Local CDs: Centro-matic, Shells, the Wheeler Brothers
Some recent releases from a veteran indie rock group with members here and in Denton and from two relative newcomers to Austin:
(Undertow Music Collective)
A lot of the time when a musician or musicians get as prolific as Will Johnson and the rest of Centro-matic, the quality of the product begins to wane. Occasionally there will be a bright spot or two but nothing worth wading through a collection of otherwise mediocre material. Despite putting out music at breakneck speed as Centro-matic and several other solo and side projects, Johnson and company have avoided sacrificing quality for quantity, as evidenced by their latest, "Candidate Waltz," which finds the band at the top of their game.
Unlike Johnson's sparse collaboration with Jason Molina last year, "Candidate Waltz" is distinguished by bright moments of hook-heavy rock. The band seems aware that their brand of lo-fi, often bare-bones rock runs the risk of becoming boring fast, and takes care to add interest to each track. On "All the Talkers," it's the energized chorus, which elevates Johnson's somewhat road-weary touring story to pop bliss. Abstract centerpiece "Only in My Double Mind" is reminiscent of Phil Spector via the E Street Band, with drums, guitar and pianos marching forward in a flood of pulsing sound. Even on the more subdued "Estimate x 3," which finds its way to soulful conclusion with hand claps and falsetto backing vocals, the band shows no signs of slowing down.
(Centro-matic plays July 10 with Sarah Jaffe, and Shawn Jones and Lauryn Gould of the Lovely Sparrows at the Mohawk; www.mohawkaustin.com .)
The Wheeler Brothers
Austin newcomers the Wheeler Brothers (Nolan Wheeler, Patrick Wheeler, Tyler Wheeler, A.J. Molyneaux, Danny Matthews), who formed while in school at Louisiana State University, throw their lot in with the likes of Centex Americana acts the Band of Heathens, mixing country rock guitars with warm, rootsy vocals. "Portraits" stakes out ground somewhere in the vast space between Band of Horses and the Avett Brothers. "Home for the Holidays" is closer to the former, with its big, Ben Bridwell-style mellow rock vocals and subdued electric guitar, while "Jersey" and "Just Another City" channel the latter with hefty doses of upbeat optimism and nods to the jam-grass that earned String Cheese Incident a loyal fanbase. Elsewhere, the Brothers' strength is in the details — lyrics conjuring hometown ghosts, debt collectors and drops of sweat give the album a surprisingly intimate feel.
'Dad Rock Confuser'
Another new-ish band to the Austin scene, Shells were formed in 2009 by lead singer/songwriter/guitars Ryan Lentell along with Michael Caviness on bass and drummer Jack Smith. They describe their music as Elvis Costello vs. Creedance Clearwater Revival, but John Fogerty seems to win out on "Dad Rock," as country rock leans toward the cosmic, with off-the-cuff guitars and spacey percussion scattered here and there. The informal "Full of Blood" manages to channel the Beatles without annoying, and "Mono Town," with Lentell's lazy, bluesy vocals and hazy guitar lines, evokes a humid summer night full of chirping crickets and booze. Likewise, "I Am a Number" is slow, Three Dog Night-style stoner rock that moves along with a slick acoustic guitar line and a maraca. Like the rest of the album, though, it's also well-crafted, with horns and harmonies dropped in at just the right moments.