The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion

Those of you who pick this up expecting an actual blues album likely will have a heart attack and die before the end of the first song. The blues idiom does make appearances here--almost every song uses the genre's standard progressions--but Spencer, drummer Russell Simins and guitarist Judah Bauer give it so many twists that the result is guitar-strangling, throat-scratching, amphetamine-ingesting mayhem. Which, in this context, is good: The disc drips with the kind of creative madness and musical spontaneity that's generally bleached out of most albums long before they reach your Walkman. Spencer sometimes careens so close to the edge of sanity that his work approaches parody--"Bellbottoms" is utterly nutso, "Blues X Man" sports stream-of-consciousness babble seemingly inspired by a Billy Carter-sized alcohol binge, and the repetitions of the phrase "come on" at the end of "Brenda" call to mind the King during his eight-inch-lapel, sweat-soaked-scarf phase. Then again, excess is this band's raison d'etre, and the musicians embrace the methodology with brio. Unleavened delight spews out of every tune, every line, every word, every note. There's so much fun being had, in fact, that it's easy to overlook how interesting the music is: The title track, for instance, is built on guitar work spare and extreme enough to recall early Gang of Four as often as it does Blue Cheer. Orange is stupid sometimes, but so is life. And life isn't usually this much fun.--Michael Roberts

Bigod 20

Over the past few years the members of Bigod 20 have built a modest career for themselves as second-rate imitators of Front 242. Their dark, industrial style of computerized creations stops just short of sounding original: Although the group's mini-hit "The Bog" was featured in Martin Scorsese's 1991 remake of Cape Fear, most of those who caught the film probably thought the cut was by someone else. Clearly, this band's chief strength is expert mimicry, and by God if Supercute doesn't up the ante. There's more carbon-copy Front 242 material here, of course, but there are also other influences--the third track, "Plug It In, Otis," resembles third-rate KMFDM, while the gurgling gizmo samples and Euro-monotone delivery of the uber-electronic "Are You Horny Yet?" invoke quaint recollections of Kraftwerk. While Supercute will no doubt function as dance-floor fodder, you probably won't know whose music has got your feet moving.--Justin McLean

The Figgs
Low-Fi at Society High

Like the Goo Goo Dolls, their neighbors in upstate New York, the Figgs make loud, fun bar music. But there's more to Low-Fi than rolling rock. Vocalists Mike Gent and Pete Donnelly genuflect at the altar of the Replacements and suffer from severe Elvis Costello fetishes--which means they care about their lyrics (even when they're a bit arch) and are more obsessed with strumming catchy hooks than with noticing their unruly style. If you plan to listen to this recording, bring a neck brace over to the CD player: The furious, melodic material that fills it will force your head to bop.--Jason Horwitch

Digable Planets
Blowout Comb

Here's a quick and easy barometer for interpreting national trends: When Time magazine touts something, it's probably on the way out. That may not prove to be the case with the Planets, whom the news weekly saluted last week while introducing its readership to the concept of jazzy hip hop (fresh topic). But the average listener to Blowout Comb may wonder what all the hyperbole is about. Rather than sharpening the focus of the approach used on their debut, Reachin' (a new refutation of time and space), the coyly named Butterfly, Ladybug and Doodlebug opt for diffusion. These thirteen tracks are almost entirely shapeless, oozing from slack groove to slack groove without ever establishing a definitive or compelling direction. The problem is exacerbated by the raps, which are delivered with such an air of distraction that they tend to disappear into the wallpaper. Worse, the topics of choice are so obscured by neo-flower-child babble and jargon that it's all but impossible to prevent your mind from drifting. This recording is not an irritating listen--"Dial 7 (Axioms of Creamy Spies)" has a nice, acid-jazz feel, while "The Art of Easing" seduces in spite of the inaccurate line "the music is tight." But the platter's cool-cat aura is not enough to compensate for redundant rhythms and melodies that are all but impossible to remember for more than five seconds at a time. It's understandable why Time would want to promote this style: Most current gangsta rap is more deeply mired in stereotype than your average Black Crowes cassette. But music generally needs more than attitude to stick in your head--and, quite simply, Blowout Comb doesn't. Stick, that is.--Roberts


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