I typically don't review demos, but I had to make an exception for Sleeper Cell, a new "supergroup" featuring Adam Wright and Jay Hannerfeld (ex-Hidden Drives), singer-songwriter John Martenis and the incomparable Johnny Azer.
According to the band's bio, Sleeper Cell "are a group of regular American musicians typical of many in our country who are beginning to wake up to the reality of our world situation."
But members aren't like Toby Keith, who seems to think all geopolitical problems can be solved with firm boot to Middle Eastern ass. Instead, they seek to "combat the rise of violent extremists by waging a war on poverty, ignorance and religious persecution, not by perpetuating the violence and deepening the rifts between the cultures of the world."
That's a hell of a mandate for a local rock band. I'm not sure that Sleeper Cell's music will affect the global status quo, but it certainly rocks solidly enough.
Opener "Sandbox" is a powerful declaration of the band's intent. Its lyrics pretty much summarize the narrative arc of the memoir/motion picture Jarhead. "We signed up with great expectations / Glory on the battlefield, defending our nation," Wright sings. "They gave us shots and pills to protect us / Some were old and some were new, some were hardly tested . . . Set fire to the oil wells, and the sandbox burned," he continues.
Azer takes over front man duties on "Mind Control," a moving song about paranoia and dread. Like the great Roky Erickson, Azer manages to make psychological disturbance sound musical. "I'm starting to feel God's chills / You robbed me of my free will," he wails tremulously.
"Been Dreamin'" is an easygoing number with a smooth '70s groove. Like the other tracks, it's charmingly unself-conscious. Wright's airy guitar solos are perfect for a chill tune about smoking illicit substances. "Everybody needs to feel this way sometimes," the lyrics state matter-of-factly.
For a band so concerned with current affairs, Sleeper Cell sure do like to party. "All of my friends are here / And we're drinking a lot of beer," they sing on closer "This Is Love." Saving the world sounds like thirsty work.