SLW cc Watt, "Real Manic Time"

Whoa! Before discovering this gem on Bandcamp, I had no idea that living legend Mike Watt, the bassist and co-guiding force of seminal independent punk progenitors Minutemen and a whole host of other great projects from the '80s and beyond, had a duo with an Iowa-based musician – Iowa City’s jack-of-all-trades songwriter/singer/multi-instrumentalist Samuel Locke Ward (a.k.a. SLW). As you might expect from anything in Watt’s orbit, it rips.

Watt’s post-Minutemen work spans dozens of bands including two-bass duo fIREHOSE, Sonic Youth + Watt group Ciccone Youth, jammy post-punk weirdness with Minutemen drummer George Hurley and other heads in Unknown Instructors, and a long-running stint as the bassist in the modern touring incarnation of punk forefathers The Stooges. Though floating in a different stratum of notoriety, Samuel Locke Ward’s CV is no less dense than Watt’s, and includes a slew of bands such as grindcore unit Cop Bar, indie rock / folk crew Miracles of God, and a number of bands with the time-honored Samuel Locke Ward & the _____ format of band nomenclature. I can’t guess as to how these two dudes originally linked up, but I do know that Watt keeps an ear fixed on the contemporary underground music scene, so it’s little wonder that two prolific jammers in the wider American indie sphere got together to make some music.

Real Manic Time kicks off with a perfect spit take in “The Verdict,” which transplants the iconic drum opening from The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” into a little doo-wop number frosted with vocal harmonies over which Watt delivers one of his trademark spoken word “spiels.” The fact that Watt and Ward are credited with “spiel” in the albums notes, and the fact that the album crams 30 tracks into somewhere around a half an hour both hearken back to the heyday of Minutemen. They employed the “spiel” terminology to describe their typical vocal style and always packed as much activity into as little time as possible within their usually minute-or-so-long tracks.

Despite these trademarks and Watt’s reliably sick baselines throughout the album, the whole affair here isn’t as fully Minutemen-esque as you might expect. Ward’s chops as a writer of succinct, catchy tunes with great vocal melodies shines here, as well as his capabilities on an arsenal of drums, guitars, keys, and samples. The overall vibe skews closer to, say, R. Stevie Moore’s homespun pop wonders, especially in the moments where the keyboards and drum machines take center stage (see: “No Facts,” “Something Found,” “Fleeting Are The Times”). However, the name of the game here is clearly variety, as the program of tracks shift between genres from no wave noise noodling to snotty pop-punk to almost industrial heavy rockers. In the moments where the duo fully lean into Minutemen’s style, including the fidgety punk-funk of “Time To Slide” and the monotone spiels of “Enter Data,” it feels like Watt has found an adept partner to continue making music in the spirit of his most iconic band. (As ever, it’s worth saying: Rest in peace, D. Boon.)

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