The Central – “Sick and Dying” (Sassbologna)

The Central is a duo from Madison, Wisconsin that describes their sound as “Midwestern schizophrenic grind.”  Certainly this description is partially comprehensive to describe their new album, Sick and Dying, released back in February.  However, with the release of this album it seems that The Central is at a crossroads, poised to transcend genre boundaries and assert their unique voice on a broader audience.

On Sick and Dying, The Central basically divide their sound in three.  One sound is the aformentioned grind, a jazz spazz splash built on the foundation set by Dillinger Escape Plan and old Slap-a-Ham records that is all the rage these days.  Short, frenetic stop/starts, 180 degree turns in song structure, blitzing guitar runs, spastic drumming, and screamy, Johnny Whitney-esque vocals, with a little bit of In on the Killtaker-era Fugazi guitar rhythms helping to anchor things down.  The Central do grind with a wall of sound approach, with less focus on soloing and more on developing a whirlwind atmosphere.  This sound is evident on “Polio Dancer,” “Whatever Happens,” and the muscular “Infinite Pockets” – it hits you quick and dirty but leaves a lasting impression.       

The Central do grind and do it well, and grind does seem to be the band’s most deeply imbedded influence.  However, after the blasting opening track “Polio Dancer” they pivot drastically on “Sick and Dying pt. 1,” moving into a more emo, arpeggiated sound with clean vocals, which continues later in the more trance-like “Sick and Dying pt. 2.”  Again, they are as adept at this style as they are with grind, and it helps to break up with the assault of the grind tracks.

The third sound on “Sick and Dying,” evident on the remaining tracks “Peace at Home,” “Aqua Fear,” and the epic “Quiet Mouse in Muscatine,” is more nebulous and harder to define, but basically comes across as hazy psych dream-pop.  Finger snaps, repetitive xylophone runs, sleigh bells, field recording industrial clanging, and other adornments help establish the blissed out mood.

Certainly The Central spend the course of Sick and Dying hopping from sound to sound.  However, the one element that glues it all together (besides their excellent musicianship) is also their secret weapon: their powerhouse harmony vocals.  Most of the tracks, regardless of style, focus on beautiful, multipart harmonies.  However, The Central don’t seem to be taking their cues from Queen, the kings of soaring harmonies in heavy music, instead pursing a more soulful approach that sounds inspired by ‘60’s Psych/jazz vocal harmonies.  This facet really helps The Central stand out from many of the other bands in the grind genre.

Sick and Dying is a very satisfying listen, over fairly quickly yet covering a ton of musical ground and offering up many new ideas during its brief run time.  While I don’t know anything about The Central outside of this release, I can’t help but think it sounds like a strong transitional album a la The Men’s “Open Your Heart,” with the band chasing all of their ideas down and seeing what sticks.  If this is the case I look forward to seeing where the pursuit of their muse takes them.               

– Storm Ross

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