South San Gabriel is Centro-matic plus friends (including Slobberbone's Brent Best), and as such is another outlet for Will Johnson's endless supply of songs. Where Centro-matic opts for full-on rock and Johnson's solo discs are exercises in Spartan recording, South San Gabriel bridges the gap, creating atmospheric, sonorous moods with spare guitars and Johnson's self-harmonizing vocals. The result is the best of both worlds and what may be Johnson's most listenable album (Centro-matic is too damn good in concert to ever be contained on record). The Carlton Chronicles is supposedly about Johnson's ill cat, but good luck figuring that out without the liner notes. It's a screwy conceit for a record, and therein lies Johnson's genius: making the mundane into tangible emotion, turning a faded Polaroid into a faded Super8 film projected on a garage wall. The details are grainy, but the mood is set after one listen. In the opener, "Charred Resentment's the Same," the intonation of "things will change for the better" becomes a mantra -- perhaps for a surgery-bound feline, or maybe for anyone in need of healing.
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