(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

CD review - Solex vs Cristina Martinez + Jon Spencer, Amsterdown Throwdown, King Street Showdown! (2010)

"Love is never equal" - Jill Sobule has it right. In every partnership, one side is usually dominant, even if the players take turns in that role. In the unlikely collaboration between the Boss Hogs' Cristina Martinez and Jon Spencer and Dutch electronic artist, Solex, Jon Spencer stands out by virtue of his odd vocals and Brillo pad guitar tone. On first listen, I scored the partnership all towards Boss Hog, mostly because I wasn't that familiar with Solex.

Martinez and Spencer have a good formula in Boss Hog: driving hard rock that hints at a punk edge and a twangy discordant blues. The key to their sound really comes from the vocal interactions between spouses Martinez and Spencer, which creates a strong chemistry.

Solex (Elisabeth Esselink), on the other hand, produces a poppy electronic style of music. She tends to have a heavily processed and echoed Suzanne Vega type of vocal and her production favors a slightly low fi, scratchy, retro tone that contrasts well with the electronic elements.

On Amsterdam Throwdown, King Street Showdown!, the Spencer and Martinez lay out a blues funk vibe and Spencer's retro blues voice for much of the music, but Solex's production aesthetic and instinctive pop sense dominates the mix and feel. So, it's a more even collaboration than it appeared at first.

The album kicks off with Bon Bon, which takes a Boss Hog feel and adds a laid back funk groove. Spencer's guitar offers both a ripsaw lead tone and a crunchy rhythm and the synth strings offer some balancing velvet. There's a nice contrast between Solex's light harmonized pop backup vocals and Spencer's blues growl, which lies somewhere between John Lee Hooker, Wolfman Jack, and Captain Beefheart.

The best track, The Uppercut, leans the other way. The driving club beat builds a delicious tension. Cristina's rawer vocals are a warm spark against the coolness of electronic groove and Solex's light backup vocals. The guitar takes a welcome step back, offering accenting fills, which give the song a little more room to develop.

Don't Hold Back is another strong track, giving Boss Hog the Solex treatment. Martinez's sultry vocals are pushed to the background, creating a dialog with Spencer's forward mixed comments. Spencers bluesy guitar work is cooking. Solex contributes a retro tone mix, background vocals, and smooth accent sounds. The total package is seductive and vaguely threatening.

There are plenty of other interesting moments, like the Captain Beefheart sound of Dog Hit, Spencer's Tourette vocals on Galaxy Man (against a richly layered electronic coolness), and the retro Euro-pop feel of Too Much, Too Fast.

Pour a nice tart Kriek (wild fermented Belgian cherry beer) and enjoy Amsterdam Throwdown, King Street Showdown!.

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