Saturday, June 19, 2010

Demo Sweat #15

I saw the very tail end of a Baby Robots show and was impressed enough to snare a CD; they do a better job than most of one-chord jamming "monorail rock" due to good command of sounds. Probably Portions & Fortunes is interesting, definitely worth a few listens, for its fun depth even in a low-budget context. The running water on the sound piece "Eva Mendez Rehab Stint" might be a cliché but it does remind of a certain kind of Austin rainfall, which gives it local character. Sadly Bobby Baker's ear for production and instrument tone choices doesn't extend to songwriting; the only two good proper songs on Portions are covers and they're not well-rendered ones at that. The "Some Kinda Love" here sounds like a random tribute to several Velvet Underground songs at once, and not coincidentally all ones that don't overemphasize instrumental acuity. Band support the whole way through is patchy, with the bass particularly suspect.

King of the Air, the nascent rock project of one Harrison Palmer, has the outward trappings of the sort of clueless no-fi projects I hate on frequently: dreadfully timed fake bass and drums, songs that force their few ideas several minutes past their natural stopping points, and vocals that to put it mildly are erratic in their relationship to pitch. But close examination (perhaps using headphones as his MySpace mildly suggests) reveals some genuine talent at work here: guitar parts though simple are intelligently employed and the vocal melodies, such as they are, have attractive rhythms and original lyrics. "Blindside" very deftly uses a hip-hop beat with guitar changes that give the verses, chorus, and bridge clear definition from one another even though the drums are a basic loop all the way through. Harrison needs more songwriting reps, and to save extended experimental arrangements until he has a band to contribute to them. "Outerplace" is a halfway decent three-minute modern rock song but it bleeds on for another minute and a half of nonsense. And the vocals need a ton of work. Marble-mouthed, they don't have much melodic variation -- and the melodies as written aren't what he's singing most of the time, either. He has a certain raspy resemblance to Will Johnson but not his skill in writing just so to suit his voice. Anna C. says most people just won't be able to listen past his bad singing.

I like the lead singer from The Sabotage Manual quite a bit. So does Anna: "Like James Hetfield, only more melodic," if James Hetfield were singing older-school pop-punk. The good voice, and a few flashy guitar links, are about all they've got going. The songs are way too four-on-the-floor to allow the bassist and the drummer anything but the most basic patterns and it's evident from his leads the guitarist is capable of much more nuanced writing. "Civil Disobedience" is a straight jack of Zep's "Heartbreaker." Daniel Whittington is a white guy with a beard who sings songs about gypsies. His music sounds exactly like you think it does. Whittington's generic, opaque lyrics and stiff delivery reminded my roommate Kalyn of William Shatner. Rudimentary "here's G, here's C, here's D" songwriting and pedestrian rhythms ("Simple" is indeed so, exactly as simple as "Knockin' on Heaven's Door") are not sufficient source material; the backing musicians carry no blame for these recordings' general crappiness.

The most interesting thing about Jacob Shelton that I know so far is that his screen name (so to speak) on bandcamp is Rad Wolf. Now, that would be an excellent name for a band. I think I would be excited to hear the music of a group called Rad Wolf. However, Shelton's album Stay Home bears his own name on the cover. Perhaps he should consider removing it. It's a deathly ponderous collection of drib-drabbing piano notes and circular guitar half-parts that doesn't have a single interesting melody. The average song on the collection makes its point some one-fourth or so through its running length. And a couple tracks are five or six minutes! I try to listen to every scrap that people send me, within reason, but this qualifies as wasting my time. Already I have spent more time thinking about this music than Shelton did making it. Anna agrees: "This isn't really music." Kalyn postulated that perhaps he listened to Explosions in the Sky for a couple of weeks straight, got really excited, and thought he could quickly do the same thing alone on his four-track with no preparation whatsoever. There could be some fodder for remixes here (or maybe tones to be played during yoga) but the recording isn't particularly good and the sound of fingers scratching on guitar strings is loud and distracting.

The Daily Brothers' "Cocaine Blues" begins as just noise, tons and tons of senseless, un-arranged overdubs blaring over bad acoustic guitar playing. Then the deluge pulls back and a ridiculously primitive folk-parody pastiche emerges, about 60% of the words of which are "cocaine." It's awful beyond belief, but it also is so simple and obnoxious and annoying and kind of awesome that I am certain I will remember it more clearly and for longer than any of the other new music I listened to this week. Also, it's not a blues.

The monumentally terrible Rico's Gruv are. In fact this is music so dumb that only the musicians' steadfast belief that they are real blues makes it all interesting. The lyrics to "Come On Down" have a brutal lack of sense and style to them; so much so that you sort of feel sympathy. Hilarious, all unintentionally so, but still. I am trying not to share the ill will that many Austin musicians who don't play traditional styles bear towards those who do. There are great original musicians playing blues and country in Austin, and there are great experimental/electronic/performance art/mime bands (I'm sure) as well. There's a bit more of a built-in market for people playing familiar popular styles, even if they don't do it all that well. I find this curious, but I don't resent it. As far as Rico's Gruv are concerned... wow, this is just some terrible music. Imagine playing exactly the same song every time out, only at slightly different tempos. And seriously, check out those lyrics. I can't do them justice in a pullquote.

Rapper C.H.A.R.M. has many unlikable qualities -- his defensive, slur-heavy ad libs are a big turn-off, his bold insistence that he's seen it all at 25 is pretty ridiculous, and his repeated pleas to record labels to sign him are both craven and clueless (dude, it's 2010 -- what's a record label?). I respect that from his perspective he's representing a particular culture, that of the Rio Grande Valley, that doesn't exactly boast a lot of superstar voices. And that it's his personal stories he's telling in his typically violent ("My Beer Bottle Is a Weapon," "1, 2, 3 Better Run") and boastful ("Lyrical Miracle," "Letter to the Majors") rhymes. But despite varied flows and strong freestyle skills, he's not doing anything distinctive -- his beats are strictly early 90's Dre, downtempo, stripped-down melodies and tight snare hits, other than a Ruff Ryders nod on "1, 2, 3." C.H.A.R.M. could get away with the throwback style if he had any new perspective to bring to the game. Not so much. He'd better rep Texas if he didn't waste his original flows over beats that could be from anywhere. And like most musicians he would surely benefit from a broader array of listening (and reading) material.

Plebeian are the third band I have to call out today for too obvious a lift. "Chicago" is Radiohead's "2 + 2 = 5," and it's not particularly well-hidden. Their affection for Muse is also obvious (as it always is). But (and I'm little surprised to be saying this) they're a Muse-influenced band that doesn't totally suck. They know how to lay back at points, and Hunter Mischnick plays a lot with offbeats on the guitar, pleasant breaks from all the sincere rock urgency. As a writer Mischnick has commendable range but needs still to work on blending more than one flavor at once; the band's songs have a tendency to sound like someone's iTunes skipping. Bass and drums are consistently cool thanks largely to the songwriting, which gives them space to be so. The use of keyboards and electronics is also varied from a light touch (tiny bits of anachronistic sounds, a la Soul Coughing) to full-on dance tracks ("Tonight Our True Story" uses sequenced instruments and speech samples intelligently and effectively). "Relumination" goes full-out pop and would almost pull it off, were it not for lyrics not quite up to the increased focus the big melody throws on them. A lot of good ideas, none fully realized; I'm pleased the band is back as an active concern after some time off.

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