Centro-matic — Candidate Waltz. Out today.
Will Johnson, the prolific songwriter and artist behind Centro-matic, South San Gabriel, and a gorgeous set of recordings under his own name, does not seem to be scared of anything. Each of his bands has a distinct sound, and every Centro-matic album never quite sounds like the one before it. Where 2009’s Centro/SSG double LP Dual Hawks was more accessible, a little more poppy in the choruses of “Twenty Four”, Candidate Waltz is a little darker and more droney, but it still sounds like a Centro-matic album.
Everything on a Centro-matic album is always underpinned by Johnson’s nasal, plaintive voice and his stellar songwriting. Candidate Waltz is a compeletely cohesive piece of work, broad and sweeping as an album, and dependent on fuzzy guitars but made special by the shimmer that lifts up from and into the noise, like the final minute mark on the gorgeous “Estimate x 3”, complete with handclaps and woo-woo chorus vocals behind Johnson’s gimme what you want, don’t tell me chant. Whenever the song almost shifts into noise — and you guys know that I know that Will Johnson sometimes loves noise for the sake of noise — something plucks it back from that void and turns it lightweight and bird-clear.
Whether it’s the vocal line — Johnson’s half-hummed chorus over super fuzzed out guitars at the beginning “If They Talk You Done” — or a bouncing, jangling guitars or “Iso-Residue”, there’s something that’s both earth-bound and ethereal about this album and the songwriting. It feels like an album about endings and new beginnings, something shiny with promise. This is an album about screwing the man and doing your own thing and being happy, with the lyrics in “Iso-Residue”, and I’m keeping my own time, marking that firmly.
This is a Centro-matic album, through and through; they’re a band that you either love or hate, with no in-between. Johnson’s songwriting is dense and often confusing at first listen, and the fuzzy guitars, Matt Pence’s driving drums, the often strange path from beginning of song to end that the band takes, they are not for everyone. But if you are a fan of Johnson’s writing, of songs that surprise you with how they unexpectedly sound like summer (“Mercedes Blast” has a gorgeous chorus of Beach Boys chiming guitar), this is of course an album for you. It’s equisitely crafted and intensely complex, and even after multiple listens, I am still finding things in it that surprise and delight me. It is, as almost always from Will Johnson, a subtle masterpiece of songwriting and using music to paint a mood. It’s not an easy or a straight-forward album, and I cannot wait to see how it soars on Saturday.
Centro-matic will be in Chapel Hill at Local 506 on Saturday, June 25, the middle band sharing a bill with Sarah Jaffe (open) and David Bazan (headliner). Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door, and the show starts at 9PM. (Which, for my own personal notes, should let me see Centro-matic’s set and then scoot to the Nightlight in time to catch most if not all of the Roadside Graves’ set there. Damn you, Chapel Hill! Must you book everything wonderful on the same night!)