March 17 2015 06:26 PM

You sent in your music; we listened to it

The Tarr Steps

Well, damn. From the opening note of The Tarr Steps' demo, the band unleashes a flood of neon-lit disco funk that carves out a groovy middle ground between Chic and Jamiroquai. The group layers on the synth textures pretty heavy, not to mention some amazingly cheesy saxophone in second track "Don't Ever Stop," but The Tarr Steps own it. There's no irony in their throwback jams; nor are they simply taking existing ideas and running with them. The songs are actually pretty strong. In the greater scheme, The Tarr Steps aren't really innovating so much as making something fresh out of sounds that have long since gone stale. But I'll let the first track on the demo, "Move Yourself," do the talking: "Move yourself for the good of your health."

—Jeff Terich

Three Chord Justice
One | Four | Five

When country music is bad, it's really bad—like the opposite of what they say about sex and pizza. But when it's good, it sounds something like Three Chord Justice. And the star of this show is the dueling precision of guitarists Jeff Houck and Tom Wolverton. Between Houck's discernable honky-tonk chops and Wolverton's expertise on steel, lap, dobro and mandolin, this is the real deal. Not to mention, frontwoman Liz Grace sings these dusty, deep-fried and well-written tales with lilting ease and genuine accessibility.

—Scott McDonald

Tribal Theory
Cali Love

I'm surprised this band would subject itself to the often-harsh Great Demo Review after reaching their level of popularity, which afforded them a nomination and a performance at last year's San Diego Music Awards. The album they've submitted blends reggae, rock, hip-hop and an islander vibe, all of which are done well and are ideal for fans of these styles. Though I'm not one of them, I can attest to the power of their music, which inspired my boyfriend's mother and her best friend to dance in the aisles for the entirety of their SDMA performance (the gin and tonics probably didn't hurt).

—Jen Van Tieghem

Two Eyes Meet Redux
Illusions and Tragedies

When listening to this album, be ready for lots of noise and pitchy vocals, and it can't be blamed on Garage Band. Two Eyes Meet Redux attempt the classic dark-goth sound from the '80s, but their over-filtered vocals and unkempt music layers cause them to miss the mark. "Young and Free (Are Dying)" almost qualifies—it needs a do-over with a new vocalist and mix because the totally emo songwriting isn't bad.

—Dita Quiñones

Ugly Roomers

These guys are so amazingly uncool that they're actually cool. Their songs are scruffy and bizarre, balancing King Crimson-y prog structures and hilarious Dave Mustaine-like vocal flourishes with quotidian lyrics about higher education and sons-in-law. Also, their drummer apparently used to play in Michael McDonald's backing band—yeah, man, real-deal shit. The world needs more bands like Ugly Roomers.

—Peter Holslin

Various artists
BHSP Compilation

This compilation is over-ambitious with its genre hopping, ill-matched lineup of artists. However, three songs did stand out and represent our border town well: Castillo's body-moving, rock en Espanol "Latina," along with the anti-establishment head-bobbing rap from San Diego Music Award-winning producer Scatterbrain and rapper Kaboose, "The 6th World of Conscienceness [sic]" and "The Killa is Shook." But the mystery remains: What or who is behind the acronym BHSP?

—Dita Quiñones

The Verigolds

Based on this sole selection submitted by the band, I'm ready to call myself a fan. Singer Jenna Cotton brandishes her Deborah Harry vocals while otherworldly psychedelic elements dance in and out. Halfway through, the song's playful guitars mimic the sing-song of the vocals for a cool effect. It wraps up with more trippy alien and robot sounds. The song is catchy enough to be dance-friendly; I'd say it's electro-pop that doesn't overdo either the electro or the pop. I'll have an ear out for the The Verigolds in the future.

—Jen Van Tieghem

Vice Society

The name of Vice Society's demo may or may not be Tuneage, but that's what was written on the CD-R, and that the disc was labeled with such charmingly uncool slang says a lot about the band. Vice Society are not cool—not even remotely. Their influences seem to be some combination of The Black Crowes, Gin Blossoms and The Beach Boys after Brian Wilson checked out, and most of their songs are about hot women and just feeling good, man. An actual lyric from one of their songs is "I feel alive when you're here by my side, so shine your soul on me." That should tell you a lot about Vice Society. And when I say they're not cool, that's not a knock against their musical abilities, necessarily. More often than not, they ease into a pretty melody or sweet riff. But cool? They don't even know the meaning of the word.

—Jeff Terich

Viva Apollo

Viva Apollo sound like a dangerous band. They sound like a band at the New Orleans bar into which you've stumbled during the wee hours of morning, lost and far away from your hotel. Taking cues from dark blues and rock bands like The Dead Weather, Viva Apollo not so much carve out their place in the music scene as press themselves into it like a branding iron; suffice it to say, the music sizzles. Lead singer Amanda Portela sings with a sultry croon that's at once menacing and haunting.

—Ryan Bradford

Void Lake

There are some cool details in this lo-fi trip-hop—like the squeaky bass of "The Other Side" and the dusty drum machine of "Pointless Game"—and I'm thinking they might explore these quirkier aspects of their sound further, because they're really not accomplishing much with their fatigued grooves and off-key vocals.

—Peter Holslin

We Are Friends
Talking Loud EP

"Sometimes life is a little rough." So sing We Are Friends on their song "Life," which makes even the hard parts of growing up sound like the chillest time ever. No, you won't be hearing much tension on this EP, which drifts along on mild electronic / acoustic indie-pop arrangements and winsome Ben Gibbard-style poetics. It's music by nice people for nice people, and I think that's nice.

—Peter Holslin

Wicked Tongues

There's been a surge in recent years of blues-rock bands fronted by a guy with a big voice and tons of swagger. Many of these bands are terrible because they lack the muscle for the music, or the frontman's voice isn't as big as he thinks it is. Neither is a problem for Wicked Tongues, a quartet with nice chops and enough horsepower to stomp a hole in your skull and fill it with brawny fuzz. The bandís greatest asset, though, is singer Mason Betsch, whose jaw-dropping range and agility place Wild Tongues well ahead of the sea of Jack White wannabes.

—Ben Salmon

Normandie Wilson
Flowers EP / Until the Whole of My Heart is Yours

"If you're looking for a reason to rock... keep looking, pal," says Wilson's Bandcamp profile, and it's right. This is piano music, gently performed. Flowers was inspired by a trip to the Pacific Northwest, and, indeed, its tunes recall the pitter-patter of light rain on a windowsill. Until the Whole of My Heart is Yours is jazzier and just as sparse, making room for Wilson's smoky vocals. Neither release will change your life, but they do make for perfectly pleasant mood music, if you don't forget they're playing.

—Ben Salmon

Mike Wojniak
Anima Mundi

Nature plays a significant role in this EP from Ohio transplant Mike Wojniak, a skilled singer-songwriter with a penchant for grand productions. Each of these four tracks begins as unabashedly ambitious pop songs and then grows bigger as Wojniak layers on vocals and instruments until he's built a stately wall of sound. The EP opens with "Stone & the Sea," which starts off sounding like Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game" before blooming into a reasonable facsimile of Coldplay. And it closes with its best song, "Oak Tree," a lush, jangly number with a soaring chorus.

—Ben Salmon

E.N Young
Live Love Stay Up

E.N Young is basically the Joel Osteen of reggae. He takes a genre that's legitimately cool—rooted in a history of social justice and sonic exploration—and dumbs it down with his bland voice and easy-listening backing band. Then he spouts a bunch of bullshit self-help platitudes over the top, about inspiration and willpower and love and yadda yadda yadda. Sorry, dude, I don't buy it.

—Peter Holslin

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