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.
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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.
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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.