Love You Just the Same
By Ken Shimamoto
Back when Coner Oberst was still getting the shit beat out of him in high school, Centro-Matic singer-guitarist-songwriter Will Johnson was playing drums for Funland, sleepy Denton’s less-inebriated answer to Paul Westerberg’s mighty Replacements. Who woulda thunk, back then, that Johnson would wind up fronting a band of lo-fi indie popsters? Or that here in 2003, Centro-Matic would appear poised for The Big Time, actually making No. 2 on Rolling Stone’s hot list in a recent issue?
Early on, Centro-Matic was tarred with the Americana brush through an association with Son Volt’s Jay Farrar. There are also certain sonic similarities between Centro-Matic and Wilco, the band led by Farrar’s former Uncle Tupelo-mate Jeff Tweedy (the one that wants to break your heart). However, Centro-Matic is less rootsy than Uncle Tupelo and less self-consciously artsy than Wilco; for my money, there’s more heart on this record than there is on anything that’s emerged recently from either of those other two bands.
The songs on Love You Just the Same alternate moody introspection with mid-tempo Neil Youngian rock crunch, all dominated by Johnson’s soaring melodies and tortured tonsils. “Strahan Has Corralled the Freaks” sounds like nothing so much as Paul Westerberg being backed by the Electric Light Orchestra. On the ethereal “All the Lightning Rods,” Johnson’s raspy warble evokes early Bowie in the same way The Chemistry Set sometimes does. “Spiraling Sideways” rocks out like Wilco doing the ’Mats on Being There. The stately “Supercar” is propelled by drummer Matt Pence’s ever-precise crash and thump, ornamented with slide guitar, Hammond organ, and harmonium flourishes.
Between this solid, mature disc from Centro-Matic and the phenomenal success of their zip code mates, the Baptist Generals and Riverboat Gamblers, it’s starting to look like this could turn out to be The Year Denton Happened. Strange days are here, indeed.
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