Dos y Dos
Mike Watt has said Dos is his "longest running band."
Begun in 1985, Dos, the dueling bass jam outs of ex-Minutemen Watt and ex-Black Flag bassist, Kira Roessler, has just released their fourth album, Dos y Dos.
After both were no longer playing with their respective bands, (Kira was axed; Minutemen were dissolved once Watt's co-conspirator and best friend D. Boon had passed away), Dos served as a way to keep Watt interested in playing music, his will to continue in that vein having more or less faded once the Minutemen were no more. Bass only, occasional singing: That's it. Kira was attending Yale while she and Watt exchanged ideas via post-office four track tapes of bass rhythms, the music reworked and tweaked as each tape was passed back and forth. The band's first album, simply titled Dos, was released in 1986 through an SST Records imprint, New Alliance Records, which was actually started by D. Boon and Watt in 1980. An EP dubbed Numero Dos was released in 1989. Both releases were later compiled as Uno Con Dos that same year.
On again off again, Dos would eventually release Justamente Tres in 1996 via Kill Rock Stars. In the meantime, they'd also been married and divorced by 1994. Dos y Dos is over fifteen years in the making.
While also playing the Dave Alexander/Ron Asheton role for The Stooges over the last ten or so years, Watt has been writing mini-operas, (his third opera, Hyphenated-Man, having been released earlier this year), hosting his podcast The Watt From Pedro Show, and reinventing jazz-fusion with Floored By Four. Dos y Dos brings back an old friendship/musical collaboration, one that's directly related to Watt's musical beginnings as a D.I.Y. pioneer, playing the music that has since informed and shaped much of the post-punk/independent music that led up to the Alternative breakthrough in the early 90s.
Both rooted in two of hardcore's best-known acts, Dos is remarkably subtle, an interaction of running dialogues and rhythms that can interrupt each other, argue or concur depending on each track's mood. "Number Nine" begins Dos y Dos in a way communicative enough to establish what each bass is doing. They stray a bit from the more jazz-bred playing with which they've both come to be associated, (Kira most especially with Black Flag's instrumental EP, The Process Of Weeding Out), instead trying to find a comfortable enough correlation to generate an anchor. Sort of important considering how minimal the medium. The band could easily go free-form and jumble their sounds together into nothing, but the low ends are focused and meant to mean something. Musically, the tracks "The Winds Of May" and "New York Waltz" both sound aware and democratic, agreeably arranged and honed. "Uncle Mike" is like an MC with a hype man, its chief verse seconded by another voice in the background. "Number Eight," which is sort of a dog anthem with an array of puppies contributing to the instrumental, sounds ponderous and almost cute.
Easier to swallow might be Kira's vocal contributions. With "Make Her Me" and "Ties To Bind," her voice follows the instrument. She exhibits more range with their cover of "No Me Queda Mas" by Selena, (y'know, Jennifer Lopez?), making it one of the album's most notable tracks. Kira speaks with tinges of melody for "It Turned Cold," though out of the album's sung tracks, this one is my favorite.
Going a tad more bold or slightly more serious are "Only You Will Know" and "Frantic," the latter a little faster, the bass combos following each other enough to almost sound like echos of the same notes. "Song For Poe" employs moments of throbbing bass rhythms and takes odd liberties with time signature. Put a drum to it and you'd almost have something progressive. The same could be said for the meditatively titled "Om Om Om," which is erratic in the vein of something jazz-based or jam-based, both basses revolving around one motif and then trailing off in these moments of note exploration.
What I like about Dos is that there is a challenge here to the traditional, shortsighted and safely categorized definition of "punk," one that has spawned a long debate between the leather-jacketed hardcore elite, the easily satisfied pop-access heads that just want to hear something goofy and fast and the artful dissidents convinced of punk's ever-expanding potential. As both Kira and Watt have perpetuated this argument since their SST days, the aforementioned The Process Of Weeding Out and Minutemen's double-LP masterpiece, Double Nickels on the Dime, immediately come to mind, it's evident that there's still much to discuss.
Could "punk" be as all-encompassing a term as "indie" at this point, something that explains the concept of against the grain music that incorporates not only the genre's historical context of an anti-intellectualized return to rock roots, but also correlates directly with the music's continuing evolution despite its obvious death? There's still punk essence to music, but the climate will never allow for punk rock to be what it once was. '77 is gone forever. Hardcore? Over—I think the Warped Tour has sort of hammered the stake into that once beating heart. The only dignified element of punk that remains is its ability to become something better. In all honesty, intellectualism and abstract thought has done the genre a huge solid. Call this "selling out" all you want to but admit that where at some point one note meant the world, one note is now simply "one note," as is this kind of thinking.
The challenge that Dos presents doesn't point to as breakthrough an album as those by Flag or Minutemen, but Dos y Dos is at least continuing the path toward something pioneering, applying an aesthetic and historical context to punk rock and stretching its unfortunately constricted boundaries.
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