Ask any indie rocker worth his stage weight in CDRs: He’d sell Grandma into roadie intern hell for a sliver of Centro-matic’s cred. The prolific Denton, Texas, four-piece has been together for a decade and has never been the subject of a glossy cover, received a second’s worth of commercial radio airplay, or played MTV’s spring break.
The band occasionally accepts invitations to tour with the likes of My Morning Jacket, and flies above the radar—but just to loot the unwashed as gently as possible, then dissolve back into heavenly earth. For a band that’s been carefully shaping its brand of rococo rot over the course of about 10 full-lengths (not including side projects), Fort Recovery sounds awfully wishy-washy, like an acquiescence to pop and hence a passive-aggressive challenge to the band’s indie-4-life fans. Cut the nicely harnessed feedback, scoot the crackling drums to the back, and swap Will Johnson’s impenetrable jabberwocky for some calculatedly disheveled poetaster’s hash, and “Covered Up in Mines” would snap, crackle, and pop like a Top 40 chart. Same goes for “For New Starts,” a swaying song-length crescendo from an imagined arena-rock anthem, and “Patience for the Ride,” a jangling, twangy jaunt that under close inspection scans as arty protest but otherwise is merely a severed hand paging through No Depression.
Yet even when unusually hammy, Centro-matic still rule. Whatever kinds of guitars Johnson and Mark Hedman play rip through salty artifice like rusty chainsaws (a tone often achieved by perforating amp heads with a screwdriver). The aggravated growl in “Thermatico” subdues both drummer Matt Pence’s inimitably subterranean stomp and Scott Danbom’s bottom, and fueled by judiciously placed gray strokes of piano, vibraphone, violin, and Rhodes, the guitarists’ gentlemanly bombast transforms the entire polycarbonate grisaille into one helluva manhole cover. Moral, maybe: No matter how rational Johnson and his non-merry men appear or how far they’ll go to fuck up a perfectly respectable pop confection, they’re always gonna be Centro-matic—until they aren’t.
Centro-matic play Mercury Lounge April 2.