The 2012 Great Demo Review
Our annual critique of local music submissions
Let's be honest: Bad reviews can be fun. Writers love writing 'em, many readers love reading 'em and some musicians even love getting 'em.
Every year, CityBeat puts out a call for local music, and our team of music nerds reviews every CD, LP, DVD, digital download and cassette tape that comes in. Not all of what we get is good. In fact, some of it is awful. And while plenty of readers get a kick out of our brutally honest appraisals, we've also been dismissed as bullies, egomaniacs and (at least in the case of Seth Combs) assholes.
We don't put together the Great Demo Review to pick on the music scene. We want to discover new sounds, highlight great artists and clue you in to music that might've otherwise been over looked. For all the stinkers we got this year, there were also plenty of gems—and we deemed our 10 favorites "EXTRASPECIALGOOD."
Still, this issue isn't just about saying what's good and what's bad and leaving it at that. Especially in the age of social media, criticism goes more ways than one. If these reviews spark conversations and debates about the music that's being made in our city, that means we're doing our job.
Whether you love our reviews, hate them or love to hate them, come tell us all about it at our Local Music Issue party at The Casbah on Thursday, March 8.
2 Bit Radio
Cross "Jizz in My Pants" with The Faint, and you'll end up with something like 2 Bit Radio. As hilarious as that sounds, though, I have a sinking feeling that these guys are being totally serious when they sing groaners like "Move that ass, grab that ass" and "It's dirty time, mama" over their two-bit electro grooves. They might think they're players, but, in reality, they're about as sexy as a liquor-soaked Gaslamp creeper who won't stop groping ladies on the dance floor.
321 Stereo look like they were genetically engineered in an Axe Body Spray lab to suck ass and play Six Flags theme parks, and their music is just as bad. The band's own description of their music is apt: "Part 80s dance. Part Electro Pop. Part Alt Rock. All Party." Yeah, the party where you used the toilet seat as a pillow while your BF got rufied and raped.
When the name 7hundercun7 is the best thing about your band, it's time to start a different band. The drone-folk group's interminable two-song EP is a soul-crushing car wreck of Pro Tools wankery, but that's probably the intention. Or maybe assuming it's all a joke is just wishful thinking—the only thing more disturbing than 7hundercun7's cacophonous claptrap is the possibility that they're actually being sincere.
9th Street Shakedown
These guys are decent musicians, but I'm not convinced they're anything more than a Rolling Stones cover band that hasn't become self-aware yet. I would love it if they played at my block party, but I don't know that my interest would last much longer after that.
Adams and Eves
This collection isn't so much a finished product as a dreamy patchwork quilt of ideas and sounds. Still, the impressions contained within do well to convey that fans of 2011's Dear Professor can expect more soft, sweet, accordion-and-glockenspiel-frosted indie quirkiness on this band's sophomore effort. The inspired seven-minute Modest Mouse-meets-Ennio Morricone opener was an extra-special treat.
Beat-driven pop duo Bruin tagged this new EP with the term "chillwave" on Bandcamp, but there's nothing on this two-song EP that indicates anything about Instagram filters or melancholy, half-remembered trips to the beach in the 80s. Their music is definitely chill, but their soulful samples, fat beats and stoned, hazy vocals evoke summer barbecues and lazy afternoons. At their core, "Brad Shitt" and "Oh My Hoodness" are great, sample-based pop tunes with equal parts humor and warm, crackly melodies. Dominic Fawcett is charmingly blunt on the title track, dropping verses like "We can laugh and fuck / and with a little luck / more of the latter." And despite its silly title, "Oh My Hoodness" is sublimely hypnotic, looping a brief strings phrase into a mesmerizing one-note hook. The band is reportedly releasing a full-length album later this year, and there's bound to be more laid-back good times where this came from.
This Latin-flavored, reggae-tinged, Gipsy Kings-style world-beat combo isn't half bad, but its two singers might want to work on their cheesy clichés and bumbling rhyme schemes. Take this line from "Break of Day": "Although there will be obstacles and roadblocks in your way / I'm sure you'll find your way." Rhyming "way" with "way"? Come on, you can do better than that! Still, they overcome their flaws with an endless stream of deeply funky Afro-Cuban percussion grooves.
Synth strings, tribal drums, tubular bells and twinkling synths start and stop without rhythm or warning, like staircases and doorways ultimately leading nowhere. This disc is the Winchester Mystery House of ambient sounds. But while the house can be fun, this music is simply baffling.
Amateur Pool Party
OK, they got me. I fell for the live crowd noise they laid over the tracks. But after listening to nine ear-puncturing songs, I'm convinced this band has never played to a crowd larger than however many people you can fit in a garage / practice space / meth lab.
Apoc & Brendan B
Bringing back the playful edge of early hip-hop, The Planet EP is a hoot from beginning to end. While "The Life" expounds upon the days and nights of the MC lifestyle, the true gem here is the completely silly "100 Bars," which name drops 100 different bars nationwide—quite a few of which happen to be local haunts. Lyrics like "Then I head to Open Bar, beware of the open sore" are proof that actual on-site research was conducted in the making of this song.
April Ventura & The Magnolias
You'd be hard-pressed to find a local rap group more down-to-earth than Day-Go Produce. As they make clear on Bottom Feeders, J Treel, Tramlife and Rolando are just humble up-and-comers who enjoy the simple things in life—rocking Chuck Taylors with fat laces ("Smokin' evergreen / Chucks hit the scene / complement the whole team"), going to the beach ("You can catch me in the swells") and smoking tons of weed ("Don't trust the marijuana if it came from Tijuana"). They acknowledge that they're low on the hip-hop totem pole—indeed, they're the "bottom feeders" of the mixtape's title. But they've got solid beats, refreshing flows and a disarming honesty, all of which should serve them well as they climb their way up.
This earnest, five-song rock offering reminds me a lot of early Three Mile Pilot. Plus, the drummer's moustache is full-on Magnum P.I. I can see this evolving in a lot of different ways—almost all of them good.
Barbarian's double shot of echo-y, perfectly under-produced, harmony-driven rock 'n' roll makes me want to keep listening. Let's hope it isn't just beginner's luck.
Sharp production and fat-ass beats keep the party rockin' on nine of the 10 songs here. And it's hard to fault Justin Palicki and JFeather for closing with a minimalist cover of Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight," even if they don't sock it to us after that infamous drum roll. More than 60 percent of the time, it works every time.
I believe in Beta Lion because the last track on this three-song sampler is the best song that Phoenix never wrote. "Love Aside" is that perfect blend of pop, dance and alternative that makes the pretty girls swoon and gives everyone a good excuse to hit the dance floor. The other two songs on here are decent indie-rock fare, but "Love Aside" is the hit.
Big Shot Reub and the Reloaders
In the dullest wankfest I've ever heard, guitarist Reuben Vigil and his two bandmates try their hands at swinging jazz, moody blues and good ol'-fashioned rock and end up sucking at all of it. After multiple dreary listens, the only thing that sticks with me is Vigil's goofy Muppet voice.
This isn't the first metal / punk band to imitate Danzig and sing about zombies, and it won't be the last. But these guys could likely get some dudes head-banging if they played at The Ruby Room or Eleven, and that's what matters.
I'm not sure if any members of Queensryche or Metal Church died right around the time the dudes in this trio were born, but if they did, any questions about the existence of reincarnation have been answered. Metal from the heyday of metal, if you're into that kind of thing. firstname.lastname@example.org
I'm a sucker for electro-pop, and Box Shift's solid, infectious bed of synths and light, danceable beats comes just the way I like it. Yet, the songwriting and the melodies just don't do it for me. A good electro-pop song should beg you to sing along, but these songs are all basically forgettable. I do have to give them props for the super-reverb-y mix on the keys and guitars, though.
Broken Dreams x
Not sure how I feel about this video-as-demo thing. Kind of arty? Kind of douchey? A little of both? But if a band can put a CD in a record sleeve and call it a demo, why can't Bruisecaster shoot a rehearsal and call it a movie? But it's more than that: Directed by Shoko Hachiya, it's a live show and a whole bunch of other stuff, too. Twelve minutes in, there's a closeup of someone's ear hole, and I kept looking at it until it didn't look like an ear hole anymore. That's Bruisecaster.
Some albums make you want to claw your ears out with rusty steel implements. Davit Buck's demo skips right to the aural abuse with four tracks of circuit-bending, sample-fracturing, bass-slapping violence. Noise music, being noise, is hard to judge in terms of good and bad, but as near as I can tell, Buck nails it. My only beef is that if he's going to write a song called "Ghandi Took a Shit on Peace," he might have bothered to spell Gandhi's name correctly.
Singer-songwriter Bullard gives some songs on this 17-track album a folksier turn with James Tayloresque vocals. On others, he lets his guitar do the talking with intricate, Spanish-style flourishes. Both would serve perfectly well as the soundtrack to an upscale candlelit dinner, making the "Valentine's Songs!" note scrawled on the CD sleeve a rather apt self-assessment.
Half of this album sounds like something that would be overheard in the parking lot at Lilith Fair, and the other half sounds like you're stuck in a coffeehouse during an awkwardly empty spoken-word open-mic night. "Gift of Madness" has a sort of Pixies vibe that I really wanted to like, but the vocals sound forced, and it just never comes together. I think you will find your sound, Jennie Buss, and then you will nail it. But for now, it's not quite working.
Plenty of movies explore the idea of robots trying to act like humans. Cabuloan had better have dibs on scoring the next one, because this thing sounds like it was generated by machines doing their best to emulate how humans make music. This is hardly a bad thing, as Cabuloan's instrumental-heavy experiments are a surreal, ballsy and many-hued affair, with math-rock riffs moving like pinballs and synth-like sounds going mad. Actually, scratch the robots thing— this defiant mess would be great for a Frankenstein remake.
The Mashtis have always drawn comparisons to Sonic Youth and Pixies, but the songs on this EP— which turns out to be their last record, as the band has split up—reveal a decidedly more modern sound than what they've given us in the past. In the opening measures of the first track, "Amen," the driving guitar alongside the scrappy shouts of "hey, hey" bear a strong resemblance to the play-fighting revelry of Imperial Teen or The New pornographers. And the solid guy / girl vocals and consummately balanced, garage-y instrumentation has only gotten sturdier and more confident. That's not to say this band has ever sounded weak. They've just made it abundantly clear this time around that The Mashtis is a name we should all remember.
The dream of the 1990s is alive with Chaz, and it is awesome. Frantic, fuzzed-out guitars and sweetly awkward, Weezer-style harmonies frame clever lyrics that follow the highs and lows of a slacker lifestyle—from drinking with your shift manager to the struggles of getting out of bed with bills to pay. Throw The Adventures of Pete & Pete in the VCR on mute, pour yourself a bowl of cereal, play this extra loud and pretend that 120 Minutes never left.
When I first saw the name Cloud Ceiling, I thought I was in for another somber singer-songwriter acoustic outing. I was correct. Very stripped down, very sad. If your favorite Big Star album is Sister Lovers and you worship at the altar of Nick Drake, this is right up your alley.
Layers of fractured, shimmering guitars, math-y drums and soft vocals wash over each other in waves, evoking very early Cursive or Explosions in the Sky. The disparate elements never fight each other for attention, even at their most angular. Instead, they build into intense, finely crafted post-rock crescendos.
I gotta hand it to Courtyard Roots: After getting a bad review in last year's Great Demo Review, the rap-reggae-rock jam band was game enough for another round. Unfortunately, these tracks aren't much of an improvement on last year's submission. The heavy-metal guitars have nowhere to go, the grooves don't lock together and their MC still can't rap for shit (although, to his credit, he has improved slightly). Maybe next year, guys.
"Meandering" doesn't always have to mean "aimless," but in the hands of Couch Look, the idea of taking your sweet time to get things done drifts between good and bad. Over the course of the instrumental record's run time (60-some minutes, which is way too long), the group shifts from genial, mundane psych-jam rock to something with the bleary-eyed gravitas of Explosions in the Sky-style post-rock. They benefit when they ditch campy wobble-funk to explore weighty highs and lows.
The retro-tinged pop is OK, but those vocals badly need work. Get voice lessons or use Auto- Tune, but, please, for the love of God, don't torture us any longer with your wavering melodies and train-wreck harmonies.
The Cypress Project
Stop saying that your music is "as experimental as your name implies." First of all, "The Cypress Project" does not imply anything interesting and would be better suited for an environmental-activist group. Secondly, and more importantly, the only experiment going on here is how trite lyrics can be. There's nothing about derivative, rich-white-kid blues that pushes boundaries. To the girl in the band: Listen to Patti Smith. She will teach you how to use that impressive vibrato of yours in a worthwhile way.
Dada in Denial
Toss a dream catcher, a copy of The Steampunk Bible and the complete Incubus discography into a vat of LSD, and this is what you get— dreary, low-rent, highly bizarre alt-rock that would work great as the soundtrack to a community theater production of Labyrinth.
Two-time San Diego Music Award winner Josh Damigo should be a familiar name to readers. After having spent some time in the Los Angeles wilderness, the singer-songwriter decided to air his grievances in a song titled "L.A. Is Not My Home," in which he oozes his VH1-style alt-country earnestness from every orifice. Damigo has learned a few of the right lessons from the Ryan Adams playbook, but when he sings about girls, the results can be embarrassing. There's cheese a-plenty, but if it gets Damigo laid, more power to him.
Danny and the Tramp
Danny and the Tramp is a pop-punk band that leans more toward pop. Though the band's sound isn't extremely original, it's enjoyable if you're a fan of blink-182 or Newfound Glory. Harking back to the late-'90s and early-'00s, the album is semi-monotonous yet oddly appealing to the middle-schooler inside us all.
A demo in the real sense of the word in that the production is a little rough, this six-track EP is still a rewarding mix of R&B and hip-hop. The flows are kinda weak and the lyrics clichéd, but there's definitely room for improvement.
Dead Animal Mod
Rife with distortion and featuring a damn talented lead guitar, Dead Animal Mod remind me of a band you'd see playing in the basement at the 4th & Ivy house in Bankers Hill. Remember those days? The shows were always loud as fuck, and somehow the neighbors would never complain. And as long as you were able to wade your way through the empty cans of PBR and avoid getting vomited on by the barely, and the not-so, legals in the audience, you'd usually end up having a fun time. That is, of course, until morning arrived.
If being wild and free means listening to a cornball, reggae-thieving singer-songwriter obsess over some girl, then I'd rather have solitary for life.
"Playing with its Food" and "Ballad of the Sea Bison" are two instantly forgettable surf-rock ditties, but they're followed by two amusing, much more digable tracks—a cover of Salt-N-Pepa's "Push It" and "Kilda Bird," a psych-rock jam with Dr. Seussian lyrics.
The Distinguishing Marks
Magic Fire Music
Oh, no. No, no, no. The voice of what sounds like a whispering pedophile over fuzzy synth gibberish.
This is what garage-rock is all about: The singer isn't always on pitch, and the guitarist and drummer are a bit sloppy, but they still manage to deliver a refreshing pop hook that has me listening to this track more than once. Follow your dreams and you will go far, dudes.—Peter Holslin
An electro-pop overload of carnival-esque synths, cracking beats and overlapping samples, "C.O.S.M.I.C." is like candy-flipping on a Gravitron. You might need a barf bag, but you'll still have a blast.
East of Sweden
Two parts Foo Fighters, one part Green Day, a dash of The Strokes and a generous handful of Linkin Park is about what it took to cook up East of Sweden's demo. These guys obviously aren't aiming for a niche market; rather, their sound demonstrates a craving for front-and-center placement on a mainstream rock station. Luckily for them, they're actually pretty talented. As long as they avoid being pressured by publicists into getting flat-ironed hair, spray tans and $400 jeans, they might just make a name for themselves.
Jesse Daniel Edwards
With his heartfelt lyrics and powerful voice, Jesse Daniel Edwards' songs are mellow yet emotionally provocative. I couldn't help but picture scenes from films about love and heartbreak while listening to standout tracks like "You Get What You Give." Definitely worth downloading when the full-length album is released in March.
Let's just put aside the fact that there's a song on this three-song cycle of shit called "Ride the Snake" and that the song isn't some kind of epic Tenacious D homage. Having done that, the only positive thing I can say about Emerald City is that the singer sounds hot. That's it. Really.
The world-famous Los Angeles "beat scene" might boast an army of enviable talent, but San Diego has some amazing beat-makers of its own, and one of them is Mystery Cave. On this limited-edition cassette tape, mastermind John Christopher Harris II warps his samples beyond recognition to conjure a sound world with surprises at every turn. There are melodious synths and glimmering drone tones, orchestras playing in reverse and beats assembled out of clicks, pops and sucking sounds. Even the tape itself serves as a kind of instrument, embracing the music in a bosom of warm fuzz. Of course, Red Tide can be a challenging listen—it's pretty weird stuff, and good luck finding a way to actually play it (tape decks aren't exactly common). But if you accept it on its own terms, this wonderful little tape will reveal more of itself with each listen.
There's a lot less death-screaming than I'd expect from an album that comes with a pullout sheet connecting rivers and waste to violence and hate. But vocals aside, this is straight political hardcore, with all of the intricate guitars, preachy slogans (sample song titles: "World Crisis," "Peace Bomb") and DIY production qualities you know and love.
This is a somewhat prefab country, blues, roots-rock hybrid. There's even a dash of Hootie & The Blowfish in there. (Even a dash of Hootie is too much!) It's well-produced, and the players sound professional: It's exactly the kind of demo I imagine major labels got a lot of in the '90s before promptly tossing them in the trash.
The FABulous Rudies
Annoying pop-rock-ska-punk that's stuck in the late '90s. If you took the awesome opening five seconds of "Keep on Movin'" and looped it for five minutes, you'd get a pretty rockin' song. The rest, however, is garbage.
Far From Ya Average
Featuring an array of unknown MCs, this hip-hop debut has just about everything—a seductive slow-jam ("Feeling You"), a politically conscious morality tune ("Dark Alley"), chest-thumping brag-raps ("Third Degree," "Stuck Up Playa")—even a cheesy ode to the city ("The Sound of San Diego"). Not every track is a winner, and some of these MCs desperately need some personality, but the imaginative beats help make up for the flaws.
Let's put aside the punctuation-challenged name and the fact that the band describes itself as "ambassadors of cognitive introspection." They sound like a space-age Pavement minus the talent, or maybe Slightly Stoopid-ish jamming, only 1,000 times stoopider. Please don't make me listen to these five songs again.
Joe Flatt sounds like every other singer-songwriter that regularly plays the Gaslamp bar circuit at any given time. Serviceable guitar work but slightly tone-deaf vocals and an emo aesthetic make it easy to understand why he doesn't have a backing band.
I can practically smell the stench of engine fuel while listening to this greasy slab of high-octane rock 'n' roll. But, guys, where's the roaring guitar solos? Where's the sweet-ass production quality? Where are the fiery collisions, screamed vocals and smashed instruments? The longer this 48-minute set drags on, the more this hot-rod looks like a jalopy.
A fairly solid dose of indie hip-hop with some tight beats, decent lyrics and interesting sampling choices. There's just nothing particularly groundbreaking on it, and the attempts at conscious-rap and heartfelt love jams are sooooo 1997.
Get Off the Map
Some boss bass lines, but I'm not a fan of the wordy, carnival barker vocals. Feels like being lectured by Willy Wonka.
Any parents who make an album with their kids are cool in my book. Six-year-old Rory and 2-year-old Kailen aren't exactly rock stars, but it sure is adorable when they recite the alphabet and yell stuff like "It's breakfast time!" over what I can only assume are mom and dad's guitar and sample accompaniment. (And naturally, this album deserves bonus points for "Drunken Friend," a song based around a line written by CityBeat columnist Aaryn Belfer.) Kidz Bop, eat your heart out.
Gone Baby Gone
Ugh! Your press kit is all that's wrong with music and humanity. From the first page (in a non-ironic way): "Twenty-five years of pure talent, six feet of eye-candy, a well traveled mind, and a heart of gold." When is all this phony, pseudo-sensitive singer-songwriter garbage going to be taken out to the Dumpster? I'd rather listen to Chris Gaines, because at least he admitted to being phony. Sure, Thomas, you've got a nice voice. Go on American Idol; you're the perfect type. Nothing but buzz words, trite metaphors and a fedora.
Grind and Bare It
So close to being an "EXTRASPECIALGOOD," this two-track demo is creepy as all hell, but I just can't turn away. "More Possibilities" pulls me in with gloomy electronics and an intricate hip-hop beat, but it's the cryptic vocal samples and twisted vibes of "To Paradise" that leave me breathless and clawing for air—you know, in a good way.
Even if some cataclysmic event manages to wipe out the majority of Earth's population, there will still be two living things left: cockroaches and Steve Vai-worshipping dudes who want to plague us with their awful, seven-minute instrumental guitar rock songs. Wow, man, you can move your fingers really fast and look affected while you do it. I feel badly for the cockroaches.
H-eyer Level Poets (H.E.L.P.)
It's all middle-of-the-road. The rappers are decent, but they're not interesting writers (a guest rapper, Tory-T from The Concrete Project, actually has the album's best verse). The beats are serviceable but lean toward being over-produced. Some ideas are obvious (the weed song is reggae-tinged? That's crazy!). Some just aren't executed well ("Hypnotic"). Their worst idea, though, is the album's underlying concept: that they are space-y weirdos with "alien" flows. The concept amounts to little more than some extra electronic sounds and a few references to stuff you'd see at Comic-Con. They should hear weirder music.
In the vein of Brian Jonestown Massacre, Hail Hail successfully navigate the geography between the drone-y sludge of psychedelic rock and the off-kilter jangle of garage folk. A band to watch if they can put together a dynamic live show.
Hargo Khalsa's story makes him marketable as a musical novelty (he's a big-bearded American Sikh who had a song in the John Lennon doc Strawberry Fields), but his music is schmaltzy pop-by-numbers fare that would only appeal to weekend environmentalists and chick-flick aficionados.
The MCs on this street-rap mixtape have lots of character. "So Sick Of
," about scrounging up change for cigarette money, is as hilarious as it is funky. And I can't help but appreciate "'Til We Meet in Heaven," a heartfelt ode to a fallen momma replete with flowery acoustic guitar.
The Heart Beat Trail
Back in 2010, we reviewed a demo by this band when they were known as Nautical Disaster. While the new name might not be much of an improvement, this demo absolutely is. Before, the group was producing tracks that could pass as Lucy's Fur Coat b-sides. But on Dusty Totems, they've nailed their unique groove. It's slow, dark and bluesy—the right jukebox selection for a desperate game of billiards with the devil. But the biggest improvement is in Berkeley Austin's hoarse and unpredictable vocals.
This EP is a late-'90s time warp. Each song so fully evokes a different artist from that era that the track listing should read like this: Stone Temple Pilots, Hootie & The Blowfish, Korn, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, System of a Down, Staind. So, 91X will probably play them.
Everything about Homeless Sexuals' Snake Nipples seems like a highly orchestrated effort to be as obnoxious as possible—from their name to the crude snake illustration on the album cover to song titles like "Anne Frank Sinatra" and "Walking Jesus Like a Dog." And yet, there's a surprisingly minimal amount of bullshit here— just some high-energy, Stooges-style rock 'n' roll sleaze featuring a singer who's a dead ringer for Nation of Ulysses' Ian Svenonius. Their ass-kicking tunes may not be work- or mother-appropriate, but they definitely rock.
Hugh Gaskins & The G-String Daddies
The five songs on this EP are annoyingly all over the place stylistically, but it seems like these guys have more going on than their ability to come up with clever song titles ("Ted Dancin'," "In the Cervix of the Queen"). It's rough, but there's some gold in the acoustic ditties that close out the EP. Now, about that name.
Just when I thought electronic music had become the enemy, Erleen Nada handed me a glittery treaty of irresistible pop gold. A sassy synth-master, Nada's avant-garde space tunes carry a sense of colossal power and urgency. Cooing dark and hilarious nonsense over warped, beautifully coarse synth jaunts, she seems to tell the listener, "Freak out, or perish." "Psychedelic Space Ship" is this demo's oddly addictive standout track, with a pulsing beat and twangy guitars that—when isolated from the vocals—sound like the best of Queen. Nada might have much more psychedelic tastes than the average electro-songstress (think Santigold or Peaches), but she also sounds much more authentic.
iD the Poet
THANATOS Using the plural "instrumentals" in the title leads you to expect some sort of Madlib-esque assortment of loose beats made for rapping over. Instead, this is a cohesive instrumental project that stands on its own, a meditation on death and dying (the demon "Thanatos" represents death in Greek mythology) that evolves from chaotic fury into peaceful acceptance. It's highly informed by the Low End Theory beat scene. The beats are angular, warped and eclectic, incorporating everything from the RZA and dubstep to reggae and blues piano.
iD the Poet & Dusty Nix
This type of hip-hop will probably go over well with the indie-rock crowd. While it's not exactly guitar-driven, guitars feature more prominently than usual along with other live instruments. There's also a stronger emphasis on melody. All hooks are sung and both rappers frequently use sing-song flows in their verses (Dusty Nix could be a voice twin for sing-songy rapper Pigeon John). The lyrics explore the same themes as iD's previous work, namely the industrialization of society. Think of an Office Space-meets-The Matrix, "we are more than cogs" spirit.
John Wayne Gacy Daycare
Daycare Hands down the most disturbing album art of the year—imagine a vomiting teddy bear bleeding from its anus. Like Stormtroopers of Death, only slower, weirder and meaner. In other words, not like S.O.D. at all.
Hmmm—10 straight-ahead vocal covers of artists ranging from The Beatles to Mose Allison. Karrant is pleasant enough and the arrangements are nice, but I worry about (even capable) jazz vocalists without any originals. Does anyone under 50 care?
Surprisingly good for a group of KIDS., this Poway five-piece fronted by Nature Fejarang doesn't take itself too seriously on this album but manages to pull it off anyway. With their punk-meets- '60s-girl-groups-meets-hipster sound, KIDS. could benefit from a proper mix and a subtler drummer, but they have the right idea.
The New Kinetics
The New Kinetics kick your teeth in for 44 minutes straight on Contact. This is unpretentious, straightforward rock 'n' roll, geared to get the crowd moving and the drinks flowing. But about halfway in, you'll be begging for a break from these grueling jams. You don't get one, which is both the best and worst thing about the album.
OK, so they have a pretty badass name and even more badass song titles like "Gnarmegeddon" and "Tigerstriped Delorean." And while there's nothing wholly original on this demo that couldn't be heard on any Motorhead album, Kodiak's music still kicks a whole lot of ass. If they're not headlining Eleven soon, I'll be very surprised.
The first track, "Happy When I'm High," is the fluffy and dissonant standout on this five-song electro EP. A close second is "Sun Go Away," which calls to mind The xx. But after that, the set descends into the trendier trenches of computer-generated music, where synths are used for synths' sake and vocal effects rival those of T-Pain. I am so close to liking "Everyone Talks Too Much" but just can't commit. And, I have to say, "Living Dreams" sounds way too much like the song from that old Internet video "Aicha, Aicha," in which that acne-covered white kid sings and dances in his bedroom.
The Last Years
Simply put, The Last Years is loud and fun. This album gives you the urge to mosh, or just do some slight head-banging. It's probably most suitable for drinking beer at warm-weather barbecues and skateboarding.
First of all, I need to describe Latex Grenade's logo: a severed hand holding the Earth in the shape of a water balloon. Yep. Anyway, the music is more straightforward: Pennywise-style punk melodies roughed-up with some thrash-metal riffs. Plus, there's a song called "Tits on a Stick." San Diego has produced about 5 million bands just like Latex Grenade. Here's another one.
Oldest Boy & Girl's folk-pop is deceptively simple. On Get What You Give, brother-sister duo Jesse and Cristina Evans mostly strum acoustic guitars as they sing tales of love lost, love won and love unrequited. Every so often, though, they'll emphasize their desperation with a frantic guitar solo that seemingly comes out of nowhere. The warm, bluesy guitar and simple lyrics of "Nowhere Left to Go" shows how willing this duo is to leave everything behind for love: "I just want to be on the floor / and lay with you," Jesse sings. It all comes off as incredibly honest, especially considering that the duo got their start busking on the streets of Dublin for potatoes and cheap whiskey. After trekking around the globe, this humble band has finally settled in Carlsbad, and we're lucky to have them.
James St. Laurent
Folk singer-songwriter James St. Laurent has a pretty bland voice, all of his songs sound the same and this hour-long video (featuring live performances by Laurent and some other unknowns) is about 45 minutes too long. Still, there's something endearing about his easygoing folk tunes—it's like he doesn't care if you think he's cool, which itself makes him kind of cool.
Leigh Taylor's Watermark Tribe
Inspirational, Christianity-themed pop fusion usually makes my ears bleed, but this band's saving grace is frontman Leigh Taylor, who lends a dollop of much-needed grit with his raspy voice.
Lillian Lefranc and the Proper Villains
With a name like The Lovebirds, I expected some middle-aged ex-hippies playing stale freedom-rock. Instead, they turned out to be a lesbian duo who sing dreamy love songs. With a guitar (and an occasional harmonica or keyboard) and lots of gorgeous vocals, the songs are all sugary-sweet and endearing, providing an almost surreal tranquility. Their lyrics would be corny ("I've got such a good love / That is why I have such a good life") if they didn't sound so sincere.
Undernourished pop-rock and kinda-sorta funk figure strongly in Lovesoul's four-song demo, a sampler of this duo's forthcoming EP. Donny Taylor makes an adequate if unimpressive lead vocalist while Rebeca Lopez's voice is energetic and bright but reduced to backup duty—the duo should really give switching roles a shot. They manage a few memorable hooks (the nimble, fun "Lot Like U" is a high point), but their uninventive rhyme schemes ("desire / fire") almost derail the whole thing. And it doesn't help that one track is dedicated to the hokey notions of "rocking" and "grooving."
Cleveland native M-double-a-l throws a lot of curve balls at you on this hip-hop record—whether it's the unusual swinging beat ("STFU"), the weird vocal processor ("Prince Charming"), the big sporadic orchestral bursts ("Brink Truck"), the oddly placed high-energy backbeat ("Patience"), the overly distorted mix ("Jeans Off"), the surreal samples ("Revel8") or the abrasive electronics ("All Alone"). While M-double-a-l's lyrics and flow are fairly remedial, with a little work he could be on par with the experimental originality of the production.
On 7even, M&M Blues mix blues, psych, garage and ambient rock into a bizarre sound. They begin with a lulling drone, transition into raucous jangly rock and then go all out with blazing, feedback-heavy riffs. In the second part of the three-part suite "I Am a Dog," they even incorporate a long spoken-word passage recited in what sounds like Indonesian. After too many scrambled-circuits riffs, 7even grows grating, but its early eruptions are thrilling.
Mack N Biz
Straightforward, well-produced, rich-white-kid party music. There are moments of cleverness in this hip-hop collection, but the gratuitous rhymes about weed are all we seem to have in common, and the overarching theme of "I'm a kid and I just like to have fun!" quickly gets tiresome. This duo is like Pacific Beach, personified. So, if you like P.B., enjoy. If you like music with substance, look elsewhere.
At their best, Martian Horses ride a cool wave of dreamy indie-pop, like a band on Barsuk Records. The secret weapon may be the his-and-her harmonies that have spelled success for any band from Fleetwood Mac to She & Him. As long as they keep the tempos up, the band stays entertaining. It's only when they hit the brakes too much that they begin to drift.
Matthew Walker Project
The impressive thing about the Matthew Walker Project is that two guys—Walker and his drummer / recording engineer, Alexander Dausch—are able to produce a contemporary blues album that sounds like they've got a full lineup. Other than that, though, this duo sounds like G. Love with slightly less special sauce or a second-class Citizen Cope.
The Mike Michaels Program
The first track on this three-song demo does a great job evoking a truly palpable mood—something like a dangerous, border-town bar a la From Dusk Til Dawn. And while the guitar work is strong throughout, the spotty lyrics on the next two songs can't evoke anything more than distraction.
Misspent Warhead Premise
Simple, straightforward indiepop. These are the kind of songs that grow on you after a while. Hasn't happened for me yet.
An admitted George Winston fan, Moeller is shooting to soothe the savage beast here. I'm sure these 12 instrumentals would make the new-age maestro proud. Grab the lavender candles and your little waterfall machine—let's get this party started.
Not every song on this EP gels with equal success—it's hard for indecipherable spoken words to make an impact on a track already thick with wailing funk guitars. But when everything comes together just right—opening track "LttleBter," in particular gets strength from a minimalist approach and Megan Carlson's guest vocals—the resulting dark, atmospheric beats invite repeat listens.
The Mosaic Quartet
With such high-quality music, it's hard to believe Parker & The Numberman haven't released a full-length album yet. Maybe they want to develop a mystique by sporadically dropping music, just enough to entice you into seeking more. Maybe they're too busy exploring new styles and ideas to settle on any of them for long. Both reasons sound feasible given The Ridley Project, an EP that finds them teaming with Mr. Ridley of rap group Anti Citizens. They all experiment with a very 1988-era, Run-DMC sort of style. Ridley's spare beats rely heavily on bass and drums sprinkled with samples used in quirky ways. The two rappers banter back and forth about how fly they are. It's clear they're just joking—Parker probably didn't write a song with Heavy D, Diddy and Cupid (yes, the dude with the arrows)—but their inventiveness and playfulness have a way of building up their myth.
Ricky Small and The Talls
Roxy Jones transport you back to a time when alternative music was truly alternative, not the slightly edgy pop that bands like Death Cab for Cutie and Vampire Weekend wallow in today. There is true weirdness all over this disc, intermingled with exploding guitar choruses, well-timed episodes of manic screaming and, of course, memorable hooks. Opener "Downtown Tokyo" sounds like it could have been a hit on 120 Minutes around the same time that "She Don't Use Jelly" broke through to the mainstream in the early '90s. The band's closest kin seems to be oddball alternative acts like The Flaming Lips, Tripping Daisy and The Butthole Surfers. Songs such as "Atom Bomb Singalong" will make you wonder whether a new album or a six-month stay at a mental institution are on the horizon. And that is certainly a good thing.
Shiva Trash are catchy, contemporary and complicated. They do lots of time changes, and they're hard to pin down. "Bleach Bath" starts with a surf-rock platform and takes off from there. Did I say "takes off"? I meant rockets into the fucking stratosphere. "Gnarly Thirst" changes tempos so many times that it's like a medley of songs. It's got a bright, brisk beginning, throttles down in the middle and then goes full bore at the end. "Residual Backwash" is somehow both poppy and full of jangly reverb at the same time. It's an exotic, druggy clash of styles that culminates in a rock 'n' roll apotheosis of wasted nights and wasted days. The epic pop of Shiva Trash makes the majority of music being made today sound downright pedestrian. If there's a limit to where Shiva Trash can go, it's not evident here. More, please.
Sunrise at Duck Pond
I was kinda hoping that these guys sucked, as their name is perfect for a creative slam. No dice. The skilled quartet filters things like Talking Heads and The Walkmen through a tattered Calexico cheesecloth, turning the 11 tracks here into dusty and original gems. Hard to classify and solid throughout, "No Work Dancing" deftly blurs the line between trainhopping sing-a-longs and quirky accordion rock without ever coming off as pretentious or straining. Nicely varied yet cohesive, it's difficult to imagine this album benefiting from anything other than people taking the time to check it out.