wears the trousers magazine

solex vs. cristina martinez & jon spencer: amsterdam throwdown, king street showdown! (2010)

Solex vs. Cristina Martinez + Jon Spencer
Amsterdam Throwdown, King Street Showdown! •••

Gentle folk lovers, cover your ears now. Opening with a wail of guitar distortion, a dirty drumbeat and a silky female vocal, Amsterdam Throwdown, King Street Showdown! instantly impresses as a full-frontal blues-funk assault on the ears. As a somewhat unlikely collaborative project between Dutch electronica specialist Elisabeth Esselink (aka Solex) and Boss Hog luminaries Cristina Martinez and her husband Jon Spencer, on paper it seems like it could be a bit of a mess. The ‘versus’ nature of the record and confrontational title implies that it came about almost against Martinez and Spencer’s will, but, as the accompanying comic explains, they jumped at the chance to add their own distinctive fusillade to Esselink’s sketches, working remotely from their New York studio. The result is a record laden with positive vibes that plunges headlong into a party atmosphere.

There’s an almost cinematic quality to many of the tracks, evoking a kind of ‘Fear & Loathing’ vibe that sounds more Utah than Utrecht. This soundtrack worthy endowment comes from a generous serving of strings and orchestral backing, paired off with plenty of horns and a splash of sound effects. Catchy melodies, like those found on ‘Aapie’ and ‘Fire Fire’, etch themselves into your brain, giving what could have been a dodgy mesh of two incompatible genres more of a Beck-like soundclash effect; Solex provides the rhythmic beats while Martinez and Spencer serve up a soulful blues guitar scrunch.

Lyrically, it’s a lesson in unrestrained machismo. Spencer’s whiskey-soaked guttural posturing and barely-veiled sexual innuendo is hardly rare in the blues genre, but it does become somewhat repetitive on this record – just how massive can one long-married man’s sex drive be? When he’s not talking sex, he’s talking stoned gibberish (“21st century, man!”, “Got a third eye!”, “Galaxy, man!”). Even the New York-style rap sections on ‘R Is For Ring-A-Ding’ are borderline banal/obscure and, to be perfectly honest, the blues-jamming guitar riffs say much more than any lyrics could. The real stars of this throwdown/showdown aren’t any of the words but the meaty guitars.

In contrast to Spencer’s swaggering, up-front showmanship, the female vocals are heavily treated, giving them an objectified and even more remote perspective. A telephone operator, a waitress; more like bit parts than collaborative equals. On tracks like ‘Uppercut’, the female vocals and flute parts do contrast successfully with the bassy twangs and distortion, but the balance still remains firmly on the side of the guitars. Even on the couple of songs that are more electronica-based, more Solex-like, there’s a sense that Spencer is dominating this project and determined to keep it as traditional and all-American as possible.

Ultimately, your average episode of ‘Top Gear’ is as good as any benchmark for the level of enjoyment you might derive from this album. For lovers of politically incorrect, raw masculine blues, which probably includes Jeremy Clarkson, Amsterdam Throwdown, King Street Showdown! should hit a new and unusual sweet spot. For the easily offended, the experience will be more sour.

Seb Law
UK release date: 05/04/10; www.myspace.com/solexmusic


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