Centro-matic‘s new album, Dual Hawks, is the band’s 9th full-length since it formed in 1996. Dual Hawks is also the 3rd full-length from Centro-matic’s atmospheric doppelganger South San Gabriel which was formed in 2001 by the 4 members of Centro-matic in order to accommodate the quieter side of Will Johnson‘s prodigious output.
In the era of mp3s, the bands have taken the unusual step of releasing a double-album containing one disc from each group. As a whole, the album highlights the differences between the two bands. While the Centro-matic side of Dual Hawks rocks in way that recalls the band’s raucous debut (Redo The Stacks), the South San Gabriel side is much more subdued – layering strings, piano, horns and guitars around Will Johnson’s voice to create the most beautifully haunting and fully realized South San Gabriel album. The result is a double-album that succeeds on both ends of the musical spectrum and never feels bloated or at odds with itself.
The GloNo Video crew caught-up with Centro-matic during the bands’ two-night stand at Schubas Tavern in June and put together dual videos profiling both Centro-matic and South San Gabriel. Check ’em out after the jump…
Since his first 7-inch single in 1995, Chris Mills has consistently expanded his musical palate with each new release. That initial 7″, entitled Chris Mills Plays and Sings, and the 1996 EP Nobody’s Favorite featured minimally produced, 4-track, acoustic-based recordings that showcased Mills’ “older-than-his-years” vocals and his knack for writing beautifully dark songs. Since it was the height of the “No Depression” movement and Mills resided in Chicago, he was quickly tagged with the “Alt-Country” brand.
But Mills had more ambition than to become another acoustic guitar totting, singer/songwriter. His first full-length album, 1998’s Fight For Your Life, electrified and rocked-up Mills’ songs surrounding him with bass, drums and an occasional piano or cello garnish. His next album, 2000’s Kiss It Goodbye, added more strings and horns to the production. While both albums were basically straight-ahead rock records, they contained enough twangy guitar and downbeat acoustic material to endear him to the No Depression set.
GLONO catches up with upstate New York’s The Felice Brothers and discovers a new term: Saloon Core. Bust out your suspenders and dust off your squeeze box, it’s party time.
The first time I saw The Felice Brothers perform, I hadn’t even heard of the band. They were the opening act for Son Volt at the House of Blues in Chicago. Since the show was a Chicago Cubs charity benefit, I assumed that The Felice Brothers were either; a) the pet-project band of some Cubs’ player who fancied himself a rock and roller in the off-season; b) a Cubs’ player’s son’s band that said-player had finagled into the opening slot; or c) a local band who was playing its biggest gig since last summer’s Wrigleyville Street Festival. Thankfully, none of these assumptions were correct.
Instead, I was treated to one of the best new bands I’ve seen in years. In fact, I was mesmerized by The Felice Brothers’ set, and they immediately joined a very short list of great bands that I’ve first discovered as an opening act. The band had managed to turn the House of Blues into a back porch hootenanny (no small feat when the audience is paying six dollars for beer in plastic cups), and they quickly won over the audience; not only holding the crowd’s attention but managing to get them dancing and singing along.
A Brief History of the Best Unsigned Band in America (no shit)
A lot has been written about Two Cow Garage on this website and not enough has been written about the band elsewhere. While groups like My Morning Jacket, Kings of Leon, Band of Horses and Midlake have received critical acclaim as great new Americana/roots rock/alt-country/ (insert your favorite label here) bands and have consequently gained national followings, Two Cow Garage has been almost completely ignored, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why.
It certainly isn’t laziness – Two Cow routinely plays 200 shows a year across the country. It definitely isn’t a lack of talent – over the course of three albums, the band has shown obvious growth both lyrically and musically. It could be the band’s self-effacing attitude – all of the members are humble to a fault, and the music world thrives on big personalities and big egos (they make for better quotes and better stories). It might be the band’s name – somehow it seems to evoke the image of a suburban cover band. “Two Car Garage?” is usually a person’s first response when I mention the band to someone who hasn’t heard of them (which is, unfortunately, most people). Or, I suppose, it just may have something to do with bad timing – as one of the band members observed recently, “Rock and roll is just not really cool right now. And we are definitely not cool.”
Being labeled a “great bar band” is a double-edged sword. It’s a music critic’s way of praising a band and marginalizing them at the same time. The subtext of this over-used phrase is, “this band plays good, loud, infectious rock that will go down well with your PBR on a Saturday night in a small club, but don’t expect them to rise to popularity or artistic heights of Radiohead or Wilco or R.E.M. or any other band that can sell out stadiums and two-tiered auditoriums at $40 a ticket (+ handling fees).”
Nowadays just playing good rock music isn’t enough to get a band noticed. Critics are always looking for the next big thing… the next Strokes… the new White Stripes… something different… something challenging… something else. So a band had better get to reinventing the wheel if they want to become critical darlings.
As the lone songwriter for two active bands, Centro-matic and its offshoot South San Gabriel, you would think Will Johnson would have ample musical outlets. After all, Centro-Matic has released 8 albums in its ten-year career, as well as several EPs and 7-inch singles, while South San Gabriel has released two full-lengths since forming in 2003. But Johnson’s abundant song output (somewhere between Ryan Adams and Bob Pollard on the songwriter’s proliferation chart) has necessitated a solo career resulting in two more albums, Murder of Tides and Vultures Await.
Not that any of this has come close to soaking up the hundreds of songs Johnson has written that have never been recorded for a proper release. (He says he records all songs on a four-track as soon as they are finished and then sorts through them for those that best fit his current project.) Johnson’s favorite place to write is a walk-in closet at his mother’s house. When asked why that location seems to be so fruitful, he shrugs and says “it’s kind of like a womb… warm and dark and comfortable.”