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Centro-Matic - Love You Just the Same

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Artist: Centro-Matic

Album: Love You Just the Same

Label: Misra

Review date: Aug. 26, 2003

The Same, Not The Same

If the sounds of early-90s Chapel Hill and Athens were given the red-carpet treatment that recycled ’80s indie rock received in the pop-nirvana of the last decade, “The Mighty Midshipman” by Denton, TX band Centro-Matic would be a bona-fide summertime hit. It boasts a swooping, perfectly sweet-sour hook, and the quick drum clip makes you want to gas up the car, roll down the windows, and drive around a little. Even though the lyrics don’t mean much, with the way vocalist Will Johnson leans on them – gently, with a slightly rumpled, gravelly croon – that all seems irrelevant. But there’s also an uninspired guitar solo, one that squeals its own cue and whispers “blistering” before quickly reining itself in. There’s no kick-in-the-pants where a Superchunk ass-thwacking might spell perfection. Some of its air rushes out, and that’s when you begin to wonder why this song isn’t on the radio. It’s catchy, but like a pair of old jeans, it doesn’t seem right ironed.

Love You Just the Same is a highly competent, if never spectacular, record. It’s crammed full of chiming piano backing and bridged by bah-dah-bah’s, as one pleasant power-pop melody fades into the next. To their credit, Centro-Matic give themselves a robust instrumental foundation, and on tracks like “Strahan Has Corralled The Freaks” the frenzied drum fills, swooning violin, and fuzzy guitar provides a sufficient lift. When Johnson doesn’t wander over the line – like Ryan Adams loose on the Lost Highway – he’s expressive without being “soulful.” At the same time, he baffles with lyrics about “supercars” and lightning rods (over cooing background vocals, of course). “Picking Up Too Fast” is one of the album’s really nice moments – a slurred, swaggering ballad that makes full, emotional use of its towering sound. For a good bulk of the time, though, Johnson sounds pretty heartfelt about a too-familiar bag of licks.

Of course, it could be argued that Centro-Matic have earned their polish. With a tall stack of cassettes, EPs, 7”s and full-lengths dating back eight years and a frequently grueling tour schedule, they wear their professionalism proudly. It’s clear that Love You Just the Same isn’t the typical case of bridging two decent, hummable, indie rock singles with thirty or forty minutes of pap; it’s a nicely orchestrated full-length. But during any given month, there’s a glut of similarly sugar-soaked indie guitar rock released, and this is a band that seems capable of successfully riding their tangents a bit further. When the drab, stripped-down “All the Lightning Rods” thankfully dissolves into “Reset Anytime,” there’s a tense and moody Idaho-esque atmosphere worth exploring, and the band does – in a handful of closing seconds where the mix shifts, allowing the percussion to wander while guitar, bass, and piano color in subtly fluctuating shades. It’s over too quickly, however, and this is a record that could use more of it.

In a mold that’s been fitted to death, Centro-Matic keep their heads comfortably above water for the duration of their Misra debut. At the same time, they never deliver the kind of sparks that the label’s endorsement usually insures (see: The Bruces, Shearwater, The Mendoza Line) and, in the end, it’s kind of tough to love them just the same.

By Nathan Hogan

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