My love affair with Centro-matic started on April 17, 1999 while watching them open a show for Sebadoh in St. Louis. Twelve years later the boys from Denton, TX are about to release their tenth full length album Candidate Waltz. It has been quite a busy time for vocalist and songwriter Will Johnson since the release of Centro-matic's last release, 2008's Dual Hawks. In that time, Johnson has toured regularly in Centro-matic and South San Gabriel for the promotion of Dual Hawks, done a few house show tours, toured as drummer for the Monsters of Folk, released a solo EP, had a kid, and has also displayed his baseball themed artwork at quite a few gallery shows. If I did not know any better, I would have been surprised to hear that Centro-matic even had a new record coming out given how busy Will has been. But Will and the band have always produced high quality music at an astonishing pace. Even the band's bio on their website quips, "three EPs, a soundtrack cut and a cassingle were released while you read this."
One of the beautiful things about Centro-matic is that with every new release, you have a fairly good idea of what to expect, without having a good idea of what to expect. Given the differences between the Centro-matic catalog, the South San Gabriel work (of which all the members of Centro-matic are a part of and offers a quieter, more atmospheric sound), and Will's solo work, one could imagine a Centro-matic album sounding like any combination of the three at anytime. Hearing that Will was describing Candidate Waltz as a, "meat-and-potatoes pop record" still left a sense of wonder at just what a Centro-matic "meat-and-potatoes pop record" would be. While the band has always had their share of more straightforward, pop oriented tunes on previous records, their records are not usually dominated by them. After finally getting to hear Candidate Waltz, I can say that Centro-matic have created a meat-and-potatoes pop record, and it is absolutely beautiful.
Ironically, the tune that opens the album, "Against The Line" has a sound that did not exactly fit the poppier sound that I was expecting to hear. The beat (provided here by live drums as well as an electronic sample) and the rhythm and bass guitar parts are very simple and stripped down, but the sound of the keyboard and overall vibe of the song made me at first think that the album would definitely be stripped down, but maybe not so heavy on the pop sound. The next seven songs would prove that Candidate Waltz was indeed as Will had described it. "All The Stalkers" opens with an infectious guitar riff and rocks all the way up until the band shifts tempo midway through the song. The shift in tempo in "All The Stalkers" still allows the band to show off their fantastic use of dynamics and provides a really pretty fade into the next portion of the album.
The next four tracks are really, to me, the highlight of the album. "Iso-Residue" has a driving bouncy feel to it, guaranteed to get your head bopping along. The keyboard adds some really great accents to this tune and really provides that extra element to the pop sound that the band was going for. At the point where the brief guitar solo kicks in, is where the idea of what the band was going for really became apparent to me. The guitar has a really distorted, beautiful gnarly tone that almost contradicts the other sounds around it. And that is where the beauty in this record lies. Centro-matic really had found a way to make a straightforward rock record, but keep the unique sounds they have become to be known for at the same time. "Estimate x 3" shifts to a slower tempo and is a beautiful song. The drums on this song sound really big on this but are used in such a way that they don't overpower the song, showing off the recording and production skills of Matt Pence. This song also features a fun clap and sing-along outro that should go over well in a live setting. "Only In My Double Mind" is the next track and has been featured as the first single off of the record. This song should really put Centro-matic on everyone's musical radar that does not yet know about the band. At first listen, I equated this song to a more rocking version of Wilco's "A Shot In The Arm." The sound on this track is absolutely huge as the drums, guitars, and keyboard pound out the rhythm. Will's vocals are really given a chance to soar at times on this one and they come through shining. The howling guitar solo towards the end of the song gives this song just the right kick it needs and really puts this song over the top. The driving, huge sound of "Only In My Double Mind" is followed by the fun and upbeat sound of "Solid States." This is another song that bounces along and is a prime example of a song that you just want to cruise around in your car on a perfect day with the windows down and the stereo cranked.
The album starts to come to a close with "Shadow, Follow Me," a nice down-tempo song that features some nice raw acoustic guitar work that compliments the sparse yet refined sound of the rest of the band. "Mercedes Blast" is another great little pop rock tune along the lines of "Solid States" that will have you bouncing along. The album closes with "If They Talk You Down." This is another track that would not sound out of place on any other Centro-matic album. Like the opening track, this is not the sound I would have expected to hear on this record. This song has a very aggressive feel that was much different than the rest of the album, but a very good song none the less.
All in all, Candidate Waltz is a very solid record all around and should help Centro-matic break through to a bigger audience. The album will be released June 21, 2011 and can be purchased on CD or LP here. If you would like to sample the bands music, they are offering a 24 song sampler from their previous albums for download here. Be sure to catch the band out on tour this summer, their live shows are not to be missed. They will be playing at Off Broadway here in St. Louis on July 5, see you there!