Centro-Matic's fifth album (and first under the band alias South San Gabriel) recalls the nervous anticipation that comes between snowstorms in the high plains, imploring the listener to get out for some 20-degree fresh air while you can before the next 16 inches arrive. If that sounds like a peculiar analogy, consider the album's telltale lyric, as Will Johnson sings on "With Broken Hands": "And we smile/Traveling for miles/There's some fits of conniption at hand." Stir-craziness never sounded so inviting. Johnson's hushed vocals help lend this atmospheric, gracefully paced record a contemplative quality; indeed, the booming, distortion-fueled melodicism of the band's other 2000 release, the extraordinary All the Falsest Hearts Can Try, is a distant memory, replaced by a wavering Casio keyboard here, an acoustic slide guitar and hauntingly stark piano there. There are a few exceptions to South San Gabriel Songs/Music's all-quiet rule -- the addictive drive of "Proud Son of Gaffney" and the barbed wordplay of "Glacial Slurs," chiefly -- but Matt Pence's thunderous drums are mostly held in check in favor of the record's overall muted tone. The tension-filled mood peaks on the penultimate track "Innocence Kindly Waits," a lovely, barbiturated waltz punctuated by Scott Danbom's screaming fiddle. The gently strummed epilogue "Destroyer" foreshadows the imminent snowstorm, just as the album's opening sounds of staccato typewriter keys on "Ninety Secretaries Down" hint at the tempered calm ahead. South San Gabriel Songs/Music paints the most beautifully grim picture imaginable, as these atmospheric, wintry songs suggest that sometimes nothing feels so warm as the cold air on the back of your neck.
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AllMusic Review by Charles Hodgkins