South San Gabriel
South San Gabriel's The Carlton Chronicles is the greatest concept album about a kitty ever made. Granted, singer Will Johnson is probably the first to write nine songs from a pet's perspective, but the man known for hundreds of songs in SSG and Centro-matic has turned his cat's stories of murder, escape and dejection into his most cohesive and magical album yet. As the softer, country-inspired cousin of Centro-matic, SSG remains relatively unplugged with small sparks of electric guitar and feedback tucked into the septet's slide guitars, fiddles, vibraphones and organs. These slow, bubbling melodies allow plenty of room for Johnson to tell his cat Carlton's tale, whether in the smile-inducing curiosity and cunning of "Predatory King Today" or the lonely quiet of "The Dark of Garage." Carlton is one thoughtful kitty, but this is no cutesy comic strip, as his internal dialogues are heart-wrenching: "If I could speak, you could perfectly see the physical terror encompassing me/The sweat from within, the quiver and shake, the mess on the bed, the slobber I make." Beneath lush instrumentation, Johnson coos with harmony vocals, almost like he's purring, and it's gorgeous enough to inspire a mad dash to an animal adoption center.
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