Kingdom of Lights
Kingdom of Lights are a band with lots of moving parts. There are multiple vocalists, jangling dream-pop guitars, high-minded ideals, the robotic pulse of dance music, some modest ambition and a sort of mystic Eastern vibe, all smashed together and given to the sky. It's like if Perry Farrell got his grubby little paws on the Cocteau Twins and sprung for a new wardrobe that would guarantee a spot on the second hour of Dave Kendall-era 120 Minutes. There are catchy pop songs here waiting to be set free. soundcloud.com/kingdomoflights
Left in Company
The first true album since 2009 for veteran hip-hop duo Generik and Aneken is filled to the brim with eclectic samples, buzzy bass and all manner of squiggles, sproings and whirs. At the center of this vibrant sonic swirl are two MCs who are not only lyrically thoughtful, but also skilled at using their voices in melodic, interesting and unconventional ways. "Arnold Schwarzenegger" is a representative cut; it sounds like Kool Keith and circa-2000 Eminem riding a homemade rocket through a nitrous cloud. As hip-hop's aesthetic stretches at warp speed thanks to weirdos like Young Thug and Rae Sremmurd, itís easy to see a path to a breakthrough for Left in Company. leftincompany.com
Lessons From Zeke
Looking to take a trip back to the '90s? This four-piece, self-described "modern rock" band is willing to be your guide. With two guitarists, a drummer and a bassist, Zeke sound practiced and comfortable on this five-track EP. While I can't give these guys points for originality, I'm willing to concede they've produced a radio-ready sound that refuses to offend anyone. "I wish you'd stay all summer long," croons frontman Mike Horvath, in lyrics typical of the band's sensitive sensibilities. lessonsfromzeke.com
—Joshua Emerson Smith
Love Playing the Blues
Jacob Levy's voice is a dead ringer for post-Zeppelin Robert Plant (there's even a "Stairway to Heaven" reference on the title track), but Levy just can't hit those high notes. His guitar playing is respectable, if standard blues-by-numbers riffage, while his lyrics are Prozac-infused cheeriness. I don't know, call me old-fashioned, but I like my blues, well, bluesy.
The Liquidmind brand themselves in the style of a psychedelic band, from the trippy, hand-drawn optical-illusion art on their demo CD to a name like The Liquidmind, which probably makes more sense after a brown-acid binge. But they're really just a punk band with some pretentious flourishes. The spoken-word intro to the second track, for instance, doesn't really add much to their ultra-short, high-energy blasts of noisy guitar and explosive drums. And the recordings are pretty lo-fi, which makes an already noisy band sound even more chaotic. But what ends up being The Liquidmind's greatest sin is their shaky, off-key vocals. The two singers in what otherwise sounds like a band with some talent just can't get their shit together. I'm not saying they need to hire Chris Cornell or anything, but finding someone who can emote melodically would be a good start.
Bending the local-music rules a little here, singer / guitarist Jeanna Fournier of this Venice Beach dream-pop band grew up in Encinitas and graduated from the Coronado School of the Arts. Sounding more like The Cranberries crossed with Temper Trap than the bands they claim to have been compared to (Bjork, Mazzy Star, Portishead), they still do pop pretty damn well. Too bad they didn't stay in San Diego. littlegalaxiesband.com
If I ever caught my kids listening to this, I would immediately blast several hours of Public Enemy into their impressionable ears. This band is a San Diego stereotype soup: one part alt-rock, one part heavy rock, a pinch of beach sand and a smattering of sexy sax. They have moments where I think, "OK, I can stand this," but then they inevitably dive headfirst right back into the American cheese. littleheroine.bandcamp.com
—Joshua Emerson Smith
Little White Teeth
Songs the Attic Sings
This album is so outstanding that I'm not sure a "demo" review is the right place to review it. I mean, for chrissakes, Rob Crow from Pinback produced this thing. A guy who once played drums in Modest Mouse is on one track. Name-drops aside, the beauty of this album stems from its homespun nature. These are atmospheric indie-folk songs, recorded in an attic and layered with banjo, keyboards and strings. Opener "Between Stations" gives me shivers with its gripping melody, while "1903" weaves a haunting tale of early-1900s elephant electrocution. Little White Teeth have always been a wonderful fixture of the San Diego scene, but here they've achieved a new level of sonic power. soundcloud.com/littlewhiteteeth
Two unnamed, poorly recorded songs submitted with a large tree diagram of the trio's first names and a zip code. I don't know, dudes. I just don't know. But I did like the diagram.
Now here's a band that hits all the right marks and still ends up missing the target. Lurid Memory play technical death-metal and are quite good at their instruments, but they don't have the same over-the-top prowess as outfits like Fallujah or Cephalic Carnage. With the exception of the funereal Spanish-guitar forays of "Pangea"—easily the EP's best song—most of this stuff is just generic showy riffage. reverbnation.com/luridmemory
The Lyrical Groove
Spoken Soul: Music for Life
Lyrical Groove, known for their mix of R&B, jazz and spoken word, are lucky to have "overdraft protection" (as noted in the "Uncertain Times" track), because there are a few setbacks on their full-length debut. To their credit, the musicians are ridiculously on-point, and vocalist Kendrick Dial finds a strong balance between singing and spoken word. What it's lacking are seamless duets between Brisa Lauren and Dial. You don't know who's leading and who's in the background. But one message is clear: The Lyrical Groove are serving up some positive messages through their neo-soul music. thelyricalgroove.com
The mysterious, ungoogleable band called MAG apparently includes some confident songwriters. They've got a solid command of electronics and guitars, a knack for good melody and even some attitude—as is clear in "Unusual Pleasures," in which they dish out sneering lyrics over lo-fi garage riffs. But they could use an extra spark because this stuff is still fairly pedestrian.