Saturday, October 24, 2009

Demo Sweat #5

It's either a day late or a week early. Frankly, I haven't decided quite yet how often I should do these. Bands, as always, I'm looking for as many Austin-based projects as possible for each of these demo columns. The e-mail address to contact me, if you'd like to be reviewed, is I write about everything, but I don't promise to be nice.

White guys trying to rap is just always going to sound a little square, a little tiny bit lame. This can however be overcome by self-awareness, humor, and sheer talent. Motionside aren't brilliant lyricists by any means, but they have a developing sound that shows good songwriting instincts. "My Marie" isn't an original title or sentiment for a song, but listen to the way the verses set up a story and the chorus delivers its payoff. Strong backing vocals further define the band's own style and is another good device for keeping the songs fresh. Incorporating hip-hop influences in the right spirit can be very liberating for a band with rock instruments. The use of violin on "Make It Right" and "Thank You Mother" shows a totally different band than their more standard rockers. Their lyrics need more development, but they're getting there.

By contrast One World (R)evolution Band are trite and repetitive. They're better when they show a bit of humor, as on "Get Your Green On," which is about eating your vegetables, but their serious songs are far too lyrically sophomoric to effect the kind of mass action to which their grandiose band name alludes. Their emphasis on riffs as opposed to just chord changes is nice, but their note-for-note cover of "Guerilla Radio" invites unflattering comparisons with their originals. Why don't their own songs have good lyrics, cool arrangements, or semi-competent bass playing?

The irreverent country tunes of Andrew Anderson benefit greatly from tremendous lead guitar, banjo, mandolin, and backing vocals from gifted sideman J.R. Harris. Anderson's no slouch himself, with his rapid-fire delivery and funny, original lyrics. "Damn It Man" has a thoughtful arrangement with lots of left turns and a nifty instrumental section where a deft lead guitar in one channel duels with a woozy one in the other. "Necessary Casualties" is an impassioned antiwar song with every lyric chosen for maximum effect. "Once Met a Girl" plays an obvious-seeming premise into a memorable personal twist, as Anderson muses that his wild past means he "don't have the right" to woo his one true love. A School of Liars draw upon similar red-dirt inspirations but are not as far along in their development cycle. Jon Keenan has some good instincts and a voice that sounds remarkably like Chris Stamey's (almost certainly a coincidence), but his band's songs offer no surprises past the first verses. Keenan is too good of a lyricist to settle for repeating a title over and over again instead of writing real choruses, and to stick with arrangements this drab. Shows promise, but not ready to graduate.

The Night need to tread carefully not to imitate Joy Division too closely, as they do on "Caught in the Radio," which is essentially a rewrite of "Transmission." When they blend things a little better, their mixture of twee guitar and keyboard hooks and goth-like vocals is pretty good. "Twisted" has a killer line at its heart: "I might die from this high, but it turns me on!" At times their bassist doubles the guitar a little too closely, limiting the trio's power. Not sure if it's deliberate or budget-enforced, but the lo-fi sound of the drums helps to further separate them from their obvious early-80's antecedents. The awful recording quality of The Badnotes' material doesn't hide the wit and skill of their drummer, who likes to sneak goofy touches like cowbell into the double- and triple-time thumping. Nor does the funnel sound mask the fact that the band's songs are two- and three-chord snoozes and the lead and backing vocals are out of key.

The Emerging Future are a good example of how to keep "songs" fresh in the electronic/experimental genre. These combinations of samples and programming don't have verses and choruses or bridges in the traditional sense, but what they do manage admirably is changing the sound picture in such a way that the listener's relationship to the central repeating figures (in this case usually world music vocals) never stays precisely the same. "Iblis" pulls this off with shifting beats, while "Shaaki Ka Ghana" disrupts itself with ambient noises and rumblings. "Deresolution" deftly drops in synth patches over sampled tablas, which shows real musical skill. "The Emerging Future" shows a deeper understanding of the various eastern music styles central to the project by introducing the chords on western-sounding keys first, then dropping in the chanted sample later. The Emerging Future are bridging different kinds of music from all over the world, but The Wonderland Avenue have yet to figure out how communication among people in the same band is supposed to go. Their bassist and drummer don't seem to feel much if any pull to play along to what the guitarists are doing, which doesn't help the overall feel that most of their compositions are intros waiting for the actual song to come along.

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