AmericanA to Z – Centro-matic

Centro-Matic were a rock band formed in Denton Texas in 1995 who continued with the same four members, releasing 11 LPs and numerous singles & EPs until they disbanded in 2014. Seeing them was like hanging out with your older brother’s cool mates on a dreich school night.

No matter the apparent gloom, the rain would always seem to be gleaming while the big boy’s animated chatter and brooding cool remained compelling; giving a sense of boundless, jubilant possibility at the fringes of the night.  They would be a ragged and raw, open-hearted rock n roll machine, equal measures forceful fuzzed-out guitar, compelling catchy pop tunes and country-feedback. Always earnest and contemplative, frequently off-kilter but never off the rails. They’d be consistently convivial but never comfortable or settled. Laughter and tears, goose-bump inducing chills and moments of introspective reverie would ensue and there’d be shared beers, sweat, emotional connections and …

… well that’s what it (probably) felt like to be at a Centro-Matic show at Dan’s Silverleaf in Denton, down the front with 30 other diehard devotees, singing along to every abstract, untutored word; arm around Patterson Hood’s shoulder, together wondering at the marvel of what you were witnessing. At least that’s what I imagine it felt like. I never saw Centro-Matic live, I’ve never been to Texas, I’ve never met Mr Hood and I don’t even know all the words to one of their songs, let alone their entire oeuvre. But that’s still what I imagine it felt like, or perhaps what I want it to feel like. I can just about sense it now, over 5 years on from their demise, when I blast out (and you have to blast them) ‘Fidgeting Wildly’ or ‘Members of the Show Them How it’s Done’ or ‘Calling up the Bastards’ or ‘My Supermodel Girlfriend’ or ‘Part of this Accident’ or ‘Curb Your Turbulence (Rock Show is Coming)’ or … well, any-bloody-thing in fact. I feel myself taking the full force gale of their brooding but poppy racket, being submerged in Will Johnson’s majestic guitar, shoved from pillar to post by Matt Pence and Mark Herdman’s rhythm thumps and clangs and swooning over Scott Danbow’s keyboard and violin textures.

Ok, so if you know this band you might (probably will) feel differently about ‘em. You’ll wonder what the hell this idiot is talking about. ‘They weren’t majestic, or brooding or raw or anything like that, at all,’ you’ll be mouthing at your computer screens. Hold on though, you know (and I know) what’s what. We understand that’s the beauty, the gravitas of this band. They were all that and more to me but to you they were something else entirely. And that’s true, it’s real and it’s great as well. They were everything and nothing (baby). The core of Centro-Matic, their life-force, was this powerful duality; at once spiritual, humble beings hanging out on a rainy day and dirty bar-bound rogues, toting a sweaty AC/DC riff and existing in thrall to the guttural allure of rock n roll. Then always communicators of all this to us in a beautiful, life-affirming way.

You can experience this in the almost scratchy, introspection of some of their material set against the nearly bombastic hair-metal bashing given to other tunes. The abstract lyrical musings of the English Lit’ major versus the music industry ‘lifer’ whinging about ‘All the Talkers’ at his band’s gig. The classic rock nature and easy accessibility of much of the Centro-matic sound set against Johnson’s restless questing for new sounds and approaches to the music. Even in their love for the lo-fi authenticity of the “scrappy and trashy” four-track home production as well as the stylised and polished ‘big(ger) budget’ sound.

Such was the impact of these dualities that eventually they were made flesh when our four champions, led by Johnson, created another band to play, record and release music alongside Centro-matic (South San Gabriel – but that’s for ‘S’!). Importantly for our story here, the more introspective, poignant and reflective elements of their music were given full rein in SSG so Centro-matic were free to indulge Johnson’s ‘id’ and devote themselves to the pure unadulterated essence of rock n roll.

The true beauty of Centro-matic is how all these dualities, contradictions and conflicts can co-exist in one authentic band. They combine in a way that can create a genuine affective response to how shocking, heart-rending or gloomy life can be without ever making it seem impossible, without losing the hope or the recognition of the beauty that exists. They do this by combining the abstract and uncategorisable with the fundamental elements of the music we all love and there are very few bands that can pull off that trick. The thing is then, they can be just what you want them to be, whatever you want from them, whatever you are coming here for, you will always be welcome. The almost perfect band for these (and all) times.

The career: 11 albums and 8 EPs beginning with 1996’s ‘Transistor’

Key releases: ‘Mandatory on the Attack’ and ‘Flashes and Cables’ both below – plus check out their last ever show at Dan’s Silverleaf (Fidgeting Wildly @ 1:41:39) here (but make sure to watch the whole thing).

Author: Guy Lincoln

I’m a waning academic and hesitant PhD student taking on reviewing as a way to engage with something more meaningful. I’ve loved this Americana stuff since before it was even alt-country, so it’s time to see if I can communicate this feeling beyond my affective imaginings (I'm trying to escape from pseud's corner too!).

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