Saturday, July 31, 2010

Demo Sweat #16

I listen to and write about everything people send me (with the exception of the various out-of-town things clueless PR "professionals" spam me evidently without ever reading the site). This is time-consuming. I usually try and give everything three listens, a few days apart so my moods balance out. Then I write what I think. That's how it works. I'm not going out of my way to be mean, I'm just trying to give my complete and honest opinion. If you only like music writing that reinforces what you already think about bands you already have heard about, there are plenty of blogs that do that. How are developing locals supposed to improve if no one with a well-honed ear ever tells them what they could be doing better? If your band can't land shows anywhere except the darkest, smelliest, worst-promoting bars in Austin, it might well be because the bookers at the cool places are thinking the same things about your crappy music as I do. They're not going to take the time to explain it to you, though, they have better things to do. Not me! For better or worse this is my life's mission. Remember: There's no such thing as bad publicity.

Vastness Plane is the solo banner for Dieter Geisler (ex-Falcon Buddies), and like a lot of one-man electro-acoustic affairs, the songs on Tone Drum Letter Head lack meaningful structure. They're a lot of middle without a whole lot of beginnings or ends, and that makes the album more of a slog than it could be. But this is better than your garden-variety laptop music, as Vastness Plane aren't totally without hooks and have something of an original synthesis of styles. "Teeter" has a really cool pitch-bent central keyboard sound. "Meet Fruition" sounds spartan and ambient until the vocals kick in. Then it sounds like a Matmos reboot of a song in the 30's theatrical pop style -- I was thinking of Kurt Weill, but maybe Dieter's German name predisposed me to do so! The idea for this fusion is more interesting than the actual finished product, however, since the vocals are... well, no way around it, they're terrible, not often in key and recorded in a thin, echo-less single-tracked manner that makes them sound odd up against the rich keyboard and guitar sounds. The instrumental tracks aren't quite finished, they have their moments but bolder shifts and bigger peaks are wanted. "Toms & The Toms" seems like it's getting there but just when it should burst open more annoying vocals come in instead. Pity, I really liked his old band... perhaps he should form another, or at the very least work with a more practiced singer.

The Pole Vaulting Amoebas, Michigan-based colleagues of D.B. Rouse, are an interesting case. I quite like them musically -- their folk tunes have fine original melodies, acoustic and lead guitars are nice-sounding and well-employed, and their grubby efforts at lo-fi rap really work. Lead vocals are lived-in and snappy, and the dude can flow as well. The catch is that they're trying to be a comedy act, and their songs are not funny. What they are is hateful, particularly towards women, and their over-the-top vulgarity is more Bob Saget than Eminem. The Amoebas seem satisfied that just choosing a loopy subject for a song is funny on its own. Singing "autoerotic asphyxiation" repeatedly on "The Fine Line" gives away the howlingly obvious punchline two choruses before it even arrives, and the titles for "The Email my Girlfriend Wrote Morgan Freeman Last Night" and "Common Street Trash" spoil those weak jokes before they even begin. You really ought not to repeat choruses word-for-word three or four times on every song on a comedy record. I feel like these guys would be better served employing their talents for a different project, because they can sing, play, and harmonize really well.

Coming back to Austin, Lafayette are a real find. As I wrote of Guns of Navarone, it's OK to be another entry into an overexposed genre if you're clearly superior at it. For Lafayette it's Dinosaur Jr.-style sigh-and-fuzz garage rock. Their harmonies are a blast, and "Snow King" in particular has a killer melody and some great one-liners in the lyrics. Each of the three songs on their page is very strong. I only wish that there were more of them, because I am curious as to what their range might be beyond agreeable, medium-paced rockers. They play Cheer Up Charlie's on August 7th so perhaps I won't have to wait that long to find out.

Paper Threat are a band I've already seen live -- maybe the only local band I caught and liked all year that I neglected to write about, since it was at the very tail end of that March thing and my brain was fried. When I discovered them at the Cherrywood Coffeehouse it was their versatility that stood out. Their bassist doubles as the controller for their prominent electronic element, and their guitar player is also a slick trombonist! The first two songs on their demo have good lyrics and strike the balance well between beats and live instruments, but they're undone by very similar main vocal melodies. "North," which edges over into full-blown livetronica, is stronger, with great-sounding drums. The combination of the very human singing and the booming, assembly-line clank of the percussion sells the band's message very plainly. "Arrows," with its New Orleans jazz trombone and big breakin' drums, is the last song and the best.

Andrew Stone is a very talented player. His vocals are emotive and his rough-and-ready slide guitar playing unique. As a songwriter, though, Stone hasn't worked out when not to play. His vocals never let up, and his guitar parts repeat that gridlocked eighth-note mushiness all rookie writers go through before the revelation hits them that less is more. "Raindrops" just has no rhythm at all, just a rush of chords and words. There's more to "Children in the Garden," but until Stone learns that you don't have to sing the payoff to every tune upwards of sixteen times to make your point, he's going to have trouble making headway in the same-y singer-songwriter capital of the universe. Free advice: Save your big parts for the climaxes rather than going all out from beginning to end, and woodshed your songs until each one sounds like its own creation rather than another variation on the same half-baked theme.

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