style edit. Mercifully, the album's closing track, the sludgy 'Blowing My Mind', actually restores some semblance of a beat (Simins is credited with 'cardboard box' percussion on 'Rattling') and some of Bauer's sweetest, frazzled guitar. Walter Sear contributes spatial Moog and Spencer delivers one of his best, pining vocals. It may not be a patch on something like 'Mars, Arizona' but it at least feels like it has a sense of the direction it wants to head off into.

The album's title track was produced by Simins and sometime They Might Be Giants and Tiny Masters Of Today producers Elegant Too (Chris Maxwell and Phil Hernandez). The result is a low-slung number with one of the heaviest beats ever committed to tape. 'Can you dig my band?' yells Spencer just before that beat kicks in. Later in the track the beat gets scratched and chopped into distorted junglist messiness. If the track's first half had been allowed to continue in its bluesy hip-hop heaviness it wouldn't feel so much like a short stop-gap before allowing 'Burn It Off' to blaze its fiery trail through proceedings.

'Spoiled' is one of two tracks produced by David Holmes and featuring former Tricky collaborator Martina Topley-Bird on vocals. By 2004, Holmes' days as a house and techno producer were somewhere way back in the dim and distant acid past. Both 'Spoiled' and 'You Been My Baby' were mixed by Hugo Nicolson, who worked on Primal Scream's watershed Screamadelica album. Consequently, the two tracks have a stoned, wandering blues quality to them, 'Spoiled' featuring beatnik percussion (listed as 'lambs' testicles, sharks' teeth and lambs' toenails') from Pete Locket and Topley-Bird sensually wailing in and out of focus. 'You Been My Baby' is heavier but retains a druggy quality, featuring one of Spencer's most anguished, desperate (but slightly ridiculous) vocal. Neither track is among the best here, and one can only wonder how these songs would have turned out under Steve Jordan's care.

One of the album's odd triumphs is the instrumental 'Rivals', which sounds about forty years too late, like a more frantic Booker T & The MGs, with horns from Scott Zillitto, Matt Kelly and Will Hoffman. It certainly doesn't feel like a Blues Explosion number, but its urgency is a welcome addition to the album. 'Rivals' was produced by Jesse Wallace, who also adds dirty synths to the track. At times it feels like this could develop into some sort of Contortions-style punk freakout, but it stays more on the side of Elvis's TV specials from the Seventies instead. For some skronking sax from head Contortion James Chance, you need 'Fed Up And Low Down' where his distinctive sax scrapes can be heard in full effect.

'Help These Blues' reunites Blues Explosion with Dan Nakamura, better known as Dan The Automator, and is one of the few tracks where the trio are augmented by a bassist (Daryl Palumbo). It's certainly closer in style to the classic Blues Explosion sound finessed by Jordan rather than Holmes's below-par contributions, and it features some brilliant guitar work from Judah Bauer and typically wobbly blues-preacher vocals from Spencer.

The limited CD format of the album includes a twenty-odd minute DVD showing Blues Explosion recording tracks with Steve Jordan at Globe Studios in New York City in December 2003, with Dan The Automator at Empire View in March 2004 and with DJ Shadow the following month. The mixture of monochrome and colour footage of the chilled out studios highlight just how precise the musicianship of Russell Simins and Judah Bauer are. There's also some amazing footage of Steve Jordan effortlessly knocking out a spare funk groove on Simins' kit, leaving the viewer barely able to make sense of the casual way he makes the beat come together. Even Spencer, who I always thought of as being a wild and wayward frontman comes across as very earnest, a bit like a younger, less awkward and much hairier David Byrne. Given the way that Blues Explosion music can often sound like it's on the brink of falling into a messy heap, it all seems surprisingly professional to be honest, particularly when someone appears on camera introducing the eighteenth take of 'Mars, Arizona'. It's a long way from punk's cut-it-and-run aesthetic, but somehow the trio manage to keep things sounding raw in spite of evidently being a pretty slick, honed unit. There's also a fun interlude where Bauer and Simmin's hopelessly try to lay down the bassline for the DJ Shadow-produced 'Fed Up And Low Down', both cracking up in the control room at their failed 'bass off'.

read review

A1. / 1. Damage
A2. / 2. Burn It Off
A3. / 3. Spoiled
A4. / 4. Crunchy
A5. / 5. Hot Gossip
A6. / 6. Mars, Arizona
B1. / 7. You Been My Baby
B2. / 8. Rivals
B3. / 9. Help These Blues
B4. / 10. Fed Up And Low Down
B5. / 11. Rattling
B6. / 12. Blowing My Mind

1. Footage of the band recording at Globe Studios, NYC, December 2003 and Empire View, NYC, March / April 2004

Damage | Burn It Off / Fed Up And Low Down (single) | Hot Gossip (single) | Crunchy (single)

Blues Explosion 'Burn It Off' CD artwork Blues Explosion 'Damage' CD artwork Blues Explosion 'Hot Gossip' 7" artwork Blues Explosion 'Crunchy' CD artwork

single // Burn It Off / Fed Up And Low Down

mute records | 7"/cd mute327 | 13/09/2004 | track listing

Rechristening themselves as the easier-to-say Blues Explosion, Judah Bauer, Russell Simins and leader Jon Spencer return to the fold with 'Burn It Off', a thundering rock n' roll masterpiece - all distorted guitar and bass, pounding drums and a typically wild soul-rock vocal from Spencer; it's a perfect amalgam of The Beatles' 'Happy Birthday' and the best parts of the Rolling Stones' back catalogue, bizarrely mixed with impossible shades of Bon Jovi's 'Bad Medicine'. It's also under three minutes, giving you the perfect excuse to listen to it over and over. The Stones connection is quite understandable - this was produced by Steve Jordan, who has worked with the Keith Richards in the past.

Double A-side 'Fed Up And Low Down', co-written, produced and mixed by DJ Shadow is slowed-down hip hop rock with a thrash metal chorus; beautifully chaotic, as Blues Explosion tracks often are, Spencer's vocals once again treated with distortion and echo effects. The demo of 'Cold, Cold Eyes' sounds good enough to be on their raw Mute debut, Now I Got Worry. Plenty of fuzzy guitar and snare-led soul-inflected heavy blues here, only Spencer's quiet vocal implying this is a demo.

The clear vinyl 7" also includes the new track, 'Serial Number'. As soon as I get around to hooking up my turntable, I'll let you know what it's like.

read review

A. Burn It Off
B1. Fed Up And Low Down (Edit)
B2. Serial Number

1. Burn It Off
2. Fed Up And Low Down (Edit)
3. Cold, Cold Eyes (Demo)

Damage | Burn It Off / Fed Up And Low Down (single) | Hot Gossip (single) | Crunchy (single)

Blues Explosion 'Hot Gossip' 7" artwork Blues Explosion 'Damage' CD artwork Blues Explosion 'Burn It Off' CD artwork Blues Explosion 'Crunchy' CD artwork

single // Hot Gossip

mute records | 7" mute332 | 15/11/2004 | track listing

Blues Explosion's second single from Damage was the transparent red vinyl 7" of 'Hot Gossip', backed with 'Meet Me In The City'. 'Hot Gossip' is a slow-paced blues epic featuring plenty of low-slung, meandering riffs, spiky distortion and a heavy hip-hop groove. On this standout track from the album, Jon Spencer, Judah Bauer and Russell Simins are joined by Public Enemy's Chuck D who provides a typically dystopian rap which suits the mood perfectly, especially when he begins sparring with Spencer at the very end of the track. Short and anything but sweet, 'Hot Gossip' could probably be twice as long and just as funky and heavy-hitting. And Chuck D's interjections are far better than the lines he dropped on Sonic Youth's 'Kool Thing'.

'Meet Me In The City' is a cover of a Junior Kimborough track which appeared in 2005 on a tribute compilation to the bluesman put together by Fat Possum records. Although Spencer does his usual rambling, strained, gurning vocal over the laidback, joyous blues track in trademark style, it's evidently principally a hommage rather than an attempt to make the track their own. The trio were joined for this recording by doomed singer Elliott Smith, who played acoustic guitar on the track.

read review

A. Hot Gossip
B. Meet Me In The City

Damage | Burn It Off / Fed Up And Low Down (single) | Hot Gossip (single) | Crunchy (single)

Blues Explosion 'Crunchy' CD artwork Blues Explosion 'Damage' CD artwork Blues Explosion 'Burn It Off' CD artwork Blues Explosion 'Hot Gossip' 7" artwork

single // Crunchy

mute records | 7"/12"/cd mute336 | 25/04/2005 | track listing

For this third single from the seminal Damage album, Blues Explosion drafted in two of New York's finest bands du jour to remodel tracks from that album. Tyler Pope, Mario Andreoni and Justin Vandervolgen from !!!, under the alias TMJ take on 'Crunchy' while DFA get 'Mars, Arizona'.

The lead mix of 'Crunchy', one of the catchiest and straight-up rock standards on Damage sees TMJ blending Talking Heads-style reedy funk guitar over tinkly percussion and almost bangra beats, with distorted vocals to create a totally unique post-punk, 'anything goes' musical vision which wouldn't sound out of place in the fertile musical melting pot of New York in the late seventies. Pope and Andreoni provide additional music while Vandervolgen provided the mix.

'Mars, Arizona' is extended to over 10 mins, and is the superior funky electronic rock you'd expect from DFA, all driven by a solid 4/4 beat. The main, fuzzed-up rock riff and Spencer's sporadic vocals from the original track sound as if they were designed to exist alongside DFA's urgent electronic backdrop. The second half of the mix largely leaves guitars to one slide, leaving Spencer to mutter and yelp over an intense and harshly-filtered 303-esque sequence.

A version of the restrained plucked blues track 'Blues Explosion Man' from early album Orange recorded for New Jersey radio station WFMU rounds of this release, the restrained guitar, drums and vocals reminding you that this is what Jon Spencer, Judah Bauer and Russell Simins are really about.

read review

A. Crunchy
B. Crunchy (Solex 'Bounce' Remix)

1. Hot Gossip (TMJ (!!!) Remix)
2. Crunchy
3. Mars, Arizona (DFA Remix)

1. Crunchy (TMJ (!!!) Remix)
2. Mars, Arizona (DFA Remix)
3. Blues Explosion Man (Live at FMU)

(c) 2004 - 2012 MJA Smith / Documentary Evidence