It's not the band. They are little more than a bar band with a Texas accent. An extremely skilled one, mind you, but yeah, there it is. It's not the melodies. There are only so many things you can do within rock 'n' roll's guitar-drums-bass setup, and they've all been done, like, two decades ago. (Yes, Radiohead fans--even that.) It's not even the words. Half the time, you'd be hard-pressed to explain what Centro-matic front man Will Johnson is talking about, let alone understand it yourself. Reading the lyrics to each song is like reading page 189 from a really great novel: It sounds good, but it doesn't always make sense. Such as: "There was smoke coming from the cooling machines when we left here/All the suits gathered in the hallway to see the event," the first lines from Flashes and Cables' "Infernoesque Grande." Which, by the way, lives up to its title and then some, with its fire-breathing guitars and smoke-eating snares.
So what makes each successive Centro-matic release (and this makes, I don't know, a dozen?) so consistently moving? It's Johnson's voice, always seeming on the verge of breaking in half, straining under the weight of the emotion he piles on top of every syllable. Each song is a game of Jenga he plays with listeners' hearts and heads, where every word could send the entire thing scuttling to the floor. You get the drill one song in, when the title track's story of sullied soldiers and corrupt cameras doesn't hit home as hard as the nonsensical ba-ba-da-da-do fade-out does. Except it's not really nonsensical. Not when Johnson's singing it. When he's at the microphone, every song is like a Mexican soap opera. You might not understand the words, but you know what they mean.
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