Friday, March 28, 2014

SpinTunes 8 Round 4 Rankings and Reviews

So, the process is a little different for this round: the finalists are ranked by popular vote and the vote of previous contestants. So I'm off the hook, a bit, for trying to decide which song of the final four is the best. I still need to write reviews, and I will rank the four. There are also twelve shadows this round, including five by the Boffo Yux Dudes. Wow.

The challenge this time was interesting: the contestants were required to use a simple I-V-vi-IV chord progression, and to write about physical pain.

Just a quick note of thanks before the reviews. This was a very enjoyable SpinTunes for me. I've been very impressed by the way every contest seems to result in better and better work. Good job, everyone! I hope I can be involved in the next one too, in some capacity. It's just too much fun not to be part of it.

1. Jenny Katz, Clear

Very few songs ever submitted to any round of SpinTunes or the old Song Fu contests have had the ability to make me sob like a little baby. Jenny Katz can do it. These lyrics are gorgeous and moving. They could apply to a wounded soldier, a loved one dying of cancer, or various other scenarios, and so have a universal feel. Lines like "traitor hope has left us wary" make me shiver. A great vocal performance, and a beautiful doubled guitar part. Just beautiful.

2. Edric Haleen featuring Heather Zink, I Wanna Go Dancing

I could quibble about "physical pain" -- yeah, I know very well that emotional pain can cause physical pain; I've certainly been there, so I guess it's OK. But this is a really lovely synth-pop song. Edric really put on a very different style for this and I'm impressed. Heather's vocal performance is sweet and light, although, I hate to say it, just a little pitchy on some of the verses (this may be partly because I'm just so used to hearing auto-tuned vocals on pop tracks). The instrument sounds are a little canned, but not bad. There are some original but very poppish and fun rhymes, like "I wanna go dancing / I wanna get lost in the noise / Be surrounded by boys / Who aren’t anything like you." Nicely done.

3. Ryan M. Brewer, Christ Speaks

This is impeccably produced but I find myself with some reservations about the way it toys with the subject matter. Can you use the crucifixion as a metaphor for being the one in the relationship that took the brunt of the pain when it ended? Well, of course you can, but I have to ask myself, should you? It's a bold choice but I can't help but feel it's a little off-putting. There are some other ways to interpret it, like a literal Jesus who is talking to his actual lover as he goes to his death, but that's even more provocative and also a little off-putting. So, nicely done, but this lyric just doesn't quite work well for me. I'm not offended per se; I'm a big fan of The Last Temptation of Christ, but I just feel like I can't quite click with the song. If it's going to take on such a provocative idea, it seems like it should take it a little more seriously.

4. Jutze, The Bleeding Dragon

Oh, cool! Wow! Nice music -- yet another different musical style by the incredibly versatile Jutze... wait... what is this song about? Wow, that's dark... happy but sad... wait... what? WHAT? Jutze! WTF! LOL! hahaha ewwww gross hahaha wow...

Shadows -- as time and inspiration allows, I will add brief comments on the shadows.

Glen Raphael, Hangnail (Shadow)

A piece of effective, but completely deadpan humor. Aside from a little looseness in the backing vocals and the guitars towards the end, it is really quite musically lovely, too.

Dr. Lindyke, Relief (Shadow)

The vinyl record sound effects and tinny recording are interesting -- is this supposed to sound like an early blues recording? I'm not quite sure what it is channeling. I like the vocal performance, though.

Caravan Ray, Pain (Shadow)

Not a bad tune, a bit like a live jam, but doesn't really stick with me.

Zoe Gray, Apologize (Shadow)

Musically this is very clever and enjoyable. The lyrics leave me a little confused. I don't think this is about physical pain? Maybe in the sense that Edric's song is about physical pain, but then it gets a bit graphic, which doesn't entirely make sense for me.

Jailhouse Payback, Back Pain (Shadow)

A fun jam. There's something going on with the lyrics but I think I may be too tired and spaced out to get it just now.

Red Watcher, Change (Shadow)

This is really beautiful, musically. The lyrics seem like they are more about the metaphorical pain of change than physical pain.

Boffo Yux Dudes, Is there a Doctor in the House? (Shadow)

Took me a moment to get what this one was about. Very clever. I suppose regeneration does involve physical pain! I like the way it borrows just a couple of notes from the Doctor Who theme music, and a vintage synthesizer waveform.

Boffo Yux Dudes, I'm in Love with the Pain that you Give (Shadow)

This sounds like a Tom Lehrer song. Is Dave singing with the Dudes?

Boffo Yux Dudes, Pain (Shadow)

Erm. Not their finest work. The music is nice.

Boffo Yux Dudes with TC Elliot, Put the Hammer Down (Shadow)

Musically, a very enjoyable song. The joke in the lyrics is just a bit one-note though.

Boffo Yux Dudes, Window Pain (Shadow)

Sounds very nice. I'm going to call this one "WHEN HOMONYMS ATTACK!" Too long.

Dr. Lindyke, Gotta Pee (Parody) (Shadow)

Very nice... I was laughing so hard I almost... well, you get the idea.

Friday, March 14, 2014

SpinTunes 8 Round 3 Rankings and Reviews

So, onward. The number of tracks is going down and so the pressure on the judges is going up! I've been listening to the album this week and procrastinating about actually ranking the songs because it is tooth-grindingly stressful to me -- the quality of these songs is really quite high all around, and I hate to have to think that I will be helping make someone go home sad. But I signed up, so there's nothing to do for it except call 'em like I hear 'em to the best of my ability. So... in order from best-rated on down:

1. Ryan Brewer, Jesus Christ's Biographer Gives a Guest Lecture

Ryan gets my vote for best song of the round. It stands out from the pack here for several reasons: the lyric is sophisticated, funny, subtle, and occasionally dark and chill-inducing; the vocal and musical performances are terrific; the mix and mastering job is beautiful. It has just a bit of the tone and mood of the song "One of Us" recorded by Joan Osborne. It's also almost five minutes long, but impressively, it doesn't drag at all, no portion of it feels too repetitive, and it ends at just the right moment.

2. Dr. Lindyke, A Historical Account of the Life and Accomplishments of Abraham Lincoln of Which Every Word is True I Swear

A rambling blues ballad by Dr. Lindyke? Yes, please! I think this is my favorite Dr. Lindyke song of all time. I love what Dave and Denise did with the vocal performance. The lyric is funny and a little dark, and can be taken as a serious comment on the tendency towards historical revisionism about the Civil War, with some great near-rhymes and striking turns of phrase. I wish I had been able to try recording a guitar track or two for this song! The main rhythm guitar part is a little repetitive and doesn't _quite_ have a convincing blues guitar tone. The mix feels just a bit rough, and it's just a touch long. Maybe taking out the "tar baby" lines and condensing the last three long verses into two might help.

3. Felix Frost, Cloudy

This is my favorite F. F. song to date. The band-in-a-box accompaniment sound goes really well with a more upbeat and bouncy vocal performance here, and the lyric is head-scratching and funny.

4. Edric Haleen, A Brave New World

Edric's piano-playing and singing really come together nicely on this one, and it's clearly a subject he's pretty impassioned about.

5. Jenny Katz, Liars Cheats and Weasels

This is really nicely done, and funny -- Jenny is being an equal-opportunity misinformer here, and the lyric brought a big smile to my face. I think there is a bit of a problem with a song like this that has such a _specific_ context: while it has hilarious relevance this week in this context, it's not actually going to be very meaningful to anyone after the fact. So I find myself dithering a little bit on whether I think it is really a good song because of that. But I'm reminded by what Peter Schickele says: if it sounds good, it is good.

6. Jailhouse Payback, Maritime Archaeology

The music is quite well-done, a gruesome story that sounds like it could have come out of a William Hope Hodsgon short story from a century ago. But the lyric never seems to really pop, with some weak rhymes and odd word choices, and it feels like the happy music isn't quite in alignment with the story.

7. Jutze, Banjo (Rejected Wikipedia Edit)

This track also brought a big smile to my face. I may have LOL'ed. I really appreciate the way that Jutze changes things up -- just last round, he had a death-metal growl on top of crunching electric guitars. The silly music actually gets really pretty in the last bit when he is singing over it. But overall the song just doesn't have much meat to it, so the replay value is a little thin.

8. Zoe Gray, The Truth About Homeschooling

I wish I had been homeschooled! Fortunately my kids are, at least partly. This is funny and mostly terrific. There are some lines that don't really jump, and the piano part is a bit rough here and there, and just doesn't feel like it has enough variation to it.

9. Governing Dynamics, Because

It sounds like a certain Travis has been watching the History Channel. This song is a little frustrating because the music is really nicely put-together, with quite a complex mix with a lot of stuff in it, but it seems to suffer a bit from an everything-including-the-kitchen-sink effect, and doesn't seem to really come together for me this round.

10. Adam Sakellarides, Why the Sky is Blue

Good things about this song: I like the fast guitar rhythm part and the percussion; I like the blend of backing vocals. It's funny. But Adam's voice is a little pitchy and the song as a whole doesn't seem to land on a good hook.

11. Ross Durand, How to Write a Hit Song

I love hearing Ross rap. This is quite funny and very misinformative. His specimen chord progression and melody is definitely a counterexample of some sort. A bold effort but musically, the whole thing just doesn't work that well for me, and I can't really just take the whole thing ironically and still enjoy it that much. I can't believe I'm ranking Ross so low. Sorry, Ross.


Trader Jack, Free Your (M. A. C. D.)

This is definitely a piece of misinformation! I found it quite hilarious. The music and mix is a little rough, but the idea really has potential... or something...

Menage a Tune, A Simple Set of Rules

This is a "filk" song, something that would be sung at a con. I like the concept of writing a song based on a very funny scene in an old Star Trek episode. This needs some real editing to make it flow better, with more clearly delineated verses and choruses.