It's a day of doubles here at Listen In, with me finally receiving my Centro-Matic/South San Gabriel double album, Dual Hawks. With a double album from a band with split personalities (but we'll get to that later), I thought I'd write a double article, so here it goes, the artist profile of Centro-Matic and South San Gabriel, and the review of Dual Hawks.
Centro-Matic and South San Gabriel, dual identities
Chances are you haven't heard of Centro-Matic or South San Gabriel if you live outside of a specific geographical area. Based out of Denton, Texas, Centro-Matic's fame has been the equivalent of middle America's long standing devotion to O.A.R -- extremely popular to those who know them, but little to no mainstream radio play or exposure (although O.A.R has become much more mainstream lately).
Centro-Matic is essentially the creation of Will Johnson, lead singer and guitarist, and his "unstoppable muse". Founded in 1997, Centro-Matic released five albums in three years along with several EP's, each showcasing Johnson's incredible gravel voice belted out over screeching guitar and drums, which shifts between levels of the hardest garage rock to the sweetest lullaby.
Centro-Matic's fifth album, titled South San Gabriel Songs/Music featured a few extra bandmates and a relatively slower and more folky sound. That's when Centro-Matic and South San Gabriel (named after a river near Austin, Texas) split into two separate entities , each composed of the same core members of Centro-Matic, and SSG adding guest musicians as necessary.
Now two bands instead of one, Centro-Matic continues to focus on the faster paced and overall more electric sounding side, while mellower experimental folk (and here I struggle with stuffing them into any specific genre) gets released as South San Gabriel.
All in all the discography count looks something like this:
- 8 Centro-Matic LP's
- 3 Centro-Matic EP's
- 3 South San Gabriel LP's
- 2 Will Johnson Solo Albums
released on various independent labels.
Dual Hawks, a dual review
The first side of Dual Hawks (Misra Records) is by Centro-Matic, and features 11 songs, most of which with awkwardly strange titles, but each in Centro-Matic's signature style.
A few songs from this album stand out, one of my favorites being Counting the Scars, which slows things down a bit (but not to a South San Gabriel level), and Two Seats Gold Reserved which manages to be a great example of Johnson and Centro-Matic's overall songwriting and playing style, mixing a little bit of every element that they use in many of their other songs sparingly.
Besides these two and a few others, the album runs together almost too well, with the songs fading and becoming somewhat indistinguishable from one another, which is a problem that Centro-Matic has in general because of Johnson's voice.
While the running together of the songs may make each one hard to remember on its own (not to mention the creative titles), the album does make a great collection of driving music, or one that would be best listened to by an audience that isn't really listening, such as a house party.
The South San Gabriel side begins with Emma Jane, a track that opens with a full two minute instrumental of soothing guitar and humming before Johnson's vocals fall into place.
The third track When The Angels Will Put Out Their Lights experiments a little more with beats and sounds droning in and out, going on for close to five minutes, at an almost excruciatingly slow pace. This track sets the pace for the rest of the album.
Undoubtedly the best track from this side of the album is Trust to Lose (video here), where Johnson's voice sounds particularly great. Although I will say that I prefer the solo version in the video above than the album version.
While the first side of this album was the perfect driving music, I caution you to listen to the South San Gabriel side while on the road for fear of falling asleep at the wheel. However I won't go so far as to say that this music is boring, it all just depends on your taste. I do prefer Centro-Matic to South San Gabriel, most of the time.
I wouldn't recommend that you purchase this album if you aren't already a Centro-Matic/South San Gabriel fan (although it is absurdly cheap, I got the vinyl version + digital download for 16 bucks). I do, suggest you take a look into Centro-Matic and South San Gabriel's back collection and dig up some of the gems, and then come back to this album.