If you read last year's Great Demo Review, you probably got a pretty good idea of just how overwhelming it can be to trudge through the number of submissions we get every year. Last year, we received 223 demos, the sheer weight of which very likely compromised the structural integrity of the CityBeat office. This year, our batch was a little bit more manageable: 153 demos. It's not 223, but it's still a lot of music.
This batch also comprises a pretty wide range of music. We still got the expected garage rockers, punks and reggae jam bands—and more than a few familiar names—but we also heard a lot of bands this year that think outside the box, with results that range from inspired to baffling. And we handled them as honestly as possible. Whatever opinions we had about these demos, we're putting them right here on the page—tough love has always been CityBeat's policy. But it's not all slams and snark; we've singled out eight of these as "EXTRASPECIALGOOD."
Whether you agree with our assessments or not, we hope it's at least entertaining—and that you'll come join us at the Local Music Issue party on Friday, Feb. 28, at The Griffin.
The Natalie Rose Demo
This hip-hop vet rarely lets me down, and this four-song mixtape (that literally came in on a cassette tape) was no different. Packed with dense lyricism ("Popular Opposites") and beats that made me wish I had one of those woofers that make your trunk rattle ("H.D."), here's hoping he gets it up online, as well, so the rest of the scene can hear it. 10-19thenumberman.bandcamp.com
Frankly, it's a struggle to be enthusiastic about 16 Sparrows: Their band name is about as apathetic-sounding as it gets, the songs aren't terribly dynamic and the last half of the record is lyrically clumsy, sung flat and devoid of any kind of inspired style. However, the first two songs, "Neptune" and "Put 'm Up," are beautiful, melodic folk tunes complete with rich, full-band harmonies and soft, soothing vocals reminiscent of Iron & Wine's Sam Beam. Ditch the name and the tired coffeehouse shtick— then make the vocalist in the first two songs the full-time singer and release a record. I'd buy it. 16sparrowsmusic.com
7hundercun7's music is like when a dream becomes a nightmare— underneath the thin sheen of pop lie disembodied voices, ominous effects and pitch-shifted sounds that would make David Lynch smile. Upon first listen, these perverted children's songs are extremely off-putting—similar to the effect of Disneyland's It's a Small World ride—but there are sinister moments of brilliance that are undeniable. The band's ability to make skin crawl with their sound alone is admirable, and not easy to do. However, after the eightminute hell ride of "+hru +h!ck @nd +h!n," the album's closer, "+wa+$k!n," feels a bit like one of Ween's throwaway, weird-forthe-sake-of-weird songs. 7hundercun7.bandcamp.com
Some old dudes got together to bang out snotty NOFX-style punk rock—so, basically, they're the '00s equivalent of a run-o'-the-mill classic-rock cover band. There's nothing memorable about high-speed jams like "Token Asshole" or "Good Morning You're Dead," but if one of these guys were my dad, sure, I'd be down. Beats another ungodly rendition of "Hotel California." thea-bortz.bandcamp.com
Action Andy and the Hi-Tones
High and Lonesome: The Fall and Rise of Hilo
Nothing predisposes me to dislike a record before I hear it more than the words "concept album." But Action Andy's High and Lonesome won me back. Without ever settling too long on any one style or letting it get stale, Andy and his Hi-Tones (all quality players) effortlessly tell their story through vignette-laden honky-tonk, Americana, rockabilly, blues and straight-up rock 'n' roll. actionandyandthehi-tones.bandcamp.com
The Action Figures
Oh, man. I always dread having to review the inevitable "dad rock" album, and one inevitably shows up in every batch of demos. It takes a cold heart to shit on these weekend warriors and their songs about kids, mortgages and 9-to- 5s. I mean, there's definitely some role-reversal charm on "Middle Age Rampage," an AC/DC-ish tune about the struggles that come with middle-class fulfillment, but I'm not your kid or your wife, so I'm not obligated to like this.
Afrojazziacs traverse an eclectic mix of Ethio-jazz, free jazz, hiphop and bossa nova in all of nine minutes. Both of the songs on this demo are great, and the playing— and recording quality—is nothing less than professional. It's tough to get a feel for what these guys are truly about from just these two songs, but I would love to hear more. facebook.com/afrojazziacs
Look, I have to listen to enough white-boy reggae just living in San Diego and, by now, I consider myself an expert in guys who look like Adam Duritz singing about how good vibes (and good weed) are helping them overcome their, um, struggle. AK has a decent-enough voice, but I'd tell him not to quit his day job if there weren't already a song about how he can't get one ("No Work for Hire"), in which he somehow manages to rhyme "eat" with "eat." #brilliant. liftedmuzikrecordings.bandcamp.com
Amateur Pool Party
Where Does the Time Go?
Oh, no. Not Amateur Pool Party. Anything but Amateur Pool Party. The music, it just keeps going. Crummy guitar noodling. Aimless lounge jamming. Cheapo keyboards. Some weird guy "singing." The second song went on for 12 minutes. There are 10 tracks total. It. Never. Stops.
Apoc & Brendan B
Three Song Demo
Beats, rhymes and life stories from two very capable MCs with references to everything from Michael Jordan and the Beastie Boys to Afrika Bambaataa and Kevin Smith movies. Best track: the oh-so-smooth "So Beautiful, So Boring," which could very well be about every girl I've ever encountered in the Gaslamp who, to paraphrase Brendan B, has a God-given nice ass to compensate for what she lacks upstairs.soundcloud.com/bigapoc
High Off of Love EP
Andrew Barrack's songs have that carefree island-pop feeling that Jason Mraz and Jack Johnson cornered the market on years ago. The instrumentation on its own is solid, but the vocals leave a lot to be desired. As a multi-instrumentalist, Barrack holds his own, but singing seems, for him, like a stretch, and he comes off flat on most of this EP. Nothing terribly original. soundcloud.com/andrew-barrack
—Jen Van Tieghem
Sex! Blood! Booze!
At any point in Batlords' Sex! Blood! Booze!, they can sound like an entirely different punk band. They pummel the listener with Minor Threat-style hardcore on "Warheads," do catchy, Ramones-style power-pop on "Screwdriver" and take an abrasively melodic approach à la The Damned on "Severed Heads." Which is to say that all of their songs are built on high-velocity, extra-fuzzy sounds, with plenty of reverence for the old school. The sound is pretty damn lo-fi, though, which generally works in your favor if you're going for noisy and sloppy punk recordings. Then again, it's also pretty hard on the ears, but that just means it's punk rock, right? soundcloud.com/batlords_sd
This is what happens when a band uses fancy production techniques and arena-ready arrangements in place of actual emotions. For all the fun.-aping bigness of this EP— chock full of sentimental piano lines, explosive club beats and lyrical clichés about love and war—it all rings wretchedly hollow. Belmont Lights could learn a lot from a single honest guy strumming an acoustic guitar. facebook.com/belmontlights
Written in Sand Beta Lion take a variety of paths to get to their downcast dream-pop; sometimes songs are built around a serpentine bass line, and others are powered by a buzzy guitar riff. But this quartet always gets to a soaring, arena-ready chorus that often sounds like Phoenix's popsavant brain tugging on Death Cab for Cutie's heartstrings. (It also reminds me of the great and underappreciated Northwest pop band Aveo.) Catchy, mostly! facebook.com/betalion
Introduction to the Further Perseverance
So, this fucking rocks. Despite being from a city not known for metal, Bhorelorde bring the thunder in heaping amounts. Heavily informed by the raw sludge of Melvins, High on Fire and Mastodon, Bhorelorde play a style of metal that's meaty and heavy but doesn't skimp on the melody. With plenty of hooks to go around, "14th & 1st" sounds like it could plow through anything in its path, all chugging power chords and soaring vocals. Introduction to the Further Perseverance is pretty solid all around, though the drums sound a little buried in the mix, which can dilute what makes a band sound heavy. This small blemish aside, Bhorelorde pretty much wail. bhorelorde.bandcamp.com
Bloody Stool Pigeons
For all intents and purposes, Bloody Stool Pigeons have the ingredients to make a solid demo: decent recording quality, competent musicians and the ability to maintain a 4/4 time signature. However, we're not in the business of rewarding mediocrity, and we get enough bar bands already that engaging with any of them feels like a waste of time. Kind of bluesy, kind of boozy, with simple rhymes and a prepubescent notion of love and marriage (as evident in the song "How Does it Feel"), Bloody Stool Pigeons are the band in every East County dive bar, playing for people on their fifth Budweiser and rocking out with a white man's overbite.
Quirky, moody instrumentals that pull stylistic influences from hip-hop, trance and other various genres. Not a ton of listenability here, but the disorienting feel of the tracks will definitely make you wonder if you ate a few hits of 2-CB.
—Joshua Emerson Smith
These guys sent in one song recorded at a rehearsal space ( judging by the sound quality, the recording device was located in a closed dumpster behind the rehearsal space) in hopes that they'd win the Local Music Issue "contest." Capable instrumentation, but too much unnecessary soloing and, for God's sake, there's fucking bongo playing! You lose the contest, boys. brothersherd.com