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All the Falsest Hearts Can Try

(Quality Park; US: 9 May 2000)

Some musicians can pull off having a terrible singing voice and still manage to have successful careers (and Bob Dylan isn’t the only one). Many of these artists have unique voices, ones that make bad singing a particular art. But then there are voices that are so annoying that it’s painful. You can admire the chutzpah of the singer who even finds the courage to screech through an entire set of songs, but eventually you have to get up and leave just to give your ears a rest.

Centro-matic’s album, All the Falsest Hearts Can Try, is difficult to sit through for this very reason. The sheer bravery of making music this strained is impressive, but not impressive enough to make it worth a listen. The worst part about the compositions here is that they are deliberately bad. Or perhaps bad is the wrong word…deliberately irritating. These songs are deliberately irritating in order to make them more interesting, which really only makes the irritating qualities more pretentious. A good example is the plunking piano tune “Saving a Free Sea,” where the vocalist adopts a lazy nasal tone to sing a ballad. Bad enough as it is, Centro-matic compounds it superimposing the same vocal lines sung through a fuzzy megaphone effect.

The best way I can describe this album is by comparison. If you took the Eels, removed the sweetly-strained-but-melodic voice of E and the musical control with an effects board, you’d be close. You’d also have to mix in a heavy dose of old Replacements tunes. Keep in mind some kind of basement recorded Radiohead. Make sure the lead singer has an affinity to Kurt Cobain’s nasal drawl. Beat firmly but slowly, and…voila!...the mix for Centro-matic cookies.

I’m almost left with the impression of a band who received a recording contract and decided they were going to make a big joke out it. Band member Matt Pence has both recording and mixing duties. The band self-produced the disc as well. There’s an admirable quality that the band has in its willingness to take risks, but they usually miss the mark. Distortion and feedback are spread throughout the tracks with little regard for musicality. In fact, on songs like “Magic Cyclops,” it peaks into high pitches that overpower the rest of the music and warp the pop potential of the songs. “Huge in Every City” is as ambitious as a prog rock song, but features a repetitive middle that grates on the ears before climbing into a rising action that builds and builds until the edifice topples at the end of the song.

There’s a certain cheekiness that belies the serious nature of the songs, and the experiments in sound, both with instruments and structures, are certainly noticeable and draw the ear. You can almost peel the layers of the eight or 24 track recorder apart one by one. Rather than an ambient album of found sounds, this is more like a pop rock album made up of found rhythms, beats, chords, and instrumental noises and then pasted them all together in a deliberately artificial manner, ignoring all conventions of structure. But they can’t pull it off. This isn’t good headphone music because it would probably make your ears bleed and relies on textured volume effects. It’s not good home stereo music because there would be too much temptation to simply leave the room to get away from it. It would annoy the hell out of a party and cause thrown beer bottles if played live. The horrible dying guitar that closes the album is enough to seal its fate as garbage.

Patrick Schabe is an editor, writer, graphic designer, freelance copyeditor, and digital content manager, depending on the time of day. He has also worked in a gas station, at a smoothie bar, as a low-level accountant, taught college courses online, and cleaned offices, so he considers his current employment a success. Under his unassumed identity, Patrick holds a BA in English -- Creative Writing from Metropolitan State College of Denver and a Master of Social Science with an emphasis in Popular Culture Studies from the University of Colorado. He's currently at work on a first novel and a non-fiction piece on cultural theory. Patrick lives in Littleton, Colorado, with his wife, Jessica, who makes everything worthwhile.

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