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Centro-Matic



You could call Centro-Matic the Texas indie rock equivalent of Neil Young: the band does driving, balls-out rock numbers and introspective acoustic folk ballads with equal proficiency and without preference for either. Yet the fuzzed-out, revved-up Crazy Horse rockers are infused with the collegiate energy of, say, a Superchunk, and the sparer acoustic numbers often have the quirky lo-fi charm of a Guided by Voices. And nearly all the band's sounds are slightly tinted with a sense of profoundly cracked Texas strangeness.

In case the previous paragraph's description didn't make it clear: this is a terrific, immensely talented group. They'll remind you of the best elements of a whole lot of other bands -- the ones mentioned above, as well as the The Flaming Lips and the better alt-country bands of the '90s -- but far from being derivative, Centro-Matic is simply able to capture the best qualities of indie rock, pop, and country-rock and put them all together in a single, astonishingly satisfying sound.

Much of the group's ability can be ascribed to its prolific and prodigiously talented frontman, guitarist, songwriter, and singer Will Johnson. Johnson clearly has an intuitive understanding of what makes different musical genres successful and is able to use that understanding to write high-quality songs remarkably quickly. He's also blessed with a distinctive voice, which, while not extraordinarily beautiful, is versatile and emotionally powerful. Johnson's voice is often compared to Wayne Coyne's (Flaming Lips), and not without good reason; both have high, thin, tenors that warble and wander through idiosyncratic, stream-of-consciousness lyrics. Johnson, however, may have greater vocal and emotional range, as he proves equally adept at singing the parts of wild-eyed rock prophet, ragged-voiced folkie, and tender balladeer.

Johnson started Centro-Matic in 1995 as a four-track project while still employed as the drummer for the now-defunct Denton, Texas band Funland. After releasing a few seven-inch singles, Johnson put out a debut full-length, Redo the Stacks, a 23-song effort which saw him play nearly every instrument. Redo the Stacks was released to rave reviews, so Johnson decided to assemble an official band and head into the studio. With longtime friends and collaborators Scott Danbom (keys, violin), Mark Hedman (bass), and Redo the Stacks producer Matt Pence (drums), Johnson entered the Jajouka Studio, owned by Sun Volt's Jay Farrar, with dozens and dozens of diverse songs to record. A month later Centro-Matic emerged with not one, but three albums worth of material. These were released as Navigational (1999), The Static Vs. the Strings Vol. 1 (1999), and All the Falsest Hearts Can Try (2000). Later on in 2000, Centro-Matic released its fifth album in three years, San Gabriel Songs/Music (featuring "The Ensuing Light of Day" and "Glacial Slurs"). Happily, the band doesn't sacrifice quality for its remarkable quantity. Johnson has written over 200 songs in his career, so you can be sure that more fine albums are in store.