Look, even borderline doofs like Cypress Hill can pepper their albums with mentions of money and bitches. So why can’t these guys, who are otherwise capable MCs, talk about anything but weed for nine tracks? Fuck it; one man’s schwag is another man’s Purple Kush, so if you really like weed (I mean, really like weed), then this album has some appealing beats (“Smokin’ All Day”), solid flows (the Lissie-sampling “Hands on the Wheel”) and more mentions of “hydro,” “high” and “blaze” than a Humboldt State dorm room.
A Thousand Ways Home
Some jazz-by-numbers with elements of bossa nova and classical music. Nice enough if that’s your thing, but mostly it sounds like something you’d hear on the way into some bourgeois gala or playing over an iPhone while on hold with a credit-card company—albeit a cooler credit-card company.
Grind + Bare It
There's almost no information to speak of about Grind + Bare It: This two-track demo lists only the song titles and a phone number, and there's apparently nothing about this project online. But the mystery about him / her / them is part of what makes this throbbing electronic sleaze so intriguing. The first track, "It's Over," juxtaposes subtly ominous and vaguely licentious soundscapes with samples of sexually frank dialogue that climaxes in, well, sexual climax. But it's not about overt stimulation as much as strangely alluring seduction. Meanwhile, "Binary Space" offers a slightly different variation, with popcorn beats bubbling underneath haunting, ominous slices of bass and several subtle shifts in tempo. The end result is a porno-theater take on Andy Stott, or Flying Lotus gone Blade Runner. I don't know who or what Grind + Bare It is, but I know I want to hear more.
H.Wood-Fos (Fosta Child)
Free Fosta Child
There are great rappers, terrible rappers and just-OK rappers. H.Wood-Fos falls into the OK category. Being OK in hip-hop is a death sentence. H.Wood-Fos’ songs are packed with clichés about how much he grinds and hustles and is serious about this rap game. It’s exhausting. If you’re going to be pure bravado, you should at least be creative with phrasing. “Thanks God I’m Me” starts off kind of strange, but then he quickly reverts to just thanking God he grinds and hustles the way he does. Yawn.
Hands Down South
Hands Down South might just be the ideal house band—the one in Road House or the one Downtown. Either way, in this solid, four-track demo, they bang out some good ol’ fashioned boogie-woogie, honkytonk and electric blues, ratcheting up the tempos and pulling off wicked solos. Songs like “North Park Gal” and “Shady Ladies” are a tad corny, but you don’t see me complaining.
Breaking the Mask
Pseudo-conscious rapper over supremely unspectacular beats. Some might find his lyrics uplifting and inspirational, but the political and religious references seem forced and confined within a done-to-death cadence. For a rapper boasting superior word play (as you hear on “Dancing”), he seems stuck in elementary rhyme schemes: “I may be a liar / But I speak the truth / Sometimes you get lost / When you lose your roots.” Way to say absolutely nothing, buddy.
Folk Rockin’ Blues
Taking cues from old-school San Diego rockers like Joey Harris and Country Joe Montana, HarpCo dish out down-home acoustic ballads with tons of heart. This five-song demo might be low on polish and shine, but that makes it all the more endearing.
This I Promise You
This is the type of easy-listening piano-pop they’d play at a rest home for 70- and 80-something couples. The silver-haired folks would sway to Hassett’s crooning vibrato, because it almost reminds them of Elvis’ more terrible ballads. Even though their hearing aids likely wouldn’t be able to pick up the progressive references, like “Earl’s haunches would make the cowboys swoon” on “I Wanna Feel the Heat,” it’d still be endearing.
C’mon! Just Take One
There’s nothing heavy about this effort: It’s mellow alt-rock to the max, with no risks and no rewards. Apparently, the band is based here, but four of the five members are from elsewhere. Someone sounds British on “She Wanted Love,” and he’s trying really hard to be as cool as Robert Smith, but he doesn’t quite make it. Still, there’s potential in that one, ’cause accents are hot. The Tikistyle guitar riffs on “Empty Tables” are neat, but I could do without the synthesized, repeating vocals. “Shot Gun Device” is straight-up dead weight. The other two are forgettable. RN/
“Shoot, Shoot, Shoot”
The verses on this single pay homage to the band’s ’80s European influences: They rely on the guy with the cool accent and add a straightforward but dark-andstormy guitar-drum interplay.
But the weird breakdown in the chorus is uncomfortably ’90s altrock—it’s trying too hard to serve as an anthem for the NRA.
Hello Penelope EP
Built to Spill, part deux. Fun, washy indie tunes that are the musical equivalent of corduroy pants. “California Sinking” is a catchy whirl that borrows vibes from Pixies. Perfect for those of us stuck in the ’90s, as well as sensitive dudes with beards and Doug Martsch.
Island Boy EP
What is chillwave (or glo-fi or coldwave or—) if not a modern-day update of a John Hughes movie soundtrack? Whatever genre classifications are cleverly coined to describe the sound, it seems there'll always be a market for synthy teenage symphonic odes to God or underage sex or pharmaceutical drugs, or whatever. This local duo would've done well had they released this EP two years ago, when everyone was freaking out about chillwave bands like Neon Indian and Washed Out. But the sentiments on this EP—and, more importantly, the music—are timeless. The music-video treatment runs through the listener's mind throughout the opening track, "On the Rise": The broken-hearted girl jumping into the back of a friend's car and going somewhere, anywhere dark, so she can just dance and hope nobody notices her mascara running. The other two tracks, the danceably forlorn "Heart Attack" and the suitably named "Unrequited TV Love," are just as catchy, with frontman Richard Hunter-Rivera bemoaning wasted days and waiting for that special someone to call. Hopefully she didn't, because these guys have a lot to offer and, sad as it is to say, no good song ever came out of the girl calling you back.
That Ain’t Me
John Henry announces at the beginning of “That Ain’t Me”: “This is what the city’s been waiting for.” Based on the sound of the track, he must think we’ve been waiting to go Dirty South. The vibe brings to mind a variety of other MCs —T.I., Gucci Mane, UGK—but never quite lives up to any of them. Let’s talk when there’s a “What You Know” or “International Player’s Anthem” in the MC’s future.
Heart of a Clown
Johnny High-Hat could be your dad. He's a local country crooner who's produced an album of respectable covers, including "Route 66." As dads are wont to do every now and then, High-Hat apparently needed to flex his musical muscle, and he and his rootsy band would make anybody's heart melt with their steel guitar. These guys may never make it big in the music world, but I'll bet they don't give a hoot about popularity. It appears the crew behind Heart of a Clown just wanted to have fun. Mission accomplished.
“Jean Marie,” “California Sun,” “Eyeball Skeleton”
I was going to write about all the ways that the repetitive, barely coherent "Jean Marie" is a disgrace to pot smokers everywhere, and how "California Sun" would make sense only as the soundtrack to a cheesy dance party on Saved by the Bell, but then "Eyeball Skeleton" came on and I told myself to shut up. With his weird voice, Hines channels Ariel Pink, Lux Interior and Fred Schneider. And all the psych-rock instrumentals he's been trying so hard to mimic come together expertly on this song. He's best when his goofiness is balls-to-the-wall. Now, let's dance until our eyeballs fall out.
The Humble Crab
The Humble Crab Has Spoken
Vocal and guitar harmonies paint a chill, seaside picture of buying Hummers, getting "Astro-smashed" and carrying a cheeseburger in your fanny pack. Using beach-bum vernacular, The Humble Crab expresses a range of emotion, from "harsh" to "bummer" to, well, drunk. He may not have the best voice or guitar skills, but I'll be damned if he doesn't have heart. Even at their most silly and immature, his songs are witty and entertaining. My personal favorite? "(Girl) Your Shit is Garbage (Girl)," a tune just waiting to be put on a spiteful breakup mix. Go forth, Humble Crab, and tell the world of your sun-baked, cigarette-scented, beer-battered glory.
iD the Poet
Instrumentals vol. 2-4: LOGOS, ETHOS, EROS
Each project in iD the Poet's instrumentals series focuses on a different theme related to its classical Greek name. LOGOS, representing order and knowledge, has a strong Asian influence, I guess because Asians are benignly stereotyped as extremely disciplined and wise. ETHOS, representing fundamental values and character, explores hip-hop's roots in funk, gospel, reggae and jazz. EROS interestingly portrays love as a battlefield. The projects are conceptually cohesive, but they're more intellectual than groovy.
"Polyken" is a dark, neo-goth indie-rock song. For the first minute-and-a-half, it builds from a mellow, atmospheric section with wordless vocal-swells—which is my favorite part—to an amphitheater-friendly, drum-pounding rock tune, which oddly loses steam real quick. They were already riding the "Is it too dramatic?" line pretty closely, but in a good way. Once those drums kick in, they tip over into melodrama, and not in the good Morrissey way.
There's some promise on this eight-song demo, even if it starts by channeling the worst parts of Coldplay and grunge balladry. After Track 3 (no song titles included), the band jumps from genre to genre like it ain't no thing and seems more than capable of creating some clever indie-pop and Elvis Costello-style ballads. The singer could dial down the earnestness at times and maybe take a writing class, but there's potential here.
If you've ever experienced bland dad-rock in some dingy restaurant or bar with a couple of drunken 40-year-old housewives dancing to it, you know exactly what Isam Rand sounds like. Clichéd lyrics like, "She said you've got to live every moment / You've got to love like you've never been hurt / Youíve got to dance like no one is watching," make me want to die. But I guess if these guys have been going for this long, there's no reason to stop now. Get those cougars, gentlemen!