Contemplating the Engine Room

Mike Watt‘s second solo record is a real true mother. A dense waterlogged lament that sounds like what a seafaring drunkard probably hears when we hear music. Contemplating the Engine Room is Watt’s attempt to reconcile the loss of his friend, D. Boon – while phrasing the whole story and sound of the record as taking place in the engine room of a steamship, of course.Contemplating the Engine Room I wasn’t really sure I enjoyed it at first (actually finishing it took me 3 attempts). My initial reaction: for a record about being aboard a ship its oddly anchorless. But as the compositions drift by, surprisingly, that ends up being one of Contemplating the Engine Room‘s strongest points. From his defining work with the Minutemen to his recent run with the Stooges, Mike Watt makes music that has always been more about co-existence rather than coalescence. So while there is a Minutemen influenced approach to the album it doesn’t necessarily sound like the Minutemen or fIREHOSE. What emerges is a seascape in sound. An album reminiscent of both Smithsonian Maritime compilations and The Pop Group. His co-conspirators in this mutiny are the prolific Nels Cline (on guitar now with Wilco) and Steve Hodges (the drummer responsible for the chaos on Swordfishtrombones and Rain Dogs). Cline’s guitar work is somehow simultaneously earthly and otherworldly (‘Breaking the Choke Hold’, or the killer acoustic highwire act on ‘Fireman Hurley’). While Hodges maneuvers through each track with expressionistic enthusiasm (‘Red Bluff’ and actually, come to think of it also ‘Fireman Hurley’ again). Its like listening to an ancient submarine’s rutters. But the rutters are playing a Tortoise record and this guy is talking at everyone. I mean that in the best possible way.

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