When the feet of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion initially touched land, it was as if a caveman had just woken from a frozen slumber, not unlike Brendan Fraser in Encino Man: rambling, muddy, a little confused, and unsure what do with so many new ideas. This was 1991 through 1992, the band’s first year of existence, and coincidentally the same time as the release of Encino Man. In that year, JSBX recorded a lot, and it all seems to have somehow been nearly lost in the dust—or is perhaps sitting at the bottom of Sean Astin’s makeshift backyard pool. Doing my best to leave early-‘90s movie references out of this, A Reverse Willie Horton, Crypt Style, The History of Sex EP and a self-titled disc are today incredibly hard to find, yet they signal the beginning of a band dying to change music. And so explains Year One, a release bringing these albums together—singles, imports and B-sides the same.
With 38 tracks to sort through, it’s hard, if not impossible, to listen to all of Year One in a single sitting. Unless you hold a respect (or love) for what they are trying to do—tear down the foundation of rock & roll to start from the very beginning—in which case, it’ll be even harder to digest. Though JSBX is now more strongly-knit with catchier hooks and tighter grooves, their early days were not much more than caveman-esque grunting, thrashing punk guitar and crashing drums. The essence of punk was there, but they were reaching for something in the distance that they couldn’t quite get their hands on just yet. And in that regard, aside from its literal meaning, the name Year One lives up to what it gives us: an early, almost primitive in nature, look at a band that later turned into something a little less than refined.
If you can get past the initial impression of outlandishness and disorganization, there are some absolutely catchy if not musically satisfying grooves throughout the compilation. “Water Main” and “History of Sex”, each coming in at less than two minutes, might even have you unconsciously bobbing your head. (Side note: the latter of those two songs sounds strikingly similar to South Park’s “Timmy and the Lords of the Underworld”, and even makes me wonder if the TV show creators had the JSBX song in mind when they constructed the episode. It’s a reference I missed, if it is indeed a reference, and one that speaks on the idea that sometimes people will latch onto a song for a reason unknown, even if it sounds like nothing more than pure drivel. Or, in simpler terms, this particular song has something, even if we can’t put our finger on what that something is.)
On first listen, Year One is easy to dismiss as nonsensical ramblings of a young band unsure of what do with it’s talent. But listening closely will give you a slight sense of what could come next. So, if you’re one of those people who crave organization, can’t live without order, and flee at the first sign of anarchy, run. Run far away and stay away. This album is not for you, and it doesn’t want you ruining its fun. But for those who make sense out of chaos, those experimental few who will listen to just about anything, and for anyone curious enough to jump into a swamp just to see how it feels, your table is ready, and you may now be seated.