Vanity projects run rampant in the music business, and it’s not just the keyboardist from Yes playing in front of a bunch of ice skating knights who’s guilty. Musical masturbation can be found as easily in the indie rock world as it can in the heartless mainstream music industry. Sometimes it actually works out, like when Carrie Brownstein and Mary Timony got together and did an enduring four-song, one-shot EP as the Spells. And I figured that John Atkins from 764-Hero and Spencer Moody from Dead Low Tide and Murder City Devils would be able to come up with a pretty decent outing themselves. And I was right; it is pretty decent. But pretty decent can be oh-so disappointing.
The John and Spencer Booze Explosion’s self-titled EP is nothing more than six joke covers that are, at the very least, charming. None are serious enough to be offensive. On the same side of the coin, it seems pointless to criticize something like this. Booze Explosion is pure irony for the twenty or so minutes it lasts. But irony doesn’t make a lasting impression. Just like you’d get pretty sick of your figurines of Jesus slam dunking a basketball, you’d get sick of the Booze Explosion goofing around in the studio. Songs like “Boxing” and “Felicity” get less and less amusing after repeated listens. The Booze Explosion seems to content to grab your attention merely with the list of musicians who participated in its recording. But the guest stars, which include Dann Gallucci (also of Murder City Devils fame) and Joe Plummer (Black Heart Procession) add absolutely nothing of note to these songs.
That said, this EP isn’t without its moments. An alt-country flavored ballad titled “Black Douleur” brings a surprising amount of tenderness, managing to transcend with haunting backing vocals (provided by John Atkins) and piano work that wouldn’t be out of place on an Elliott Smith album (think Figure 8). And, in spite all of the silliness, Phil Ek’s gorgeous production makes a world of difference. Ek has done marvelous work in the past with Built to Spill, Pretty Girls Make Graves, and Les Savy Fav (and the forthcoming Dead Low Tide LP), and his work on the Booze Explosion EP is no different.
While John Atkins’ first album since the demise of 764-Hero and Spencer Moody’s first since Murder City Devils’ swan song Thelema isn’t a complete waste of time and money, fans of both guys can most certainly live without it. If you’re a Murder City superfan and you just can’t get enough irony in your musical diet, scope out any used bin and I’m sure you’ll find a copy of The John and Spencer Booze Explosion. As for me, I’ll sit tight until the Dead Low Tide full-length comes out.