Friday, June 13, 2008

Reviews:: Centro-matic San South Gabriel Dual Hawks

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It's really hard to be objective when it comes to Will Johnson's music. I basically enjoy everything he does and believe that he's one of those guys that puts out rock solid material every time he puts pen to paper. If you had doubt, you could simply look at the Operation Motorcide EP. It was a collection of "throw-aways" from the Fort Recovery sessions, and I think it was one of the best EPs of the year.

So how does that relate to the new joint venture that showcases both sides of his song writer coin? Well, the first - Centro-matic's contributions to the collection - is more of the classic Crazy Horse jams that Will's been using for countless records. On the surface, not all that much has changed - maybe better production tools - but the raw spirit remains the same, so does the familiarity of his words and of course the buzz saw sound that drives the songs (the opener Rat Patrol and Djs is an instant classic). But after a few listens you start to see that Johnson pushed his band to new limits on this record.

Whether it's the subtle, summery oh-la-las that warm the notes of All Your Farewells or the infectious harmonies of Quality Strange show there are more than enough wrinkles to satisfy any long time fan. The single, I, The Kite is beautiful; balancing slop and grit with a pop jangle and hand claps, and makes you wonder what else Johnson could have brought to the table if he had spent the time working on only one form of expression.

But I have to admit, this collection is hard to digest this as a double album. Despite the forced juxtaposition of the packaging, it's impossible for the songs to mix. By definition, the strict, rigid definition of each project controls Johnson's writing process. I am not saying it's a bad thing, as I think on their own, each album is an incredibly enjoyable listen. It's just that there are very few points of contact (the moment of clarity from Centro-matic on the tender ballad, Counting the Scars (although the pure Young-like falsetto that escapes near the end reminds you where the main influence comes from) and the tempo for each project is so vastly different and consistent it makes the listen feel uneven.

After the energy of the first disc, the San South Gabriel feels even more stark and emotional than usual. The band is able to paint vast open landscapes and warm Texas breezes effortlessly. The long pedal steel notes, timbre drums and strings coat everything in orange and pinks, daring the sun to rise and show itself or cower away for another night. The record, completely contrasting to it's accompanying crowd drawing rock songs, is written for times when you are alone. It's about being consumed with your thoughts and fears.

It's hard not to feel your heart beat along side the pulsing undercurrents of songs like The Arc and the Cusp or appreciate the beauty of Jornada del Muerto #20. I'm by no means a Johnson expert, but I have trouble trying to picture him writing a powerful, solitary number like From This I Will Awake (one where he opens himself up so completely) years ago, but the song is probably the strongest of a collection littered with gems.

Both records are better than almost anything I've heard so far this year, and if either came out and was judged on it's own merits, critics would be gushing. It's simply the fact they are packaged in one case that makes the listening experience challenging. But if the worst thing we can say about the record is that Johnson gave us too much that, that it's too hard to sit down and digest, should we really complain?

Posted at 1:52 PM by ack :: 0 comments

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