I don’t like coleslaw. I think it’s gross. Every time I see it, though, I forget that I think it’s gross and I eat it. And then I complain about how gross it is. Lots of other people like coleslaw. They’ll eat it and not complain. They may even enjoy it. I just need to remember that I don’t.
The bottom line when it comes to Centro-Matic is that they are kind of like coleslaw. If you weren’t into Centro-Matic’s previous 483 releases (ok, so it’s more like 10 but that’s still a lot), you are not going to be into Fort Recovery, the band’s first album in three years under the Centro-Matic moniker, either. Unlike the mayonnaise and cabbage mix that I so despise, Centro-Matic is far from gag-inducing. But they are one of those bands that once you’ve had your first experience with them, you either can’t get enough or you should probably stay away.
Any monumental diversions Centro-Matic has from their current sound are saved for Centro-Matic side projects, like the far sparser South San Gabriel or leader Will Johnson’s solo work. Centro-Matic’s goal is to make epic, country-tinged rock songs, with Johnson’s (sometimes heavy-handed) lyrics setting the tone for each song. Centro-Matic have never been particularly groundbreaking as a band nor do they concern themselves deeply with changing course, musically. The direction Centro-Matic have taken has not veered far from the alt-country path in their decade long career, but just because their music hasn’t changed drastically doesn’t mean that their sound has stayed the same. On Fort Recovery, the band has a penchant for filling every track with some sort of sound and their songs overflow with instruments, like on the beautiful and string-filled “In Such Crooked Times.” While they may not diverge from their staid musical path, Centro-Matic’s succeeds in making Fort Recovery one of their most cohesive, polished albums to date.
Johnson’s scruffy voice gives the music a well-worn feel, as if you’ve heard it before but you’re not sure where, when or even if you really have. It’s like that old pair of jeans you’ve had forever and should probably throw out because there’s a big hole in the ass but are just too damn comfy to part with. Johnson’s voice has frequently been equated to that of Flaming Lips’ lead singer Wayne Coyne. While they share the same deep rasp, Coyne has a playfulness to his voice that Johnson does not posses; Johnson’s is darker and more emotive than Coyne’s, giving the songs on Fort Recovery a more tempestuous nature than that of the Lips. Johnson may be Centro-Matic’s fearless leader but once can’t ignore the presence of drummer Matt Pence, who remains a force behind the kit and gives Centro-Matic some much needed power, especially on a song like “Patience for the Ride,” which would be far too long with out a little Pence Pride.
After 10 years of solid releases, Centro-Matic aren’t about to change the way they play music and they don’t particularly care whether you want them to or not. But as familiar as the territory remains, Fort Recovery proves that they keep sounding better and better. So, really, it all just depends on whether or not you like coleslaw.
Archers of Loaf – White Trash Heroes
Drive-By Truckers – The Dirty South
Centro-Matic – Love You Just the Same