Slow Motion Centerfold may seem rather anomalous when viewed alongside the artists we’ve featured in the past on the Ampeater Review. We tend to shy away from music with blatant popular appeal, and the music featured in this particular review has a lot of that. Both tracks could be massive radio hits. Nevertheless, I feel that the appeal of Slow Motion Centerfold’s music extends far beyond the popular and borders on the universal. The Nashville-based quintet draws together the best qualities of mainstream pop-rock, implements them with unparalleled expertise, and forgoes the undesirable bullshit often associated with the genre. Biases aside, it was a band that needed to be written up.
A-Side “Alma Rose” was the track that convinced me. I first heard it several months ago and it’s floated in my head ever since. “Alma Rose” is packed with hooks so memorable that each one could merit a hit and, in sum, they amount to an epic hit. It begins with an ephemeral and melodic guitar riff that soars when the full band kicks in behind it. From here the band sinks into a more subdued verse, fueled by a drum and bass groove reminiscent of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, circa 1999. That comparison is no doubt bolstered by the voice of Alex Hall, whose extensive dynamic phrasing and subtle drawl hint at the power hidden behind the smooth poise. When the chorus finally hits, it delivers all we could hope for, melodic and powerful.
“Alma Rose” derives its unique (oxymoronic?) polished power in part from expert production. Slow Motion Centerfold’s debut album, Rock the Body Language, bears the mark of producer Brian Virtue, whose résumé includes work with main-stream rock icons like Jane’s Addiction, 30 Seconds to Mars, Audioslave, Deftones, etc. The album is a bit of a throwback to these commercially successful rockers-the crunch of power chords and crash of symbols come across as heavy yet accessible.
Commercial may seem like the antithesis of indie, but it doesn’t have to be. To be commercial, an artist must be popular. An artist cannot be popular unless it appeals to the listener. When you tweak that notion, the rejection of popular music signifies the rejection of the listener. We must then be suspicious of the artist that claims to not give a shit about the public, then, for such claims are inherently paradoxical. An artist with a true distain for the public wouldn’t bother to release an album or perform a show. To do so engages the listener and invites feedback, whether positive or negative. So, in a sense, doesn’t all music seek to be popular?
“Alma Rose” contains much more than the fluff we’d expect from a track with such immediate appeal. The title lyric is a reference to a violinist who was deported to a concentration camp, where he was forced to lead an orchestra of prisoners as they played for their lives. B-Side “Super Grand Master” reveals a similar hidden weight. On first glance, it seems like a textbook pop-rock anthem with so many memorable sections that it’s hard to determine which one is the real chorus. (Is it the vocal harmonies at 43-seconds? The hits at 49-seconds? The unexpected heartbreak chord and reggae backbeat at 53 seconds?) Hidden behind these immediate pleasures, however, the lyrics reveal a mix of highbrow geekdom and punk attitude. The title is a reference to chess, and the verses were conceived as a “string of couplets.” Meanwhile, guitarist Chris Smith describes the principle theme as a “rally cry against narrow minded anti-visionaries who sleep in silk pajamas and are scared of people with Mohawks.”
Slow Motion Centerfold manages to weave these seemingly disparate elements together with ease. That stems in part from the fact that the band is comprised of childhood friends and includes a pair of brothers. Smith notes that “longterm friendship and brotherhood make the songwriting process more challenging but more rewarding. There is a great deal of trust and awareness of what we are all capable of contributing to a song, so if someone’s slacking, they aren’t going to get away with it.” It may be a mixed blessing, but I feel as if the bond between members is a significant element in the equation-it endows the music with added personality and comfort. Process may also factor into it. Slow Motion Centerfold’s compositions all stem from instrumental hooks but were developed piece by piece, as the band members were once scattered across different states. Hall observes that, “We used to write songs by sending pieces of demos through email. Then we’d put everything together during live rehearsals. We still work in this way even though we live in the same zip code.” In the process, we see an inherent balance between the immediate that the reflective-creation and revision.
We can all rattle off a short list of artists that have managed to appeal to the public and the critics alike. However, we tend to view these artists as an exception to the rule, and marvel at how they’ve struck a balance. Slow Motion Centerfold has carved a much more holistic path. Where other artists have seen inherent conflict and struggled for compromise, Slow Motion Centerfold has found the potential for symbiosis. Popular and immediate appeal serves as a gateway to the heavier stuff. It does not detract from the more enduring qualities of the music but, rather, allows the impatient easy access to those qualities.
I’ve been meaning to write up Slow Motion Centerfold for several months. Instead I procrastinated. With each month, I was afraid that I’d miss my window, and that the band would make it big before I got to it. Lucky for me, that hasn’t happened yet, but I’m certain it’s just a matter of time. Now and then a hit comes along that deserves the heavy rotation it gets. The two tracks featured in this review could be those hits. I wouldn’t mind hearing them in car commercials or piped into the aisles at CVS. For now, though, let’s enjoy them from the comfort of our home stereos.
https://ampeater.s3.amazonaws.com/aem140/01 Alma Rose.mp3
Super Grand Master
https://ampeater.s3.amazonaws.com/aem140/02 Super Grand Master.mp3