Thursday, January 14, 2010

Demo Sweat #10

Short roster this time out, but a lot of good stuff. You're beautiful, Austin.

Everyday Destruction are one of the good punk bands, gifted with vocal charisma and smart songs about less than obvious subjects. "Passafisticuffs" discusses the decision to be a lover and not a fighter with balance and consideration, sort of a Fat Wreck Chords take on the Flaming Lips' "Fight Test." I like their catchy gang choruses and the way they employ all of the instruments including bass and lead guitar for separate functions rather than banging away in unison. They owe an obvious debt to Rancid and by extension the Clash but you could do worse as influences go. Something Called Nothing don't have as polished a setlist yet but their somewhat slower, shinier sound uses the rhythm section well and has a nice basis in rhythmic riffs rather than mere chord changes. The drums and bass on their recordings don't sound exactly right either in tone or in timing, which saps their energy somewhat. They could use some more distinctive lyrics, and an increase in dynamic changes, as they continue growing as a band.

Tonya Tyner and I don't have a lot of interests in common, it seems from listening to her songs and reading about her influences, but she's a gifted musical communicator. It makes her talent all the more impressive given that she's easy to relate to even for a listener with a very different perspective. When she writes about the difficulties of being a single woman in her 30's on "I Keep Trying" her appealingly honest vocals, which are full of strength for one moment then weak as a whisper the next, really make it easy to feel what she's feeling. "Do you always drink so heavily?" she asks despairingly. Her recordings are low-key and simple, but extremely original -- the guitar playing and the lyrics both have an obvious spark. Her songs make points and they get to them quickly. Her more raucous numbers (like "Uh Huh") could use the backing of a band but I hope she finds a producer with whom to work who will treat her songs with the respect they deserve. A very light touch only is needed given the quality of Tyner's material even in demo form. The Austin/L.A. retro-blues singer Debra Watson deserves praise for her strong vocal style, which is both stylistically appropriate and natural, unforced and idiosyncratic. Unfortunately her material is rather straitjacketed by a rigid adherence to genre convention, including clunky, formulaic lyrics. The band performances on her page sound squared-off and generic, too much Hollywood and not nearly enough Texas.

Patrick Boothe has a much more currently stylish approach, but despite the state-of-the-art electronic backgrounds his piano-based songwriting has a bit of old-fashioned sophistication to it that's most welcome. The close harmonies that dominate his tunes are lovely and well-suited to the dark, slightly schizophrenic narratives predominant in the lyrics. The songs have good changes and hooks but could stand to be trimmed down somewhat. I appreciate how Boothe has both dance and ballad sides and maintains his presence as an artist in each. "I Wish You'd Just Hate Me Like Everybody" adds rock guitar to the mix in an unforced way. Its title, and the rampant self-involvement of Boothe's lyrics in general, suggests his need for at least a little ironic distance from his music. A little wit and self-deprecation go a long way. Or at least one song about someone besides yourself.

I'm not quite sure what it is Biff Productions are trying to sell, but they sent me a link to two bands... the White Undertakers are sloppy (the drums and bass are all over the place) and from the foggy production it's difficult to even suss out what kind of music they're trying to make. Is it country? That might be a pedal steel, but it also might be really crummy-sounding keyboard. Maybe it's Top 40. I don't know. Call North have a tighter band sound with clearer division between lead and backing vocals, but there doesn't seem to be any connection between the singers, the band, and the songs. These just sound like demos, and not particularly well-made ones. None of the songs are in the least memorable.

Finally, Ken Metcalf is a local steel player whose online recordings give a good overview of the different roles the instrument can play. On his collaborations with bands and songwriters Metcalf uses the pedal steel's traditional-sounding weepy sliding chords as color and mood enhancement. On the instrumental "Steel Guitar Rag," you can hear him stepping out and showing his range, playing single-line figures in addition to chords and varying from phrases with almost no vibrato to tons of it. The man knows his business.

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