I still find it difficult to come to terms with the Demo Roundup, to forgive myself for it. Asking readers for their demos was, in retrospect, a bad decision. I’d imagine it’s like driving drunk and killing a busload of schoolchildren; it’s the kind of decision that dooms a man to a haunted life, a life in which not a night goes by when he doesn’t lay awake consumed with regret, endlessly pondering what his life might have been. “I brought this agony on myself, and I alone must bear the blame” the man might think, “but at least I may find some grim solace in the fact that I destroyed countless lives.” I’m left little choice but to treat the Demo Roundup as its own twisted revenge. To paraphrase Ballard, I will take this opportunity to rub the human face in its own vomit and then force it to look in the mirror. Except replace “vomit” with “music” and “mirror” with “internet.”

Anyway, this week’s article is going to be painful to write. Maybe it’s the law of diminishing returns (I’m using that term even though I don’t know what it means), maybe it’s my increasing frustration with shitty demos, but it seems like these things get worse every time. I’m forced to assume that any band good enough to correctly realize that they’re good (and trust me, I’ve heard a lot of bands who incorrectly realize that they’re good) is unwilling to send a demo because they think I’ll just make fun of it and be mean to them. Nay, says I. I would like nothing more than to hear a song with an actual tune, and I would be perfectly happy to write positive things about it. It would be like going on vacation. When I consider the overwhelming volume of better-than-mediocre songs written throughout history, it makes me wonder why so few of the songs just happen to be good.

Joseph Liechty - Zombie Son
mp3 sample
In the spirit of optimism and in the hope of retaining my sanity long enough to write this whole article, I’m going to start out with one of the best among this week’s demos. If you’ve read the Demo Roundup in the past, you’ve probably realized that nine out of ten dumb-ass white teenagers has a “hilarious” comedy-rock band that writes songs about masturbating and TV shows from the Eighties. You’ve also probably noticed that these bands have a success rate of about 0.05% in the humor department. This, however, seems to be one of the rare successes among goofy songs. It’s got a good sense of its own ridiculousness without constantly winking and smirking and floundering to establish its comedic genius. It never beats you over the head with the concept. It hasn’t forsaken the necessity for decent melody and competent musicianship in the interest of packing in as many zombie jokes as possible. If anything, it’s understated. It’s a tasteful song about having a zombie son. Who would have thought?
Pantheon – Under Wraps
mp3 sample
Wow, an eight-minute metal epic! There’s absolutely no way in hell I’m going to listen to this all the way through, but I’ll sort of skip around to various parts of it and tell you what I hear. Okay, it starts out with a baroque piano intro. Wow, okay, some crunching distorted guitars, and a guy singing like he’s angry. Oh, the drums are thumping pretty fast. What’s this? Awesome, I have now skipped into a blazin’ guitar solo. Well, my suspicions are confirmed, it sounds exactly like every other fucking artsy-metal song ever written. Stop sending me these.
Rad Skateboarders – Zoetrope
mp3 sample
This song isn’t too bad, but it’s a huge disappointment on one important level: this is most assuredly not the sort of song I imagine when I think of the words “Rad Skateboarders.” When I think “Rad Skateboarders,” I think of hot pink Gecko Hawaii shirts and sideways baseball caps and that haircut with the bangs that cover up the eyes. Instead, what do I get? I get a singer who is a-weeping and a-wailing and as mournful as a ghost! He’s rattling his chains at us! Trap him in the attic so he’ll haunt us no more! Maybe he’ll become friends with the family of raccoons that lives up there! Shame on you, Rad Skateboarders. You’re either lying about being Rad Skateboarders or you’ve lost touch with everything that made you Rad Skateboarders to begin with. Change your name or start being Rad.
Mental Image - Android
mp3 sample
I’d say that if any of the bands I’ve heard this week stand a chance of getting signed and winding up on MTV, it’s Mental Image. However, I don’t mean that as a compliment to Mental Image, I mean it as a scathing condemnation of the state of pop music. I’d say they sound like all the other post-grunge semi-metal angst shit on the radio today; Mental Image’s website, however, tells a different story: “The energy and raw emotion of MI are evident in each of their intelligently crafted songs. In a day and age when talent and performance have taken a back seat to commercialism, MI remains one of the few bands that can combine the hooks and catches of popular music with the edge and musicianship of more obscure bands in order to solidify a sound which is truly unique.” Yeah, right. Who are you going to believe, them or me? Also, here’s a little experiment. Read the following sentence: “Mental Image is a hard-hitting rock band with a positive Christian message.” Did you believe that? You probably had no reason not to believe it. I’d like to contend that if a hard rock band doesn’t make it entirely plain and apparent that they’re not Christians, they should be instantly labeled as a Christian band. It’s the only way to be safe. Mental Image, with their lyrics about sanctifying souls and shit like that, fails this test. Congratulations, Mental Image, you have won the “May As Well Be Christians” award.
Playmakas - Green Marijuana
mp3 sample
Oh, please.
John P. Barton - Window
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When rock stars die and go to hell, the devil probably comes up with all sorts of twisted punishments for them. Jim Morrison, for example, is probably in the process of eternally viewing back-to-back screenings of Oliver Stone’s “The Doors.” I’d imagine that in the case of those blessed with truly distinctive talent, the worst sort of punishment would be reincarnation as John P. Barton. Barton has just enough talent that he’ll probably never give up entirely, but not enough talent to really get anywhere. His tunes are pleasant, his songwriting is passable, and his voice is unremarkable. There’s not even a whiff of passion or genius or soul to be found in this song, and it makes me hope that he’s only writing songs as a hobby and has no professional ambition; my crystal ball predicts that the peak of his professional music career will probably involve writing the theme song to a sitcom pilot that never gets picked up.
Texas Instruments – Follow You
mp3 sample
Just how nerdy would you expect a band named after a brand of calculators to be? Just about this nerdy, I’d imagine. Despite the fact that the tune never exactly materializes, and despite the ill-advised electronic noise midsection, this song is distinctly non-terrible. While I doubt that anyone in the world would willingly seek out a song like this and listen to it more than once, at least it’s not another fucking Mental Image song.
All Bridges Burned – The Coming of Confusion
mp3 sample
There’s nothing that brightens up my afternoon like some good old-fashioned tuneless hollering. When I hear a song like this, I always have to wonder why these bands even bother. They have ears. They’ve probably heard music before. They must be aware that the songs that they’re writing are nowhere near the level of quality of even the blandest music on the radio. They’re badly written and badly produced, the singing is off-key and the guitar riffs are weak, the tune is simplistic to the point of irrelevance, and the members of the band aren’t particularly good-looking. Do they think that they’re just paying their dues now, and one day after a lot of practice they’re magically going to turn into Tool? Is ineptly aping pop music just some sort of pointless reflex? If so, why do they insist upon foisting their music on others? We may never know, but at least in the meantime we can take comfort in the fact that we’ll never hear about this band again.
Experimental Dutch Music Commune – Phonecore
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There’s not much challenge in describing this song: it’s an intermittent thumping with a man reading the phone book over it. What’s more difficult to explain is why I like it. For some reason, I played this thing quite a number of times between listening to other demos. I suppose it’s the musical equivalent of a mild tea: it clears the palate, so that I might better evaluate the next course.
The Crawling Kingsnakes – Black Widow
mp3 sample
You know, I think I’m going to give the Crawling Kingsnakes the “Keep Rockin’” Award. This isn’t exactly a command that they keep rockin’; instead, I am simply giving them permission to do so. They seem like they’re not only perfectly capable of rockin’ but that they’re quite genuinely predisposed to rockin’. If I told them to stop rockin’, I get the feeling that they’d probably keep rockin’ anyway, just to defy me. In conclusion, they certainly don’t need my permission to rock (although, in a perfect world, everyone would), but I’m going to offer it anyway, both for the sake of pragmatism and because their rockin’ does not offend me in any way. Keep rockin’, Crawling Kingsnakes. That’s just a suggestion.
DJ BJ – Bear
mp3 sample
Picture me as a lazy, cowardly police officer. I’m supposed to be guarding a roadblock, stopping every car I see to make sure that the driver isn’t drunk or whacked out on goofballs. I see a car approach, and as I look into it and see the wild-eyed driver, I think “this guy probably isn’t dangerous, but he looks like he’s pretty unbalanced, and I don’t want to deal with him.” So I just wave him through. That’s you, DJ BJ. I’m waving you through. Just please, please don’t come back and make me deal with you.
Satan’s Nipples – Shit His Pants
(no mp3 sample)
What exactly is it in the history of this column that makes a band like Satan’s Nipples think I’m even going to bother listening to their fucking song? I’m not even going to dignify this one with a sample clip. Just pretend you’ve heard it. It wouldn’t have surprised you much, I bet.
John Dillinger Died for You – 90 Percent Air
mp3 sample
This would be a shitty song even if it weren’t about golf. But guess what? It’s about golf! If you’ve always wanted to hear a man singing about going out and playing golf, I’d advise you to stop reading this column right now, because you obviously have no interest in rock and roll. I’m pleased to present John Dillinger Died for You with the first, and hopefully the last, “Jesus Christ, it’s a Fucking Song about Golf” award.

Due to a hectic genius-schedule, that’s all I’m going to have time for this week. As always, I’m absolutely overflowing with many times more demos than I can possibly review. Most of the songs I get are too dull to say anything interesting about; I downloaded about fifty demos at random from the links that people sent me recently, and as you can see only a fraction of those ended up being written about. Despite these odds, I encourage you to keep sending demos so I can pick and choose among them whenever I plan on doing a Demo Roundup. Here, once again, are the guidelines:

Please mail your demos to davidthorpe@somethingawful.com with the subject “DEMO ROUNDUP.” Give me the name of your band, where you’re from, and what the song is called, as well as a link to an mp3. You have no idea how many people just sent a link to an mp3 file and expected me to magically guess the name of their band using nothing but my internet fame. The rule is: if it takes me more than ten seconds to determine the basic fundamental information, I’m not going to bother. If you tell me that your song sucks, I won’t listen to it. Do not attach files, because I won’t open them. It is highly unlikely that I’ll bother with things on purevolume.com, soundclick.com, or whatever. Direct links are much more likely to be followed.

For your edification, here’s a great example of a submission that I will never bother opening:

I'm in a band called Retardisitism and we suck. We sing like retards and do our songs about retards. Some of our tracks include Flood of Drool, ReTardis (dr. who theme song cover), I'm a Retard, You're Retarded and The Retards vs The Zombies. The thing is though, that it IS metal and the vocals are far beyond understandable so it might not be appropriate for what you're looking for.

– Dr. David Thorpe (@Arr)

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