South San Gabriel The Carlton Chronicles: Not Until the Operation's Through

Apparently, this messily titled effort is actually a concept album about a sickly cat, and whether or not exploration of said concept is a good idea is actually beside the point. Will Johnson, taking time off from his band Centro-matic, has pieced together some fragile, emotive songs here and that’s actually better expressed through the music than whatever lyrical route, however misadvised, he takes. "Stupid Is as Stupid Does” is the longest song here, and it slowly weaves its spell through its steady, mournful beat, slide guitar and Johnson’s delicate, yet flawed, voice. It allows the carefully cultivated atmosphere of South San Gabriel to fully take shape and its instrumental ending easily brings forth ideas of dusty halls and aching desire. The most devastating vocal performance comes through "Predatory King Today” and the flutter in Johnson’s hushed voice affects more than any overdone screaming could. Coming very close to Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, a less eccentric Sufjan Stevens, and label-mate Great Lake Swimmers, Johnson and his South San Gabriel present a voyage well worth taking, despite the oddity of it being about a cat. (Misra)