The word "atmospheric" gets arbitrarily thrown around a lot these days when describing a certain kind of music. I can only speculate that the first arts critic to do this had a band like Chateau in mind. It's something that belongs in the sky—weightless and airy, it's expansive and formless form holding the promise of flight. Filled with soaring electronic textures and lush instrumentation, the six magnificently crafted and immediately accessible (read: they're also poppy as hell) songs on this EP hold that kind of promise. Frontwoman Laura Levenhagen's voice and lyrics offer just about everything you'd want in this kind of music. Strong but vulnerable, resolute but filled with heartbreak. The collection is loaded with these kinds of dualities. The EP's most sinister track, "The Bird, the Bee, the Owl," finds Levenhagen in full scorned-lover mode, sounding like Zola Jesus in full stalker mode. On the next track ("What's Left"), she comes to accept the dissolution of a relationship in the span of a little more than four minutes. "I will bury you in time," she coos over a restrained bass line in "Bury You," only to have multi-instrumentalists Erik Visnyak and Frank Green drop one sonic bomb after another on her until her voice sounds more like a plea than a promise. The song ends with a looped guitar diminuendo that fades out over what sounds like television static in the distance. There's a word for it: atmospheric.soundcloud.comchateausandiego
Some of this is confusing. "Sweet Lies" starts with a twinkly synth line, but then it goes into a generic club beat, and the whole time Cosio is singing through a tinny vocal filter that makes her sound like she has a cold. Uh, is this dance music? Experimental lo-fi? I'm not sure. Things improve when Cosio tries her hand at Gershwin's "Summertime," but she loses track of the melody with all her sultry melismata.
The grooves that Cosmoskii lay down are so smooth that it should be pronounced "smoove." The band layers plinking guitars and indie dance over a rhythm section that would not feel out of place in a '70s porno. Listening to it, it's easy to find your head bouncing and hips thrusting at the same rhythm, but for completely different reasons. At times, it can sound a little too reminiscent of Foals, and the repetitive guitars often get too much volume in the mix (c'mon guys, turn the drums up), but overall, Comoskii comes to get down.
Only Demo That Matters
I admire Cruz Radical's moxie. Calling your demo Only Demo That Matters takes some confidence, balls or, failing that, total snottiness. And maybe the title isn't 100-percent accurate, but this demo's actually really good. Cruz Radical play high-energy power-pop and punk-rock with simple but super-catchy melodies. They're a bit like The Ramones with a drum machine and lyrics en Español—a slight variation, but just enough of a change from a familiar formula to make it work. Did I mention how goddamn catchy these songs are? cruzradical.bandcamp.com
Spark up a doobie and get ready to free-fall into a magical land of distorted guitar riffs, crashing symbols and heavy bass. This sludgy, instrumental, doom-metal album is surprisingly refreshing, featuring a playful psychedelic flair. Had I listened to less Phish and more Black Sabbath as a kid, this nifty little EP (if it existed 20 years ago) could've have easily found its way into my regular teenage rotation. Even today, with my jaded adult sensibilities, I found myself listening to the entire 11 minutes and 34 seconds of the three-song album's longest track, "Woodstone." Clever stuff! crypticlanguages.bandcamp.com
—Joshua Emerson Smith
Army of Bones
As heavy metal has splintered into countless subgenres, pure thrash—the kind Metallica and Megadeth and Slayer made in the 1980s—came to feel quaint, almost outdated. But the thrash revival is here, and Dark Measure is well-positioned to ride it. The band's first full-length album is a bracing blast of meaty riffs, rumbling drums, squiddly-squiddly guitar solos and Jason Lenhard's positively Hetfieldian roar. Dark Measure does classic thrash the right way. Seek and destroy, dudes! darkmeasure.com
The Distinguishing Marks
Twenty songs, most of them less than a minute long, featuring bizarre, sometimes melodic, synth-and-drums tracks with phrases like "I'm single again," "Left of center, right of mark" and "This party's over but the next one has begun" repeated over and over and over. I think this is supposed to be a concept album, but the concept eludes me.
The Introductory Curse
This aptly named band presents a grungy rock style with the kind of spooky aesthetic you might expect to hear at a Halloween party. Their lo-fi sound is helmed by a female singer's sometimes off-kilter voice, which ranges from seductive to menacing. The highlight of this four-song collection is the moody "Turn the Page," in which vocals are on point over a simple beat. The low mark is a live version of a song called "Tug of War," which is all cymbal crashes and muted utterances. I'm a little bit torn on this one. draculasdaughter.bandcamp.com
—Jen Van Tieghem
Whats a Dre Cat?
Dre Cat's album cover features a cat holding a bong—so at least I know what I'm in for. Smoky extracurriculars aside, these songs are anything but lazy; each has solid beats layered with samples and Dre Cat's quick-flowing lines. He drops a bunch of enjoyable hometown shout-outs to everything from Trevor Hoffman to Ballast Point Brewing to the San Diego Clippers. One example of his clever, tongue-in-cheek lyrics comes in the intro track, "Who That Be," where DC raps, "Smoke more, drink less, since you've got two lungs, but just one liver." Can't argue with that logic. facebook.com/drecatmusic
—Jen Van Tieghem
Dre Trav hands a rap listener the right to have high expectations with its Outkast-inspired album and song titles. The similarities to the seminal Atlanta rap duo stop there because there are no contagious hooks or interplanetary-gangster lyrics. Instead, Dre Trav offers 14 tracks of staccato rap bars over cool jazz xylophones and horns with scattered pulsing drums. If Dr. Doom had a half-baked cousin living on the West Coast it would be Dre Trav. soundcloud.com/dretrav
I'm as much of a '90s music fan as the next guy, and I dig most of the angular, stoner riffs that are showing up in music lately—riffs that sound mined from Built to Spill or Pavement. However, I'm confused as to who, exactly, is into post-grunge-era mid-tempo aggro-rock (well, besides everyone who still listens to FM radio). Dropshot, for example, are not a bad band, just perhaps born in the wrong decade. They're tight, and their production is pretty great, but it's too easy to see them angrily circle-jerking to bands like Filter or Disturbed.
Sean Duncan is here to rock the fuck out. He's just one guy with one guitar (sometimes multi-tracked), but that doesn't stop him from going all-in on some burly, Mastodon-style metal. So, if you're down with that band's 2004 album Leviathan, imagine it without vocals, bass or drums, and this is more or less what you get. And it definitely sounds like it's missing something. A lot, really, but for one dude with one guitar, it's at least got some heft to it.
This demo arrived in a large stack of hip-hop CDs with similar-looking labels, but one of these things is clearly not like the others. Fear Forever's 2015 demo sounds a lot more like the painfully earnest faux-alternative pop that's clogging up the Billboard charts right now, with lots of stomping, clapping, "whoa-oh-oh" choruses and young, good-looking people who spend their spare time as extras in vodka commercials. Then there's an EDM cover of R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion" that makes it that much more obnoxious. This kind of music is an advertising agency's dream, but as far as actual listening goes, I think I'll stick to something that sounds a little less like it was made by a focus group.
The Fictitious Dishes
The Earthling Demos
The last couple of years have been tough on feminists. After the #gamergate goons, the Santa Barbara massacre targeting women and countless assaults on reproductive rights, it's increasingly clear that we're not an equal society. This is why riot grrl acts like The Fictitious Dishes are so essential. The all-women group has the bite of Bikini Kill and the humor of Bratmobile. This demo's atonal guitar sound is as assaultive and ear-catching as the message (a good thing). Sometimes the lyrics veer into Punk 101-territory, but that's easy to overlook. facebook.com/thefictitiousdishes
Pale Blue Dot
Slick, slippery, glassy and glossy, Tom Field—a guy named Tom? Not a guy named Tom? Who knows?—creates futuristic synthscapes that whoosh past your ears and curve toward the horizon, with no end in sight. There are elements of hip-hop, glitch-pop, downtempo and ambient music here, but for the most part, Tom Field's Pale Blue Dot is, in fact, an edgeless expanse of icy electronica perfect for a moody night of adventurous listening, extensive screen time and avoiding other humans.
Stealing the Mona Lisa
This project comprises dozens of tracks on SoundCloud, which draw on straight-ahead jazz, avant-garde poetry, electronic music, hip-hop and indie rock. While Flores plays with diverse genres, his compositions consistently feature melodic and complex textures. Against dreamy arrangements, he often uses soft-spoken hip-hop phrasing. However, the music falls flat when he uses rap clichés as punch lines to sappy lyrics about love and "keeping the beat knocking." The instrumental material and artful arrangements far exceed the poetry. soundcloud.com/stealing-the-mona-lisa
—Joshua Emerson Smith
This is a whopping five-minute-long single that sounds like a hair-metal relic from the Wayne's World basement. It has some pretty awesome guitar solos and heavy drums, but the lyrics are often muffled, so it's hard to understand the message. "Restless" dates itself before the song even finishes. reverbnation.com/fused
There's a refined audio alchemy throughout these three solid tracks by Golden Hill beat maker fz. It's difficult to discern more with so little to go on, but crisp production and creative remixing make it worth a listen.
G Burns Jug Band
G Burns Jug Band
It's awesome when anyone can faithfully and flawlessly tackle century-old styles and canvass the early roots of American music. Bandleader Clinton Davis leads his quality quintet through rousing instrumentals ("Cowboy Waltz," "Banjoreno") and standout vocal tracks ("Railroadin' Some," "The Train That Carried My Girl From Town") with equal vigor. This is the kind of band that could just as easily lead a shoulder-to-shoulder backwoods barn stomp into the midnight hour as take the helm in producing period music for Hollywood. gburnsjugband.com
Johnny G.'s Jingles Vol. I
Eighteen songs of goofy, occasionally funny home recordings by a guy I can only assume counts Jello Biafra, Wesley Willis and Brak from Space Ghost as his biggest musical influences. It's like that guy from Laugh-In used to say, "Veddy intedesting." But also stupid.
Like Coco Chanel said, remove one accessory before you leave the recording studio. Or something like that. In this case, it's the demonic voice that leads off the first and second songs. This is otherwise intelligent hip-hop—Generik scored a recent opening slot for GZA—produced in a city that could use more hip-hop. facebook.com/GenerikLNC
Gram Parsons-style country and folk that's ideal for road trips and solo excursions to the bar. The musicianship is excellent, but Gindling's talk/sing style wears thin pretty quickly, and otherwise dark and dusty songs like "Marilee" and "She Walked Away" are bogged down by cheesy sax solos and superfluous harmonica noodling. dangindlingmusic.com
Desperate Love EP
This band calls itself dance-punk, although I'm not so sure about the "punk" part—and I mean that in a good way. Their catchy hooks and deep, dark bass lines are reminiscent of a more straightforward rock band like Band of Skulls. The vocals alternate between sounding like a brooding Nina Persson and an upbeat Deborah Harry. The trippy synth-romp "I Feel It" is a highlight of the EP, due in part to cowbell and woodblock percussion, and an equally colorful video to match. facebook.com/GlassSpells
—Jen Van Tieghem