“Tell that to Pablo Escobar” Meth Labs hate your fancy car, your big TV and your notion of the American Dream. They probably don’t care for you, or me, or this review, for that matter. All they want to do is drink beer, hang out with friends and destroy their instruments by playing insane punk, which is the only way to play this kind of music. Meth Labs’ one-track demo is a booze-fueled thrasher that espouses the joys of ditching the materialism of modern life, and it does so in just two minutes with the ferocity of a Dillinger four track. methlabs.bandcamp.com
Cutesy, cat-loving indie-pop is not something I’d actively seek, but this co-ed quartet won me over with these four songs packed with catchy hooks and sing-along choruses. Fans of Camera Obscura and Acid House Kings will almost certainly find tracks like “Steal You” and “Always Knew” to their liking, but it’s the ballad “Heart of Me,” which ends with soaring harmonies and a frenzied guitar-and-drum showdown, that proves that this band isn’t afraid of experimenting with the formula. mittensband.com
Blue Diesel I typically enjoy my grass when it’s green, but if it has to be blue, Mohavisoul does a pretty decent job with it. The songwriting is solid, and everyone can play, but the whole thing’s just begging to be kicked up a notch. After a while, a constant stream of mid-tempo songs ends up being a big, fat folky yawn. I thought the unspoken rule is that a bluegrass band has to jump into the hot skillet a few times every night. reverbnation.com/mohavisoul
Rivers and Roads EP
Tyson Motsenbocker is a talented singer-songwriter in a city that’s already chock full of them. While his familiar acoustic-pop style isn’t exactly my thing, I have to give Motsenbocker credit for what he’s crafted on this five-song EP. The mellow songs are well-arranged, and his pleasant lead vocals are matched nicely by a sweet feminine voice on most of the tunes here. The result is palatable but, unfortunately, all too common. tysonmotsenbocker.com
—Jen Van Tieghem
Going to Your Happy Place
Three cheers for real fucking punk rock! These songs are all super-short and super-stupid— highlights include a sneering rager called “Up Yours, Happiness”— and that’s exactly what makes it all super-rad. Bonus points for the off-key, mosh-o-riffic cover of Ace of Base’s “The Sign.” Now let’s get some Mickey’s and puke on the carpet. mr-nobody.bandcamp.com
Ja! EP Muniq’s sound is so steeped in homages to obscure genres that it’s difficult to tell whether they’re serious or not: They’re equal parts Italo disco, German pop and post-apocalyptic ’80s-movie soundtracks. It’s certainly fun to listen to talented musicians who can emulate their esoteric influences, but the Ja! EP is a little too steeped in obscurity to be entirely satisfying. For example, if you’ve never explored Goblin or Tangerine Dream’s deep cuts, this might feel like the soundtrack played in a haunted house ride, complete with terrifying Dracula voice. But if you can keep a straight face while dancing to a Moog breakdown with “Lights, music, legs!” shouted over it, then this was made for you. muniq.bandcamp.com
The Nerd Herd
This demo is a lo-fi landfill for a number of regrettable mainstream rock trends during the past 20 years, from the instantly outdated funk-rock of Red Hot Chili Peppers to the lifeless ska / reggae of Sublime to dead and bloated riffs of post-post-grunge. The female lead vocalist has a distinctive voice, though, so points for that.
Never Pass Go
Here we go: Another band trying to rage against the machine with sloganeering poorly disguised as rock music. The cover of Never Pass Go's Baltic Avenue depicts Monopoly's Uncle Moneybags giving a Nazi salute in front of stormtroopers, but the band's raw folk-punk sound yields tracks that don't seem to get any more thoughtful or more interesting than generic slogans like "Kill the Machine." Their music is just too sleepy—and singer Kevin Black too much of an atonal mess—to actually inspire any action. Some singing lessons, a political-science class and a new rhyming dictionary won't necessarily win hearts and minds, but they would definitely make this better. facebook.com/neverpassgo
Three or four chords, barked vocals and a skull-busting rhythm section, all presented at one speed: the speed of classic punk rock. The Nieces' take on the genre is undeniably catchy and unmistakably gritty; my favorite thing about this EP might be the production, which coats the tunes in enough grime that you can almost hear the tattered old flyers peeling off the walls, but not so much that it sounds shitty. A fine effort all around by three dudes who seem like they get it. reverbnation.com/thenieces
The Night Owl Massacre
The First Five
I'm going to guess that The Night Owl Massacre have spent some time with Rocket from the Crypt's catalog—the first song on this demo, "Into the Ground," sounds almost exactly like Rocket's "I'm Not Invisible." And it's hard to fault them for rocking out in the shadow of one of the city's greatest bands. While the rest of The First Five doesn't find the group so blatantly attempting amateur Rocket science, the influence is definitely there. These are some good-time, power-chord-heavy rock 'n' roll tracks, with just enough punk snarl to give them a rowdy edge. facebook.com/thenightowlmassacre
The Catherine Keener Demo
The great thing about recording demos in the 21st century is that you can make a fairly decent-sounding recording without the incessant hiss of cassette noise. On that note, No Prom's Catherine Keener Demo sounds pretty good, if not necessarily professional. The problem is that their vocalist mumbles his way through songs, without the aid of a decent microphone, so it just sounds like he's muttering random shit from the center of their practice space. And he very well could be. Aside from that, this is middle-of-the-road pop punk / indie rock. Nothing more, nothing less.
No Time to Tarry
Four songs with crudely picked stringed things, vacillating bass lines, disorienting horns and vocals that warble like found sounds on a cassette left all summer long in the back window of a broken-down sedan. The result: songs and melodies that seem stretched till broken, then put back together in a way that's almost right, but not quite. I have no doubt these outsider-folk peddlers will take all of the above as a compliment, by the way. As they should.