- Candidate Waltz
The opening seconds of Centro-matic’s new Candidate Waltz let you know that this time out something’s a little different for the boys from Texas. “Against The Line” fades in on a synthed-out guitar line popping, swirling, and percolating all by itself for a few moments – just before a crunchy (and far more Centro-matic-sounding) rhythm guitar punches out a few stark chords to usher in the rest of the band. It’s a dramatic way to open the lid on the album’s nine songs; the band catches your ear and baits your mind with tension, drawing you closer to hear just what is going on … and then they gotcha.
Some of the big, thick guitar textures of Centro-matic’s past are gone on Candidate Waltz, replaced by rhythms and dynamics that drive the songs home in a different way – while leaving no doubt that this is a Centro-matic album. All the usual suspects are here: Scott Danbom on keys; Mark Hedman on bass; guitarist/vocalist Will Johnson penned all the tunes; and drummer Matt Pence co-produced the album (with guest Scott Solter), seeing the project all the way through the mixing and mastering stages, as well.
You might suspect Pence’s percussion talents as having an influence on the album’s sound, but this is a band of co-conspirators. Put an ear to “Only In My Double Mind”: every available limb – every key, string, and, yes, drumstick – joins forces to create that massive beat that allows the vocals to soar high above (or is it behind?) and snatches of feedback and guitar squall to come and go. And that’s Pence doing the crazed octo-drummer thing on “If They Talk You Down”, pulling off flurries of inhuman rolls that should have resulted in a trip to the emergency room – but Hedman’s pounding bass line and the chuck-chuck-chucking guitars are just as guilty.
Don’t be thinking that this is all in-your-face stuff: Pence seeded Candidate Waltz with plenty of surprises. Dig Danbom’s delicate piano on “Shadow, Follow Me”, mixed so it’s right up in your lap, no matter what goes on behind it. “Iso-Residue” could easily be a pop masterpiece cut by the late, great Jay Bennett. And “Estimate X 3” is an honest-to-the-baby-Jesus soul song, working itself right up to a do-woppish vocal at the end that just begs for handclaps.
“All The Talkers” is a 5-minute-and-23-second rock opera that absolutely nails the momentary glory of a nameless band that unexpectedly wins the hearts of a nameless crowd (or at least gets them to shut up and actually listen) in a nameless club on a nameless night. The song comes slamming in on the back of a series of big, majestic chords; makes its way through the head-shaking, after-the-moment realization that “it was not like the night before”; and fades into the night as Hedman’s gently-plucked bass and Danbom’s keys make sure all the lights are off.
And there are moments of “it must be Will Johnson” guitar throughout Candidate Waltz – you know what I’m talking about, right? Johnson is a master of milking every drop of tone out of his guitar/amp combo; whereas many players need to flex their muscles with as many notes as they can possibly fit into any given moment, Johnson has the confidence to let a note evolve into hot-tube-driven feedback and then explore the harmonics contained within. If I had to pick one example on Candidate Waltz, it would be the final minute and fourteen seconds of “Mercedes Blast”: Johnson’s Tele makes its way to the forefront of the mix with slow-paced swoops of sound that come in syrupy but begin to get crackly around the edges before he eases into the next thought. At the 3:55 mark, Johnson goes into pure “Cinnamon Girl” mode with a pair of strings playing off each other in simple, ragged glory. The song glides to a halt with one big rumbly chord hanging in mid-air; there’s a pause for breath, followed by a short bit of drums. There’s still an undertone of amp hum – and a final few slow-paced over-driven notes to seal the deal on that “Cinnamon Girl” thing with a tape’s-still-rolling peek-behind-the-curtain moment at the fade.
Candidate Waltz is the sound of a band who, after a decade-and-a-half of playing together, continues to realize who they are and what they’re capable of. Pay attention, now: they’re not searching – they’re just plain being. And it’s good.