Behind the Beat

Local duo The Demographic have rocked the Valley for more than a few years now, slinging energetic beats and sludge-laden guitar riffage in a passionate and fitful but still rather nerdy way, the musical equivalent of trashing a hotel room with a light saber. The heart of the band’s vibe lies somewhere between punk and proto-grunge/alt-country, eight times out of 10 kicking the tempo up to manic and two times taking a breather to wipe the sweat off while changing a guitar string. The band’s latest release, Listen Close, is making the rounds via various Internet and social media outlets, and their cover of the Rolling Stones’ “19th Nervous Breakdown” is getting some spins on 93.9 The River.

In true punk form, Listen Close oozes smarminess, with quite a bit of the (sometimes overdone) attitude, “Who gives a fuck?” Lyrics suggest a deeply jaded perception of the world and an obnoxious air that—genuine or affected—paints the general public as painfully obvious creatures, with an ironic dismissal, determined apathy and smug confidence. The combination of this needling, sardonic wit with catchy, distortion-saturated riffs creates a punky power-pop bullhorn that blasts a dejected but know-it-all frustration of Cassandran proportions. Both the snark and the catchiness of primary singer/songwriter Tom Pappalardo’s style might, in another era, befit a 1990s So-Cal alterna-misfit like Rivers Cuomo or maybe Perry Farrell.

In a break from the extreme cynicism, we are delivered “Ghosts of the Lower Barometrics,” a song that’s artfully done in almost every way, featuring cool rhythmic breaks courtesy of drummer/co-conspirator Sturgis Cunningham, ultra-fuzzed guitars playing great riffs and punky sonic hooks. Here, the words are mostly more narrative than observational, and less acerbic. Vocals are perfectly over-driven in that tasty punk/indie rock style that conjures visions of skinny, sweaty singers spewing saliva into an old-time square radio broadcast microphone with great volume, expunging internal demons. There are also instances when Pappalardo’s often stream-of-consciousness lyrics take the listener to cool places where it sounds like he doesn’t even expect to wind up when he’s writing them (“When I’m Dead,” “Simple Secrets”), a place where, as PBS painter Bob Ross might have said, “happy accidents” can and do happen.

The album art for Listen Close is (for lack of a better term) wicked cool, which isn’t surprising, considering that Pappalardo is a longtime visual artist and graphic designer (and the writer/artist of The Advocate’s weekly cartoon, The Optimist). For more eye candy, the curious can check out the video for The Demographic’s first single “The Letter” (a rather softer offering) at, which combines high-contrast black-and-white exposure with lots of other cool video techniques to great effect. More about the band can be unearthed at•

The Demographic performs Aug. 23 at The Arts Block in Greenfield (with Dire Honeys) and Aug. 25 at The Elevens, Northampton (with Ghost Wolves).

Author: Tom Sturm

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