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Mike Watt/Nels Cline/Yuka Honda/Dougie Bowne - Floored by Four

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Artist: Mike Watt/Nels Cline/Yuka Honda/Dougie Bowne

Album: Floored by Four

Label: Chimera

Review date: Oct. 7, 2010

Floored By Four is a one-off collaboration between a quartet of musicians, each with at least one foot in conventional rock, the other in more experimental jazz and improv. Mike Watt, who started the project, splits his time between playing bass for The Stooges and Porno for Pyros on the mainstream side, while also working with people like Elliott Sharp and Nels Cline. The latter, too, has a rock day job with Wilco, in addition to more eccentric outlets via his own solo work, the Nels Cline Singers and numerous jazz and improv collaborations. Yuka Honda made her name in Cibo Matto, but also partners with Boredoms percussionist Yoshimi Pe-Wei and has three records on Tzadzik. She used to be married to Dougie Bowne, the Lounge Lizards drummer, who has himself collaborated with John Cale, Arto Lindsay and many others. Now Honda is engaged to Nels Cline. It’s an interesting collection of talents, to say the least, and connected to one another with varying degrees of history, mutual understanding and past collaboration.

Watt wrote all four tracks, or at least kicked off the writing process, recording bass lines dedicated to his partners and sketching out, in his own head, how each should sound. The four of them got together last summer in New York City to flesh these ideas out and record them. Like their four authors, the pieces oscillate in interesting ways between the mainstream and the obscure, with lithe off-kilter funk lines intersecting with serene intervals of contemplation, shreddy, non-linear guitar solos breaking for Booker T.-quality duals between bass and keyboards. Perhaps because of the speed with which they were put together, the four compositions sometimes meander and often repeat themselves, though they never entirely get lost in the woods. Two days after recording these tracks, the four principals opened a Summerstage concert for M. Ward with the material, which must have been quite a shock for She & Him fans.

Each of four tracks is named for a band member and highlights that individual in ways that are sometimes clear and sometimes hard to parse. “Nels” is one of the easy ones, beginning in the guitarist’s trademark brand of feedback-enabled trickery, intervals of bracing, lyrical clarity sand-blasted into oblivion by waves of distortion. It resolves, a minute and a half in, into a sort of wah-wah groove, its funk line strung together out of black keys and accidentals. The groove periodically dissolves into a wide-open expanse of sustained notes, a break, although sometimes overlaid with muted chaos in the keyboards and guitar.

“Miss Yuka” is the one track with vocals, with Watt possibly referencing the Porno for Pyros show where he bonded with Honda (he put out a stage fire with his own body). (A short pause to consider how awesome Watt is.) The cut starts with Honda herself creating eerie, futuristic atmospheres out of something like a xylophone. There’s a sharp break about a minute and a half in, and Watt says, “Sorry, I’ll do it with my fingers.” His fingers ignite a flurry of distorted, hooky rock (it sounds like Superchunk for a minute, swear to god), and then a slower, 1960s blues-rock sludge. “From the eyes of fire, fire throws,” Watt intones, repeatedly, changing the word “fire,” as the song goes on, to “wind” and then “water.”

Watt’s own piece is the most conventionally funky, sounding a little Stax-y as he and Honda trade bass and organ licks. “Watt” is the most lighthearted and fun of all these tracks – and by far the shortest. The only real experimental moment comes right at the end, where a series of chaotic squawks and blurts break out in a controlled breakdown, but the groove rolls right over it and puts the rebellion down. “Dougie” is the longest of these pieces, a 20-minute jam that features a repeating drum motif that loses energy each time you hear it. But it’s understandable -- a little self-indulgence is hard to avoid when you’re having this much fun.

By Jennifer Kelly

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