Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Mailbox Giveth: Dos (And Somewhat of a Call to Stretch "Punk" into Something All-Encompassing.)

Dos
Dos y Dos
Clenchedwrench/Org Music
Released: 7.12.11

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 FourDos 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. 

Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

4 comments:

Michael said...

Well stated. Punk ultimately was an attitude and approach toward making music (really any art and all culture) rather than a style to be slavishly adhered to. Nearly all the surviving true pioneers of punk have demonstrated this through the years.

Tim Moore said...

New Follower. Nice Words. I like the idea that Punk can be more that what it has been...and moves. DIY takes many forms (some a little more "establishment" than others).

Letters From A Tapehead said...

To Michael:

First off, thank you very much for your comments. Secondly, I couldn't agree more: Punk rock, in my opinion, was never meant to remain a stagnant statement against all authority and conformity. Ironically, it seems the ones that cling to this version, the version so permanently tied to being "scene," conform to any set of standards and never really rebel against anything. Sort of tragic, but at least there's a continuation of attitude and a wealth of ideas that prosper.

To Tim:

Thank you for following me and thanks for the comments. I agree the "DIY" thing doesn't always produce the best results, especially these days when "DIY" is digitized and easier to devise, but at least there's still momentum toward something under the radar.

Thanks for reading,
Letters From A Tapehead

Michael said...

To: Tapehead. The first Minutemen show demonstrated how quickly punk as a scene became ossified and closed to new thoughts. David Lowery talks about Camper Van Beethoven playing gigs at "punk" venues in his blog 300 Songs, in which they experienced similar reactionary responses. He also talked in another post about the difference between "independent", "domestication" and "de-fanging" which echoed for me the statement Gertrude Stein made to Picasso about how he didn't have time to make cubism beautiful because he was busy inventing it, and beautification was something those who followed after would do (as the work of Juan Gris certainly seems to confirm). I guess my point is that some things just never change.
I also personally view the label "indie" a form of de-fanging. It's making a diminutive out of "independent", which is a way of dis-arming. Much the way only referring to a lover as "pookie" denies that lover their identity and reduces them to a harmless cuddly teddy bear. As such, I find "indie" has become a useless term that one can attach via hyphen to any style to lend it credibility to the masses. I completely agree with you as to the real meaning of punk.

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