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Wednesday, Mar 07, 2012

The 2012 Great Demo Review

Our annual critique of local music submissions

Grind and Bare It

So close to being an “EXTRASPECIALGOOD,” this two-track demo is creepy as all hell, but I just can’t turn away. “More Possibilities” pulls me in with gloomy electronics and an intricate hip-hop beat, but it’s the cryptic vocal samples and twisted vibes of “To Paradise” that leave me breathless and clawing for air—you know, in a good way.

—Peter Holslin

Keith Greenwood

Even if some cataclysmic event manages to wipe out the majority of Earth’s population, there will still be two living things left: cockroaches and Steve Vai-worshipping dudes who want to plague us with their awful, seven-minute instrumental guitar rock songs. Wow, man, you can move your fingers really fast and look affected while you do it. I feel badly for the cockroaches.

—Seth Combs

H-eyer Level Poets (H.E.L.P.)
Reboot the System

It’s all middle-of-the-road. The rappers are decent, but they’re not interesting writers (a guest rapper, Tory-T from The Concrete Project, actually has the album’s best verse). The beats are serviceable but lean toward being over-produced. Some ideas are obvious (the weed song is reggae-tinged? That’s crazy!). Some just aren’t executed well (“Hypnotic”). Their worst idea, though, is the album’s underlying concept: that they are space-y weirdos with “alien” flows. The concept amounts to little more than some extra electronic sounds and a few references to stuff you’d see at Comic-Con. They should hear weirder music.

—Quan Vu

Hail Hail

In the vein of Brian Jonestown Massacre, Hail Hail successfully navigate the geography between the drone-y sludge of psychedelic rock and the off-kilter jangle of garage folk. A band to watch if they can put together a dynamic live show.

—Scott McDonald

Out of Mankind

Hargo Khalsa’s story makes him marketable as a musical novelty (he’s a big-bearded American Sikh who had a song in the John Lennon doc Strawberry Fields), but his music is schmaltzy pop-by-numbers fare that would only appeal to weekend environmentalists and chick-flick aficionados.

—Seth Combs

Real Talk, Vol. 2

The MCs on this street-rap mixtape have lots of character. “So Sick Of…,” about scrounging up change for cigarette money, is as hilarious as it is funky. And I can’t help but appreciate “’Til We Meet in Heaven,” a heartfelt ode to a fallen momma replete with flowery acoustic guitar.

—Peter Holslin

The Heart Beat Trail
Dusty Totems

Back in 2010, we reviewed a demo by this band when they were known as Nautical Disaster. While the new name might not be much of an improvement, this demo absolutely is. Before, the group was producing tracks that could pass as Lucy’s Fur Coat b-sides. But on Dusty Totems, they’ve nailed their unique groove. It’s slow, dark and bluesy—the right jukebox selection for a desperate game of billiards with the devil. But the biggest improvement is in Berkeley Austin’s hoarse and unpredictable vocals.

—Dave Maass

Blue Fires Away

This EP is a late-’90s time warp. Each song so fully evokes a different artist from that era that the track listing should read like this: Stone Temple Pilots, Hootie & The Blowfish, Korn, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, System of a Down, Staind. So, 91X will probably play them.

—Sammi Skolmoski

Homeless Sexuals
Snake Nipples

Everything about Homeless Sexuals’ Snake Nipples seems like a highly orchestrated effort to be as obnoxious as possible—from their name to the crude snake illustration on the album cover to song titles like “Anne Frank Sinatra” and “Walking Jesus Like a Dog.” And yet, there’s a surprisingly minimal amount of bullshit here— just some high-energy, Stooges-style rock ’n’ roll sleaze featuring a singer who’s a dead ringer for Nation of Ulysses’ Ian Svenonius. Their ass-kicking tunes may not be work- or mother-appropriate, but they definitely rock.

—Jeff Terich

Hugh Gaskins & The G-String Daddies
Working at the Booty Trap

With a name like that, I was expecting some raunchy rock ’n’ roll, but this is actually a tame rockabilly record that might’ve been edgy 50 years ago. The instruments are too clean, and everything is really over-produced. It takes all the muscle out of it.

—Aaron Carnes

The Hulkamaniacs
Hieroglyphically Speaking

The five songs on this EP are annoyingly all over the place stylistically, but it seems like these guys have more going on than their ability to come up with clever song titles (“Ted Dancin’,” “In the Cervix of the Queen”). It’s rough, but there’s some gold in the acoustic ditties that close out the EP. Now, about that name.

—Seth Combs


Erleen Nada

Photo by Larry Darkman Clark

Just when I thought electronic music had become the enemy, Erleen Nada handed me a glittery treaty of irresistible pop gold. A sassy synth-master, Nada’s avant-garde space tunes carry a sense of colossal power and urgency. Cooing dark and hilarious nonsense over warped, beautifully coarse synth jaunts, she seems to tell the listener, “Freak out, or perish.” “Psychedelic Space Ship” is this demo’s oddly addictive standout track, with a pulsing beat and twangy guitars that—when isolated from the vocals—sound like the best of Queen. Nada might have much more psychedelic tastes than the average electro-songstress (think Santigold or Peaches), but she also sounds much more authentic. 

—Sammi Skolmoski

iD the Poet
instrumentals Vol. 1:

THANATOS Using the plural “instrumentals” in the title leads you to expect some sort of Madlib-esque assortment of loose beats made for rapping over. Instead, this is a cohesive instrumental project that stands on its own, a meditation on death and dying (the demon “Thanatos” represents death in Greek mythology) that evolves from chaotic fury into peaceful acceptance. It’s highly informed by the Low End Theory beat scene. The beats are angular, warped and eclectic, incorporating everything from the RZA and dubstep to reggae and blues piano.

—Quan Vu

iD the Poet & Dusty Nix

This type of hip-hop will probably go over well with the indie-rock crowd. While it’s not exactly guitar-driven, guitars feature more prominently than usual along with other live instruments. There’s also a stronger emphasis on melody. All hooks are sung and both rappers frequently use sing-song flows in their verses (Dusty Nix could be a voice twin for sing-songy rapper Pigeon John). The lyrics explore the same themes as iD’s previous work, namely the industrialization of society. Think of an Office Space-meets-The Matrix, “we are more than cogs” spirit.

—Quan Vu

John Wayne Gacy Daycare
John Wayne Gacy

Daycare Hands down the most disturbing album art of the year—imagine a vomiting teddy bear bleeding from its anus. Like Stormtroopers of Death, only slower, weirder and meaner. In other words, not like S.O.D. at all.

—Jim Ruland

Don’t Be Afraid of the Light

This promising rap album is full of surprises, from the synth-punk vibe of opener “Bend the Mind” to the Chimpunkified diva samples of “A Limb” to the dystopian class warfare theme of “Journey.” Oceanside rapper Karma can get a little too preachy at times, but he has talent and plenty of interesting ideas.

—Peter Holslin

Jonathan Karrant
On and On

Hmmm—10 straight-ahead vocal covers of artists ranging from The Beatles to Mose Allison. Karrant is pleasant enough and the arrangements are nice, but I worry about (even capable) jazz vocalists without any originals. Does anyone under 50 care?

—Scott McDonald

Summer Frights

Surprisingly good for a group of KIDS., this Poway five-piece fronted by Nature Fejarang doesn’t take itself too seriously on this album but manages to pull it off anyway. With their punk-meets- ’60s-girl-groups-meets-hipster sound, KIDS. could benefit from a proper mix and a subtler drummer, but they have the right idea.

—T. Loper

The New Kinetics

The New Kinetics kick your teeth in for 44 minutes straight on Contact. This is unpretentious, straightforward rock ’n’ roll, geared to get the crowd moving and the drinks flowing. But about halfway in, you’ll be begging for a break from these grueling jams. You don’t get one, which is both the best and worst thing about the album.

—Andrew Scoggins

3 Song Demo

OK, so they have a pretty badass name and even more badass song titles like “Gnarmegeddon” and “Tigerstriped Delorean.” And while there’s nothing wholly original on this demo that couldn’t be heard on any Motorhead album, Kodiak’s music still kicks a whole lot of ass. If they’re not headlining Eleven soon, I’ll be very surprised.

—Seth Combs

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