Album Review

South San Gabriel - Welcome, Convalescence

South San Gabriel - Welcome, Convalescence

Although it advertises itself as having no fixed lineup, South San Gabriel is essentially the alter ego of Texas indie rockers Centro-matic. Recorded at Slobberbone frontman Brent Best's house in Denton (Best also guests on slide guitar, acoustic guitar and backing vocals), Welcome, Convalescence eschews Centro-matic's uptempo style in favor of beautifully languid melodies that exert a subtle, hypnotic pull. Kicking off with the subdued, haunting "New Brookland", the album establishes its pastoral motif right from the start. Singing in a wispy back-porch drawl (think Sparklehorse's Mark Linkous, with a dash of Vic Chesnutt), songwriter/frontman Will Johnson serves up cryptic ruminations about fragility, both psychic and physical, that are perfectly suited to the skeletal arrangements which house them. While songs such as "Like A Madman" (a simple vignette about a couple dying of carbon monoxide poisoning) are unambiguous in theme, Johnson clearly prefers to deal in painterly abstracts. Other high points include "Saint Augustine", which begins as a stark acoustic guitar ballad before flowering into a stately piano-driven epic, and "The Splinter Angelic", which sounds like Neil Young under heavy sedation. In fact, whereas Centro-matic sometimes brings to mind a sort of indie version of Crazy Horse, South San Gabriel could be construed as a battery-drained version of solo Young. One thing's for sure: Quiet desperation rarely sounds this enchanting.