Monday, October 25, 2010

SpinTunes 2, Round 2 Reviews

Three contestants who were eligible to continue in round 2 failed to get songs in by the deadline, so the judges have only five, instead of eight, songs that must be eliminated this round. However, so many of the entries are so very polished this time that I'm afraid that some of the more "quirky" artists -- and I count myself among them -- will probably be cut.

This one will be a particular challenge to judge because the judges will need to be at least moderately familiar with the original songs, in order to determine how well they have met the challenge. I have to admit, I don't know all the songs that these tracks refer to. I will see if I can track down a few more of them to listen to -- so these notes should be considered very preliminary. I'm forgoing grades or ratings at the moment.

UPDATE: doing some more listening; second impressions in italics.

1. Governing Dynamics - Melt In The Sun (So Many Pretty Ways)

This is a really intriguing effort from Travis. I'm not familiar with the original. Oddly, Travis sings quite well on this track, but Joe sounds like he's a little bit out of his element as he reaches hard to hit some of the high notes on the chorus. I'm not so sure that his presence on this track really adds to it. The walls of guitars I find gorgeous, especially on the solo. A strong contender, although not one of the most polished.

Second impression: the main vocal really is decent; he's not hugely strong on his pitch (I'm not either), but the raw feel seems appropriate for the song. The churning quality of the whole thing, the mood of the bridge (where the guitars drop away), and the volume swells really make it pretty. Travis really knows how to build a mood with guitars. I definitely expect this one to do well.

2. Danny Blackwell - Like A Family

For some reason I'm hearing this mix entirely in the right speaker, which is a pretty big technical SNAFU. I've confirmed that the left channel of the MP3 is silent. The instrumentation is intriguing -- is that autoharp? I think this one will probably wind up eliminated, a little unfairly perhaps, but there it is.

Second impression: listening to this in mono to bring the mix louder; it's a really a very pretty song -- and there's a dry humor to the lyric and performance that makes me grin. If the judges mix it to mono, double the volume to compensate for the lost channel, and give it a fair listen, it has a good chance. I'm still not sure I can bring myself to listen to the Spice Girls in order to see how well it meets the challenge. Might make it; I hope it does.

3. Ryan Ruff Smith - Baby, We're Through

The reverb is a really nice nod to the original -- and I love the vocals and surf guitar. This reminds me strongly of something that would have been on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack. Nice organ sound. A bit of a ringer again, this one? Likely to do very well, I think.

Second impression: the reverb-y "sha la la" backing vocals and bass-heavy piano and guitar riffs, low in the mix, definitely make the track work. Will definitely make it.

4. Common Lisp - Science (In The Service Of Beauty)

It's very hard to appraise my own tracks with anything resembling objectivity. I think my lyrics capture the feel of a sequel to the original, and the track also throws out some ear candy that will be familiar to anyone who knew the original. But it doesn't have a really strong synth bass line and although it has a fairly strong melody, it may not be "synth-poppy" enough. There's not as much guitar in the original, where it is used mostly as an accent here and there. As for my singing -- well, obviously I'm still developing as a singer. The picture I posted with a copy of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Singing is not really a joke -- I did buy a copy, mainly so I'd have the accompanying CD of exercises. I'm lining up voice teachers to consider working with.

Anyway, I'll sadly predict that my track will fall below the cutoff and will be one of the five to be cut. In other words, I'll actually be pleasantly surprised if it does make it. (Or maybe I'm just faintly hoping to get out of the stress and sleep deprivation of round 3...)

Second Impression: eh, I still can't listen to this objectively... but perhaps it's not quite as bad as I thought. It really could have used an intro synth riff, maybe some backing synth chords, a riff under the spoken parts that doesn't just following the melody of the verses and chorus. I had some bits sketched out but basically had to finalize it because I was running out of time. My vocal isn't too teeth-gritting; it only really goes flat in a couple places. Could have been mastered a little hotter, as befitting the style, although I usually like to keep more dynamic range. Nicely edited, at least... still hard for me to judge how it will strike the judges (especially since I was surprised by the generally low opinion of my last track).

5. Inverse T. Clown - Hey, Jessie

Funny... but gets surprisingly dark! Perhaps this is a little out of character with the original. Probably will not make the cut (3 of 5).

Second Impression: the instrumentation is funny, but the Casio keyboard demo feel doesn't quite fit the original. The flow of the song is nicely one. I'm still furrowing my brow at the grim tone, since Springfield always struck me slightly campy. Still don't think it will make the cut.

6. Mitchell Adam Johnson - When Donna Came Back

Fantastic. The recording and compression style seems just slightly too modern, but it has a great vintage feel.

Second Impression: "mmm... mmm... mmm..." still really enjoying this track. Never thought I'd say this about a song, but the guitars and bass are a little too loud in the mix, and so it sounds just a little muddy, with the vocal slightly under water. Definitely feels over-compressed; the reverb can't really "breathe" that way. But still a fine entry.

7. Ben Walker - When I'm A Hundred And Two

I'm pretty certain this track would achieve the judges' highest rating. However, Mr. Walker has noted that "When I'm 64" was never released as a single and so did not chart, and is thus not eligible. So I'm gritting my teeth as I write this, but this track will likely be disqualified and the contributor out of the running. I suppose I should be happy that that gives me a better shot at making the cut for this round, but I'm really not -- if I could pick the songs I wanted to lose to, this would definitely be one of them and I salute Ben's talent and skill in putting this together. (4 of 5 to be eliminated)

Second Impression: it just makes me want to cry that this one didn't meet the challenge. It is so very nicely mixed and the chorused vocals and doubled and guitars are just gorgeous. Really nice use of dynamics. At least he's got a really strong track for his portfolio or a future album release.

8. Edric Haleen - O! Say Can You See?

Leave it to Eric to come up with something totally unexpected that technically meets the challenge (apparently the national anthem did chart, in a rendition by Whitney Houston). It's beautifully performed -- it sounds like it comes from a musical based on the War of 1812 (and Edric is just the guy to produce it!) However, it goes so over the top that I'm not sure it can even still see the top from there. May be cut on the grounds that it is just that bit bombastic and the judges didn't seem to appreciate Edric's humor in that regard last round.

Second Impression: this track starts to get on my nerves as it goes on, especially the hammered chord at the end.

9. Charlie McCarron - Over The Bridge

Intriguing -- the original was fairly plaintive and soulful, and this one is quite jazzy. Beautifully recorded, it seems like a very impressive song in its own right, but how well it meets the challenge may be a bit open to debate.

Second Impression: Charlie's voice is growing on me. I like the open feel of the mix. The bass line and drums are superb. I'm starting to think this is a really strong entry.

10. Zarni De Wet - Stacy's Dad

The original was a power pop song, and this isn't quite in the style; like Charlie McCarron's song, it's more jazzy and abstracted. But very evocative lyrics, and quite professionally produced. Maybe it doesn't quite gel. The straight-up references to the melody of the original notwithstanding, perhaps it isn't quite "hooky" enough?

I love the lead vocal and the cleverness of the lyrics -- especially the sentiment, written from the perspective of someone with a "trophy wife." It feels a little post-feminist -- or perhaps I should say neo-feminist -- to consider the dilemma of a man who plays second fiddle to a gorgeous wife -- and whose own daughter also exists in her shadow. There's more emotional depth than is evident at first listen. The mix isn't quite all that it could be. As for the reuse of part of the melody of the original -- well, I was afraid to do it. I think it works without lapsing into a real copyright violation, but I don't really know what the judges will make of it.

11. Duality - Mars Ain't The Kind Of Place

Joe's singing in this one is again impassioned, and Denise's playing atmospheric. I'm impressed by the flowing feel they achieve, and the lyrics are gorgeous. I like the intriguing little bell tones tinkling out of nowhere. If I had to guess, though, given the judges' reactions to Duality last time, I think there's a good chance this one will also be eliminated (5 of 5).

Second Impression: Joe's vocal performance here really is very nuanced and lovely. Like their last track, though, my ear starts to crave a change of some kind -- a change-up in instruments, maybe. If I were producing it, I'd try fading out the piano on the bridge-ish section, while keeping the bell sounds, and bring in a fretless bass, and add harmony vocals there -- just something to keep the ear interested.

12. Brian Gray - One More Cloud

Big reverb'ed drums and moaning guitars... big close-mic'ed vocal... very promising but I can't judge it yet; need a few more listens.

Second Impression: the lyrics are strong, but the vocal performance is perhaps a little fatiguing. Perhaps relies on reverb a little too much.

13. Ross Durand - Folsom Breakout Blues

Another very strong contender -- certainly in the top few as far as production goes. Great guitar tones, bouncy drums and bass.

Second Impression: bass could be EQ'ed a little better. Very tightly edited.

14. Steve Durand - Miranda

Clever and funny. If I had to guess, a slightly off-key vocal might result in this one sliding down to the point where it is eliminated (I've already suggested 5, though, so perhaps it gets in with low marks?)

Second Impression: I'm pretty sure the vocal's "loose" relationship with the key is deliberately done, for camp effect. I love the backing horns. Sung from the perspective of Fernando? Rhymes are a little off; lyrics do a great job of continuing the story. Now noticing the backing vocal which is on key tighter. The real stories never end, do they, Mister Frodo?

15. Gweebol - Thank You Mr. Postman

Beautifully done -- slightly lacking in musical hooks, but the backing vocals really capture the original. Great lyrics.

Second Impression: beautifully produced, but yeah, the jazzy melody and accompaniment takes some odd turns. By the time it hits the solo, I find myself looking at my wrist (where I don't wear a watch.) Doesn't feel like the original, and the melody doesn't have much of an "earworm" quality. Lyrics are very clever, though.

16. Rebecca Brickley - Elderly Dream

I can see the references to the original, and it is competently done and tells a story, but I'm not sure some of the phrasing really pops as well as it could.

Second Impression: this one has grown on me a little -- I especially like the chugging rhythmic feel and the simple goofiness of a single hand clap and shaker for percussion. The feel of a demo, but doesn't suffer for it.

17. Chris Cogott - Roadward Bound

Gorgeous guitar and vocal sounds. Nicely produced.

Second Impression: everything about it really channels Simon and Garfunkel. The close harmony, and the way the percussion kicks in, are both just beautiful. The lyrics are nicely done and growing on me.

Adding Shadows

18. Duality - Today

Joe's acoustic guitar tone always seems slightly off pitch to me. A demo feel. This seems like a country song. The blend of soloing chorused guitar and keyboards has some harmonizing problems. If I can ever get Joe and Denise into my Batcave (er, studio) I'd like to take a stab at producing this. Joe plays guitar better than he claims to, but it needs to be recorded and EQ'ed a little differently. The mix is somewhat poor.

19. Danny Blackwell - La Reina

Again, only in the right channel -- but this song is hilarious, especially the Spanish, which he then translates (I had a couple of years of Spanish -- which has faded, but not so much that I can't laugh at this!) KEY CHANGE la... la... la... This song makes me want to jam with Danny -- preferably after doing shots of tequila. And I don't even like tequila...

20. David Ritter - Cage of Love

A big, boomy song. It references "Every Breath You Take" primarily through the chord changes. Gets a lot of credit for recognizing that the original lyrics are creepy and mentioning "restraining order..."

21. JoAnn Abbot - Georgia Morning

Nice to hear JoAnn with instrumentation (Is this Caleb on MIDI?) I'm not familiar with the original but apparently it was a grim tale! The lyrics seem quite strong although like the previous one, probably could use to be edited a little tighter (showing, not telling, and all that).


JoAnn Abbott said...

There REALLY is a book like that? I want one!

Soooo...ya gonna do shadow reviews too maybe please please please?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this review. I think you've just been stellar this contest and I've become a real Paul Potts fan. :)
I hope neither of us gets elimmed but I guess we will all just have to wait and see. :)


Anonymous said...

re: my song (like a family)
It's not an auto harp it's a Charango, a Latin American instrument with 10 strings, often made with the body of an Armadillo.
Danny Blackwell

Paul R. Potts said...

Listening to everything again today to try to flesh out reviews a little more. JoAnn, I'll review the shadows too.

Caleb said...

On JoAnn's track, it's a combination of me and Graham (EmperorGum). Mostly MIDI instruments (VSTs and soundfonts) but Graham also added a live guitar track.

JoAnn Abbott said...

Thanks for the review! I don't believe you really don't know the story behind "The Night the Lights Went Out In Georgia". Reba McEntire did a cover a few years back; in the video she implies that the judge is also sleeping with her brothers wife, and that was why he condemned him so quickly.
I only did the basics- Graham contributed some tracks and Caleb did all the magic with his programms!