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.
10-19 the Numberman
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
—Seth Comb s
Just when you think chillwave (or glo-fi or nu-gaze or whatever the hell you wanna call it) was a genre that came and went, some John Hughes-worshipping introvert (or, in this case, two of them) comes out with lovely little set of tunes that could very well be the score for your summertime heartbreak. This 10-track album is just on the cusp of EXTRASPECIALGOOD status, filled with angsty teenage anthems (mostly made from samples, voice and guitar) with a hip-hop heart beating just underneath the surface. soundcloud.com/bruinjams/dnelian
This rock band, composed of three high-school seniors, is still finding its voice and style. There's no common thread tying their three singles together—each displays characteristics of different genres, and in each one, the singer sounds like a different person. "Pull Me Under" is the best attempt at rock harmony, but it still fell short. soundcloud.com/buddha-trixie
The Buddy System
The Buddy System EP
Warm, fuzzy power-pop tunes for adorkable indie kids. The lyrics are cheesy, and the melodies don't stick, but these guys get a lot of mileage just out of being total sweethearts—listening to this, I can practically see the disarming smile on the singer's face. Awww. thebuddysystemhi.bandcamp.com
Charles Burton Blues Band
Sweet Potato Pie
Unfortunately for Charlie Burton, I was raised and educated on electric blues by my Chicagoan father, so I'm kind of a snob about this shit. Right off the bat, I called shenanigans: "Shake It" is a tepid "Oh Well" by Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac, "Livin' Without You" is "The Thrill is Gone," "Your Number" is a lukewarm reworking of the Yardbirds' cover of "Smokestack Lightning," "Sweet Potato Pie" is a cheesy "Hand Jive," etc. The coolest track is the instrumental "Crackdown," which sounds like a brisk "Got to Hurry" by the Yardbirds. Being a white man playing the blues ain't no crime, but Charlie Burton's voice is periwinkle at best, and while his guitar-playing is technically on point with all the right chords and licks, I'm simply not feeling the blues, except in the form of Karl Cabbage's harmonica. Charlie needs to find a new black cat bone (or maybe a gritty lead singer) to get his mojo workin', 'cause it just don't work on me, and I know it wouldn't work on my Dad, either. charlesburton.com
Stars The back cover of Cedar Fire's Stars depicts a dot-matrix image of Evel Knievel, and that's a pretty strong visual representation of what the band sounds like. They're more or less a meat-and-potatoes rock 'n' roll band, all power chords and hammy vocal affectations— the kind of band you could hear at any dive bar in America and would feel right at home. That said, they're still just diluted facsimiles of bands like The Stooges or MC5. There's nothing wrong with that, but there's also nothing particularly memorable, either. therealcedarfire.bandcamp.com
Buffalo Roam EP
Maybe it's my age. Maybe it's my nostalgia for things like Sabbath and Kyuss and Sleep. But I dig what Chiefs are doing. And while fuzzedout desert / stoner rock seems like the starting point here, there's definitely some post-hardcore Quicksand / Helmet influences going on, as well. Has it all been done before? Sure. But Chiefs are doing it well, so I'm going to pay attention. wearechiefs.bandcamp.com
The Chili Banditos
These guys call themselves a "taco punk" band. Their colorful logo depicts three smiling chili peppers— one in a Padres cap, the second in a sombrero, the third in a skipper's hat. So why, oh why, do they play milquetoast emo with mish-mash guitars and whiny-boy lyrics about boring road trips? I'm genuinely confused. Did they upload the wrong mp3s or something? You say you play taco punk, so let's hear some fucking taco punk! thechilibanditos.bandcamp.com
Lift and Cut
Electronic music meets Sublime-style ska riffs with occasional bursts of bizarre rapping and reggae vocals. The band gets points for innovation, though the results can range from clever to "Please, for the love of all that's holy, make it stop!" Mostly, it's the rapping that needs work. chillclinton.com
—Joshua Emerson Smith
The Clover Tones
This slice of watered-down rock with a bit of metal influence doesn't do it for me. The vocalists do their best Ozzy Osbourne impersonations, but there's not enough power behind them. The band tries to ramp things up on "Fall on Me" with a little bit of punk energy, but the chanted lyrics sound hollow and lack punk's rebellious, fun spirit. The few slow, mellower tunes at the end aren't anything to write home about, either.
—Jen Van Tieghem
Hells Fire!!! is the best album Low Volts never made. Nine songs of kick-drum stomping, gritty slideguitar and distorted vocals—this duo gets in the groove and keeps going. They don't quite have Tim Lowman's swagger, but I doubt they'd even give a shit. I have a feeling Jimmy Dean and Richie Orduno will be just fine, content to jam on their lo-fi rockabilly blues in Ocean Beach. Key tracks: the smoldering, slow surge of "Chingon" and the fun, goofy march of "Chupa Kabra." facebook.com/confederales
Murder by Techno
Murderous this most definitely is not. It's more like meditation music for sentient computers. The motorik electronic grooves could've come from converted fax machines and sampled trashcans, while the synth parts resemble the whoops and sighs of a melancholy android.
Court Yard Roots
Haggin Buddha Boy
Court Yard Roots' Haggin Buddha Boy sounds like it was recorded on a ghetto blaster inside a cardboard box by dudes who use phrases like "Irie" and "one love" without irony and probably have 311 moments on the regular. Not that this vibe is exactly consistent—"Burnem in Hell" sounds like Beavis singing Judas Priest's "Breaking the Law," which kind of harshes my buzz, man. So, San Diego, here's another awkward reggae-rap-rock band, whether you wanted one or not.
This album is so good that, while bumping it in my car, I sometimes forgot it was a submission to a local demo review. Oceanside's Criss Creamation is a confident rapper with rhymes for days—offering glimpses of a hard life, he dishes out memorable lines on everything from drugs to dildos to blades to prison cells to low-wage jobs (and why he doesn't want to work them). His producer is no slouch, either, turning out atmospheric beats full of hypnotizing cloud-rap synths. My one complaint is that these 18 tracks are too generic, like they could've come from anywhere. But it's a solid start from an MC who clearly has a lot to say. facebook.com/ccreamation1
"How Am I Supposed to Not Fall"
Singer / songwriter Josh Damigo is a superpolished, poppy "lovesick troubadour with a guitar," according to his website. The kid can sing, but the arrangements and lyrics have little soul. He's worth keeping tabs on. If Damigo ever decides to jettison his mainstream aesthetics, he has the potential to pump out a good song or two. joshdamigo.com
—Joshua Emerson Smith
Danny and the Tramp
Decently produced ska-punk-pop music for youngsters to jump around to in their bedrooms. The lead singer, Danny, blows his blink-182-style pop-punk lyrics into bubblegum bass lines and guitar riffs to produce an inflated sound that should appease only listeners who are content with hot air. dannyandthetramp.com
—Joshua Emerson Smith
This rap trio has a polished, mainstream sound with lyrics that concern mostly wealth and hedonism. To wit: "Fuck a 9-to-5, and now I party all night." The beats are tightly produced but a little cluttered. There's not a lot of innovation here in content or style, but the group's clearly put in a fair amount of practice time. daygoproduce.bandcamp.com
—Joshua Emerson Smith
Nineteen songs of weak beats, weaker rhymes and frat-boy-ready choruses. Wow, a rapper who rhymes about loving weed, loving bitches, loving money and how great he is at rapping—what a novel concept! It's a wonder no one's tried that formula before. liftedmuzikrecordings.com/wp/artists-daze
With an awkward portmanteau of a name like Deadbrokedown, I can't say I had high hopes for "Shine," especially when it came with a public service announcement about hopes and dreams for children and regrets and how you should always hold on to those special moments because one day they'll be dead, or you'll be dead, or something. Anyway, as much as I'd like to be able to get behind the sentiment, the execution—which falls somewhere between Staind and "Cat's in the Cradle"—is about as cornball as it gets. reverbnation.com/deadbrokedown
By looking at the front cover, I can tell "Hypebomb University" is actually SDSU, but it's also a 23-track concept album by rapper Def Shon. He had me early on with Track 2, "Turn it Up." Its punk-rock "Fuck you" attitude, snarled over totally rad '80s keyboard, made me an instant fan, but from there he transforms Hypebomb U into the halls of wackademia. There are too many Auto-Tune effects, long-ass sketches between songs, mentions of Beyoncé, tone-deaf attempts at harmonies and unnecessary covers. His rendering of Snoop's "Ain't No Fun" ain't no fun, and you guys don't even want to know what he did to Bobby Brown's "My Prerogative." Also, the back cover put my LASIK to the test with the track listing laid out in two-point font in one long-ass paragraph. Then, there's no info about the personnel, so I have no idea whom to thank for any of the booty-controlling keyboard parts. Def Shon doesn't make the honor roll with this CD, but he doesn't flunk out, either; "Turn it Up" would be great as a 12-inch vinyl single, and I would totally spin that shit. reverbnation.com/defshon
Jason De La Torre
"You Can't Teach an Old Dog to Be Happy"
With only one song submitted, it's hard to get a handle on whether or not I enjoy Jason De La Torre's music. Based on this morose, pianoladen track, I'm inclined to say yes. With light handclaps softly plotting the beat, the song is heavily dominated by De La Torre's clear yet somber lyrics. The song meanders a little, wearing out its welcome a bit with a five-minute-plus running time. But a sudden clip of a child's voice and laughter near the end gives it a chilling and memorable finish. More please. soundcloud.com/jasondelatorre
—Jen Van Tieghem
The Dialog Project Band
This is quite possibly the most epic arena-rock / gypsy /prog / fusion circle-jerk I've ever heard. With '80s reverb cranked up to 11, the guitarist does his best Joe Satriani impression while the drummer plays as many fills as possible and the keyboardist ties it all together with some moody Middle Eastern ornamentations. The only thing missing? Songwriting. dialogprojectband.com
Dude submitted six hours' worth of DJ mixes (!), so I listened to the 37-minute "disco mix." He can scratch, and he's alright at using the cross-fader and spinning the same old songs in a new way, but, I mean, c'mon—he's only playing the hits. Oh, God, and cuts from Grease. Won't be hiring this dude for my wedding reception. facebook.com/pages/Dj-L/120959507975659
Solid hip-hop mixtape with roots in everything from J Dilla and De La Soul to Outkast and Madvillain. Anyone who follows indie rap will recognize much of the instrumentals on the 15 tracks offered here (9th Wonder, El Huervo, Elaquent, etc.), but Dre is more than capable of rhyming over what's a hugely diverse selection of beats. In a small, but underrated local hip-hop scene, I fully expect to hear more from this guy. watstoday.com
The third song on Down Big's foursong EP Bandana is titled "Fluf," which at least tells me that the band's done its San Diego alt-rock homework. And truth be told, pretty much everything on the record sounds like it could have been released in Southern California in the mid-'90s, from that song's grungelite sounds to the dizzy jangle of "Hair" and the bluesy reggae-rock of "Combat." There are glimmers of inspiration here and there, and the band's members can play their instruments well enough, but a bit more character or personality would go a long way. downbig.bandcamp.com
Dropjoy—"San Diego's local rock group," per their email—have some solid pieces in place. The guitar tones on this recording are good. The chord progression is pleasing to my ear. The lyrics need work, but there's some raw angst happening here. For some reason, the lively and mildly addictive nature of "18" brings to mind an old Nirvana demo for a song called "Opinion." I'm not saying Dropjoy are Nirvana. But they should keep at it. facebook.com/DROPJOY1
Most of Dr. Seahorse's six-song Go is exactly the kind of slickly produced, syrupy electro-pop that gets added by radio, played in mall dressing rooms and is hand-picked for television. Singer / songwriter Trevor Davis and producer / alchemist Mark Suhonen have given themselves a legit shot at the mainstream, but (someone stop them) then comes the Genesis cover—no shit, a synth-heavy contemporizing of "That's All." Duuudes. reverbnation.com/drseahorse
With a name like Dub Fuego, I'd have thought I was getting some serious roots-style dub reggae, but this is more like sing-along pop-reggae in the vein of UB40. This guy's got pipes and a voice that often resembles Anthony Hamilton, but it's wasted on music that sounds like Fisher Price: My First Reggae Song Made on GarageBand. dubfuego.blogspot.com
This nine-track, starry-eyed ambient instrumental album recorded on an iPhone and computer mic is unmoving as a whole. And track titles such as "Dumb," "Happy" and "Robotalk" don't really fit the sonic moods of the tracks. The artwork is cool, though. dunekat.bandcamp.com
Ed Ghost Tucker
I've been a fan of Ed Ghost Tucker for a while now. That said, the first time I saw them play live, I thought they had a ton of potential but were all over the place. They obviously draw from varied influences, and I felt they were trying to pay homage to all of it at the same time. But their dedication and hard work have paid off, as they've honed their sound considerably. This new single is far more of a synthesis than a tribute, and, as a result, it really ends up sounding more like Ed Ghost Tucker than anything else. soundcloud.com/edghosttuckerband
When access to recording equipment becomes easier and easier, and when irony saturates music, it's harder to tell what bands are truly provocative and what bands are just bad. There are moments on El Corko's demo where the country-tinged blues and haunting vocals feel transcendent, and the dissonant guitar solos give the songs a level of complexity that you won't find in commercial country. And then you realize you're listening to a track called "Eatin' Hooker Pussy and Drinkin' Beer" and it sounds like all the musicians are playing a different song, and you're all, "Oh wait, this isn't provocative. These guys just kind of suck."
El Monte Slim
If I Could Just Break Even
El Monte Slim frontman Ian Trumbull cut his teeth playing rockabilly in Michigan bars, but it makes perfect sense that he now calls California home. While Trumbull hangs his hat in San Diego, If I Could Just Break Even is clearly born of a Bakersfield heart. These 11 whiskey-soaked gems do Mr. Owens and Mr. Haggard proud. Punctuated by Joe Camacho's stellar pedal steel, Ruben Ramos' chugging stand-up and Paul Brewin's nuanced drum work, this excellent quartet serves up a deliciously dusty slice of honky-tonk without filler. Equally perfect for a late-night drive down a lonely stretch of road, a two-step with yer best gal or a night of heavy lifting at the local watering hole, this is an authentic and enjoyable record that gets better with every listen. reverbnation.com/elmonteslim
El Gun Legro
Memoirs of a Legro
Dominique Gilbert, aka El Gun Legro, lets us know from Track 1 that he's all about "bills never on time, crashing at my mom's place," but while his funds are meager, the résumé folded up inside the CD case is not. He toots his own horn as a hip-hop artist and mentions that "he often rocks a Little Richardesque hairdo with a front ponytail," but there's no photographic evidence to support this claim. Anyway, his sound ranges from reggae to slow jamming to mid-'90s rap, but in spite of his wordy letter, he doesn't include a track listing with the names of the songs. Standout track: 5, for its Rick Rubin-esque rock / rap sound. facebook.com/elgunlegromusic
In hilariously clumsy fashion, this upstart metal band stumbles through gibberish guitar solos, constipated bass rumblings and by-the-numbers Cookie Monster growls. You can't knock the guys for wanting to rock out, but you'll hear better music coming out of Satan's asshole.
Hip-hop has become a tired parody of itself, but Alvin Shamoun, formerly known as Entre-P and currently known as Biggie Babylon, makes the genre fresh and exciting again by telling it from the Iraqi-American perspective. He neither samples hits from the 1970s nor brags about bling; he composes his own tasty Middle Eastern-flavored riffs and spits out rhymes that don't make me feel embarrassed for him (hello, Kanye). Every song is polished, professional and ready for radio airplay, but two in particular stood out. The first, "After Party," has an Italo-disco bass line so twisted that it must have been born in Chernobyl, and if you can't shake your ass to this, you have no ass at all. "Neapolitan Blunts," however, is my new favorite jam. Here Entre-P informs us that his entrepreneurial ventures include a dispensary and that the Neapolitan is "3 different weeds and 1 Swisher Sweet." Other thoroughly kick-ass tunes include "Quit Leechin'" and "Zombies." I'll definitely be keeping my ear out for his latest project, Biggie Babylon. facebook.com/biggiebabylon
This band prominently lists its instrumentation in the press material as: djembe (a hand drum), lumanog (a guitar), harmonica, shakers, footcussion and keyboards— which gives you a pretty good idea of what to expect on its 50-minute demo. What all of that translates to sounds like a mediocre recording of a jam under the Ocean Beach pier. It's kinda folky, sorta jammy, somewhat new-agey and vaguely reminiscent of every classic rock song you've ever heard. Some moments do get pretty fucking weird, though, and remind me of freakrock acts like Frank Zappa, Mr. Bungle and Ween, but those are few and far between. reverbnation.com/ETDT
Exiles of Doom
5 Songs by Exiles of Doom isn't exactly what I expected, based on the name alone ( just goes to show the age-old book / cover adage still rings true), but it's hard to describe what it actually is. It sounds like Tears for Fears' Roland Orzabal fronting a scatter-brained A Perfect Circle. Little bits of emo, new wave, electro, grunge and post-rock emerge now and then— sometimes all within the same song—and because of that lack offocus, the songs sound a bit clumsy. With a little editing, they could be pretty good. facebook.com/DigTheKnife
Demos on Bandcamp
The guy behind this project, Robert Iwanik, is a veteran experimental musician, having spent time playing ambient jazz in Seattle and avant-rock in Chicago. Now he's in San Diego, and he's stocking his Bandcamp site with hissy, unsettling recordings of clangorous electric bass, unorthodox percussion, wordless vocals and, I think, field-recorded noise, all pieced together in ways that ensure you have no idea what to expect from the next track. My favorite was "Santa Ana," a seven-and-a-half-minute song featuring a narcotic rhythm (that sounds like it's being pounded out on basement plumbing) and the layered howls of dead-eyed strangelings over a wall of low-roaring fuzz. Unnerving. Engrossing. Laborious. Addictive. All of the above. faro1.bandcamp.com
Festival of Whores
One Bad Haircut After Another
Half of the songs on One Bad Haircut After Another are covers, starting with a scuzzy, sleazy cover of A Flock of Seagulls' "I Ran (So Far Away)," then a chugging pisstake of The Beatles' "Yer Blues" and finally a machine-punk stomp through The B-52's' "Planet Claire." The originals, on the other hand, include a song about Frankenstein babes and another about big-assed trailertrash honeys. Oh, and one called "She's So Sexy." They weren't kidding with this Festival of Whores thing, but One Bad Haircut After Another is definitely a joke.
Fighting with Irons
"Her Hands" is a song that goes nowhere in a hurry, slowly moving along the same clean-tone guitar riff for about two minutes before much of anything else happens. And though the addition of some nifty little riffs eventually turn this six-minute ballad into something a little more interesting than the sparse dirge it started as, there's very little here that justifies its length. Fighting with Irons seem to aim for something big and ambitious, but I can't help but feel something's missing. I can hear the talent, I'm just not sure this is the best use of it. fightingwithirons.bandcamp.com
The Fink Bombs
Garage-rock bands are a dime a dozen in, well, pretty much every city in the world. This is not an exaggeration; where there are bored teenagers and cheap pawnshop guitars, there are garage-rock bands. The Fink Bombs are one of them, though they sound considerably older than teenagers and, for that matter, more skilled and melodically colorful than the average amateur fuzz fiends. They certainly sound like they've spent plenty of time with Here Are the Sonics!!!, but they add a touch of cowpunk on "Writing on the Wall" and surfrock on "Trucker Brown," which give them a slight edge over likeminded bands. It's only a slight edge, but it'll do. reverbnation.com/thefinkbombs
Everything about this is bland— uninspired lyrics are met with flat vocals, simplistic acoustic guitar and woodblock. Each song presents the same tired formula. This coffee break puts me to sleep. Yawn. joeflatt.com
—Jen Van Tieghem
This classic-rock quintet has professional chops—especially the drummer. If you're into tie-dyed guitar riffs and a moody Doorsstyle organ, you'll have fun listening to these dudes. theflowerthief.bandcamp.com
—Joshua Emerson Smith
There's something a little, well, off about Don Forla. And I mean that in the best way possible. From the moment that nativewisdom gregorianblues begins, he takes the listener on a disorienting, albeit playful, ride through psychedelic vaudeville freakouts, intertwining the complex hobo blues of Captain Beefheart with the lo-fi folk of Daniel Johnston, all narrated with the hushed and muttered vocals of an uncomfortably unstablesounding weirdo. He incorporates Latin and Southwestern touches on "Breakin in My Shoes," which sounds as if it could have been plucked from a David Lynch film. And "The Future Sucks" is downright dreamy in its dense array of soothing guitar sounds and unexpected bursts of effects. I'm not sure I entirely understand Don Forla, but I definitely like his music. donforla.bandcamp.com
Free and Easy Wandering
Three solid, if unexceptional acoustic-folk demos about busking, bartering and being a rambling man. Fella has a decent voice and affective storytelling, but the subject matter and sentiments overall are about as relevant as an Occupy rally. freeandeasywandering.com
This one's all over the place. There are ambient rock songs, like opening track "Waiting," which combine interesting layers of vocals and synthesized sounds. And then, midway through the album, Friction Monster take a hard left into a screamo realm that I'm don't particularly like. The music and vocals are strong throughout, as is the production quality. Their better tunes remind me of the better years of Our Lady Peace, which in-trigues me enough to want to catch them live. frictionmonster.com
—Jen Van Tieghem
Fuckin' Duh Mixtape 14
Fuckin' Duh is every bit as lowbrow and obnoxious as you'd imagine it to be. Maybe more so. This mixtape is nine tracks of poorly recorded dick jokes over DIY Casio beats, and while it's consistently borderline unlistenable, there's a kind of "Aristocrats" level of high art to their lowbrow tendencies that makes their shtick admirable as a whole. "Intellectual Head," for instance, imagines blowjobs as a transfer of knowledge ("We'll call this head intellectual / because you're blowin' my mind") and then closes with the chant, "Feelin' titties, feelin' titties / feelin' breasts." For some reason, closing with "breasts" rather than one more "titties" just seems like an inspired move. I feel dumber, and yet richer, for having listened to Fuckin' Duh. fuckinduh.bandcamp.com
Hell yeah! Fuckin' rock that shit, dudes. I hope you were wearing codpieces and spandex while recording this, 'cause this is heavymetal to the core. A little Maiden here, a little Halen there, a little folksy Zep guitar work thrown in for good measure. Hot licks all around, baby. Now, where's the cocaine? reverbnation.com/fused
It's all me, but when I look at Dan Gindling, I can't help but think of ex- Good Morning America host Charles Gibson. And I imagine if Gibson—maybe during an interview with Gordon Lightfoot or something— had spontaneously grabbed a guitar and busted out one of the stronger tunes from Fingerprints, there's a good chance it would've gone over pretty well. I mean, I can totally imagine saying to my TV, "Hey, that guy's actually not half bad." reverbnation.com/dangindling
The Hand of Gavrilo
With a name like The Hand of Gavrilo, I expected some dizzy combination of psychedelia and schlocky horror, à la Manos: The Hands of Fate. That's not too far off from what The Hand of Gavrilo sound like, as a matter of fact—though their name most likely refers to the Serbian assassin credited with starting World War I—their effects-heavy psychrock coming across like an altrock Blue Cheer with a touch of The Mars Volta's rhythmically complex prog. It's hard-rocking, super-fun stuff, and with a slightly bigger studio budget, these guys could do some serious damage. thehandofgavrilo.bandcamp.com
Hanging from the Rafters
Box of Songs
This female-fronted three-piece reminds me of Everything but the Girl if only they were filtered through a prog-rock lens and the more sinister of Massive Attack's low-tempo grooves. The album never really gels as a whole, but they seem to be headed in the right direction. soundcloud.com/hangingfromtherafters
Sharon Hazel Township
14 C Bags Earnest and raw, Ms. Hazel definitely puts her heart into these eight tracks. But, to me, the folky, acoustic, pseudo-blues back drop that frames it isn't working. Hazel is charismatic and definitely has something to say. I'd just love to see her experiment: Get all Saul Williams and really let loose, try some spoken word or fiddle with electronic elements. The dish is there; I think the recipe just needs a few more herbs and spices. reverbnation.com/sharonhazel
Have you ever walked down the street and written a song based on your observations, to the rhythm of your footsteps? Something that might sound like: There is a man / there is a bus / hope it doesn't rain / cuz then it might rust. Most of Headsick's songs have this quality, but turned up to a grungy extreme. However, according to their Facebook page, the singer is a diagnosed schizophrenic, which gives his mental turmoil—a common lyrical theme—added poignancy. It'd be a mistake to confuse these songs with run-of-the-mill adult angst; rather, they offer an intimate portrayal of mental illness and one man's struggle to cope with it. reverbnation.com/headsickepic
The Heart Beat Trail
Fear of Being Alone; Halloween Annual No. 3 double EP
The first of these two EPs is an alt-country affair complete with twangy tremolo guitar and lyrics full of cliché cowboy jargon. It's as hokey as a Wild West town in an amusement park, and the whole act comes off as completely unbelievable and disingenuous. The second half of this collection doesn't deviate too far from the first. It has a bit more of a spooky '60s psychedelic vibe to it but feels equally as inauthentic and uninspired. theheartbeattrail.bandcamp.com
Hellnote My cassette player broke a while back, but I still got that warm cassette-listening vibe from the digital version of this dope hiphop beat tape. Filled with soulful beats and heady rhymes, it finds the local duo showing love for old-school hip-hop, J Dillastyle beat science and ravenous crate-digging. A little too choppy at points, but, all in all, it's ideal for a blunted head-nodding sesh. hellnote.bandcamp.com
Buzzkill the Magnificent EP
Those of a certain age might remember the days of horrorcore and vintage RZA beats that could have very well been the score of a slasher film. Something tells me these beatmakers do, as well, and good on them for it. However, most of the instrumental tracks last less than a minute. Flesh 'em out a bit more and get a capable MC on there and they might be a local hip-hop force to be reckoned with. Good stuff nonethe less. hellnote.bandcamp.com
A reggae album that's more Carnival Cruise than Pacific Beach bro party, Hirie drags through one squeaky-clean riddim after another in a homogenous display of what a tour guide speaking in a fake Jamaican accent would call "island vibes." hiriemusic.com
Outside Your Door
When your names are Fat Lando, Lolita and Rhino, not to mention that you have legendary Seattle producer Jack Endino on board, and your one-sheet says the band "continues to keep guitar rock alive," you have to be aware that you're building some lofty expectations. And while Outside Your Door has a few nice moments and plenty of nifty guitar work, it never lives up to that promise. sound cloud.com/hocus-music
Return of the Comeback
Not a single song on Return of the Comeback reaches two minutes, and none of them has to. They get in, make a mess, tear shit up, break the windows, annoy your neighbors, piss on your lawn and then get the fuck out before the cops show up. Their methods mostly involve three-chord punk songs played loud, fast and with snot-rockets to spare. It's punk rock the way it's been done for nearly 40 years, and it sounds just fine to these ears. facebook.com/hoodrat666
Grey Test Hits
Grey Test Hits is a collection of punk songs from various EPs and albums released by Inciting Riots between 2001-2009. "Me & My Attitude," "Oi Boi," "Road Kill" and "If Not for the Ramones" are all culled from 2004's Tim Goes to Prison and are their best offerings here: a mix of vitriolic, spirited vocals and grungy, fuzzed-out guitar set to pummeling drums. Sadly, the remaining cuts lack any urgency, often plagued by bland lyrics and dull, punk-by-thenumbers riffs. incitingriots.com
I'm Not Eminem
Hahahahaha, this guy sounds like Milhouse Van Houten! A dweeby flow, awkward rhymes, feeble beats—this is straight poindexter-rap right here. Though, I don't know—Milhouse might make a better rapper than Inzain. The former has self-awareness; he knows he's pitiful compared to Bart Simpson. But Inzain? This dude has no humility, and no sense of humor, either. He wants to blow minds, positioning himself as the enlightened alternative to the most successful white rapper alive. But, in fact, Inzain's socially conscious raps are trite as hell and occasionally even kinda sexist (see the cringeworthy chorus to "The Way That Love Goes"). If you think about it, Inzain could probably learn something from a guy like Milhouse. Maybe his next mixtape should be called "I'm Not Milhouse." facebook.com/hiphopasylum
I Trust You to Kill Me
The Extreme Existential Crisis EP
I trust you to be smart enough to tell by the band's name that this is some serious screamcore with no songs longer than two minutes and lyrics that resemble something you might find scribbled in shit on a mental asylum wall. It's not bad, but I also trust that it might only appeal to 17-year-old males who desperately want to punch their mothers. itrustyoutokillme.bandcamp.com
Keith Richard Ramirez
Three Song Demo
The band name sounds like Marilyn Manson's keyboard player, but the music is more akin to Al Jourgensen trying to sing like Bob Log III, backed up by pre-glam T. Rex, who are, by the way, high as fuck on 'ludes and mescaline. I'd call it garage rock, but I don't want to insult any garages. facebook.com/KeithRichardRamirez
Truly remarkable albums have the ability to sound ephemeral and permanent, to capture a specific time, yet sound timeless. Kids' Growing Up is that album, a seven-song explosion that feels simultaneously calculated and slap-dash, a perfect package of punk energy, nostalgia and—true to their name—youth. It's not just that the songs are catchy (though I can't remember the last time an album opener wormed its way into my brain like the title track). These songs are selfless. They give listeners the chance to be young, to experience the late nights, the crushes, the clumsiness, the awkwardness, the mosh pits, the heartbreak and the stupid things we did that left scars. When they sing, "Now we're growing up / And we've got to think about the next four years / And we've got to think about the next 10 years," it's difficult to tell whether it's a middle-finger or a cautious embrace, but great music has always had the ability to contradict itself. And the scars will still be there, even after we're old enough to know better. sandiegokids.bandcamp.com
Alright, Normalcy Bias is a concept album, the kind in which the entire story arc and—dare I say it— plot are spelled out right there in a garishly descriptive paragraph on the back cover: A character named "Character" journeys through a 1984-like military-state world, eventually descending into insanity. Cool story, bro. The album is a never-ending mix of quasi-prog-metal, noodling jazz, synth burbles and ridiculously goofy vocals. The musicianship is topnotch, but who really cares when you're asleep halfway through the first song? I'll take the Thought Police over this blather any day. lucasleemusic.com
Fruit of Knowledge EP
Legacy Pack is one of those feel-good, neo-soul / hip-hop / rock groups that tend to be painfully vanilla, overwhelmingly preachy or just plain boring. Thankfully, the Legacy Pack's only main missteps are the goofy, Lilith Fairinspired cover art and the heavyrock / rap disaster of the title track. The rest of the EP brims with powerful rhyming, compelling flow and tight, talented musicianship, with the strongest track being the opener, "Delirium." My two cents, guys: Less played-out, faux-metal guitar, more trumpet. facebook.com/legacypack
Two Song Demo
Note to parents: When you don't buy your kid guitar lessons and you instead just let him hole up in his room and listen to Circa Survive records, don't be surprised when some pissy reviewer slams his feeble attempt at emo-folk in the local alt-weekly. I'd say more, but I probably already made the singer of Les Pussies Terribles cry, cut himself and write a song about it. soundcloud.com/terriblechildren
This guy can't harmonize to save his life, and he's no Elliott Smith on the acoustic guitar, either. But the flaws in his folksy tunes simply add to their warm, quirky charm. "Some of the best days are when it rains," he sings in "Plain." It was raining outside while I listened to the delicate strums. Right there with ya, Ian.
Demo Julie Lockett sounds like an Auto-Tuned Aretha Franklin impersonator crossing paths with a chipmunk-voice pitch-shifter. In these tracks, she's accompanied by the sort of factory preset softpop organ vamps you'd find on an old Yamaha keyboard. Her lyrics mostly consist of soul-singer bromides: "You will find your way. You will, you will, you will." All of which is to say that she's totally awesome and weird.
One man with a guitar sings maudlin stories about love lost and other related themes. These folk ballads aren't bad, and would probably sound perfectly fine if played by your friend in front of a campfire marshmallow-roast.
—Joshua Emerson Smith
McHenry, Ritchie and Chin
This Americana trio features two guitars, a standup bass and songs of down-and-out gamblers and ramblers. They're tight instrumentally, with moments of nice improvisational flourish. I'd happily pay $5 to listen to them at a local watering hole. soundcloud. com/mchenry-ritchie-chin
—Joshua Emerson Smith
( A Short Story)
Rudy Palos, man. He's been quietly kicking around in the local scene for a while now, and this Latin-tinged instrumental beat-tape—in which he operates under a new, Mexican-flavored nickname—finds him in top form. Here, cumbia and rhumba samples mingle with neon-tinged synths. Dirty bass lines fill the speakers, pushing forward with sex appeal. When things start getting out of hand, tight hi-hats and knocking kicks put the tripped-out vibes back in line. For all the dope Latin flavors, there's also "Menudo Love," a slab of '80s-style boogie-funk replete with cosmic synth stabs and 808 cowbells. But my personal favorite might be "Resolve"—you can practically see Palos tapping into his drum box in real time as he conjures a soulful mid-tempo groove. These beats are so stylish and lively that they'll fit most any occasion: smoking a blunt, making love or simply cruising to the beach in a lime green low-low. So remember the name: Rudy Palos. This dude knows what's up. rudypalos.bandcamp.com
"Tell that to Pablo Escobar" Meth Labs hate your fancy car, your big TV and your notion of the American Dream. They probably don't care for you, or me, or this review, for that matter. All they want to do is drink beer, hang out with friends and destroy their instruments by playing insane punk, which is the only way to play this kind of music. Meth Labs' one-track demo is a booze-fueled thrasher that espouses the joys of ditching the materialism of modern life, and it does so in just two minutes with the ferocity of a Dillinger four track. methlabs.bandcamp.com
Cutesy, cat-loving indie-pop is not something I'd actively seek, but this co-ed quartet won me over with these four songs packed with catchy hooks and sing-along choruses. Fans of Camera Obscura and Acid House Kings will almost certainly find tracks like "Steal You" and "Always Knew" to their liking, but it's the ballad "Heart of Me," which ends with soaring harmonies and a frenzied guitar-and-drum showdown, that proves that this band isn't afraid of experimenting with the formula. mittensband.com
Blue Diesel I typically enjoy my grass when it's green, but if it has to be blue, Mohavisoul does a pretty decent job with it. The songwriting is solid, and everyone can play, but the whole thing's just begging to be kicked up a notch. After a while, a constant stream of mid-tempo songs ends up being a big, fat folky yawn. I thought the unspoken rule is that a bluegrass band has to jump into the hot skillet a few times every night. reverbnation.com/mohavisoul
Rivers and Roads EP
Tyson Motsenbocker is a talented singer-songwriter in a city that's already chock full of them. While his familiar acoustic-pop style isn't exactly my thing, I have to give Motsenbocker credit for what he's crafted on this five-song EP. The mellow songs are well-arranged, and his pleasant lead vocals are matched nicely by a sweet feminine voice on most of the tunes here. The result is palatable but, unfortunately, all too common. tysonmotsenbocker.com
—Jen Van Tieghem
Going to Your Happy Place
Three cheers for real fucking punk rock! These songs are all super-short and super-stupid— highlights include a sneering rager called "Up Yours, Happiness"— and that's exactly what makes it all super-rad. Bonus points for the off-key, mosh-o-riffic cover of Ace of Base's "The Sign." Now let's get some Mickey's and puke on the carpet. mr-nobody.bandcamp.com
Ja! EP Muniq's sound is so steeped in homages to obscure genres that it's difficult to tell whether they're serious or not: They're equal parts Italo disco, German pop and post-apocalyptic '80s-movie soundtracks. It's certainly fun to listen to talented musicians who can emulate their esoteric influences, but the Ja! EP is a little too steeped in obscurity to be entirely satisfying. For example, if you've never explored Goblin or Tangerine Dream's deep cuts, this might feel like the soundtrack played in a haunted house ride, complete with terrifying Dracula voice. But if you can keep a straight face while dancing to a Moog breakdown with "Lights, music, legs!" shouted over it, then this was made for you. muniq.bandcamp.com
The Nerd Herd
This demo is a lo-fi landfill for a number of regrettable mainstream rock trends during the past 20 years, from the instantly outdated funk-rock of Red Hot Chili Peppers to the lifeless ska / reggae of Sublime to dead and bloated riffs of post-post-grunge. The female lead vocalist has a distinctive voice, though, so points for that.
Never Pass Go
Here we go: Another band trying to rage against the machine with sloganeering poorly disguised as rock music. The cover of Never Pass Go's Baltic Avenue depicts Monopoly's Uncle Moneybags giving a Nazi salute in front of stormtroopers, but the band's raw folk-punk sound yields tracks that don't seem to get any more thoughtful or more interesting than generic slogans like "Kill the Machine." Their music is just too sleepy—and singer Kevin Black too much of an atonal mess—to actually inspire any action. Some singing lessons, a political-science class and a new rhyming dictionary won't necessarily win hearts and minds, but they would definitely make this better. facebook.com/neverpassgo
Three or four chords, barked vocals and a skull-busting rhythm section, all presented at one speed: the speed of classic punk rock. The Nieces' take on the genre is undeniably catchy and unmistakably gritty; my favorite thing about this EP might be the production, which coats the tunes in enough grime that you can almost hear the tattered old flyers peeling off the walls, but not so much that it sounds shitty. A fine effort all around by three dudes who seem like they get it. reverbnation.com/thenieces
The Night Owl Massacre
The First Five
I'm going to guess that The Night Owl Massacre have spent some time with Rocket from the Crypt's catalog—the first song on this demo, "Into the Ground," sounds almost exactly like Rocket's "I'm Not Invisible." And it's hard to fault them for rocking out in the shadow of one of the city's greatest bands. While the rest of The First Five doesn't find the group so blatantly attempting amateur Rocket science, the influence is definitely there. These are some good-time, power-chord-heavy rock 'n' roll tracks, with just enough punk snarl to give them a rowdy edge. facebook.com/thenightowlmassacre
The Catherine Keener Demo
The great thing about recording demos in the 21st century is that you can make a fairly decent-sounding recording without the incessant hiss of cassette noise. On that note, No Prom's Catherine Keener Demo sounds pretty good, if not necessarily professional. The problem is that their vocalist mumbles his way through songs, without the aid of a decent microphone, so it just sounds like he's muttering random shit from the center of their practice space. And he very well could be. Aside from that, this is middle-of-the-road pop punk / indie rock. Nothing more, nothing less.
No Time to Tarry
Four songs with crudely picked stringed things, vacillating bass lines, disorienting horns and vocals that warble like found sounds on a cassette left all summer long in the back window of a broken-down sedan. The result: songs and melodies that seem stretched till broken, then put back together in a way that's almost right, but not quite. I have no doubt these outsider-folk peddlers will take all of the above as a compliment, by the way. As they should.
Cold Beer, Dirty Girls
Everything about Oddball's Cold Beer, Dirty Girls is punk: feverishly fast drums, repetitive guitar riffs and screeched vocals. I couldn't make out much of the lyrics, but with song titles like "Just the Tip," that's probably a good thing. Some solid guitar solos break up the relentless pace of the tunes, but the complete package—from the artwork to the off-key vocals—is enough to convince me I'm not a fan. reverbnation.com/oddballsandiego
—Jen Van Tieghem
The names are misleading—Ojo Malo is not Latino. And despite the Spanish track titles, nothing in the music has any hint of Latin rhythm. Instead, itís a nine-track experimental-rock album that uses samples from radio broadcasts and movies, including Johnny Depp's classic bit from Once Upon a Time in Mexico : "Are you a Mexican or a Mexi-canít?" Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez would maybe dig this duo. Maybe. ojomalo.bandcamp.com
This female duo plays fragile and fingerpicked acoustic songs that float into your headspace, hover around for a while and then blow away with the next significant breeze. The guitar work is solid, and their voices work nicely together and separately, but some of these melodies need more time to develop. They're too slight. Once On Fifth's songs are over, good luck humming them from memory.
I don't know, man. Copyright on Reflection's liner notes is 2009 and the listing on CD Baby claims 2012. Either way, it seems pointless to rehash this neutered collection of Richard Marx-meets Candlebox lite-rock. otoscopemusic.com
Packaged in an Atlantic Records catalog LP insert from the 1970s and burned on a CD-R designed to look like a record, Palos' Soul Edits pretty explicitly aims for a vintage aesthetic, which goes double for its music. Soul Edits isn't just a title; it's a description of the smooth, funky and all-around groovy sample-based tracks contained on this release. Each track is less than three minutes long, some even under two, but Palos packs in more than enough heady, immersive sounds to keep the good vibes flowing on a repeating loop. I'm a sucker for Rhodes piano and fat bass grooves, so consider me sold on Soul Edits . rudypalos.bandcamp.com
Three Song Demo
This co-ed duo describe their sound as "EuroPop," and I'll be damned if I can't think of a more apt description. Think ABBA if they had no songwriting skills whatsoever. Their bio says they'd love to get their music on TV ads, but after listening to the overly schmaltzy "I'm Still Here" a couple times, I reckon the only company that would be interested is one that hawks cheese-flavored products that aren't actual cheese. Even then, the song's so cheesy, Kraft would only use it ironically. paradoxplayground.com
— Seth Combs
Can't You See Me Running
Hector Penalosa packs his technically proficient pop-rock with skillful guitar solos. Unfortunately, his singing doesn't stand up to his musical skill, and the overall product could benefit from a dash of originality and a better backing band. Despite honing his chops as a member of local punks The Zeros, in this context, Penalosa merely feels like a solid session musician on a solo-project misadventure. facebook.com/hectorpenalosa
—Joshua Emerson Smith
Planet Free Jazz
Perhaps I need to take Peter Holslin's advice and see these guys live, but, to me, this noise duo just sounds like they're being weird for the sake of being weird. Other than the spastic improvisation and the cover of Sun Ra's "Nuclear War," I don't hear anything here even remotely resembling jazz—just cracked-out, guttural bellows, nonsensical spoken-word and music that sounds like it was made (and likely only enjoyed) while on several buttons of peyote. penishickey.bandcamp.com
— Seth Combs
Clint Perry & The Boo Hoo Crew
Time of our Lives
It turns out, this is a Parents Choice Award-winning band with songs like "Face Full of Spider Webs" and "Chug-A Chug-A Choo Choo." Plus, each CD comes with a ride ticket to Belmont Park and a Jersey Mike's kids meal. Thank goodness, because I first listened without context and thought it came with a creepy moustache and a van filled with candy. But Perry's songs are goofyand good-natured and should definitely appeal to younger children. boohoocrew.com
The Phantoms sound like any ol' rock band you'd hear in a seedy bar that keeps Miller High Life and Fireball whiskey on special. Methinks that after a half-dozen of each, they'd still sound mediocre. The lyrics are simplified rhymes about everything from broken hearts to punching bosses—all sung out of tune and with little conviction. On "Ditch Digger," singer Victor Penalosa sings about his shitty day job, which I'm going to go ahead and say he shouldn't quit just yet. reverbnation.com/phantomsinfo
—Jen Van Tieghem
Aaron Poehler & Ryan Tully-Doyle
Seeing the CD, I assumed this was a straightforward singer-songwriter duo. I was wrong, and surprised to find this is, in fact, a progressive-rock act that sounds awkwardly similar to mid-í00s indie duo She Wants Revenge: moody, uptempo dance songs with slightly distorted baritone vocals and angular electric guitars. aaronpoehler.com
Some Jerk at Work
The premise for this EP is that Powell is a new dad who can't find time to make music at home, so he does so at work before his colleagues get to the office. All these songs were recorded with a mic on Powell's phone; the vocals were done while he sat in traffic. It's a cute idea, and while his little quirk-folk songs won't change the world, hey, the point is that they're done . And if lo-fi banjo, guitar, melodica 'n' more equals a semblance of artistic fulfillment for Powell, more power to him. Parents everywhere can appreciate that.
Don't Punch the Table EP
Project Analogue present an intriguing blend of í90s-era rock with just the right pop elements. The female vocalist has stellar pipes, and she puts them to work right out of the gate on opening track ìRevolving Door,î which is an ethereal mix of vocals with synthesized sounds and a catchy chorus. Reminiscent of The Cranberries at times, the delicate lyrics are matched well with grittier guitars and drums. The male singer holds his own, as well, and his contributionsóboth as lead and backing vocalistóare a welcome alternative to the sleepy delivery of most dream-pop or shoegaze frontmen. And though the final song of the EP was the weakest of the bunch, the other four are more than strong enough to earn my endorsement. facebook.com/projectanalogue
—Jen Van Tieghem
Qui Ne Chante Pas
An enjoyable little four-banger of Gypsy foot-stompers that seems primed to play even better live. But a quick trip to their website reveals that covers of things like Mumford and Sons, Imagine Dragons and The Lumineers (I saw a version of Ed Sharpe's "Home" somewhere, too) are also part of the show. Mais pourquoi? Insert my sad Marcel Marceau face here. reverbnation.com/quelbordel
Quietwater is a duo that blends classical music, hip-hop beats and pop sensibility into something that sounds well-thought-out and exquisitely crafted, like an earth-tone quilt pieced together from bits of the past and the future. It's not exactly the kind of music that jumps out and grabs you, but it's great mood music for those rare gray San Diego days when you want to stay inside, drink tea and do a little popping and locking, Old World-style. reverbnation.com/quietwater
I Feel Like I'm Taking Crazy Pills/Excelsior (Rev 1)
The Rebound play technically pristine pop-punk with enough hardcore thrashing to give them a harder edge—think blink-182 meets Thrice. And the quality of their recording is outstanding, which gives each drum fill and guitar riff the attention it deserves. But super-slick production on punk rock always feels disingenuous, even if the band falls under a market-friendly subgenre like pop-punk or emo. It's a minor complaint, I know, and most cute emo chicks don't care about crust punks making shitty recordings in their garage, but it feels like the sheen reveals a little too much restraint when a band like this could afford to go batshit crazy.
Remedy By Request
"Shut the Club Down"
I'm not sure if Remedy By Request is the name of a group or the name of the rapper on this CD, but at least they (he?) kept it short and sweet with a one-song single. "Shut the Club Down' is a Black Eyed Peas-ish, catchy-ass earworm written in a minor key, so of course I loved it. I noticed three references to snacks by brand name and four mentions of "swag," but it was the "ain't no Urkel in my circle" rhyme that won me over. I was also endeared by how closely vocalist Angie Sagastume resembles Saturday Night Live 's Jane Curtin. They ought to pipe this into the stores at the mall that sell skinny jeans for $9.99 so they can get paid before the word "swag" finally falls out of fashion. reverbnation.com/remedybyrequest
Awful name aside, this all-female quartet performs pretty straightforward punk-by-numbers (sample lyrics from "Denial": " You're in denial!! No I'm Not!!" over and over and over again). They live in Alpine and look like they could kick my ass, so I don't want to belabor the point of their unoriginal suckiness. facebook.com/revolutchix
— Seth Combs
2+2 = Chicken
The Schmaltz lineup that performed this album is no longer playing together, so, apparently, this is a posthumous review. The good: These songs often feature some crazy time signatures and some superb guitar / bass playing. The bad: everything else. They're just too goofy for my taste—it's Tool-lite meeting a nerdy Primus cover band in a knife fight—but played as demented elevator music with bizarre vocals and lyrics that sound like an IT guy on acid.
More like an audio anal date rape. More than a dozen tracks of three-chord glam-punk from a guy who dresses like the Burning Man version of the Mad Hatter. This is music so stupid and misogynistic that I literally slapped myself in the face and went "Doh!" à la Homer Simpson. I sincerely apologize to anyone who listened to this because they follow me on Soundcloud. soundcloud.com/jawsh-sek-sy
— Seth Combs
Tolan Shaw has it together. There may not be all that much originality when it comes to his songwriting, but this guy surely can sing. With a catchy, horn-drenched sound guaranteed to offend no one, I can totally see my mom getting down to this in her kitchen. tolanshaw.com
—Joshua Emerson Smith
The Spark Three
After a bunch of sloppy punk demos, the twinkling, extra-indulgent disco sound that The Spark Three craft arrived as a palate cleanser in the best way. On first listen, it seemed as if the group did a cram session with Daft Punk's Random Access Memories , but then again, there's enough in the way of strong melodies here to make me overlook the similarities. The scratch guitar and rolling bass line of "Under the Sun" make for an instant party, while "Theme A" buzzes with some dirty low end and a dreamy, hyper-infectious chorus. The Spark Three are extra smooth and extra funósequin jumpsuit optional.
Just by the title— B-Sides —Squarecrow are telling us that we're not about to hear their A material. And that's fine; you never know what kind of treasure you'll find buried in a band's outtakes and castoffs. And their style of rockabilly-influenced pop punk is nice enough. It's catchy, crisply produced and even occasionally features some horn flourishes. Ultimately, though, I've heard far too many bands that play this kind of polished pop punk to ever want to hear this again. squarecrow.bandcamp.com
The Stalins of Sound
Now more than ever, with radio stations being inundated with too-earnest faux buskers, it seems that a lot of bands could really benefit from spending some quality time with Big Black's Songs About Fucking . Judging by this record by The Stalins of Sound, who wrap their noise punk in pseudo-Communist propaganda, the band's done its homework. Tank Tracks finds the trio using a few tricks in the Albini playbook, namely loading a hefty wall of fuzz against a drum-machine backdrop. But the band's abrasive machinepunk contains its share of hooks, and even some downright pretty melodies. This is all relative, of course, but after the militant march of "Blood Sex," the group carries the song out on an oddly serene and dreamy coda. The tremolo-picked riffs of "El Cajon Beatdown" are just this side of a Norwegian black-metal demo, and "Monkeys Attack" might be the best song that Devo never wrote. It's not that hard to make a chaotic noise-punk record sound good, but The Stalins of Sound have a knack for songwriting that puts theirs on another level. stalinsofsound.com
On the surface, Stewardess' "Ghost" sounds like a fairly conventional alternative / indie-rock song. It's awash in dreamy guitar jangle, disco bass lines and a lightly danceable rhythm, with some breathy, affected vocals mimicking the titular apparition. It echoes that brief dance-punk renaissance of 2004 and '05, when groups like Franz Ferdinand and Bloc Party were starting to take over and garage rockers and throwback acts were beginning to falter. Stewardess pulls it off nicely. It's hard to see the full picture with just one song, but it's not a bad start.
For some reason, iTunes recognized Stone Horse as "Reggae," though that's not even close to what the band plays. Rather, Stone Horse play—as you might gather from the name—rough-and-tumble bar-band rock 'n' roll. It's pretty fun, I'll admit, but the schlock factor is turned up to 11, with songs about riding motorcycles and "making love all night long." It's music for biker rallies, basically, right down to the harmonica solo. thecarlosrockexperience.com
The Stone Walls
These dudes are like Dinosaur Jr. without the cool aloofness. Blazing indie-rock riffs and a singer with a scratchy "rocker dude" voice ain't nothing special, but it gets the job done.
I was digging this from the first song, "Teenage Love Gone Wrong." It's got a buzzsaw electric guitar chugging away to a Psychedelic Furs-y melody that warms the heart in all the right places, but the rest of the CD sounds like either The Killers, or whoever's music was in Target commercials in the early 2000s. Eight out of 11 tracks are 'luded-up, 35-mph power pop with vocals that sound like Brandon Flowers. I prefer when they rev it up to at least 55 with "Stoned" and "Rat." I know these guys have been getting some recent hype, but I think they're just a'ight; I was hoping Devil's Lounge would be more Satanic.
The opener on this four-song EP made me think this was a dreamy little instrumental post-rock record à la The Appleseed Cast, Joan of Arc, etc. This is not the case. Second track "Little Runaway" sounds like a bland Interpol / She Wants Revenge imitation. Third track "Done with Love" is basically Guns N' Roses meets Oasis. The last song, "All Gone," is one part shoegazing stoner rock and one part '90s quasi-Christian "post-grunge"(e.g., Creed). If I didn't know this was all one band, I'd have sworn it was the most eclectic mini-compilation of all time. sundropelectric.com
Sunset at Duck Pond
These three ambient soundscapes make me feel like I'm in an episode of The X-Files . They could just as easily score a Nova video about space that I saw in my seventh-grade science class. Either way, it does a pretty good job of luring me into a trance-like state that would give any muscle relaxant a run for its money. This is less music that you listen to than it is a mood that washes over you.
The Sure Fire Soul Ensemble
"Layin Low" b/w " IB Struttin"
It's impossible to get a real bead on a band through two songs, but The Sure Fire Soul Ensemble have picked a winning pair on their debut 7-inch. Grooving somewhere between Afrobeat rhythms and straight-up soul, this instrumental collective has obvious chops and showcases them nicely on this double-shot. And, really, who doesn't like vinyl? thesurefiresoulensemble.bandcamp.com
Set against a smooth-jazz band with a sugary keyboard, Taylor sings heartfelt songs of love and longing. With a big, clear voice, she cleverly improvises her lyrical poetry through surprisingly unpretentious, enjoyable arrangements. teagantaylor.com
—Joshua Emerson Smith
Tiger Milk Imports
Tiger Milk Imports
As I take in Tiger Milk Imports' winding synths, layered rhythms and sly vocal parts, I feel like I'm wandering the infinite alleyways of some virtual futurescape—like Tron but a littler darker. There's a lot going on with this outfit's proggy electro-pop sound, which is distinct and full of promise. A couple of tracks here have frustratingly similar bass lines; a couple others sacrifice soul for the sake of technical showiness. But when core members Shannon O'Brien and Alexander Dausch zero in—with the intricate "Welcome to Nighttime," for example, or the hypnotizing synth opus "Vegas"—they come up with something special. facebook.com/TigerMilkImports
Todo Mundo is a damn-fine live act. But not enough of that impromptu energy and expansiveness translated on 2010's Organic Fire . With Conexion, the discrepancy between performances and recorded output is starting to fade. Latin grooves, samba, reggae, cumbia and jazz combine on the new album for an enjoyable hour of music that more than hints at what they can do on stage. I don't think they'll ever be able to capture the magic of their shows on a standard release, but they're certainly getting closer. reverbnation.com/todomundo
Mess With The Unicorn Get The Horn!
Straight-up pop punk. Simplistic, melodic, irreverent. Every song be gins with a "1-2-3-Go!" and almost all of them clock in at 2:30 or less. The tunes are catchy and straight-ahead without any regard for pretense or self-indulgent "artistry." Listening to this takes me back to the feeling of going to all-ages punk shows in my younger days. reverbnation.com/thetouchies
Take the worst Korn song you can remember and throw in the singer from Ugly Kid Joe (look 'em up—or, better yet, don't) and that would still be better than this steaming pile of nu-metal rehash. This is what I imagine George Zimmerman listens to while beating up his girlfriend. facebook.com/weare.trelic
— Seth Combs
Trouble in the Wind
If you have a beachside bungalow and a sunset, you might want to jam out to these busy rock arrangements, often layered with accordion, upright bass and/or banjo. With throaty, moody vocals and tight, frenetic instrumentation, it's not hard to see this being more than a few somebodies' cup of gin-splashed lemon zinger. troubleinthewind.com
—Joshua Emerson Smith
The Jason Tryp Experience
The Many Colours Of
A hand-written letter taped to the outside of this CD informed me that Jason Tryp is a Brooklyn native who's an "occasional dweller of the regions of San Diego when having to find himself sleeping in his mode of transport." But he's a touch cooler than Jewel. If you dig lo-fi, mid-tempo '60s grooves with wah-wah and tambourine, Tryp's your guy. He doesn't mention any other personnel, so I'm guessing he plays all the instruments himself, à la Prince, and does so competently. The vocals sound OK until he does flat, zombified harmonies that sound like a slightly more coherent Ariel Pink; he'd do well with the help of some proper backup vocalists, unless, of course, that Ariel Pink shit is what he's going for. Standout tracks: the extremely Jesus and Mary Chain-y "She's Cute" and the Merseybeat sounds of "You Must Be Crazy." soundcloud.com/Jason-Tryp
Two Eyes Meet Redux
Words Without a Voice EP
Two Eyes Meet Redux describes itself as "pummeling beats" and "sparkling synths," but this is false advertising—the beats are lethargically toothless and the synths wiggle along without aplomb. The (thankfully) brief EP ultimately suffers from flat-line syndrome: There are neither peaks nor valleys. Hey, dude, try enticing your audience; get 'em in the mood. How about doing a cover of something like Cee Lo Green's "Fuck You"? Then you might be saying something. twoeyesmeetredux.bandcamp.com
I'm always impressed by the kind of range that some bands are able to encapsulate through limited means. Void Lake is one such band, taking on a relatively ambitious dream-pop / shoegaze sound without the array of effects pedals that fill up Kevin Shields' bedroom closet. But Void Lake's sound is closer to that of minimalist U.K. post-punks Young Marble Giants than My Bloody Valentine. There's a dark, gothic intrigue happening in their hazy guitars, detached and distant-sounding female vocals and dub-flavored drum-machine beats. Void Lake are chilly and chilling, and they capture a wide range with relatively few instruments. voidlake.bandcamp.com
Well Strung to Hang
Well Strung to Hang
Record producer / former Drive Like Jehu drummer Mark Trombino recorded most of these songs way back in '92. Now, Well Strung to Hang are back together with a new lineup (the only original member is frontman Mark Anderson). Alas, their raw, emotive indie-punk sounds as flabby and shapeless today as it would've 22 years ago, though I do dig the jackknife riffs of "Disconnected," a track recorded in 2002.
American Nookie EP
Wicked Randall pulls no punches. He bellows / "raps" (I use that word very loosely here) on songs titled "Suicide Bombers" and "Payback, Gonna Be a Bitch," where he basically shouts the title phrases over and over—and over. His accompanying cheese-metal riffs sound like canned, cornball Garageband loops. Randall also doesn't fuck around with cover artwork and presentation; instead, he scrawls words out on a piece of loose-leaf notebook paper with the handwriting of a 5-year-old. This is one of the worst things I've ever heard.
The Wild Young Hearts
The Wild Young Hearts are kind of like Lennie Small from Of Mice and Men : kind of dumb, but with a big heart. California Dreams , like a Pacific Beach bro, can be charming, especially when name-dropping San Diego streets and landmarks, but ultimately bland. When the central conflict to nearly every song is finding the party or "fucking a supermodel" (from the song "Supermodel"), I guess you can't expect much intellectual challenge. Oops, my bad—they do get all provocative on "What We Know is Wrong," a critique of some ubiquitous "they" that has the complexity of a Pennywise song: "They keep us silent as sheep, then they distract us with drugs and MTV." Not exactly Rage Against the Machine, but their audience is probably too drunk and sunburned to notice. thewildyounghearts.bandcamp.com
Geography and Other Problems
Singer / songwriter Normandie Wilson gets a lot of Burt Bacharach comparisons. It's a fair association, and Wilson regularly cites him as an influence, but she's never been as Bacharach-y as she is here—her strongest work yet. A song like "A Lack of You" is a perfect example of Wilson as an artist in full control—vocals out front, with minimal accompaniment, as she confidently turns a tale of heartbreak into an easy-going standard in the making. It'll be interesting to see where she goes from here. normandiewilson.bandcamp.com
With a pleasant voice and all the coffeehouse trappings of every other acoustic-based, country-folk band, Paul Wolfe's four-song demo showcases some fine guitar playing and well-sung harmonies here and there. Sadly, the songwriting comes off awkward and disingenuous—especially on "Union Mine" and the ultra-cringeworthy "Screenwriter."
"Won't Gimme a Chance"
Based on her photo, I was expecting Lacy Younger to play fairly standard singer / songwriter fare. Then "Won't Gimme a Chance" started and out came some huge, distorted guitar riffs and AC/DC-inspired badass talk. Kudos for the element of surprise, Lacy! What ultimately holds the song back is how tied to the early-'90s it sounds, right during that brief period when butt-rock was on the way out but grunge hadn't broken big just yet. Sure, it rocks, but it could benefit from a little updating. lacyyounger.com
I guess Zombie Barbie kind of sounds exactly how I thought they would—like the B-52's met Aqua and Right Said Fred in a weird '80s electro-goth sex dungeon. And reading their one sheet, it seems that's basically how they describe their music. If mock-rock is your thing, or if Hasselhoff, Benatar and Yankovic are your idea of a "supergroup" then this band is for you.
Some rappers do creative things with Auto-Tune. Zoniak is not one of them. When he uses the famed vocal filter, he sounds like a robot filled with cheap brandy, stumbling around to paint-by-numbers club beats. Unfortunately, he's not any better when he rhymes in a regular voice.