What do you get when you combine Wilco’s lead guitarist, The Lounge Lizards’ drummer, The Minutemen’s bassist, and Cibo Matto’s keyboardist? The answer is the one-off semi-supergroup Floored by Four. The titles to the four mostly instrumental songs on this self-titled debut are a big clue to the players’ identities: “Nels” is guitarist Nels Cline; “Yuka” is keyboardist Yuka Honda; “Watt” is bassist Mike Watt; and “Dougie” is drummer Dougie Bowne.
The musicians have long, varied bios and although they each have previous connections to one another, they have never come together as a single entity. Bowne and Honda were previously married and have performed together often. Watt and Cline have worked in many projects (Banyan being one example). Cibo Matto opened for Porno for Pyros, in which Watt was once a member. Finally, Watt and Bowne have even been employed by Iggy Pop at different times. And so on.
Floored by Four took shape last summer when Watt, the self-dubbed thud stick player, went to New York City to participate in a Summerstage show in Central Park. Bowne and Honda reside in the area and Cline was visiting: the result was three days in a sweaty-hot studio. The final outcome is this 43-minute excursion through jazz-rock, fusion, mysterious avant-punk, and more.
The basic template springs from bass riffs and a few words of Watt’s direction. From there, each piece was constructed via live studio jams, with each musician contributing what felt right – in essence, pure inspiration and improvisation.
“Nels” takes its time building and ebbing. Beginning with Cline’s ethereal, effects-driven noises, the effort morphs into a thumping jazz-rocker with fuzzy guitar, spacey keyboards, and the Watt/Bowne bottom end providing a thick, basic beat. Cline and company don’t stay in a solid groove, though, and circle back to quieter interludes rife with Jeff Beck meets Tony Williams’ Lifetime mannerisms. Because this is Cline’s quarter of the four-walled venture, his guitar and effects take center stage during most of the 10 minutes, offering sonic territory that’ll be appreciated by the guitarist’s fans. In true do-it-yourself fashion, “Nels” abruptly snaps closed with Cline’s jet-plane effects impression suddenly cut off.
Commencing in a similar style with Honda’s shimmering keyboards leading the way, “Yuka” finds itself complemented by Bowne’s lightly tapped percussion. The atmospheric introduction unexpectedly concludes as the group erupts into another furious fusion groove, slowing only when Watt begins to recite a repetitive, Mother Nature mantra about fire, wind, light, and water. The tune’s lyrical theme and subsequent middle section has a classic rock tinge, almost like something copped from an old Uriah Heep or Pink Floyd LP. But despite the fact that this is Honda’s cut, she remains behind the scenes for the most part.
“Watt” is by far the shortest and funkiest piece. Everyone contributes to a broken, soulful groove with a distinct Memphis inclination: this could have graced a Booker T. and the MGs B-side. Honda replicates that bluesy organ with Watt and Bowne holding down a solid beat Donald “Duck” Dunn and Al Jackson would approve of. Cline puts his own unique spin on Steve Cropper’s impeccable six-string chord changes. And towards the track’s conclusion the band slips in a slight noise-rock tease akin to Sonic Youth, but they bump right back to the Stax-Volt shiver for the last bar.
At an epic 19 minutes, “Dougie” captures one third of the disc’s total time. Like “Nels,” the foursome uses space and time to open up the proceedings. Nothing is hurried and everything moves at a reflective pace. Bowne emphasizes cymbals, brushes, toms and occasional hi-hat while Cline stakes out a violin-like stance with what sounds like an e-bow and Honda supplies an otherworldly background. As Bowne reveals his jazz roots during a drum solo highlighting his melodic skills, the majority of the lengthy jam recalls Weather Report’s late-1970s heyday.
While Floored by Four might have been initiated by Watt, his proj (as he dubs it) will most likely appeal to anyone who knows Bowne and Cline, since they dominate the instrumentals. Watt hasn’t sat back to rest, though. He’s already arranged to do another session with The Unknown Instructors, three albums have been recorded with Cline and are ready to go, in addition to plans regarding the longstanding Missingmen ensemble. At his own estimate, Watt guesses there could a dozen or more undertakings he may donate his time to.Visit: Mike Watt | Chimera Music
Purchase: Insound | eMusic