It’s a tough music world for side projects. Endlessly compared to main projects, no matter how different, they bear the brunt of greatness indirectly. (The Postal Service are perhaps the only/biggest exception to this.) Even if your main project isn’t so hugely famous, the side project is almost always subject to wider criticism. Perhaps it’s the phrase “side project.” It almost sounds too much like “seeing someone on the side.” Perhaps we feel obligated to hate the side project because we get the sense that it detracts from the original.
Central Services are no different. A few months back, there was a hot comment debate over members of Central Services and their musical pasts. I will not remark further that that, because really, it doesn’t matter. Central Services is the band members’ musical present. Still, I can’t help but wonder if Central Services could’ve escaped such scrutiny if some of its members weren’t in the more frequently known Math & Physics Club.
Math & Physics Club hail from the Northwest (my hometown of Seattle, I believe), and sound a lot like Belle & Sebastian. A little too much like Belle & Sebastian (not new, rocking B&S but older, mopier B&S) for my tastes, but still adept and talented at what they do. Central Services often get cast off as sounding like Math & Physics Club, which, to my ears, is an egregious error. Are they poppish, like Belle & Sebastian or Math & Physics Club? Yes. Are they often subtle and subdued like Belle & Sebastian or Math & Physics Club? Yes. If I played the bands successively or concurrently, would I mistake them for B&S or M&PC? Absolutely not.
With such matters fighting against them, Central Services have produced a record that is full of — I hate to say it — potential. Their self-titled debut has its struggles, its weaknesses, but it also has its moments that impel you to turn up the volume or move closer to your speakers.
They attempt to kick-start things off with two quick-paced openers, but by the third track, “Fun (While It’s Lasted),” it’s shown that this band finds its true home within the mid-slower tempos. (Admittedly, this track is a bad choice if I’m trying to show how unlike Belle & Sebastian or Math & Physics Club they sound, but seriously, this is the closest it gets. Also, it’s too good to resist putting here.)
Central Services: “Fun (While It Lasted)” (download)
Though there’s not any big stand-out track in particular, each has its charms: on “Tear Me Down,” the singer’s voice reminds me so much of Ben Folds it surprises me. “She Was My Ride” is a charming tale of an unusual love triangle. “Song ’89” is a well-chosen song brought over from their debut EP. But closer “Over & Over” is probably my favorite selection from the album. I would go into why, but I honestly can’t, because I can’t pin-point any particulars about what it is that gets to me. I just know that every time I hear it, it sounds new, and that’s what will really keep me coming back to this album.
Central Services: “Over & Over” (download)
This pre-occupation with Top 10 lists gets to me, because often I feel like those lists indicate that there wasn’t anything else worth listening to. Solid but not ground-breaking or hype-driven albums like this suffer in the process, and it’s a quiet shame. So when you need a rest from the TV On The Radios, The Knifes, Joanna Newsomes and Beiruts of the year (and believe me, you will), let this be your escape.