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Vultures Await

Will Johnson

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Album Review

As frontman for the hard-rocking melancholia of Centro-Matic and the minor-chord frailty of his South San Gabriel side project, Will Johnson cranks out music at an astonishing rate — 11 full-lengths in just eight years. More importantly, Johnson consistently hits emotional depths that his prolific peers — Ryan Adams springs to mind — bravely seek but rarely attain. Nowhere in the Johnson canon is this more true than on Vultures Await, a 12-song tour of raw heartache and bloodied redemption that invokes joy, admiration, and pain in equal intensity. Unfolding gently and more in the manner of South San Gabriel's Welcome, Convalescence than Centro-Matic's more anthemic material, Johnson plays all of the instruments but one on Vultures' elegantly simple arrangements, with Centro-Matic's Scott Danbom adding well-placed Appalachian fiddle accents to a few cuts. This makes Vultures a more luscious listen than Murder of Tides, Johnson's stark 2002 solo debut, though there remain a few voice-and-piano numbers that also recall the minor-key lamentations of John Lennon's post-Beatles work (especially the gorgeous "Just to Know What You've Been Dreaming"). But more varied instrumentation doesn't make this record any less haunting or profound — from front to back it carries an emotional heft similar to Bruce Springsteen's more narrative Nebraska, even if the themes and songs differ on their surfaces. Johnson's songs are spectral, nightmarish vignettes where once-fiery relationships simply succumb to entropy, the participants resigned to anger, sadness, and silence as the core heat leaves their lives. But beneath the surface of these forlorn elegies Johnson urges battle against the tyranny of fate, even as his characters "drown in silence." He opens "Just Some Silence" with this unequivocal warning: "The worst thing to do was just accept it/With no reservations, just some silence/It was an evil routine, an old exhaustion/So sleepy headed in the midst of disaster." Johnson delivers it all in his scruffy, wounded warble, often extending his long vowels into multisyllabic pleas for mercy. Seen in this overall light, Johnson's prolificacy is his own ongoing declaration to not go quietly into that good night, a fevered cry against a cold and ambivalent universe where love is as much a curse as it is a gift. When Johnson laments on "As Victims Would" that "We are not helpless/But do send help urgently," it is, like all transcendent music, our cry as well as the artist's.

Biography

Born: Denton, TX

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Will Johnson is one of the most prolific artists in American indie rock; while he's best known as the leader of the group Centro-Matic, he also fronts the band South San Gabriel, has recorded a number of solo projects, and has served as a sideman and producer for a handful of other noted acts, and he's released close to 40 records with his various ensembles outside of the dozens of compilations that have included his work. Johnson was born in Kennett, Missouri in 1971, and he developed a passion...
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Vultures Await, Will Johnson
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