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Wednesday, Mar 06, 2013

The Great Demo Review of 2013

Behold and beware: It’s our annual critique of local music submissions

By CityBeat Staff

Daniel Newheiser 
Daniel Newheiser

A song title like "All Iím Missing is You" would typically make me dry heave (and I did), but it's a really beautiful song. The piano melody is sprawling and comforting, each note emitting a chorus of twinkling splendor. The vocals are simple, moving, ethereal (cue more heaves). The two a cappella songs were well-done, but the shtick is akin to a kazoo or an armpit fart, and the clapping as percussion on "11:11" sounds like a fancy masturbation technique. This talented dude needs a band, San Diego. With instruments, he will flourish. 

—Sammi Skolmoski

Nns & Telegraph

Scattershot collection of rap tracks mixing club-ready swagger, socially conscious messages, Southern rap beats, Lex Luger-style horn honks, etc. There are some alright moments, but Iím over it by the end of the album. These guys need to develop a distinct style if they want to really get somewhere.

—Peter Holslin

Noise Floor

I wanna hate on these guys. I really do. Yet, I have to admit they may be onto something with their mix of indie, pop-punk and EDM. The singer has some pipes even if her voice is wasted on coquettish, schoolgirl-style come-ons. Still, if they play their cards right, they could land an opening gig for Paramore or Taylor Swift. I can't stand it, but not bad for what it is. 

—Seth Combs

Dear California

I was disappointed to find out that a band calling itself Okay!Okay! was not an insane avant-garde troupe, but instead a super-slick, emo, alt-rock band. Oh, darn. The singer can sing—Iíll give him that. It's not really the kind of singing I like; nor are the polished, beefy licks and reverb-heavy drums my cup of tea, either. It is flawlessly executed, though. And I'm sure they woo the ladies with their intense, aggressive, emotional songs. Consider me not wooed—but then again, I'm not a pretty lady, so I doubt they care. 

—Aaron Carnes

Old Man Wizard 

I appreciate the name of the musician (or band?), and I do like the medieval imagery of centaurs and such in the lyrics, but, otherwise, it's a tough listen. It's kind of metal, kind of goth, kind of rock opera and kind of power-pop, but it's not really any of these things. It's just weird, but in an off-putting way. At least it's not bad in the "sounds like every band on the radio" kind of way. Maybe they're on to something I'm just not caught up on yet. Who knows. 

—Aaron Carnes


Old English
Band in Amerikkka

If you only knew about National City through press releases, you'd note with amusement that the home of the Mile of Cars is also the region's "Most Walkable" city. What the propaganda leaves out is that National City also leads the county in violent crime. For that info, you'd need to turn to Old English rappers Saviorself and Nothin'less, whose latest record inspires images of a Belfast-level urban war zone. Featuring guest vocals from Gonjasufi and what sounds like a naughty bass line ripped from The White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army," Band in Amerikkka is a triumph of dystopic hip-hop, with a little something for gang-bangers and white-boy Rage Against the Machine fans alike.  

—Dave Maass

One Hundred Miles

You're really stretching the definition of "demo" with one song, but "Be Happy" is pretty solid. Dude is from the East Coast, but this track has a chill, Cali feel like something off of Souls of Mischief's hip-hop classic 93 'til Infinity. Would love to hear more. 

—Scott McDonald

Ghost Party EP

Oye!Simpson make a form of electronic-style dance music. There are beats, whooshes, bleeps and boops, and once in awhile, someone says "hey" or "uh." A person could conceivably dance and / or consume drugs to this music if they were so inclined. 

—Chris Maroulakos

Rudy Palos

Anyone nostalgic for the glory days of trip-hop and DJ Shadow-style sampling, or just always wished The Avalanches made another album, might want to check this guy out. These five songs are a bit of a stylistic mish-mash, but anybody who can channel the best parts of Air ("Magic"), RJD2 ("Trap to the Sky") and even Manu Chao at his experimental peak ("Pagans") will get a tip of the hat from me. 

—Seth Combs

Pan Am
The Shade Between Two Hemispheres

Turn the lights down, pop open a bottle of wine and get a bubble bath going—it's time to let Pan Am singer Rodney Hubbard whisk you away with his smooth, supple, exquisitely soulful voice. With lovely flute, sexy sax and Spanish-style guitar rounding out the proceedings, this EP belongs on every newlywed's honeymoon playlist. 

—Peter Holslin

Paper Plane Pilot

If Paper Plane Pilot had been composed of my 17-year-old high-school classmates during the Y2K scare, they might have actually had some success. And by "success," I mean second place at a battle of the bands, or maybe a well-attended show at a rec center. Everything from their whiny heart-on-your-sleeve lyrics to the prominently featured Casio synth parts screams early-2000s emo. This demo isn't terrible, but at best it would have been mediocre a decade ago. 

—Jackson Milgaten

Parker & The Numberman

Working with local beatmaker Room E, Parker & The Numberman give us nine tracks and 19 minutes of glitchy beats, space-y loops and super-short interludes that could all benefit from more time, love and attention. There are truly good musical blips here, but everything feels unfinished. Where's the rest of the album? 

—Justin Roberts

Roast Dimension

The opener is a creepy, dark electronic song that would make an amazing background track for a horror film: Even as I sit on my couch typing this, I feel an intense sense of foreboding. The rest of the album is more in the dance realm, though still dark. It's good, solid electronica, but a little dated. All I can think of is '90s raves. They should make more songs like the opening track and sell them to Hollywood. 

—Aaron Carnes


If you're the type of R&B listener who finds Rihanna and Beyoncé too contrived but still can't embrace the experimental tendencies of Erykah Badu and Emeli Sandé, then this offers a nice middle ground. Five tracks of come-hither or get-the-hell-away affirmations accompanied by some respectable beats and a more-than-adequate voice. I don't know. Maybe I'm just drunk and the singer is hot. 

—Seth Combs

The Pheasants

This demo is a sampler of what's sure to be a fun, fast-paced and innately weird rock album. Fast power-chords and jumpy, treble-heavy guitar solos encounter shouted-out, youthful-yet-surreal stories about pilgrims, witches and train robbers. It's rough and not incredibly groundbreaking, but it's fun and catches your ear until shit gets weird. Unless you're a witch or an opponent of time travel, you'll want to keep listening. 

—Jesse Ross

Plato’s Bacon

Great fucking name—that's a given. But this self-proclaimed "progressive-jazz-fusion-funk-metal band" is just starting to try new sounds after an apparent quest to perfect Metallica's "Orion" and making YouTube videos that are more talk than music. I applaud the desire to expand your horizons, young dudes, but you're going to have to start taking yourselves a whole hell of a lot more seriously if you expect anyone else to. 

—Scott McDonald

Polish Mexicans
Polish Mexicans

This fuzzy garage duo makes chunky, reverb-heavy songs that would benefit from a shift in guitar tone and more dynamics. Right now, all of the songs are just thick blocks of boring tone begging for sectioning. The stonier "Fountainheads" is drippy and closest to being right on. A lot of the titles and lyrics are silly and poetic, which is nice—like "I Want to Build You a Cake" and "Rubber Duckies on Parade." 

—Sammi Skolmoski


Adam Powell
Stark in the Dark

Who released my favorite Adele cover in recent memory? Why Adam Powell did, that's who. And he even claims to have recorded it in the buff. More importantly, the other three songs on 2011's Totally Stripped and Ill Equipped are pretty darn good, too (I reviewed it for this issue last year). Flash-forward to his latest, and things still seem to be going quite well. Even though it's only three lightning-quick tunes, the likeable, original ditties on 2012's Stark in the Dark are as catchy and interesting as ever. Alongside Powell's collaborative 2011 full-length, the lovely Adams and Eves, this singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist has amassed a nice little pile of pleasantly crafted songs. Let's all hope no one ever forces him to put on pants. 

—Scott McDonald

Summer / Winter

A two-CD, two-hour-plus collection of stark, math-y instrumental rock recorded on a four-track in El Cajon circa 1995-96. There's some good stuff on here, all in the spirit of Don Caballero and Explosions in the Sky—angular piano, layered guitar and crashing crescendos. But it gets pretty boring after a while. Next time, just send the greatest hits.

—Peter Holslin 

Project Analogue
El Lizardo

Johanna Motos' voice could make you do anything. Though it works nicely with Project Analogue's other vocalist, Joey Tan, she isn't using her gift to its fullest potential. As the band splits its efforts between warm and fuzzy indie-pop and darker, more interesting, slightly spastic shoegaze, they don't seem sure about what to do with Johanna's voice. Sometimes she's too dreamy; other times, the melodies don't quite match up. But once they figure things out, they'll be on their way to something original and maybe even quite good. 

—Natalie Jacobs

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