March 2 2011 10:30 AM

Our music nerds review every San Diego band that sent something in

    Ever since we started doing the Local Music Issue in 2004, CityBeat's Great Demo Review has worked like a musical game of Russian roulette. The formula is simple: We put out a call for CDs and our team of music nerds reviews everything that comes in. Occasionally, what we hear is great. Usually, it's so-so. Often, it's terrible. Whatever the case, we give you our honest opinion—no matter how ugly or mean that opinion is. Back in 2005, Seth Combs even urged one band to “eat a dick.”

    Well, strangely enough, many of us weren't so mean this year. Maybe the music was better. Maybe Combs is growing soft (hmm, no, I don't think so). I don't know why; that's just how it happened. But while some of you might be disappointed that we won't be telling any musicians to go eat a dick in this issue, you can be reassured that we're still being honest. (And, hey, there are still some zingers, too.)

    The fact is, of the 170-plus demos, EPs and full-lengths we got this year—the vast majority from artists we'd never heard of before—a surprising number of them were good. There was mesmerizing electro-psych (The Big Thank You), beautiful country-folk (Trouble in the Wind), even some excellent hip-hop from an MC who used to be homeless and addicted to prescription drugs (Zany-Zane). And those weren't even the 10 artists we deemed “EXTRASPECIALGOOD.”

    Whether you're pissed that we trashed your band, or that we didn't trash your band enough, we'd still love to hear from you. Come air your grievances at the Local Music Issue party at Bar Pink on Wednesday, March 2.
    —Peter Holslin


    Act Natural sounds like a
    U2 tribute band that decided to write original material. If that
    doesn't sound lame to you, then be sure to check out “Kingdome,” a
    top-40-style rocker replete with a swooping chorus and guitar parts that
    could be arranged for strings. But even fans of Keane (you know, the
    Coldplay knockoff) will lose interest halfway through “Deadman,” the
    second track on this CD, a dreary ballad that drags on for
    six-and-a-half minutes.
    —Peter Holslin

    Dear Professor

    An unmastered copy of Dear Professor came
    to our office in a tiny yellow handbag stuffed with hand-decorated
    bookmarks: Yeah, this band is that adorable. The album overflows with
    romance and whimsy, thanks in no small part to singer-guitarist Adam
    Powell's allegorical lyrics and the band's lush arrangements (xylophone,
    banjo, accordion, horns, etc.).

    But songs about distance
    (“One Thousand and Eleven Miles Away”), growth (“Underwater Savior Part
    Two”) and faith (“Mystery”) show emotional depth beyond fairytale
    romance. Play this when you propose to your cardigan-wearing, Neutral
    Milk Hotel-loving significant other.
    —Peter Holslin

    It's All In Your Head

    Rap-rock should have
    died with Kid Rock's li'l hype man, but if it's here to stay (groan) we
    can at least be grateful for Jaimie Block-Smith's low, bellowing female
    vocals. It's hard to upstage the “greats” like Linkin Park and Limp
    Bizkit, but there will always be androgynous teenage faux-cutters, and,
    therefore, there will always be people who will really enjoy this band.
    —Sammi Skolmoski

    The Man EP

    With so many indie lo-fi
    bands ripping off '90s R&B these days, it's nice to know that some
    people are still doing the real thing. Durell Anthony has a decent voice
    and offers up some yearning vocal parts, but there's nothing sexy about
    a really bad synth piano or clichéd lyrics. “Words can't explain how badly I feel for you.” Yeah, man, like ladies haven't heard that one a million times before.
    —Peter Holslin

    Demo CD (4 songs

    Octavio Rodriguez Arauz says in his hand-written liner
    notes that he has only three years of music experience, but he's
    actually a fairly decent guitar soloist. But the rest of his music? It's
    like listening to Carlos Santana and Yanni make love inside the most
    horrifying mushroom trip known to man. Canned beats, abrupt volume
    changes and a cacophony of Casio instruments from the early '80s all
    give the distinct feeling like I never want to do psychedelics ever
    —Justin Roberts

    Where did the Romans Go?

    Where did the Romans Go? is
    a 13track CD that would ruin an acid trip at a carnival. The album is
    full of directionless guitar riffs with excessive wah-wah and
    repetitive, meaningless lyrics. Amateur Pool Party claim they're a
    comedy jam band—I guess I just don't get the joke.
    —Sean Michael Delizo

    New Roots Sampler 

    Virginia transplant Stephen Gabriel Lewis is following up his 2009 The Ambassador Presents… EP with a full-length, New Roots. This
    sampler features five of the album's songs, and they're full of reggae
    goodness. These tracks are just itching to be played while folks young
    and old ignite, inhale and exhale their “medicine.” When the smoke
    clears, The Ambassador will ensure all is good.
    —Dryw Keltz

    CityBeat EP

    And just when you
    thought …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead was the only band to
    drive people nuts by using a conjunction at the beginning of their name,
    these guys come along. And they sound like a mix of The Dandy Warhols
    and some Elephant Six bedroom experiment. And the lead singer can sound a
    whole lot like Michael Hutchinson from INXS. And I know that's weird.
    And the end.
    —Dryw Keltz

    The Outbreak

    The day-in-the-life narratives spouted by Audios on his self-produced mixtape The Outbreak are
    modernday working-man's blues. The collection is heavy on tasty samples
    and head-bobbing beats, but at times it pursues stylistic eclecticism
    to a fault. The hearty R&B and funk samples (“Candle Lit,” “A-dub”)
    work best, and strong guest spots by the likes of M-Double-A-L and Swamp
    Dog (“November”) tend to bring it back home.
    —Shae Moseley

    Keys to the Suite

    You can tell a lot of
    work was put into this full-length album. However, it still sounds like
    average guys trying to rap about money, girls and fame—nothing exciting
    here. Is it bad? No. It's just nothing we haven't heard before.
    —Neil Baffert


    The synths and drums on this instrumental hip-hop demo sound prefab,
    and the beats are awkward, but the heaving bass lines show promise. A
    software upgrade and some lessons from J Dilla will go a long way toward
    revamping these busted-ass beats.
    —Peter Holslin

    Sapien Medicine Show

    This is the weirdest CD I reviewed this year—by a
    long shot. With its fuzzed-out guitars, squiggling electronics and
    psych-rock drums, it sounds like a collaboration between avant-pop band
    The Residents and weirdo DJ The Gaslamp Killer. And you might call the
    style of the band's handmade CD case (a project for a printmaking class
    at SDSU) “Victorian psychedelic.” The thing is, this is also one of the
    best CDs I got this year. It's laid-back, full of surprises and ends
    with a super-cool, eight-and-a-half-minute electro-psych jam that's
    perfect for almost any occasion.
    —Peter Holslin

    I Know

    Sounding like something
    from a G- Funk-era Death Row Records mixtape, this husband-and-wife rap
    duo seems destined for YouTube cult status. Not groundbreaking by any
    means, but I found myself wanting to hear more than just one track.
    —Seth Combs

    2010 EP

    Though a bit harsh for
    early-morning ears, there are elements of this undeniably hard-rocking
    EP that leave me wanting to thrash around inside a writhing, sweaty,
    beersoaked audience and wake up the following day with a hangover, a
    handful of scrapes and bruises and the feeling that, whatever I ended up
    doing last night, it was really, really fun.

    —Justin Roberts

    Life in the Multiverse

    “Breakhouse” is an
    unfortunate name for this band. On one hand, it reminds me of Firehouse
    (gross) and on the other, I'm disappointed it's not a jungle-drum-n-bass
    outfit. Instead, this is a
    heavy-hitting rock band with an album aimed at that loyal contingent of
    music lovers who are devoted to Mike Patton and Les Claypool. It's not
    quite as inspired, but it's a good start.
    —Dave Maass


    A, Who Sings That Beat?

    A little more than a year ago, just about every indie fag worth his bespectacled salt (including myself) was creaming his pants over local garage heroes Beaters and their torrid single, “Fishage.” The core duo of that group (Jeremy Rojas and Andrew Montoya) made a huge buzz with their previous band, The Sess, before splintering off into Beaters and Ale Mania around 2009. But while Beaters' “Fishage” made the rounds on the blogosphere faster than news of Thom Yorke's latest bowel movement, the Montoya-fronted Ale Mania's “Rampage,” released around the same time, went ignored. The promise I saw in that bass-heavy blast of garage pop extends into Ale Mania's first full-length LP. The one-two experimental punch of “Submersed Space” and “United States of Abamonation” sounds like Cryptograms-era Deerhunter, while “LustFulFistFul” and “Tetherfree” manage to finally marry new-wave and no-wave, creating a highly danceable, almost goth-rock treat. A, Who Sings That Beat?'s greatest strength, however, is how well the group balances experimentalism with pop hooks. Similar bands often try too hard to escape their influences and end up sounding so different that they lose accessibility. It's been a long road for Ale Mania, but the result is a group of mature and gifted musicians who've finally created what we all knew they had in them: a masterpiece.
    —Seth Combs

    Niggas Nikes Newports

    Nature is a duo of MCs nostalgic for the supposed “Golden Age of
    Hip-Hop,” among other things. They take heavy sonic influence from A
    Tribe Called Quest's lighthearted, jazz-influenced beats, but their
    rapping comes more from the school of Big Daddy Kane braggadocio. Which
    could be great, if not for the fact that both rappers have really weak
    deliveries and Drake-ish punch lines. It all comes off kinda corny.
    —Quan Vu

    Nick Brownlee Demo

    The lyrics are painfully trite, especially when Brownlee sings “la-lala-la-dee-dah” when
    he runs out of rhyming words. The kid can execute a guitar solo,
    though. And that he does, for four songs whose structures are too
    similar to hold any standard-length attention span through more than one
    or two.
    —Sammi Skolmoski

    Seasons of Us

    thrilling chillwave carnival ride is cool enough to make even the most
    discerning post-hipster tap his AMVETS-bought top-siders. It's the
    perfect CD to pop in for a car ride to Mom's, or play while making sweet
    love to your bearded woman. Step right up!
    —Enrique Limón


    Somewhere in the Middle

    Christy Bruneau has an alluring voice,
    and her band's got chops, but this folk-rock just doesn't stick with me.
    It's not great, but it's not terrible—it's just right there in the
    —Peter Holslin

    Resonance Through Trajectory System

    It's unfair to judge a CD by its title, but with a name like Resonance Through Trajectory System, it
    was probably safe to assume that this wasn't going to be a collection
    of bubblegum twee pop. Luckily, these songs weren't nearly as unpleasant
    to decipher as their titles. The Calc II-level math-rock equations here
    are executed with precision and made accessible for the lay person
    through the use of engaging, melodic synth and guitar lines.

    coolest tune here is “Sunev Abi Hceehc” (save the unnecessary mid-song
    drum-solo wankery), which sounds like some kind of warped, intergalactic
    game-show theme song. cabuloan
    —Shae Moseley

    Let's Get Hammered and Sickled, Baby

    indie-punk groove tunes complete with wailing guitars, ambivalent
    vocals and Communist puns. Probably what the Pixies sounded like when
    they were young and drunk. Fuzzy and fun.

    —Sammi Skolmoski

    Winds of Change

    realize living in San Diego has a way of distorting time. Still,
    submitting an album released in 2002 is pushing it. Campbell circa the
    final season of Dharma & Greg is a pretty solid country-folk rocker with strong pipes. And, despite the wretched title, Winds of Change is
    a commendable debut album. Problem is, these days she could be warbling
    Auto-Tune versions of lemur mating calls for all I know. Doubtful,
    given that she still plays live shows at everything from hotel bars to
    farmers markets. But you can only draw so much water from a nineyear-old
    album before it runs dry.
    —Nathan Dinsdale

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