In 2016, I was left stupified by The Central’s Discovery of a Rat. It’s intriguing blend of saccharine pop and searing mathgrind demanded repeat listens, so I indulged, gorged, binged to the point where it ended up on my 2016 year-end list. (If you haven’t given in a whirl, you best check it out.) There’s really nothing else like it, so in a way I was left feeling like this was a total miracle of a record that could only happen at that time. How does a band follow up a perversely eclectic record like that? Their latest EP, Sick and Dying shows us how.
The lead-off tracks are cut from a similar cloth as Discovery, offering a familiar starting point of batshit unpredictability (“Polio Dancer”) while displaying a dedication to trippy melody (“Sick and Dying pt. I”). The ease at which they move through phases of stripped-down simplicity to merciless abrasiveness and back again is as impressive as it ever was. How they casually elevate easy ooh-ing to suffocatingly chaotic speaker-ripping blasts and noise within the span of a minute is a punchline by itself, but it also speaks to their range and forward-thinking nature. These tracks effectively set the tone without telegraphing the rest of the EP’s surprises, and retread little ground throughout their brief runtime.
The ploy of juxtaposing the unapproachable character of grind with the pleasure of hum-along melodies works just as well as it did in the past, if not even a little better this go around. This EP is delightfully uneven, quarantining their more intense moments to let loose with devil-may-care experimentation on a broad scale. There’s a substantial give-no-fucks attitude that can only be captured by placing a proper soul song (“Peace at Home”) in between mathy spazz (“Whatever Happens”) and a loop-heavy The Flaming Lips brand of dream pop (“Quite Mouse In Muscatine”). Where Discovery nestled into definitively more aggressive post-hardcore sounds, Sick and Dying forgoes most of that intensity. Instead, their efforts focus on perfecting an oddball atmosphere that was merely scratched upon by the prior release.
If last year’s Trumpeting Ecstasy taught us anything, it should be that grind works best with a broadened palette. There’s always room for high-quality short form songwriting, but today’s diversified tastes are welcoming of some much-needed contrast. The Central’s willingness to try just about anything and execute it convincingly (wait, no spaghetti western on here?) gives a listener’s ear a much-needed breather from the punishment of standard grind. But more importantly, they make use of this “breather” time (is it really a breather if it’s most of the time?) in a way that’s not just piss-in-the-wind ambient atmosphere or tired-er-than-fuck movie samples. Overall, Sick and Dying helps to paint a more complete picture of what this band actually is – whatever that is – as we get to hear them stretch out and flex some new muscles. It’s exactly the kind of thing you’d want from an EP; it’s not too familiar that it’s pointless and it’s not so weird that it feels like a one-off. It just shows their best work might be just around the corner.