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Centro-Matic - Fort Recovery

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Artist: Centro-Matic

Album: Fort Recovery

Label: Misra

Review date: Apr. 2, 2006


It's an album that sneaks up on you; there's nothing remarkable on the first couple of tracks, an engaging mix of worn-soft, world-weary vocals and churning, roiling Crazy Horse guitars. Centro-Matic's seventh full-length takes its time getting going, showing a few Silkworm sparks in the crunch of "Calling Thermatico," an insinuatingly memorable chorus in the laid-back "Patience for the Ride." Low-key, well-crafted, literate, Fort Recovery seems, for its first half, to be destined for the "done" pile records too good to trade in but not quite great enough to play on your own time.

Then, unexpectedly, a full six tracks into the album, the whole thing explodes with "For New Starts," a stately, circling 12/8 melody that exceeds the space given to it, spilling over in euphoric abundance, and setting Fort Recovery on a trajectory to greater things. It's like watching the winds catch a boat's sails suddenly...same weathered boat, same hand-made materials, but transformed by invisible energy into a whole different experience. "Where did this come from?" you might catch yourself saying, as the cut takes wing in raggedly glorious cacophonies of wordless singing and spiraling guitar. The better question is, "Where is this going?" as the song kicks off an intense and wonderful second half.

The trend continues with the falsetto'd intensity of "The Fugitives Have Won," where songwriter Will Johnson's voice flutters stoically over the churn of distorted guitars a lovely shimmering keyboard line. "Monument Sails" is more defiant, more rock and better, the verse submerged under a chaos of feedback, the chorus emerging in free-wheeling triumph from the roil, cymbals crashing. "Trash Heaps and Triggers," also the centerpiece of an extended EP, has the palm-muted chug of Joel RL Phelps' desolate rockers, mournful in its tone and stoic in its unstoppable rhythm. Most of the album is densely packed with sounds, yet there's a lightness, a staccato soul feel to "Take the Maps and Run," as its upper-register vocals play tag with space-flecked guitar and drum lines. Closer "Take a Rake" is a majestic waltz, long legato guitar notes bending, stretching and coming to sudden halts under the melodic sweep of the chorus. Tightly harmonized vocals pour like syrup over the scratchy, distorted surface of the song, so that it embodies struggle and resolution all at once.

It's admirable, in a way, that Centro-Matic is not in any hurry to catch your interest. Ten years and seven albums on, this band has figured out that the flighty, the trendy, the ADHD generation are simply not their audience. So, perhaps it is not as career-destructive as it seems that on this slow-burning CD, the second half is better than its first, or that the best track comes not first or third but sixth. Sometimes good things really do come to those who wait.

By Jennifer Kelly

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