Friday, October 9, 2009

Demo Sweat #4

It's Friday... must be time to sweat.

Evoleno, judging from the name, could be a dual tribute to Sonic Youth and Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy. Rather they're most agreeable Caribbean-tinged rock, with songs that break up the grooves just enough with jazz and rock departures (and even a bass solo on "Play It Cool"). Guitarist Justin Tucker has a rhythmically solid style that allows for a lot of improvisation while keeping things moving. The hand percussion and laid-back backing vocals give them a nice beach-party energy. Their songs are only repetitive when that's the whole point of the song ("Couch Potato").

Like many hundreds of other very young female-fronted bands, We Paint the Town have been mightily impressed by the work (and the SoundScan numbers) of Paramore. They should try listening to some other stuff, because they share a lot of the annoying tics of their inspirations, like identical-sounding songs with no interesting guitar or bass parts and lyrics that have a few good lines here and there ("You're in trouble when your favorite sad songs aren't doing a thing") but ultimately make no narrative sense. The new wave coda to "Grease" shows some life, and I like the oddly Heart-like harmonies where they pop up, but this band is as unfinished at this point as their MySpace page.

Amber Lucille has a nice voice and a crack band -- the moody slide guitars and male harmonies are boss -- but her songs are terrible, three-chord wonders with painfully unoriginal lyrics. Check out "Refinery Lights" from her page, though, because it's by an outside songwriter and shows off the singer and the band in a much kinder light. Jay Wolf doesn't even have the voice going for him. His vocals are obnoxious and nasal and his songs are similarly intellectually bankrupt "Americana." Wolf and Lucille both should spend some time studying at the feet of Steve Power, a well-traveled writer with some evil blues harp tone and fabulously original songs and vocal delivery. "Run for the Border," a little paranoia blues about a Michigan militiaman seeing the FBI around every corner is one standout; the surprisingly personal "DiMaggio" is another.

Sinistra are one of those modern "heavy" bands where easy guitar parts are played through a lot of distortion and the drummer and the (barely audible) bassist make noise artlessly somewhat in unison. The vocals are sometimes melodic, sometimes screamed, but never sincere, and the duet with the female vocalist ("Move On") is such an inept attempt at a "crossover" that it's kind of charming. Awake at Dawn are more charmless still, they're not even a band really, just a wrenching vocalist and a guitar player with too much equipment amusing themselves out of all relation to one another and the plodding programmed drums. Slightly more tolerable, if only due to the yeoman's work of skilled and I hope well-compensated studio musicians, is Brian Pounds. Pounds has utterly nothing to offer the world thus far as a singer, songwriter, or guitarist; his stuff sounds like elevator music.

By contrast Nathan Payne's music is initially discomfiting, but I'm fairly certain after multiple listens that he's some kind of a genius, if maybe a slightly scary one. It takes a ballsy songwriter indeed to begin a song by cribbing a line from a Bob Dylan song, but Payne does it and pulls it off ("American Infidel"). He's got multiple deliveries, but his most haunting is a kind of contralto yodel that sticks in your mind, particularly combined with Payne's potent lyrics. "Six Dollar Tux" sounds like Calexico jamming with Chris Isaak while Howe Gelb does live sound manipulation to keep the singer's voice from staying in the right relationship to key. In a word, awesome.

Dave McCullough is a local guitar player and teacher whose solo instrumentals (performed I believe with bass pedals) reflect the long experience of a man utterly at peace with his world and his instrument... not a note wasted. Cabrini Green is one of those electronic artists who gets it, who recognizes the freedom granted from constructing music out of samples, treatments, found sounds, and live performances and approaches his compositions as if recombining and sharing a lifetime's worth of music-listening. It's hard to tell what's sampled and what's live and what's both in Cabrini Green's music, and that's exactly the idea. So is the constant shifting of center and style. El Ritual Del Gallo Loco, a one-man featuring live rock instruments, electronic programming, and samples, has another exciting postmodern blend working. Their music is not unlike driving along the border listening to several competing radio stations on the same frequency flicker in and out of prominence: Nine Inch Nails, William Orbit, Mexican pop and folk, the Spanish-language edition of The Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld... I wish my radio sounded like that.

Finally, Twilight Hotel got their start in Winnipeg but are now boasting an Austin address. What is it about Austin than Canadians like so much? We have no moose and very little hockey. In any event, this duo should fit right in here. "Americana" seems like the wrong label ("Canadiana?") not only in a literal sense, but also because their music doesn't sit properly in any one genre. The arrangements follow the songs. "Viva La Vinyl" sounds like 50's R&R, "Highway Prayer" gospel, "Slumber Queen" Tex/Mex. Great male and female vocals, vintage equipment employed in exactly the right production context, snappy lyrics. It would be cheesy to say "check in," right?

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