“I almost joined the Merchant Marine.” The words of critic and lyricist Richard Meltzer open the self-titled album by spielgusher, quickly veering from the personal to the surreal and back again. His lyrics, recorded in 2004, in turn inspired music played by bassist Mike Watt, guitarist Hirotaka Shimizu, and drummer Yuko Araki. Some of the songs feature the focused, esoteric quality that’s something of a trademark in Watt’s work. “BEGINS WITH S” and “MEETCHA” have an SST Records-era energy to them, the band roaring through numbers as Meltzer’s dry delivery ranges from the stentorian to the ribald. At times, the album will pair a Meltzer-only passage with an instrumental one; this allows for the trio to slowly construct some of the album’s most beautiful, shimmering moments.
Oftentimes, Meltzer’s words are about sex: his description of seeing images of Jayne Mansfield in his youth on “RED HERRING,” for instance, or the frank come-on heard in “RAISED AND SHOWING.” There’s an informality to this that’s compelling in its own way, though these passages play out far less interestingly than Meltzer’s fondness for wordplay and penchant for surreal imagery and absurd details. Better, then, is “FUCK AWARENESS WEEK,” which opens crudely and then takes its central concept to increasingly more bizarre places, Meltzer charging his listeners to know more about the sexual histories of iconic Americans: “Which have fucked animals, including ducks. Which have fucked doughnuts or similar pastries.”
Right about now might be a good time to point out that we’re in something of a renaissance for all things Mike Watt-related. Last year saw the launch of his label clenchedwrench, which in turn released his album Hyphenated-Man and dos y dos, the fourth album from dos, the duo in which he plays along with Kira Roessler. Earlier this month, news came that fIREHOSE would be reuniting for a series of West Coast dates, as well as a stop at Coachella. Here, there are two different sets of joy making their way through the music: Watt’s long-in-the-works collaboration with Meltzer, an idea that (according to Watt) was planted in the Minutemen days; and the taut, blissful interplay arising from the music made by Watt, Shimizu, and Araki.
Meltzer’s words are at the center of nearly all of these songs, and even when they aren’t, the contrast presented between them and the music made by Watt, Araki, and Shimizu is tangible. The device of pairing a Meltzer-only passage with an instrumental one reappears a few times, and is also echoed by the album’s overall structure: the sublime “neck like a slick tulip” ushers the listener out just as Meltzer’s words in “THIS LIMP TEMPTING TALKED” about the Merchant Marine and blunt knives open things up. It also creates a sense of dialogue over the course of the album, the instrumental and a cappella passages reflecting on one another by the elements that are absent. It’s a subtle marriage of the intellectual and the gut-level—a quality that also holds true for spielgusher as a whole.