The humble demo often gets overlooked on year-end lists in favor of more polished fare, but if you're missing out on demos, you're missing out on bands whose existence you might miss entirely (some bands never make any other recordings but are worth listening to) or the excitement of hearing new bands find and begin developing their sound.
Here are a few of my favorite demos from this year.
BLANK SPELL - BLANK SPELL DEMO
Philadelphia's Blank Spell are a force to be reckoned with, and their demo comes squalling straight out of the gate, dark and fast, tumbling and chaotic but hooky, somewhere between Die Kreuzen and Vulpess. This is the kind of hardcore that gets into your hips and your head as well as your fists. I'm really excited to finally see them live this year, as they're finally touring out to the Midwest; if you get a chance to catch them, don't miss out.
PURA MANIA - RATAS DE LOS PATAS DEMO
Pura Mania are part Canadian and part Venezuelan, featuring members from Spectres, one of my favorite contemporary dark post-punk bands, and Fracaso, a fast and furious perfect scuzzy rumble of an anarchist hardcore band. Together, they write some truly memorable songs in the tradition of Eskorbuto and other breakout Spanish/Basque punks of the '80s - and these songs sound fresh rather than retreaded, with fist-raising choruses that'll stay in your mouth long after they've left your ears. We can talk forever about how technology has changed punk, but one of the huge positives is that continent-spanning bands like this are easier to maintain, and it's easier to blend influences from local scenes hundreds of miles away from one another to create something new and exciting.
CONEHEADS - TOTAL CONETROL DEMO
There's something in the water in Northwest Indiana right now: some totally bizarre, totally vital bands have emerged from the slime in the last few years (Lumpy and the Dumpers, Big Zit, Ooze), and Coneheads are part of that family. It's hard to find the line between cheap gimmick and true weirdness sometimes, but these bands write such good songs and embrace their ridiculousness so wholeheartedly and with such sincerity that I have faith they'd sooner disappear than get hacky. "Total Conetrol" is full of the catchiest songs for those of us who never felt like we fit in even in a scene that was supposed to be for misfits and weirdos but ends up regimented and hierarchical just by dint of its existing for so long.
VIAL - YOU'RE NOT SAFE DEMO
Vial are urgent and exciting, simple and pounding, an LA band who sound like a lost gem from the city's bizarro early punk past. They wouldn't be out of place on the New Underground Life Is . . . comps, for instance. Lucky us - since they're not a band whose chapter has already folded, we get to get in deep with them and watch them grow.
SLIMY MEMBER - SLIMY MEMBER DEMO
I am 100% down with more Rudimentary Peni worship in present tense, and this Dallas band (who take their name from RP's Death Church) are not in any way shy about their biggest influence. Not everything has to be inventive to be great; you can take something that's been done but not overdone and do it right, and that is exactly what Slimy Member do.
DETESTADOS - HARDCORRIDOS DEMO
Ripping, melodic and catchy fast Spanish-language hardcore from Austin. This one got under my skin really quickly; I've been driving a lot more this year because I work in the suburbs, and I find myself putting this on in the car a lot, drumming on the steering wheel, singing along where I can without caring at all whether someone sees me at a stop light. RIFFS FOR DAYS.
PINKWASH - YOUR CURE YOUR SOIL DEMO
Interviewed in these very pages, Philadelphia's duo Pinkwash are a noise rock dream, all the rage and complexity but none of the dry overthinking that can kill even the most technically skilled and potentially interesting bands. It's no wonder Sister Polygon released this demo and that Don Giovanni Records has picked them up swiftly; you can't hear a track like "Your Cure" without its infectious urgency crawling like fizzing acid up your throat.
PENNY MACHINE - PENNY MACHINE DEMO
I first heard of the Bay Area's post-punk quartet Pang from Layla Gibbon, someone whose taste I trust above most. When she recommended their two 7"s, I listened, and I'm glad I did. Penny Machine features super-shredder Alexa from Pang, and their demo further explores that immediate post-punk territory, recalling the Raincoats, Mo-dettes and other British trailblazers, deconstructing the structures of polite society with an arch smile.