OK, I'm a bit behind reviewing these. They've already been judged, and all but four of the entires eliminated. But I'm still going to review them.
The full album can be found here.
Here are the results.
I commented in the chat that I had mentioned in the previous rounds that I didn't envy the judges. For this round -- I really, really, really didn't envy the judges. These tracks are uniformly anywhere from pretty good to fantastic, and they had to pass four and eliminate eight of the twelve.
1. Governing Dynamics - Los Alamos
I have a confession to make. When I first saw pictures of Travis Norris, aka Governing Dynamics, I thought he was probably about twelve years old, and maybe in Junior High School. I did not really feel like I could connect with his music. I didn't like the way he recorded his guitars or the style of it. We didn't have the same influences. Somehow I didn't quite get it.
How things change. Travis was born in 1983, so he's not yet 30. In related news, I'm old. My opinion of what he's doing has completely changed. This is a seriously great song. It's more-or-less in a late-90's grunge-tinged style. I had somehow developed the impression that Travis couldn't really play well, and that's why his guitar parts sounded a little sloppy and dragging. This song proves that I was completely mistaken. He's playing them exactly the way they are supposed to sound. They are layered, but not in a wall that is intended to hide sloppy playing. It's a clean, sweet wall of tone.
The guitars on this song remind me, just a bit, of one of my favorite bands -- Gang of Four -- in that they are uncompromised and there is no concession to sweetness and pop. They don't sound like the Beatles. They're dark and deadpan. The vocals are gorgeous. The lyrics are great. He did indeed, as he put it, pull out all the stops.
2. Inverse T. Clown - I Have a Leap
This is pretty similar to what I've come to think of as a "standard" Inverse arrangement. The lyrics are about a Quantum Leap episode, imagined or otherwise, and a real historical event. It's clever and competent enough but it doesn't grab me. There's something again a little dry about the canned-sounding instrumentation.
3. Charlie McCarron - Queen of Heart
After his odd round 1 entry I was mostly baffled by Mr. McCarron's style of music. His round 2 entry I found much more promising and downright fascinating. This is a cool song. I wish I could play as many instruments as he seems to. The lyrics are understated and pretty.
4. Ryan Ruff Smith - The Driver (Dallas, 1963)
An oddly upbeat, melodic retelling of Kennedy's assassination over a finger-picked guitar and shaker, with a police scanner-style radio in the background. It's an odd choice. It works pretty well with the chorus lyric "as long as I keep driving, none of this is real." Gets me into the shocked mindset of the day. I'm still note entirely sure how I feel about this song.
5. Edric Haleen - I Was There
Edric's piano part here is a little darker, atmospheric, and dissonant. His vocal performance seems a bit odd, but when he doubles himself, it really takes off nicely. Could have run too long, but ends precisely when it should.
6. Ross Durand - Ivan Vaughan
Just a hint of an accent at work here that very effectively captures the idea of a friend of the Beatles. The guitar is pretty, the chorus is catchy, and it's nicely sung, but the lyrics seem just a bit short of ideas.
7. Chris Cogott - Final Flight
A wall of echoing guitar harmonics remind me of '80s psychedelic revival -- a beautiful production, and I appreciate that there is still a little dynamic range and the compression isn't flat-lined. Great guitar solo work.
8. Mitchell Adam Johnson - Pictures of Love
Another Beatles story -- this time about the breakup. Also just a bit psychedelic-revival. Beautiful guitars and a harpsichord sound in the background. Nicely produced. Songs like this remind me just how much I still have to learn about producing fully realized songs.
9. Steve Durand - Cuban Missile Mambo
This is truly the oddity of the competing entries. It would be hard to imagine a goofier song. Seriously -- Castro's barber? A mambo about one of the most frightening confrontations of the 20th century and the defining crisis of Kennedy's administration? Truly, Steve has balls of solid brass. Not entirely successful in tone, and the vocal performance is a little underwhelming, but quite funny.
10/11. Rebecca Brickley - Oh Mercy
For some reason Rebecca was not able to get the judges her final polished track in time, and so we have two versions. The "remix" version is polished and gorgeous, while the "judge's mix" is more demo-style, with some screwy compression and phasing going on, but they are the same song, and the demo is still pretty damned good, so I actually think the difference in production quality probably wasn't a large factor in the judging. These lyrics are just gorgeous. She's really imagined something cool here. The whole cadence of the song has a very cool martial, marching feel to it, although it's not quite coming from the percussion or the piano in isolation, but somehow more from the breathless style of the vocal performance. I'm so pleased to hear a song about an American war that isn't schmaltzy or cliched: the protagonist admits he "just wanted to make his poppa proud / he didn't much care what the war was about." And 'twas ever thus.
12. Zarni DeWet - Eric
This is a risky song. This got me into a debate with another listener, and I had to clarify what I meant by that -- the "risk" is simply that the listener won't really be able to go there, to empathize with the narrator and feel the emotional weight of the story, but will instead just scowl at the premise, and so not give it a fair shake. Are we ready for a song about Columbine told from the point of view of the mother of the shooter? Apparently, we are. This one made my spine tingle and it still does several listens later. It's just this side of pathos here and there, but it doesn't shy away the gut punch, and that works for me.
13. Gweebol - She Said, As She Handed Him The Telephone
The premise here is the historical oddity that Alexander Graham Bell's wife was apparently deaf. I love Gweebol's voice, but this song seems to meander a bit.
14. Duality - Columbia (Shadow)
The production sounds very similar to a number of other Joe "Covenant" Lamb songs and failed to entrance me. It's perhaps not his very finest vocal performance but it's way up there. More importantly, there's a new level of lyrical sophistication here. I didn't quite put the story together on the first listen. It's well worth a second (and third).
15. David Ritter - Portal of Doom (Shadow)
A bit of an oddity, the music is funky and jazzy, while the lyrics are dark and funny. Clever and nerdy -- "there's a frickin' black hole in the room." A bit fluffy, though, and ultimately a little forgettable.
16. Duality - Historical Verity (Shadow)
I don't claim to understand the whole context here. It's a funny song and I love the interplay between Joe and Denise's voices. There's something more serious going on, though, about the nature of war as seen from the level of the common man.
17. JoAnn Abbott - Candle in the Dark (Shadow)
I'm not sure JoAnn gets the difference between sentiment and sentimentality, but I could sum up my opinion on the matter by simply saying that there's actually no such thing as conservative art. Real art always subverts the dominant paradigm, tells the untold story. If it doesn't, it's not art, it's kitsch, like a painting of a fluffy kitten at a flea market or a flag airbrushed onto the side of an RV. It's expected. On the plus side, it's nice to hear Caleb's impressive keyboard work here.
18. Duality - St. Andrew's (Shadow)
A dark and minimalist song that shows us a side of Denise's vocal talents we don't hear nearly enough of. As I heard this in the online listening party, I went into a genuinely dark and frightened place! Denise, please let your demons out to play more often! Also: fantastic concept and lyrics.
19. Common Lisp (featuring Duality) - Sherman's Lament (Shadow)
Has it been long enough that I have enough distance to review my own song? Production first: there's some crackling on the transients that sounds awful. I'm not quite sure where it comes from. It seems to either be the transition from 24-bit to 16-bit, or the MP3 compression. I wish I knew how to get rid of that. Dither, no dither, limiter, etc.
I may be over-compressed here. I never seem to get the mastering quite right.
I guess I'm most proud of my lyrics. I think Joe and Denise did a good job with it, but somehow the smooth instrumentation and voices all together seem to lack energy. Too slow? The style of instrumentation just doesn't fit the concept?
As Doctor Lindyke pointed out, the song doesn't quite meet the challenge because it doesn't point out a connection to an event in history. I also heard the message that folks didn't really like the samples. I could attempt a remix, I guess, but it will probably have to wait until I've gained yet more distance and can be a little more objective. I might try a a "folksier" recording that is just guitar and my vocal.
I'm disappointed not to have more reviews; I've gotten almost no useful feedback on this song. My wife didn't really think much of it. I finally sang the whole thing to her a capella and she laughed at the intended places so I guess the lyrics ultimately did work for her, even if the whole mix did not.
20. Duality - Triangle (Shadow)
The most abstract, dark and dissonant thing I've ever heard from Denise. I don't quite know what to say about this track. It's nicely sung, but seems a little shy of lyrical content.
So, it's Wednesday night and at this point it doesn't look like I'll be doing a shadow entry for round 4. These contests are hard on my family, and my mood and energy level have been sinking a bit into a usual late fall downturn as the days get shorter. Also, the round 4 challenge has almost entirely failed to inspire me with any ideas. I had one, but it required a piece of music software that resides on my iPod, which seems to be lost. So barring sudden inspiration, I'll be sitting this round out.
I've really enjoyed SpinTunes. It's been great practice and great experience.
That said, now that the final round will be arriving shortly, I feel like the playing field is barely clinging to life, as far as any sense that amateurs are involved. Rebecca Brickley's is the only survivor that sounds like an artist who might be still learning how to do this, rather than one who already has it entirely mastered and down to a routine. I guess it just reinforces my feeling that I don't really belong in this competition any more, which is a disappointing feeling -- and one I didn't experience in the my (brief) experience in the somewhat more freewheeling Song Fu. It reinforces the sense that I should have started doing this earlier and gotten more practice in.