Skyscraper Magazine » Mike Watt
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Clenched Wrench
Format: CD / LP / Digital
Release Date: March 1, 2011
By Rob Browning August 22, 2011

Forgive the understatement, but without dancing too much about architecture at the onset, let us begin by establishing that Mike Watt is a heavy, heavy cat. His role in the punk rock genre is that of bedrock, forged metamorphically through his bass tenures in Minutemen, fIREHOSE, and the solo bands that have featured the likes of Nels Cline, Dave Grohl, and ukelele maestro Eddie Vedder. Recent years have seen him expanding the sidemouse gigs he’s held with J. Mascis and Porno For Pyros to include a respectable tenure in the bass slot for the reincarnated Stooges. Whether driving his own boat or serving under others, Watt approaches every project with the same passion, documenting each in diaries on his web page, every entry affording raw insight into the depth of intellect and neurosis fostered by the pride of San Pedro.

Previous Watt releases, or “operas,” as he would prefer to have them called, have dealt with his father’s tenure in the U.S. Navy (1996’s Contemplating the Engine Room) and an allegorical musical interpretation of Dante’s Inferno as it paralled Watt’s near death experience from a perineum infection in 2000 (Secondman’s Middle Stand). When word trickled out that foray number three was in the hopper, the spiel from Watt was that the record was going to be heavily influenced by the intricately interwoven canvases of 13th century Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch. While few were surprised, the news was met with the usual bemused response from the Watt cognoscenti. The record was going to sound like a Watt record, but how was the Bosch factor going to be incorporated?

More learned folk than I tell me that stylistically, Bosch canvasses are rife with individual characters. Each character takes part in individual actions that coalesce together to form the larger picture. While my Where’s Waldo allegory was met with the degree of eye-rolling one would suspect it would evoke in my Gotham circle, fellow mouth-breathers and lip-readers can consider themselves metaphorically compliant. Watt’s exposure to Bosch came along the same time of the production of acclaimed Minutemen documentary We Jam Econo, an experience that required Watt to revisit a large amount of Minutemen material he had ignored in the wake of the passing of singer/guitarist/Watt best friend D. Boon in a 1988 van accident. In excavating that emotional canon, he was struck by the parallels of the short Minutemen songs and the individual components of Bosch works like “The Garden Of Earthly Delights.”

An inspired Watt took up one of the Telecasters that D. Boon left after his passing and, in typical fashion, ended with 30 tracks – or more accurately, one song with 30 individual parts. Entitled “hyphenated-man”, the record finds Watt self-releasing an album for the first time on his own Clenched Wrench label, backed by his recent go-to sidemen Tom Watson on guitar and Raul Morales on drums. Dubbed The Missingmen, the duo was bombarded with the pieces that comprise the record for the better part of two years before “hyphenated-man” was recorded. Watson was presented the formidable task of translating rudimentary Watt guitar parts into the songs he heard in his head, after which Morales was factored into the equation. Recording took place in two short sessions in Brooklyn almost a year apart at Studio G, with owner Tony Maimone at the helm.

Interestingly enough, neither Morales nor Watson heard any of the bass or vocal parts until the project was completed. One would hope that they were at least afforded the titles to give them direction, as titles like “cherry-head-lover-man,” “lute-and-dagger-man,” and “boot-wearing-fish-man” seem adequate musical markers. They also seem to show that Watt’s current cross-pollenations with Japanese culture in Funanori are permeating his work deeply. Lyrically, Watt has the disjointed flow of Japanese t-shirts. “hyphenated-man” fires 30 short word blasts at you, paired with typically frantic punk-jazz blasts. It’s not a record that is going to engage those unfamiliar with Watt’s music, but for those that have already consumed the kool-aid, “hyphenated-man” is another in an impressive line of ambitious releases from a true pioneer.

Visit: Mike Watt | Clenched Wrench
Purchase: Insound | eMusic