Every spring, more than 100 demo CDs, tapes and MP3 files pile up in CityBeats mailbox and email inbox as we prepare for that great annual tradition: The Great Demo Review. Its developed a reputation as being a place where dreams die: This year, we actually received a few demos with notes attached that read, Do your worst or Let us have it!
We dont write these reviews because we want to insult anyone. We do this because we want to hear absolutely everything that San Diego musicians have to offer. And every year, we find lots of great new music that we might not have otherwise discovered. We dub the best of the best as EXTRASPECIALGOOD, and this year, youll find quite a few demos that really blew us away.
Of course, there are a few that we werent crazy about, but thats just how it shakes out. No matter what, we gave it our precious time and offered our feedback. Sometimes it has to be tough love, but we do it because we care.
1019 and J. Treel
Treel Tales of Number Running
When Parker and the Numberman's 1019 The Numberman and Day-Go Produce's J. Treel do the Wonder Twins thing on their latest collaboration, they activate a winner. Amid sharp production from DJ PNutz, the two MCs deftly navigate this five-song EP to its apex—the anthemic album closer "Who Want It." To get technical, the 43-second "Yes Indeed" actually closes the album, one of two interludes included. And that's the only knock here: This tale is over almost as quickly as it begins. treelnumbers.bandcamp.com
Every time Ocean Beach cranks out a decent band that isn't white-boy reggae, an angel gets its wings. AJ Froman is good enough that they're likely responsible for a few pairs. They're an amalgam of rock styles from psychedelic to the straight-up variety, and their not-so-secret weapon is singer Sarah Norwood. Backed by quality musicians, she belts it out with the power of Grace Slick and the cool of Inger Lorre in '91. ajfroman.com
The 808 beats and dreamy synthesizers that open the first track on American Smith's CD are pretty typical of cloud rap, and American Smith has a lazy flow that's a little bit like a more grown-up-sounding A$AP Rocky. But despite the blog-rap opener, Smith leaps all over the map stylistically on this one, incorporating heavy rock guitars one moment and throbbing industrial synth the next. While nothing here is outright awful, American Dreams seems to lack focus; it's a little too all over the place, and Smith doesn't leave much of an impression, too often playing second banana to his backup singers. The basic elements are strong, but the way they come together leaves something to be desired.
3 Song EP
This came with a handwritten note describing Amigo as "rock / stoner rock." You'd have to be high to think the guitar tone on this demo is OK. It sounds like it's on Prozac—no highs, no lows. Ditch the Boss Heavy metal pedal. The second song has a Swervedriver thing going, which I kind of dig. Nice vocals. facebook.com/amigomusicsd
The one-woman indie R&B project of Alex Capella is certainly the type of stuff that prickly, bespectacled music critics like myself love to proclaim as the next big thing. Songs like "Gravity" and "Happy Tears" made me think of recent ingenues like FKA Twigs, Jessie Ware and BANKS, but EP closer "Pity Party" spoils an otherwise sexy vibe when Capella starts to rap for no real reason. The other four songs are fantastic, but not everyone should channel their inner Iggy Azalea. bakkuda.com
Ball Turret Gunner
The opening track ("Sloppy for Seconds") sounds like The Butthole Surfers' Gibby Haynes singing over a warped vinyl copy of Lenny Kravitz's "Are You Gonna Go My Way?" and it's downhill from there. Fans of Ween and early Liars might be able to make some sense out of what's otherwise nonsensical gibberish ("Cooking Up Meat Suits"?), but all I hear is LOL DIY that makes me go FML.
Certain Illusions EP
This quartet has gotten some well-deserved local buzz lately for their thoroughly enjoyable mix of somnolent psychedelia and guitar-heavy indie-rock. Songs like "Paper Chains" and "Paramnesia" are equal parts eerie and elating, paranoid and parable, with singer Jennie Grunstad's seductive voice providing the perfect balance to Tom Kaiser's driving guitars. bangladeshband.com
High Roller Zydeco
Now 20 years in and still going strong, this San Diego institution keeps the party rolling with their latest studio release. Another great collection of Cajun-flavored tunes, and there's not really much else to say. No one in San Diego does Zydeco better. bayoubrothers.net
I have no idea what the term "Unmanifest Transcendent" is supposed to mean, but who gives a shit—heavy-metalers BhorelordE rip it with their doomsday riffs and gloomy piano interludes, and that's that. bhorelorde.bandcamp.com
Sydney Blake and the Misters
The Dream Chase
The kind of strummy, charming pop that Sydney Blake and the Misters make is sweet, inoffensive, engineered-for-meet-cute-comedies indie pop that sounds like Mumford and Sons playing Zooey Deschanel's wedding. Blake has a great voice that's really impressive when she shows off her range. The band is talented, for sure, but it's just too damn adorable to take for more than a few minutes at a time. If two doe-eyed 20-somethings lock eyes from across the room at one of their shows, then maybe it'll all be worth it. But this is just too sugary for my taste. I blame the overuse of ukulele. reverbnation.com/sydneyblakeandthemisters
Shadow of Death
The classic sound of traditional heavy metal has been making a comeback recently, thanks to bands like Skull Fist, High Spirits, White Wizzard and Lord Magus, who make no attempt to veil their love of the heavy '70s (and '80s). Add to that list Blood Dancer, whose second album, Shadow of Death, is a seamless fusion of chugging riffs, twin guitar solos, machine-gun drums, anthemic choruses and soaring falsettos. Add in the band's love of fantastical lyrics—good luck maintaining your metal scowl while listening to "The Great Khan"—and Shadow of Death, is a rousing listen. facebook.com/blooddancermusic
Singer / songwriter Bloojeanne (whose real name is Becca) offers simple lyrics over simple acoustic-guitar riffs. While Keith Jarrett won't be giving her any session work anytime soon, her honest approach shows promise. Her lovestruck lyrics (narrowly) avoid sap and evince genuine, often-understated passion. This is a decent descent into folk in its most budding stage. Keep working at your craft, Becca. I have high hopes. soundcloud.com/bloo-jeanne
—Joshua Emerson Smith
This one came from Temecula. I was secretly hoping it was East Coast gangsta rap about navigating the mean streets of wine country. It wasn't. Instead, the non-descript CD contained a pair of nicely produced, beat-oriented instrumentals. A bit cold and austere overall, it shows promise of finding a nice middle ground someday between the more mainstream cuts by Burial and Entroducing-era DJ Shadow.
Neil Young-style country tunes with an emphasis on storytelling. Pleasant enough, but so generically boring that I fell asleep on my keyboard. So my original review was "/erbggfewiewwelfew;/" and a little bit of drool. These guys owe me a new MacBook.
Memoirs of a Moor
Before moving to San Diego, BrovaBey (aka Obed H. Bey) grew up on hip-hop in Philadelphia. And as they say, you can take the MC out of the East Coast, but you can't take the East Coast out of the MC. Listening to Memoirs, there are shades of EPMD, The Beatnuts and Big Daddy Kane. And that's not a bad thing. bandmine.com/brovabey
Combining the ambition of Rush with the chops of a fourth-grade flutophone ensemble, Butler specialize in clumsily performed rock opuses. I can't imagine ever listening to these gents in my off hours. However, I admire their energy as well as their goofy name, and you can never go wrong with a song whose key lyric is "I chopped off my head and gave it to my boss!" facebook.com/butler.music
Chiefs play heavy-rock / sorta metal—the kind of music that's not really my thing. But this is the CD I was dealt. So, I outsourced to CityBeat music editor Jeff Terich. "Yeah, it's kinda fun. Stoner rock-y stuff. Not the most original thing in the world, but I can kinda dig it." reverbnation.com/wearechiefs
A collection of almost unlistenable anti-folk, easy listening and drivel-soaked rock that includes a song that I can only describe as an operatic tribute to the Peanuts comic strip. Now that I write that, it kinda sounds cool, but I assure you, this "music" could be used to frighten off rodents and feral cats.