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Wednesday, Mar 07, 2012

The 2012 Great Demo Review

Our annual critique of local music submissions

Davit Buck

Some albums make you want to claw your ears out with rusty steel implements. Davit Buck’s demo skips right to the aural abuse with four tracks of circuit-bending, sample-fracturing, bass-slapping violence. Noise music, being noise, is hard to judge in terms of good and bad, but as near as I can tell, Buck nails it. My only beef is that if he’s going to write a song called “Ghandi Took a Shit on Peace,” he might have bothered to spell Gandhi’s name correctly.

—Dave Maass

David Bullard
Luv Songs 4 U

Singer-songwriter Bullard gives some songs on this 17-track album a folksier turn with James Tayloresque vocals. On others, he lets his guitar do the talking with intricate, Spanish-style flourishes. Both would serve perfectly well as the soundtrack to an upscale candlelit dinner, making the “Valentine’s Songs!” note scrawled on the CD sleeve a rather apt self-assessment.

—Sasha Orman

Jennie Buss
Enter the Buss: Rainbow Debut

Half of this album sounds like something that would be overheard in the parking lot at Lilith Fair, and the other half sounds like you’re stuck in a coffeehouse during an awkwardly empty spoken-word open-mic night. “Gift of Madness” has a sort of Pixies vibe that I really wanted to like, but the vocals sound forced, and it just never comes together. I think you will find your sound, Jennie Buss, and then you will nail it. But for now, it’s not quite working.

—Sammi Skolmoski


Plenty of movies explore the idea of robots trying to act like humans. Cabuloan had better have dibs on scoring the next one, because this thing sounds like it was generated by machines doing their best to emulate how humans make music. This is hardly a bad thing, as Cabuloan’s instrumental-heavy experiments are a surreal, ballsy and many-hued affair, with math-rock riffs moving like pinballs and synth-like sounds going mad. Actually, scratch the robots thing— this defiant mess would be great for a Frankenstein remake.

—Reyan Ali


The Mashtis

Photo by Angie Ollman
A Canopy of Sundays

The Mashtis have always drawn comparisons to Sonic Youth and Pixies, but the songs on this EP— which turns out to be their last record, as the band has split up—reveal a decidedly more modern sound than what they’ve given us in the past. In the opening measures of the first track, “Amen,” the driving guitar alongside the scrappy shouts of “hey, hey” bear a strong resemblance to the play-fighting revelry of Imperial Teen or The New pornographers. And the solid guy / girl vocals and consummately balanced, garage-y instrumentation has only gotten sturdier and more confident. That’s not to say this band has ever sounded weak. They’ve just made it abundantly clear this time around that The Mashtis is a name we should all remember.

—Justin Roberts


The dream of the 1990s is alive with Chaz, and it is awesome. Frantic, fuzzed-out guitars and sweetly awkward, Weezer-style harmonies frame clever lyrics that follow the highs and lows of a slacker lifestyle—from drinking with your shift manager to the struggles of getting out of bed with bills to pay. Throw The Adventures of Pete & Pete in the VCR on mute, pour yourself a bowl of cereal, play this extra loud and pretend that 120 Minutes never left.

—Sasha Orman

Cloud Ceiling
Automatic Thoughts

When I first saw the name Cloud Ceiling, I thought I was in for another somber singer-songwriter acoustic outing. I was correct. Very stripped down, very sad. If your favorite Big Star album is Sister Lovers and you worship at the altar of Nick Drake, this is right up your alley.

—Dryw Keltz


Layers of fractured, shimmering guitars, math-y drums and soft vocals wash over each other in waves, evoking very early Cursive or Explosions in the Sky. The disparate elements never fight each other for attention, even at their most angular. Instead, they build into intense, finely crafted post-rock crescendos.

—Sasha Orman

Courtyard Roots
Walk the City Sampler

I gotta hand it to Courtyard Roots: After getting a bad review in last year’s Great Demo Review, the rap-reggae-rock jam band was game enough for another round. Unfortunately, these tracks aren’t much of an improvement on last year’s submission. The heavy-metal guitars have nowhere to go, the grooves don’t lock together and their MC still can’t rap for shit (although, to his credit, he has improved slightly). Maybe next year, guys.

—Peter Holslin

Couch Lock
Glued to the Goo

“Meandering” doesn’t always have to mean “aimless,” but in the hands of Couch Look, the idea of taking your sweet time to get things done drifts between good and bad. Over the course of the instrumental record’s run time (60-some minutes, which is way too long), the group shifts from genial, mundane psych-jam rock to something with the bleary-eyed gravitas of Explosions in the Sky-style post-rock. They benefit when they ditch campy wobble-funk to explore weighty highs and lows.

—Reyan Ali

The Cutaways
Dirty Hose EP

The retro-tinged pop is OK, but those vocals badly need work. Get voice lessons or use Auto- Tune, but, please, for the love of God, don’t torture us any longer with your wavering melodies and train-wreck harmonies.

—Peter Holslin

The Cypress Project
The Cypress Project Demo

Stop saying that your music is “as experimental as your name implies.” First of all, “The Cypress Project” does not imply anything interesting and would be better suited for an environmental-activist group. Secondly, and more importantly, the only experiment going on here is how trite lyrics can be. There’s nothing about derivative, rich-white-kid blues that pushes boundaries. To the girl in the band: Listen to Patti Smith. She will teach you how to use that impressive vibrato of yours in a worthwhile way.

—Sammi Skolmoski

Dada in Denial
Humanoid Void

Toss a dream catcher, a copy of The Steampunk Bible and the complete Incubus discography into a vat of LSD, and this is what you get— dreary, low-rent, highly bizarre alt-rock that would work great as the soundtrack to a community theater production of Labyrinth.

—Peter Holslin

Josh Damigo

Two-time San Diego Music Award winner Josh Damigo should be a familiar name to readers. After having spent some time in the Los Angeles wilderness, the singer-songwriter decided to air his grievances in a song titled “L.A. Is Not My Home,” in which he oozes his VH1-style alt-country earnestness from every orifice. Damigo has learned a few of the right lessons from the Ryan Adams playbook, but when he sings about girls, the results can be embarrassing. There’s cheese a-plenty, but if it gets Damigo laid, more power to him.

–Jeff Terich

Danny and the Tramp
The American Dream EP

Danny and the Tramp is a pop-punk band that leans more toward pop. Though the band’s sound isn’t extremely original, it’s enjoyable if you’re a fan of blink-182 or Newfound Glory. Harking back to the late-’90s and early-’00s, the album is semi-monotonous yet oddly appealing to the middle-schooler inside us all.

—Kaitlin Perry

Day-Go Produce
1st Batch EP

A demo in the real sense of the word in that the production is a little rough, this six-track EP is still a rewarding mix of R&B and hip-hop. The flows are kinda weak and the lyrics clichéd, but there’s definitely room for improvement.

—Seth Combs

Dead Animal Mod
Zeal EP

Rife with distortion and featuring a damn talented lead guitar, Dead Animal Mod remind me of a band you’d see playing in the basement at the 4th & Ivy house in Bankers Hill. Remember those days? The shows were always loud as fuck, and somehow the neighbors would never complain. And as long as you were able to wade your way through the empty cans of PBR and avoid getting vomited on by the barely, and the not-so, legals in the audience, you’d usually end up having a fun time. That is, of course, until morning arrived.

—Justin Roberts

Deno Marquee
The Wild & Free EP

If being wild and free means listening to a cornball, reggae-thieving singer-songwriter obsess over some girl, then I’d rather have solitary for life.

—Peter Holslin

Dinosaur Ghost
Demo of the Dinosaur Ghost

“Playing with its Food” and “Ballad of the Sea Bison” are two instantly forgettable surf-rock ditties, but they’re followed by two amusing, much more digable tracks—a cover of Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It” and “Kilda Bird,” a psych-rock jam with Dr. Seussian lyrics.

—Peter Holslin

The Distinguishing Marks

Magic Fire Music

Oh, no. No, no, no. The voice of what sounds like a whispering pedophile over fuzzy synth gibberish.

—Sammi Skolmoski

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