Why do we do it? Why do we gather dozens, sometimes hundreds of local demos each year, and listen to each and every one, sometimes only to end up receiving a lot of angry emails and letters about the results?
The answer is simple: It’s because we give a shit about local music. That might not sound so convincing if you had your demo slammed by one of our writers, but it’s true. We want San Diego to be a place people think of when they think of good music. And so every year we like to take the temperature of the city’s music scene and offer our own remedies for the areas that might be a bit ailing.
We received 102 demos this year, a dropoff in submissions that I’m going to go ahead and blame Donald Trump for but by no means a small number, and we reviewed all of them. Many of them were excellent—those we dub EXTRASPECIALGOOD, as we’ve done in past years. A handful of them we definitely didn’t like; we hope those artists will take it as constructive criticism or at least have a sense of humor. Most were between the two extremes, usually pretty good, but sometimes in need of a tweak. But I can definitely say that while we can only give away so many EXTRASPECIALGOOD designations, San Diego sounds pretty good this year. Here’s to hoping that 2018 can keep up the streak.
10-19 The Numberman—Solus Superstes
I can’t remember a time that our Great Demo Review didn’t start off with a release by 10-19 The Numberman, and frankly I don’t want to. The veteran hip-hop artist delivers a surreal mixtape of disorienting hip-hop tracks that are uniformly short and trippy, not unlike any of Madlib’s many weeded out productions. The lyrics are often distorted, the samples distant, but the production is compelling all the same. There’s nothing commercial or mainstream about the brief tracks contained here; it’s underground rap at its most wonderfully weird. 10-19thenumberman.bandcamp.com
a swoop & a cross—a swoop & a cross
San Diego has no shortage of bedroom beatmakers, and here’s one who knows how to make music that knocks but can’t resist burying it under a blanket of murk. I don’t know exactly what (he?) (they?) are doing, gear-wise, but these nine tracks sound like wheezing robots covering sad chiptune songs at the bottom of Clams Casino’s backyard pool. Good stuff’s burbling just beneath the surface, and the experimental streak is very much appreciated. aswoopandacross.bandcamp.com
Santiago Adkins—Open Letter
This is what you’d get if Boy George never hooked up with Culture Club, smoked a bunch of crack before going into the studio and indulged every single creative impulse he had. That’s not necessarily a bad thing—there are interesting ideas here. Just too scattered to work as a whole.
Maybe it’s just the “Ae” in their name (like “Aenima”), but I was half expecting Aempire to sound like Tool. I’m a little thankful that they don’t—nobody’s got time for 11-minute wankfests when reviewing a couple dozen demos. Instead they have a dreamy indie rock sound in the vein of Grizzly Bear, balancing a light layer of synths with rhythmic guitar riffs that come together nicely, sounding mainstream enough for radio but with enough in the way of unique arrangements to have staying power. The longer I listen, the more I like it. soundcloud.com/aempire
AJ Froman is a musical collision of fluctuating tempos, wide dynamic ranges and the strong vocal presence of Sarah Norwood. With Indecorum, they offer up a refined collection of complex and alluring progressive psychedelic rock. It seems that over the years, AJ Froman has established a sort of self-awareness of their music, having submitted to the Great Demo Review before, revealing that they are adept musicians both creatively talented and fully aware of their direction as a band. ajfroman.bandcamp.com
Alive & Well—From Basements to Beaches
Pop-punk is alive and well with, uh...Alive & Well. I can’t be the first person to say that; it must be intentional. But puns aside, the group has the kind of polished power-chord chug and eternal-teenager vocal style that makes everyday feel like 2002. They do it well, however, right down to the rhythmic start-stop dynamics and harmonies, key changes and tempo shifts. And as far as I know, nobody in the band is a UFO conspiracy theorist. But hey, it’s never too late to start. aliveandwellmusic.bandcamp.com
Amen BK—Another Perspective
Sounds like a mix of conscious rappers like Dead Prez and Saharan rockers Tinariwen which, on the surface, seems like a novel and potentially great combo. However, this Tunisian-American MC gets a little bogged down in clichéd platitudes and “tolerance is unity” sentiments. We sure do need some positivity in these troubled times, but Amen is at his best on the bangers like “The Hermit” and the funked-up jams like “Ignite for Tonight.” amenbk.com
ATO Worldwide—I’ll Do It To Myself
ATO Worldwide’s demo kicks off with a sucker-shaming banger called “Did That” that features some fire trap beats, whoops and a number of emcees taking turns going buck wild. It’s almost as if they saw what Atlanta rappers like Young Thug were doing and said, “hold my beer.” It’s high-energy hip-hop with innovative production and no shortage of intensity. This is great. soundcloud.com/atoworldwide
Balance’s rap can best be compared to the feet-dragging sluggishness of a weed hangover. Cyclical choruses kick off “Ring Alone,” “We Can Go” and “Jive” and keep coming back like unsatisfiable munchies. Such a formulaic structure makes each song less surprising than the last. Best case scenario: He sounds like Atmosphere after a Xanax binge. soundcloud.com/user-473758038
Ball Turret Gunner—The Hanky Panky Yankee EP
Ball Turret Gunner is Ian Beeson’s self-proclaimed “studio only” project. Thank goodness. These four tracks (with, no shit, titles like “Birthday Blowie”) are much better kept away from public consumption. soundcloud.com/hookersonstilts
Despite the title, complete with a cover image of an Uzi-wielding bro at a gun range, this EP takes aim straight at the great wide bullseye of mediocrity and manages to miss even that. It’s the kind of middling suburban garage rock one hears emanating from the backyard party the teenager down the street throws while his parents are away for the weekend. Pass. Hard pass.
Bayou Brothers—High Roller Zydeco
What’s the difference between good zydeco and bad zydeco? I honestly don’t know—not being from Louisiana probably has something to do with that, though Bayou Brothers mostly sound like blues rock with accordion, which sounds more like bad zydeco than good zydeco, however hard to define. With a bunch of mostly interchangeable shuffles featuring lyrics like “Come on down” and “get on the floor,” this feels a bit like stumbling into a crawfish boil jam sesh. Which is probably the point? bayoubrothers.net
The Bearded Faux—“Rest Assured”
Only one song here, but as far as Blueshammer-type “blues” bands go, this isn’t the worst I’ve ever heard. In fact, there’s some pretty sweet organ playing so the guys may wanna consider going the psych-rock route instead of trying to sound like they’re making music for pickup truck commercials.
Big Bloom—Big Bloom
Big Bloom’s music ranges from punk to dream pop with psychedelic influences throughout. “Why Spells” is a pretty, psychedelic treat with saccharine vocals accompanied by busy guitar noodling. “Gun Mix1” (a working title?) is the complete opposite of “Why Spells” in terms of energy. There are fast, dirty guitar riffs, fuzz bass, shouted vocals and spacey breakdowns. The trippy elements add cohesion, which in turn makes these two tracks sound that much better back-to-back. bigbloom.bandcamp.com
Black Oak Hymnal—Blood Moon
A nicely sequenced collection, these ten solid tracks of gothic folk snake their way through an expansive, dusky pallet before closing on a well-executed two-song crescendo. Mandolin up!
Body Song—I’m Not Crazy (You Are)/Stained Glass Eye
The first two-track single of a new project by members of Deadphones and Cuckoo Chaos is a double dose of indie electro-pop lightly dusted with the avant-garde sensibilities of mid-career Serge Gainsbourg. Downbeat but never dull, these two tracks blend acoustic guitars, synthesizer loops, beats, ambient sounds and even a bit of piano into a prismatic sonic collage. If this is any indication of where Body Song is headed, they’ll be delivering more good stuff further down the road. bodysongband.bandcamp.com
Bossfight—Daze of Gray
There’s something to be said for gathering up your best songs, going into a studio and capturing them well. That’s what Bossfight has done on Daze of Gray, an 11-track collection of melodic punk rock that’s immaculately recorded. (P.O.D.’s Marcos Curiel produced it, by the way.) The guitars chug, the drums rat-tat-tat and the melodies consistently stand apart from the din. Listening to Bossfight is like going a few rounds in the pit, just with fewer bruises the next morning. bossfight.band
Broken Stems—What Are You Connected
Broken Stems have cool hats, beards, professional photos shot in Joshua Tree and plenty of impassioned lyrics sung in affected drawls to go around. It’s the Southern California rock ‘n’ roll starter pack. These motherfuckers can play, though. I might take issue with their aesthetic, which is really a matter of preference, but their talent is genuine. As rock music goes, this is a little too American Idol for my own tastes, but they got chops and (mostly) know how to use them. brokenstems.bandcamp.com
Buck Zero—Blue Lit Temple
Will San Diego ever get a break from the incursion of new-agers espousing trite “spiritual cognizance” and “universal love”? Probably not, especially with rappers like Buck Zero whose cliched lyrics such as “Followin’ my heart but still they see me as a villain” and “Lately I’ve been grindin’ in the third dimension” convey vacuous sentiments apparently inspired by a self-described “spiritual breakthrough.” The most contrived attempt at thoughtful reflection is when Buck Zero ponders, “How the fuck were human beings created?” All in all, the lack of originality in his verses and beats is what brings this one down. soundcloud.com/buck-zero
The Bum Deals—Demo
The Bum Deals’ bold and sassy music is immediately reminiscent of Television’s Marquee Moon and other late ’70s-’80s post-punk and garage rock. “Rise” is an especially strong track with its distorted, nasty-sounding bass and Johnny Rotten-esque sneer. “Welcome to the Future” has some pitchy vocal moments but also stands out with its fun drumming, catchy riffs and call-and-response vocals. One nitpicky criticism: This would sound a lot better with less banter from the musicians.
The Cactus Project—Diamond In The Rough
This dude seems earnest. But there are only two properly mastered songs on this 11-track album of acoustic jams, one of which is an ode to Irish fairies. There’s also a track with this chorus: “Long hair, a girl or a boy? But my hair, it fills me with joy.” liammcgraththecactusproject.bandcamp.com
Rip Carson—Anywhere But Here
Among the torrent of hip-hop beats and lo-fi rock that flows into the Great Demo Review, Rip Carson’s vintage-feeling surf-pop ‘n’ roll is a breath of fresh air. Channeling old-timers such as Buddy Holly and The Ventures, plus newer acts like Arctic Monkeys, Carson offers a likeable take on a well-worn formula. His songs are bouncy and hyper-melodic, his aesthetic somehow seamlessly floats between the ‘50s and the ‘80s, and the guy knows how to wrangle killer tone out of an electric guitar. Anywhere But Here feels like a throwback without feeling stuck in the past. Some might use the word “timeless.” ripcarson.com
CLEAN ROOM—Bad Bad Dream
Listening to CLEAN ROOM’s primitive punk rock certainly does feel like a “Bad Bad Dream.” While the band has commendable instrumental talent, it’s quickly overshadowed by the predictable guitar riffs and half-baked lyrics. Jeffrey Halleran was probably completely stoned when he wrote the lyrics for songs such as “Chocolate River” (apparently an ode to Willy Wonka) and “One Last Rip” which both epitomize the reason that this band should keep their songs confined to the dingy basement where they probably spend most of their time getting high. cleanroom.bandcamp.com
Color Til Monday—Demo
I’d like to find the person responsible for creating Pop-Punk/Emo Voice, its patent filing likely stuffed into a dusty file cabinet somewhere in a windowless room in Delaware, and make them listen to what they’ve wrought, Clockwork Orange style, until they apologize. Color Til Monday uses Pop-Punk/Emo Voice to an offensive degree. They write fine enough songs with catchy choruses, but Jesus fuck that voice is grating. They also have a song called “Not All Who Wander Are Lost” which is equally offensive (what, was “Coexist,” written in religious icons, taken?). I’m looking forward to the day Color Til Monday gets to their Springsteen-punk phase; until then the pop-punk cliches just aren’t going to cut it. colortilmonday.com
Tyler Daughn—“Three Silk Covered Thoughts”
Spacey psych ballad for people with pink eye in their third eye or who believe that Tame Impala is actually doing something innovative. Not bad considering the lo-fi production, but the foreboding keyboards more closely resemble something out of an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical than drug-induced states of delirium.
Deaf Child Near—“On My Floor”
I was warned in advance that this song was recorded via smartphone and fairly rough, so it’s somewhat refreshing that it’s nowhere near the worst sounding demo I’ve ever reviewed. It’s definitely pretty unpolished, but the mixture of drum-machine click and slacker narrative makes it sound most of all like one of the folkier tracks from Beck’s Mellow Gold. It’s hard not to find that charming in its own way, though it’s definitely a work in progress. I can hear where Deaf Child Near are going, however, and I like it.
De La Rosa—S/T
The two tracks on De La Rosa's self-titled demo sound like they were made by two entirely different bands. The first, "Mehico," is a Beach Boys-inspired pop track with a bit of punk fuzz to rough it up a bit, while the flipside, the seven-minute "L.B.V.B.U.", is a Beck or Cornelius-like mish-mash of electronic beats, acoustic guitar and fuzzy vocal harmonies. It's a strong first showing for sure, and a good start for what could ultimately end up a really cool project. delarosa-sdmusic.bandcamp.com
Deep Blue Sea—Five song demo
“When will we know love from hatred?” asks the singer of this schmaltz-rock band in her completely generic coo. And Christ on a cross! What the fuck is up with the guitarist doing a solo every chance he gets? It sounds like a poor-man’s Joe Satriani fronting a drunk girl’s karaoke party. I bet he wears sunglasses on stage. Fuck this. reverbnation.com/deepbluesea4
Death Club—“These Days”
Death Club’s name sounds pretty intense for what’s ultimately a pretty lo-fi folk project. Their sole submission is a gorgeous cover of Nico’s “These Days,” and admittedly, Nico has some goth cred. This, however, is breezy and aesthetically appealing. No morbid Valkyrie dirges here. deathclubsd.bandcamp.com
Divad—Three song demo
This is the type of generic hard-rock you might hear playing at a Dave & Busters in the deep south. The musical equivalent of Truck Nuts and Calvin peeing stickers. I’d highly recommend fist-pumping anthems such as “Every Death is a Suicide” (well, no, not really) and “Wicked Game” (sounds like Nickelback covering Chris Isaak) if you also like road rage and fucking your cousin. Because what’s more wicked than that? reverbnation.com/divadtheband
DJ Pnutz—The Good Wife’s Guide to Beatmaking
Sometimes a woman’s place really is in the kitchen, especially when it’s a DJ like Pnutz cooking up the 19 delicious tracks found here. Using clever samples to call out hip-hop’s inherent misogyny without ever letting them get in the way of the music, she delivers 70 solid minutes of head-nod-inducing instrumentals that showcase her obvious love for—and expertise with—the male-dominated genre. Channeling the spirit of beat masters like Shadow, Premier and Dilla in equal measure, Pnutz seamlessly stitches the diverse collection into a cohesive whole that keeps its momentum from start to finish. And while any of the tracks included here would provide an excellent backdrop for a skilled MC, the sample-infused tapestry of sound more than stands on its own. djpnutz.bandcamp.com
Double Action Fucked Primavera—Double Ice Cream Sad
“Indoor Soccer League”
“Don’t Fall Apart Like Brioche”
A four-track collection of off-kilter pop tunes that sounds like the bastard love child of Gary Numan, Vetiver and The Flaming Lips. Too little a sample to really go on, but I’m interested to hear more. facebook.com/music.dragonfresh
Dream Nova—Dream Nova
I worry about what’ll happen to indie rock if there’s ever a reverb pedal shortage. The whole genre is likely to wither and die after everybody with a guitar forgets what other music sounds like. Dream Nova uses a lot of reverb, employs some familiar surf rock riffs and a lightly funky low end. It’s perfectly pleasant but will inevitably get swallowed up in a scene that already has too many bands that sound like this.
Someone’s been listening to Daft Punk! Graham Elliot lays on the Auto-Tune thick against a backdrop of smooth disco pop, showing off influences both cool and painfully uncool. On “Midwest Muse,” he splits Bruno Mars-style funk-pop and ’70s-era easy listening, with some throwaway lyrics about a “California girl on the inside” who’s 18 but has a fake ID. He name checks San Diego. He sure does. “Psycho,” meanwhile, is a slanderous disco against Donald Trump. It seems too upbeat to be effective protest music, especially when the lyrics could easily be replaced with some vapid bullshit without anyone noticing. These are slickly produced pop songs that groove well, but until Elliot ditches the lyrical cliches these songs feel like unreached potential. soundcloud.com/grahamelliotmusic
This is a sneak peek at an upcoming mixtape from brainy local rapper Parker Edison. The first track is a short take on Arcade Fire’s “Neon Bible,” and the closer features a woman singing the Cheers theme within its 18-second run time. In between are two excellent cuts: one where Parker raps about fools acting foolish against a super jazzy beat, the other a posse cut built on some airtight boom-bap that blazes so hard it’ll light up the night. Can’t wait to hear the rest. themightyinfamousparkeredison.bandcamp.com
Fanny and the Atta Boys—Demo
You just know that the members of Fanny and the Atta Boys spend their free time snapping their suspenders, muddling handmade simple syrup into craft cocktails and lamenting the fact that we’re not living in the 1920s. However, despite the fact that the whole old-timey thing has been pillaged to death, Fanny and the Atta Boys are quite good. Their mix of Gypsy jazz, Americana and blues skews darker than most, which makes a song like “Eerie Lullaby” sound as if it was written in the bottom of a boat lost in the Bermuda triangle. Plus, Fanny’s got some serious singing chops. facebook.com/fannyandtheattaboys
At first glance, Faro’s Roma is both overwhelming and intimidating. It has 36 tracks, which is a lot by anyone’s standards. Most of them are short, abstract sketches, however, built on experimental bass drones, feedback and ambient effects. It flows together as one continuous piece for the most part, with appearances by guests such as Doug Scharin of Codeine and Eugene S. Robinson of Oxbow. There aren’t many moments that feel like proper pop songs, but it’s all very cool, super eerie and moody. It’s like listening to a horror movie in space. faro1.bandcamp.com
Joe Garrison and the Night People—The People Upstairs
This is a nicely assembled team of pros playing jazz originals. All of it skillfully composed and arranged by Joe Garrison. Nightpeoplejazz.com
Generik—79’ Pontiac Grand Prix EP
The local MC has received a lot of love from CityBeat over the last year (he was an “EXTRASPECIALGOOD” in last year’s music issue, and Jeff Terich loved the new LP with producer Tall Can aka Jesse Cannon), and after hearing this EP, I’d consider myself a fan as well. “Yung Lowkey” and the burn-it-all-down sentiments on “Bruce Lee” take me back to the golden days of Bush-era hip-hop where MCs were too busy being political to be politically correct. generiklnc.bandcamp.com
“Imagine music with a mixture of Heavy Metal, Punk, and Hard Rock” reads this band’s bio. Well, I can imagine that because it’s been done ad nauseam, and this music sure as shit isn’t it. The four tracks on this demo sound more like a drunken Frank Zappa fronting a bad GWAR cover band. The vocals are horrendous, the transitions are nonexistent and the rhythm section is about as tight as JNCO jeans. goatfoot.rocks
I’ve always been sort of annoyed by the fact that there’s a festival called Beach Goth that has almost nothing to do with goth (and isn’t held at the beach—that’s flagrant false advertising). But Gravyyard has the kind of sound that qualifies as “beach goth.” It’s hazy indie rock music with dark effects and surfy riffs, with elements of The Cure and The Cramps draped in a nice layer of shoegaze fuzz. I’d honestly love to hear more where this came from, since “Aural Stein” is such a promising start.
Gustavo, Diego y Rogelio—Demo
A demo is the skeleton of a song—an idea, a base to build something beautiful. After listening to Gustavo, Diego y Rogelio’s demo, it’s easy to imagine how their laid-back vocals, jazzy electric guitars and quiet percussion could sound that much fuller with a four-piece rock band. However, even if they kept the instrumentation as is, these simple songs are well thought-out and easy on the ears.
The Hand of Gavrilo—The Hand of Gavrilo
A name like The Hand of Gavrilo conjures up images of b-grade horror movies (maybe I’m just thinking of Manos: The Hands of Fate), but the band that bears this name is light on camp value. Instead they opt for meaty hard-rock riffs and songs that recall late ‘90s radio fare such as Tool, Smashing Pumpkins and Chevelle. It rocks pretty hard but feels too self-serious; The Hand of Gavrilo might want to take a page from Rob Zombie and just run wild with the camp. thehandofgavrilo.bandcamp.com
Headphone—Clouds of Scattered Noise
Earnest pop music with heavy doses of electronic production, sassy vocal affectations and the occasional piano ballad for those moments when you need to hold your sweetheart close. It’s more Coldplay than Radiohead, but the music is well produced, and I can easily see this band becoming really popular. headphoneband.com
Rick Hines—“Atrocity Exhibition”
This is not a track-by-track tribute to Danny Brown’s 2016 album, but a cover of the first song on Joy Division’s second album Closer—recorded for Donald Trump, Rick says in an email. To his credit, he successfully captures the tune’s ominous nature, swapping out the original’s abrasive guitar parts for swooping, blooping synths that ebb and flow as Rick delivers Ian Curtis’ unnerving lines in a barely tonal spoken-style and a chorus of maniacal laughs close in. It’s all very strangely appropriate for these times, somehow.
Hookers on Stilts—A Collection of Singles
“I don’t always use a slide, but when I do, I make it sexy.” Ian Beeson is kind of a funny dude. Unfortunately, this “collection” of four self-produced songs is neither funny nor sexy and amazingly includes both a Beatles cover and a song titled “Finger Blasting Ain’t Cheatin.” Dude. facebook.com/hookersonstilts/
The Humble Crab—Humble News Network
When “WTF” moments in the Trump administration occur almost daily, it makes sense that art will become crazier, weirder and more unhinged. The Humble Crab’s addictively entertaining record Humble News Network sounds like it was produced in a single night, probably under the influence of acid. Produced during the last days of the election, the makeshift songs skewer conservative politics and conspiracy theory peddlers like Infowars. Let’s all consider ourselves blessed that the lyrics “I am pizzagate keeper. Are you the pizza keymaster?” (a riff on Ghostbusters and the alt-right conspiracy) now exist.
Imagery Machine—Imagery Machine
“Lost in Love,” “The Art of Letting Go” and “Just a Dream”? Current status: puking rainbows. Imagery Machine needs to find a way to separate themselves from the oversaturation of indie-girl vocals that are taking the world by shitstorm. But most importantly, 311 should never be quoted in a bio again. Nobody wants to hear about the color of your energy. Let me guess, is it amber? imagerymachine.bandcamp.com
What kind of music is this? Two clues: 1. This EP consists of six songs that clock in at less than eight minutes in total. 2. Song titles include “Fire At Will,” “Drone Strike” and “Stomp Them Out.” DING DING DING! That’s right, it’s D-beat-style crust punk! Anyway, this band wails. Buzzsaw guitars, carpet-bomb drums and a singer who’s probably saying good things but who knows ‘cuz he sounds like he has a mouth full of marbles. KÄMPFER is appropriately fast, crusty and confrontational. Fight on, dudes! kampfer.bandcamp.com
KillProcess—// The Time Is Now //
Is this late ‘90s techno? Is it big beat? Is it In Flames-style cheese metal? Is it dubstep? Is it The Matrix soundtrack wearing a pleather trench coat? Is it a dream where you’re at a Metallica show, but it’s, like, not a Metallica show? Is this the feeling of being red-pilled? Is this the sound of living the rest of your days in a post-apocalyptic hellscape with only your bitchin’ souped-up car to keep you alive? Or is the answer all of the above? Yes.
Mathias Kruse & Brenky—Eustress
North County’s answer to the Bristol trip-hop sound that launched acts such as Massive Attack and Tricky, this EP is actually one half of a larger concept project. Drawing the title from a psychological term for life-changing stress, Kruse’s candidly self-analytical raps and spoken-word lyrics focus on internal struggles but sidestep the kind of navel-gazing which would have derailed a lesser recording. An emceed poetry slam minus the pretense, Eustress is worth taking the time to listen to. soundcloud.com/mathias-kruse
The post-Trump political climate will not suffer fools who make innocuous art, and even if hip-hop duo LNC’s (Left in Company) music isn’t outright political—well not all of it—it harbors a certain urgency that forces itself upon listeners, grabbing them by the ears, saying, “Listen, motherfuckers.” With Forbidden Fruit, rappers Generik and Aneken have crafted something sneakily monumental: layered, complex, weird, but also damn smooth. “I don’t need to brag about how ill we are,” they rap on the first track, a song that sounds like a horde of warriors raiding Tesla’s laboratory. But audio/lyrical demolition only goes so far without charisma, and Aneken and Generik have it in spades—there’s catharsis in every traded verse. No matter what happens to society in the next couple years, we’re lucky to have artists like Left in Company creating meaningful, life-affirming music. soundcloud.com/leftincompany
A cover photo featuring cobalt, polka-dotted, fake eyeballs was enough to spike hope for this self-proclaimed drone album. “Delouse,” in particular, sounds like a car crash in slow motion, accompanied by a simplistic and uninspiring drum pattern. The rest of the EP keeps up the 20-car pileup score, including what seems to be the sound effects of people injured in said collision. illalchemy.bandcamp.com
Madly is a very good rock ‘n’ roll band featuring members of other rock ‘n’ roll bands past and present, including Black Hondo and The Marsupials. No surprise then that the four songs included in their demo are very good rock ‘n’ roll songs. The mixing feels a little off—I don’t know why the drums are so quiet when the band’s definitely got the chops to rock the fuck out—but that’s a minor problem at best. Lucina Gonzalez’s vocals are smoky and cool, while David Robles provides alternately trippy and badass guitar riffs throughout. Better yet, the band’s demo is refreshingly free of rock ‘n’ roll cliches. With songs this strong, Madly should definitely keep ‘em coming. facebook.com/madlysd
As I read through Mango Habanero’s press release, cringing at the descriptors “funk, rock reggae, fusion, alternative,” I had an epiphany. Maybe it’s not the music that I hate so much, I thought. Maybe I just hate myself. What else could explain my disdain for the tried-and-true Sublime style that everyone else in So-Cal loves? I put in the CD. It was a little better than expected—mostly due to the presence of Haley Kasarda, who breaks up the white-boy-hangs-loose vibes with some mad guitar licks—but... nope. I’m fine with hating myself if I don’t have to hear this type of music again. facebook.com/mangohabaneromusic
Matching Machine—It Doesn’t Have to Make Sense
This appropriately-titled EP careens wildly from ethereal folk music to jangly roots rock to ambient psych-pop to rock on a track-by-track basis, either eschewing vocals or employing Dadaist lyrics to further add to the odd idiosyncrasies. Catchy and wonderfully weird, the individual tracks are all quite good, but as a whole this feels like a handful of good ideas casting about for some focus. Demerits, however, for dropping the racially insensitive term “Indian giver” in the lyrics.
Melodic Destruction—six songs
You know how great bands often have a few great players who feed off each others’ skills and energy when they’re making music? Melodic Destruction is sort of the opposite of that. These six songs are interesting and well-crafted and, indeed, darkly melodic, but they sound like a few silent days in the studio spent meticulously layering on sound after sound in search of symphonic synth-pop-rock perfection. This heart beats but it needs more blood pumping through it.
Might Be Taken—Demo
Might Be Taken sounds like a competent band that can play its instruments. The singer can sing, and the songs will appeal to a wide swath of people, especially “Water Song,” which has a memorable chorus. This band exists somewhere in the comfort zone between funk, rock, folk and pop, just don’t hit “play” hoping to go on an adventure. Honestly, Might Be Taken should learn a bunch of hits of the past several decades and get tons of wedding gigs. soundcloud.com/mightbetaken
Millionaire Beach Bums—Demo
There’s no question that the kids in Millionaire Beach Bums are talented, which is impressive given that none of them are old enough to vote. And that’s why I’m going to take this opportunity to say: the world doesn’t need another Sublime-aping surf-rock band. You kids still have your whole lives to fix this! Get out and innovate before you become another sad, Pacific Beach bar band. Sorry for the tough love, but you’re too skilled to be playing this type of music. millionairebeachbums.com
Mr. Foxx—Kingdom of Fear
Any album that features two tracks in 45 minutes is going to be a bit of a slog to get through. Granted, my tolerance for ambient and drone is pretty high, but that’s still a lot to ask from a listener. Mr. Foxx’s drones are certainly epic, and often have something interesting going on, with low-end notes sustained for long periods of time or feedback shrieks offering a piercing counterpoint. It’s not until 15 minutes into the title track that things start to get exciting, with an explosion of drums that portends some kind of momentum and climax. It doesn’t stay that way, but it breaks up the bowel- and ear-shattering experimentation nicely. This is admirable for its ambition, though I don’t see myself listening to this kind of extended dronescape often. mrfoxx.bandcamp.com
Blast from the past. This pop-punk trio formed in 1984 only to split up shortly after. Recorded after their reunion in 2015, the eight tracks on N2.0 are over three decades in the making. Nothing groundbreaking here, but definitely an enjoyable, uptempo set. neintheband.com
NEUTRAL SHIRT’s album of jangly pop composed of keyboard, guitar and drums comes together in a heartening collection of songs. They don’t have the most original or advanced compositions, but what they lack in innovation they make up for in cohesiveness. Overall the simple yet playful sentiment of their lyrics and mellow timbre deems their music worth a listen. neutralshirt.bandcamp.com
Jesse Nova-Summer Tales and the Blues EP
Six well-produced tracks of singer/songwriter fare gussied up with bass, keys, and percussion. However, the EP is strongest when it’s just Nova and his guitar—like on closing track, “Bottle Take One.”
Of Ennui—All Things Bad and Mean
It’s not easy on first listen to tell what’s going on with “Trudge,” the first track on Of Ennui’s new EP. It sounds a bit like doom metal, and there are two overlapping vocal tracks that prove to be unusually disorienting. Yet while this psychedelic shoegaze band stretches the limits of their effects pedals and multitrack recording process, once everything clicks into place, it’s stunning. “Trudge” is a kind of test of the listener’s resolve; if one can get past the sludgy opening track, the reward is the hypnotic dream pop of “Sad Boy,” the hyperactive noise pop of “Checkstand” and the Cocteau Twins-like title track. Part of the appeal in Of Ennui’s music is in how well they’ve schooled themselves in the classic shoegaze canon. Yet another part of that is how they fuck it up, making pretty songs noisier and noisy songs prettier, occasionally taking on an oddball sound collage. All of the tracks on All Things Bad And Mean feel distant and a bit lo-fi, but that only seems to add to the hazy mystery of it all. It’s intoxicating. ofennui.bandcamp.com
Old Man Nate—Hammond Organ Stuff
Nothing quite stirs up the ol’ nightmares than listening to a lone Hammond organ, which is definitely the spookiest instrument (come at me, theremin). That’s not to say that the music Old Man Nate makes is bad, but there is a certain je ne sais quoi... soul-stabbing?... aspect of listening to covers of “California Dreaming” and Otis Redding’s “Pain in My Heart” played through a Hammond. But hey, I like my music spooky, and in most cases, I’ll take these dead and decaying versions over the originals any day.
Three songs of excellent indie-pop that left me clamoring for more and asking “where did these guys come from?” Upon further research, it seems like the core of the band is a married couple from Nebraska who now live in Carlsbad. I thought I was in for some Julie Ruin-inspired fun upon hearing the chopped-and-screwed punk-pop on “Even Keel,” but the band quickly changed it up with a blast of power-pop (“Fuzzy Muffer”) and a sexy ballad for good measure (“Summer’s Ending”). With the somnolent tempo, slick guitar play and co-ed vocals, the latter song sounds much like the band Low at their most content and playful. It’s a great thing when a band sends you three songs and, after listening to them, you immediately go to their webpage to see if there are more. Lucky for me, and for readers, there are. soundcloud.com/theoxen
John Pemberton—3 Instrumentals
This three-track demo features three tracks in four minutes: It barely exists. But it’s certainly pleasant, featuring some finger-picked classical guitar, gypsy jazz and occasional experimental strum session. These sketches could certainly be fleshed out into something more substantial, but they’re nice enough as a teaser.
Any band with a sound influenced by the Pixies are ace in my book, and Polish conjures those indie rock heroes on nearly every song. In the opening track “Taco Bout It,” a propulsive bass line supports wild, abrasive guitars in a way that’s nostalgic for “Debaser.” But it would be a mistake to call this band derivative—they infuse a healthy dose of shoegaze and angular punk to become their own beast. With a little more tightening up (this demo was recorded live) I think this band is destined for greatness. polish2.bandcamp.com
Quali—Awaken the Quietus
Every band that I can compare Quali to are loud: Hum, My Bloody Valentine and Explosions in the Sky, to name a few. But Quali’s music is disarmingly delicate, which makes listening to them feels like a beautiful implosion, or a quiet panic attack. Shimmering guitars often float on a wall of noise, and the singer’s dreamlike voice conveys a deeper sadness. My only qualmi (qualm + Quali, eh? EH?) is that the songs tend to go long, especially the seven-minute jam session that nearly grounds the entire album. qualiband.com
No, I don’t want your music to “funk” me in the sand, and no, your “Brazilian swagger” does not ameliorate San Diego’s surf rock circle jerk. But, Raggabond does have one hidden talent. Unbeknownst to them, main singer Mario Marauak has become an office meme (see above). Since our Five-Minute Film festival, a clip from their music video “So Nice” has circulated the internet any time a CityBeat broski felt “so niceeee.” And, while Raggabond’s love affair with San Diego is tourism repellent, we’ll let it slide for the sake of meme land. soundcloud.com/raggabondca
Props to the guys in Remedii for sending mini Frisbees along with their promo—that’s a boss move. Unfortunately, the 11 tracks of self-proclaimed “Froggy Punk” included here are never quite as fun as throwing those little plastic discs around. Remediirock.bandcamp.com
If these demos are any indication, the new Rightovers album—whenever it comes out—is going to be great. Here, we have sketches of songs and skeletal tracks set to drum-machine rhythms, but what shines through are the sly melodies, the sighed oohs and ahhs and some snappy new wave vibes. Bouncy pop-rock sits alongside shoegazey guitars and icy electro-grooves hum along at a motorik pace. This is cool, stylish stuff. therightovers.bandcamp.com
The Royal Orchestra of Titicaca—Earthling Hymns of Christmas Past
By removing the words “Jesus,” and “Christ” from these Christmas classics, Marcelo Radulovich is aiming for a more inclusive holiday experience. He succeeds. But with quirky and sedated arrangements, and Radulovich’s high-pitched alter-ego Bepo “Ricochet” Armstrong on half the vocals, these ‘hymns’ are more a calling card for the maestro’s creativity rather than a soon-to-be tradition. Soundcloud.com/titicacaman-records/
Russian Tremors—Roaring Quasars
The band sites Slint, MC5, Drive Like Jehu and Sonic Youth for reference. Throw a hearty portion of Clutch into that mix and you’re in the neighborhood—definitely a soundtrack for breaking stuff. Russiantremorsmusic.bandcamp.com
Lew Salem’s latest recordings add some innovation and inspiration to contemporary hip-hop, which is occasionally in need of revitalization. Songs such as “Thunderous Introduction” and “Okay” espouse themes of black pride and optimism and while not making the most original statement, do make a candid and sincere impression. lewsalemmusic.weebly.com
The Screamin YeeHaws—Demo
The Screamin YeeHaws sound like a band that hits the stage at 2 a.m., ignites the motherfucker and leaves a trail of scorched earth in their wake. This breakneck, dirty, roadhouse punk fits right in with the likes of Supersuckers and Nashville Pussy, and you practically get a Jim Beam buzz on just by listening to them. They’re not bringing anything new to the table, but I doubt they care. facebook.com/screaminyeehaws
Se Vende—poor me some coffee
“Full Circle” starts with the sound of melodic bass chords, then a fuzzy burst of power chords, then a giddy sequence of handclaps. In less than 30 seconds, I’m already sold on Se Vende, a peppy, poppy punk rock group in the vein of Jawbreaker. In terms of innovation or originality, they’re far from the cutting edge; their reference points are all from 1977 or 1984 or 1994, and if I hadn’t been emailed this music directly, I would easily guess this record is at least 20 years old. That Se Vende do an old-school punk sound so convincingly is what makes them so much damn fun. Screw cutting edge, let’s get in the pit! sevende.bandcamp.com
After a 10-year hiatus, the blues/country/rock quintet is back with their third full-length. It’s nominated for the San Diego Music Awards’ Best Country or Americana album this year, and while that’s not really an adequate description, Tangerine is decently produced and features solid players. shadowdogs.com
The leader of this band describes himself as an “intuitive guitarist” and, truth be told, he has some excellent plucking skills. Where his intuition may have failed him, however, is that no one wants to hear this ghastly new-age music peppered with Kenny G-inspired sax playing and flute solos that would even make Ron Burgundy wince. If this was playing in a yoga studio, I’d “accidentally” fart. If this was playing in an elevator, I’d get off. If it was playing during a massage parlor rub-and-tug, I wouldn’t get off. shambhumusic.com
Ali Shamon and the Fears—Demo
Self-described as “My Fears. Your Fears. Our Fears,” Ali Shamon and the Fears lead one to believe their music attempts to reach some level of emotional depth, but the cacophony of shoddy acoustics, discordant vocals and overlay of drunken blabbering that constitutes their tracks is neither captivating nor enjoyable. The content of their lyrics lacks any sensical meaning and is mostly painful to listen to, but if there’s any upside to their music, it’s that most of the songs are short.
Trap beats, deep sub bass, eerie-as-fuck synthesizer loops and an emcee that manages to come super hard in spite of the North Park name drop. Skinny Veny’s EP manages to sound both contemporary and unsettling. Skinny Veny switches up styles throughout, occasionally dropping the hardcore sound for something dreamier, but regardless of the approach this is a short but impressive set of West Coast hip-hop bangers, complete with a fresh 808 snap. theskinnyone.bandcamp.com
Slay Dean—Do Not Resuscitate
There are so many bands doing the whole surfy garage rock thing in San Diego—including this one. However, Slay Dean has a memorable take on it, reminiscent of easy-to-like groups such as the jangly The Allah-Las and the harder rocking The Sess. There’s lots of strong songwriting and musicianship here especially on “Omen.” An engaging track with an ominous feel, it features fast and fancy guitar work, dirty bass and reverb-drenched vocals. slaydean.com
Small Culture—Small Culture
If you know what you’re doing, it’s hard to make electronic music sound raw and lo-fi—though it’s certainly possible. Small Culture’s five-track EP feels slick and professional, with gauzy synths and an impressively booming bass sound. That being said, it sounds less like contemporary EDM than the scruffy laptop-twee of The Postal Service (or occasionally a beat-driven Vampire Weekend), with vocals that are earnest and charmingly imperfect (in spite of what sounds like a light layer of Auto-Tune). This is pop of a not-too-distant past, but it’s hard not to like. soundcloud.com/smallculture
Sometimes Julie—In My Bones
This song submitted by Americana band Sometimes Julie is sometimes derivative with its unoriginal, familiar riffs, sometimes aggravatingly corny with its superficial lyrics and sometimes even a little catchy. But most of the time it just sounds like the ensemble is trying to bring depth to an uninspired country-rock sound. That being said, I’ll award them credit for the decent execution of an otherwise unremarkable song. sometimesjulie.com
Spitfire Torpedo—Spitfire Torpedo
Based on the list of personnel on Spitfire Torpedo’s full-length debut—featuring members of The Dragons, The Phantoms, Creedle and Manual Scan—there’s a strong indication going into it that the record is bound to be a fiery rock ‘n’ roll monster. And boy, oh boy, it sure is. The sounds of sirens and explosions in the intro track are a bit heavy handed, and the lyrics are little more than butt-rock cliches, but that’s pretty easy to get past when you consider how hard these old-schoolers rock. At times they harness the wild, chaotic riffs of The Stooges, and at others they’re shouting at the devil like vintage Motley Crue. And the hair-metal fury of “I Don’t Know” is on cowbell overload. I’m not saying this is going to turn the scene upside down, but if the leather pants fit, wear ‘em.
The first track on this six-track hip-hop and R&B mixtape opens with a fat synthesizer bassline, laying down a sweet synth-funk backdrop over which STANZ croons his effects-heavy loverman croon. This EP is sex with an 808, all deep grooves for making sweet love or just setting a mood. Even “Grimm Reaper,” a song about death, is pretty sexy. The man’s got a gift.
Steven on the First Floor—Untitled Demos
Steven on the First Floor is a “collective of musicians spread across (America)” who write and play and record music together when they find themselves within driving distance of each other. Which makes me wonder if these guys maybe met on a message board for folks who deeply love and appreciate the shifting rhythms and double-helix guitargasms of math-rock. Because there’s lots of that in these three songs. And this band does it well! stevenonthefirstfloor.bandcamp.com
On the electronic-music scale from tolerable to downright insufferable, Stoik’s music rates somewhere in the middle, right between vexing and disturbing. The most appropriate place to hear Stoik’s self-described “spiritual gangster style” songs such as “Sweat Lodge” or “Techy Nickly” would be (a) an intensely cult-like yoga sesh; (b) a UFO-summoning ritual; or possibly (c) a climatic showdown between two enemy robots. soundcloud.com/stoiksounds
This pair of rough demos comes from a band that’s appeared in the Great Demo Review before, though while I can’t remember what they sounded like before, what they’re doing now is pretty cool. “Aeons of Sleep” is a dark and moody instrumental piece that’s a dead ringer for Joy Division’s handful of vocal-free tracks, while “Milo” is a fuzzier, more immediate groover. The attached note says that there are “no vocals yet,” which High Fidelity’s Rob Gordon might interpret as intent to add them later. If these are indeed unfinished tracks, they’re going in the right direction.
*turns on laptop*
*opens email from Sueda band member*
*reads song titles*
- Romeo Kissed Juliet
- The Dance
- Eddie’s Girl
- Hey Bartender!
*strains to understand lyrics through nasal overkill*
*hears Cheap Trick reference*
*turns off laptop*
Described as a “sonic autopsy for primordial wounds,” Svelte might seem to have a gift for pretentious statements, but they have an even greater gift for making noise rock with a visceral punch. The second track on their self-titled EP, “auto-da-fe,” has the kind of intense explosion of distortion and high-end that nods to My Bloody Valentine’s Isn’t Anything or Big Black’s Songs About Fucking. Unlike some of the bands in town that aim for a similar aesthetic, Svelte rarely indulge in smoothed edges or pop fluff. This is post-punk and shoegaze that thrives on thick walls of sound and psychedelic chaos. When they’re hitting hardest and firing on all cylinders, as they do on “Improved Means to Unimproved Ends,” they sound like the kind of band that could burn holes through venue walls. This is fucking awesome. ssvelte.bandcamp.com
The Tascams—Album Orange
Oh, slack rock. You don’t have to try very hard to be appealing. Which is not to say The Tascams don’t try hard, just that they’ve hit upon a formula where mumbled vocals, messy guitars and muffled production are marks in a band’s favor. Album Orange is one part Pavement’s meandering spirit, one part Smashing Pumpkins’ distorted beauty and one part Dinosaur Jr.’s adenoidal poetry. No way the whole can be greater than the sum of those parts, but it’s still pretty enjoyable.
They Feed At Night / Bell Tower Bats—Split 7-inch
It’s on vinyl, has grotesque cover art, a big ol’ skeleton dick on the record label, and someone took a lighter to the track listings to make it look all old and stuff. At least these guys are trying. The music pretty much delivers on that initial promise. Nothing earth shattering, but an enjoyable few minutes of music on each side. theyfeedatnight.bandcamp.com
Tracey and the Sands—home recordings
I had high hopes for Tracey and the Sands based on the spooky woodcut bat art that accompanied this three-track demo. But it’s not very spooky. It’s rootsy, bluesy rock music with a heavy dose of reverb, bringing to mind a scruffier My Morning Jacket. I can hear a kernel of something original in what they’re doing, particularly in “Sweat from a Palm,” a drunkenly detuned folk-rock jaunt that sounds a bit like a fucked-up version of The Band. Mostly this is bar-band rock, though. You can almost smell the Budweiser. traceyandthesands.bandcamp.com
Traffic Bear—The Death of Traffic Bear
Within seconds of playing Traffic Bear, I’m struck with a feeling of nostalgia. This band recalls any number of indie rock bands from the ‘90s with math-rock riffs and dreamy melodies, from Slint to Braid and Rainer Maria. The thing is, though, it’s a hard style to pull off and keep it accessible, which is exactly what Traffic Bear does so well. These are not just showcases for fancy fretwork; there are excellent melodies here. Long live Traffic Bear. trafficbear.bandcamp.com
Trip Advisor—Highest Views
If “shoegaze techno” wasn’t a thing before, it is now. Culling its musical DNA from the early 1980s-era obsession with looping overlaid synthesizers, this EP plays like the would-be soundtrack for Stranger Things if the principal cast were mopey adolescents instead of bright kids. It’s not bad, but other than the standout track “Duality,” the general monotony of both lyrics and music make it unremarkable save for as a throwback novelty.
Trunk Slammers’ amateurish attempt to integrate country, rock and funk into a singular style is nothing short of an epic miscalculation. The predictable combination of guitar-bass-drum arrangements, trite lyrical phrases and euphemisms such as “I’m looking for more than just a greenlight, greenlight, I need a dance that’s gonna last all life long” professed in “Greenlight” illuminate the extreme shallowness in both the lyrics and the music. soundcloud.com/trunk-slammers
This one was this close to being an “EXTRASPECIALGOOD.” Head-bobbing, tear-inducing R&B about fuckboys and jilted lovers from a female singer with some serious pipes. Check out her excellent range and the trippy beats on tracks such as “I Choose You” and “Get Away,” but stick around for the Tiny Doo cameo on “Wake Up.” The whole thing is dark, heavy, empowering and fierce AF. tru7h.bandcamp.com
Vulcan Tapes—Vulcan Tapes
The latest project from local emcee Tall Can, Vulcan Tapes is dope from every angle. Dope cover art (by Mathias Kruse). Dope beats (by U.K. producer Midyawn and mysterious local El Meow1). And dope rhymes from Tall Can, whose fried poetry and sturdy flow really pops against a patchwork of lysergic hip-hop built from weird bits of funk, jazz, pop, global music and found sounds. The result? Yup: It’s dope. vulcantapes.bandcamp.com
The Wind Playing Tricks—Close Phase
The music on Close Phase can be most accurately described as a mix between instrumental rock and elevator music. Although the pianist isn’t half bad, drums are sporadic and untimely, like a 16-year-old boy who was just gifted his first drum set from Mom and Dad. The Wind Playing Tricks definitely should work on creating a more balanced sound, but the novelty shown in “Rift and Repossess” proves that the innovation and talent is there waiting to be harnessed. soundcloud.com/thewindplayingtricks
Take the cock-rock swagger of any band from the mid-2000s Roadrunner and Wind-Up Records stables, mix in a dose of Creed’s self-congratulatory backslapping religiosity, and add lyrics written by a freshman-year poetry major who confuses possessing a large vocabulary for having any actual emotional depth, and you get this six-track EP. While the music is technically proficient, it’s also derivative to the core. There’s nothing here you haven’t heard before, done much better by somebody else. And what the hell are “satire eyes,” anyway?