Friday, October 22, 2010

Demo Sweat #18

I'm shocked how many posts and days have gone by since last we visited the "no submissions rejected" wheeze; these things don't get any easier to write. It takes a lot of listening and a lot of note-taking. I've been doing Demo Sweat long enough now that people are writing and saying "You hated our old stuff, but now listen to our new stuff!" I'm glad of it. The hardest part of becoming a good band is staying together long enough to improve. I'll always give a second or third chance to a band if they ask for it. A lot of the time my first impressions are wrong. Not as often as they are right, but I form and express a lot of first impressions.

Let's begin with three artists from Demo Sweats past. I gave Jake Nishimura of The Nish Initiative a hard time about his vocals the first time I wrote about his project. I'm glad that he felt confident enough in his new recordings to write and ask me to listen again. He deserves some props for working hard on his singing because it sounds substantially better on this new batch of tunes. That's a big step, because whatever his good points as a songwriter were it was hard to listen past the blue notes before. Now that he's got better control of his voice, he needs to work on what he'd like to say with it... there's nothing that stands out in the hooks, lyrics, or sentiments of "Shaky Ground" or "Forgive Me." The melodies are pleasant, but the songs need a personality injection. Keep writing, and I'll keep listening. Disciples of Sound are mighty but empty, great vocals wasted on dull, riff-grinding writing. "Dirt Bed" is the same old one-rail 12-bar. Pass. The Daily Brothers deserve some props for sweet art and the ease with which they recreate sounds from classic records. But like their earlier single "Cocaine Blues," their full-length Hot Damn! finds me missing the point. The songs are constructed from bits of Motown and Phil Spector hits but the lyrics and vocals merely copy in the style... there's no sort of modern interpretation or personal bent to it, it's just retreads. Like The Ugly Beats and The Happen-Ins they need to find some way of reflecting that they are making 60's music in the 2010's. Otherwise it's just a revival.

Still Imagery by Landing Station isn't terrible for ambient guitar-and-drum rainfall rock, it's more like superfluous. I quite like the shifting modal patterns in "Sphinx" and the percussive guitar-effects approach on several less structured interludes, but a whole hour of this stuff is tedious. The trouble isn't that there is no audience for ambient guitar music in Austin. It's just that everybody who would potentially go see this sort of band is already in one (or more). If they aren't, they could be in one in ten minutes. Less if they're roommates with a drummer. I caught Distance Runner at a School of Liars house party and was impressed by their keyboard-driven post-emo style, although they could have used their five-instrument lineup more imaginatively. Their singer has a great voice and they have a good rhythm section. Their EP Scars Have Roots is better arranged than their live show, with a cool weird instrumental and pretty good lyrics. They should play in between SuperLiteBike and For Hours and Ours, since their style splits the difference between those two bands' sounds so evenly.

Fulton Read are an interesting case. They certainly have their good elements and their bad ones. They have a tendency towards aggressive over-marketing, which I suppose is how young bands nowadays prove they're serious but rubs me -- and frequently, my Internet browser -- the wrong way. Local bands that are trying to promote themselves as international acts often give me the impression that they don't value their roles as ambassadors for the Austin scene. Although the sell-sell-SELL message didn't put them in the most flattering light, there are a lot of things about their music I like. Their hybridization of current radio pop-punk, beach-hatted white boy funk, and classic rock orchestration could be forced and terrible in the wrong hands, but it's pretty loose and creative for mass-appeal rock. The songs and Anthony Erickson's gee-whiz vocals are relentlessly positive and upbeat, but not in a monochromatic Radio Disney way. If "A Better Way" were played on Top 40 radio, I wouldn't change the station. Real musicianship and canny, trend-spotting songwriting carry the day here. Beatle-isms share space with little computerized blips; 70's rock guitar solos drop in for a middle eight. I kind of like it despite myself.

You know who's also good is this Shmu guy who plays drums in Zorch. If Shmu's solo joint Discipline/Communication is to be taken as evidence Sam Chown is all of these things: a disco star in Canada, a frustrated guitar rock fan, at least six people in two different bands at the same time, too much musician for one paragraph in an Austin locals column to handle. Discipline has some giddy highs, particular in its dance-crazy opening quarter. "Impressions" and "House of Stares" are hot and cold club jams respectively and "Directions" a chill-room mash-up of Tortoise and Radiohead licks with singing jazz bass. But it gets disappointing ("Dangerous Passion" and "Open Your Eyes" are just straight-up boring rock songs) and repeatedly, super weird. "Fester" sounds like two bands playing the same song at the same time, neither well, and one twice as fast as the other. It's more interesting to describe than listen to. I really like Shmu's singing voice and some of the wordplay in the lyrics, but especially compared to Zorch this music seems formal, restrained in a way, and way more serious than the Sam I know. The gags are all in the transitions; he does one pose at a time rather than just heaping on a million ideas at once. And where are the lyrics about the trilateral lizard-government-space alien conspiracy?

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