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Saturday, October 16, 2010

SpinTunes #2 Round 1 Review: Jeff MacDougall

I have an objective way of critiquing songs. For me, a good song is like a tripod. It has (at least) three solid supports. Lyrics, melody and structure. If quality lyrics aren't there, then it's not a good song. If solid structure is ignored or veered away from, it better be for an impressive reason. If the melody isn't good, regardless of lyric quality or production value, the song will sound boring and won't hold anyone's attention.

Now, this is a songwriting competition and with that comes a specific challenge. The challenge will be the forth (and most important) element to deciding a songs worthiness in this environment. If I find the challenge isn't met, the song will go right to the back of the line... regardless of how good the song is otherwise. It's also worth noting that, In my mind, this is a "songwriting" competition. It's not a "production" or "performance" competition. That means I will be setting aside production value as a deciding factor.

I will be breaking down each one of the previous explained elements and giving them a letter grade. For Example:
Challenge: A
Lyrics: B
Structure: C
Melody: B
This will help to group the songs into tiers. Once I have a the songs in order based on these "grades", any ties (or songs that appear equal by letter grade) will then be placed in order by other elements (production and/or performance) and decided upon by my personal preference. I will be listing the song's reviews in the order they appear on the album. The songs will appear at the bottom of the page by order of how I've ranked them. Any questions? Good. Let's begin.

A Song About Woodsetts - Danny Blackwell
Challenge: A - This song is clearly about a place and the lyrics tell us it's not just a town but a town he grew up in.
Lyrics: A - These are solid lyrics with some nice imagery.
Structure: A - Follows classic song structure. Would have liked to hear the chorus one more time but I can't really knock it for that.
Melody: A - Great melody that gets stuck in your instantly.
All in all, this is a great song. If heard this on the radio or stumbled over it somewhere I would probably hunt it down and learn more about the artist and his work. Great job Danny.

Oxford - Ben Walker
Challenge: A - This song is clearly about a place and the lyrics tell us it's not just a town but a town he hails from.
Lyrics: B - Lyrics are good. I only have some minor issues here.
Structure: B - There is technically nothing wrong with this structure... except for the departure at the end. (explanation to follow)
Melody: A - Great melody. No complaints here.
This song is really quite good. There are only two elements that don't work for me. The first are some subtle lyric issues. The chorus has the lyric "a spring attached to your back". Again, it's not "bad", just takes me out of the song a bit. I keep thinking that if it were "a pull-string attached to your back" it would have the intended effect while creating some more familiar imagery and would also give some more layers to work with. Perhaps I'm splitting hairs. The second (and much more troubling) element that I'm having issue with is the "Cheers" refrain at the end. It's not that referencing that song is a bad idea. I totally get it. It's that it's using a whole four bars and doing the song verbatim that kills it for me. Also, using this at end the song really gave me some trouble. It does two things. It makes me feel like it's not (completely) an original song and it also makes me forget the original melody, which is frustrating because it's such a good melody. If he had borrowed a phrase or a string of notes, or even went back to the original chorus to end the song, this wouldn't have been an issue at all for me. It's worth noting that if the song hadn't done such a heavy borrow from Cheers, It would have scored all A's.

Mount Holly - Austin Criswell
Challenge: B - While this song clearly states his home town, it's really about a long lost love.
Lyrics: B - Solid lyrics with some nice imagery.
Structure: B - Solid structure... but I would have like to hear a bridge.
Melody: A - Wonderful Melody. Very pleasant.
What can I say about this song? It's really nice. Made me smile the whole way through and gave me a nice nostalgic feeling. The only thing I'm missing is a bridge. All in all, really nice work.

The Pinpoint Accurate Telling Of The Origin Of Salem, OH - Inverse T. Clown
Challenge: B - This song is really about a character... but does get around to telling us about a town named after him.
Lyrics: B - This is a good story song, full of facts that are rattled of in the style of some 50's lyrics. Only problem with this is that the lyrics are one dimensional.
Structure: B - Lots of verses that force musical repetition. Makes it hard to stick with what's going on.
Melody: C - I remember the story... but not the melody. There is nothing musically wrong with it. It just doesn't stick.
I found this one very entertaining, but because it was so repetitive I kept tuning out. I had to back up the song once or twice to get back into the story. Fun but musically uninteresting.

Fired - David Ritter
Challenge: F - This is a song about getting fired or maybe about a person that got you fired, not about a hometown. It does reference a town but there is no reason to think it's a hometown. In fact, it sounds as if a lyric change was made in hopes of qualifying it for this challenge, which doesn't bode well.
Lyrics: B - Not bad... but not great. Pretty straight forward statements.
Structure: B - Fairly normal structure with a guitar solo that distracts from (rather than enhances) the tune.
Melody: A - Good melody. Sticks pretty well.
This is a fun song. I like it. Reminds me of my twenty's. Unfortunately, I really feel like this doesn't qualify as a "hometown" song. It's just not enough to reference a town in two lines. I mean, would you put this on a "hometowns" mix tape? Just sayin'.

Starts Over Avalon - Governing Dynamics
Challenge: B - While this song is clearly about a place, we never know where that is until almost the end of the song.
Lyrics: B - Some nice imagery but nothing that elevates it above average.
Structure: B - Solid structure but the pace calls for some changes. Perhaps no bridge and just go with the guitar solo. I like the way it falls into the next verse.
Melody: C - Not bad, but not sticking in my head either.
This one has a nice texture to it. Feels like Autumn. I got a little bored around the bridge and thought the guitar solo should replace it. All in all, a good song.

To The End Of The World - Duality
Challenge: A - This is clearly about Dundee.
Lyrics: A - Great imagery.
Structure: B - a sweeping and unusual structure that, while beautiful, causes me to drift off a bit.
Melody: B - Beautiful but not easily remembered.
As a piece of music, I think this is fantastic. Sweeping and beautiful. As a song, however, it lacks a bit. I want to hear this music backing up a dramatic scene in a film... but not on the radio.

Lansing, Michigan - Edric Haleen
Challenge: A - Clearly about Lansing, Michigan
Lyrics: A - Great, fun, funny and clever lyrics. Love it.
Structure: A - Classic, solid structure with some surprising and wonderful breaks. Very theatrical.
Melody: A - Very catchy. Serves the style very well.
Love this song. This serves as an example of someone who knows the rules of songwriting and knows how and when to break them. Wonderful work.

LBC - wait WHAT
Challenge: A - This clearly about LBC.
Lyrics: D - Very one dimensional. Poor rhymes. Sophomoric imagery.
Structure: C - Nothing technically wrong with the structure but very repetitive.
Melody: C - Not bad... but doesn't stick.
Thought this was gonna be a good song when I heard the first lyric. It was a clever rhyme... and then the rest of the song happened. Lots of stereo typing in an attempt to be funny. It just makes the songwriter seem ignorant. I did think the harmonica solo was nice though.

South Bend Aid - Brian Gray
Challenge: A - Clearly about South Bend
Lyrics: A - Good solid lyrics. Funny.
Structure: A - Good classic structure with a nice key shift.
Melody: A - Good. Easy to hum.
Great song. Nice mock of a charity anthem. I LOL'd.

Stillwater MN Air - Charlie McCarron
Challenge: A - Clearly about Stillwater.
Lyrics: A - Funny. Like these lyrics a lot.
Structure: A - Some unusual shifts but they all worked for me.
Melody: B - Good. Odd but good.
This song is much better than it sounds. I didn't realize how good it was until I had listened to it a few times. Great work.

Cheltenham - Emperor Gum
Challenge: B - Definitely about a place but you'll miss where if you aren't paying attention.
Lyrics: B - Nice rhymes but not much imagery.
Structure: C - very basic and repetative.
Melody: B - Not bad but not that memorable.
I like this song. I might shorten it by removing a verse or two and create a bridge. I think that would help make it more listenable.

Leaving Ann Arbor - Common Lisp
Challenge: A - Clearly about Ann Arbor.
Lyrics: A - Some very clever rhymes and interesting phrasing.
Structure: A - The basic structure isn't bad but a little odd. Took me out of the song a few times. Did enjoy the rap break though.
Melody: B - Solid melody in the chorus but the verses left me wanting more.
This song gets extra points for the rap break. If it had a better melody during the verses, I would have ranked it a bit higher. This stands out as the most original effort in this contest.

London - Mitchell Adam Johnson
Challenge: A - Clearly about London.
Lyrics: A - Nice imagery and good rhymes.
Structure: A - Classic pop structure.
Melody: A - Great. Very catchy.
This is a great piece of pop music. Love it.

Here - Rebecca Brickley
Challenge: B - This song is really about lost love while referencing a place. But we do (barely) find out where.
Lyrics: A - Great imagery and nice rhymes.
Structure: A - Good, solid structure.
Melody: A - Wonderful. Still stuck in my head.
I really love this song. Heartfelt and wistful. My only real issue is that it's about a person and not a place. It meets the challenge, but only by a hair.

I Love LA - Charlie Wolf
Challenge: A - This is clearly about Los Angeles.
Lyrics: B - Not bad but could be more visual.
Structure: B - Good structure but could be better with some work.
Melody: A - I like this melody. Very pleasant.
I like this song. It makes me smile. With some more time this song could be better though. I think the bridge could be better.

San Francisco - Ominous Ride
Challenge: A - About San Francisco. No question.
Lyrics: B - Solid imagery but not above average.
Structure: B - Solid but a bit repetitive. Could use a more developed chorus.
Melody: B - Not bad but not sticking in my head like it should.
This song is almost great. Or rather, it could be great with some more work. I would turn what is now the chorus into a lead-in and write a new, more involved chorus. It would make this song bigger and better.

Level - Swatshots
Challenge: D - This is about a place but, aside from a play on words, you never reference what place.
Lyrics: C - Seems like imagery for the sake of imagery. Not really painting a clear picture.
Structure: C - Odd structure. Seems to have been rearranged after the fact.
Melody: D - I'm used to hearing mediocre melodies, but this one is pretty bad. Almost un-pretty.
This song is probably my least favorite in the competition. It barely meets the challenge and isn't easy to listen to. I want to give some constructive criticism here, but I don't know where to start... oh wait, yes I do. Start "over".

Song For St. Michael - Russ Rogers
Challenge: A - Clearly about St. Michael.
Lyrics: B - Solid. Some tiny issues.
Structure: A - Classic ballad structure.
Melody: A - Very nice. Poignant.
Really nice tune. Great use of some minor chords. Reminds me of John Lennon in style. My only real critique is that I wish it stuck with the story telling aspect used in the first verse, in the second verse as well. Instead it switches over to a description. But, all in all, a great song.

Fairfield - Chris Cogott
Challenge: A - Clearly about Fairfield.
Lyrics: A - Odd but good. Reminds me of They Might Be Giants.
Structure: A - Classic pop structure. Solid.
Melody: A - Great. Very catchy.
I love this song. I'll admit, style has a lot to do with it. I'm a sucker for Power Pop. But even without the great production and harmonies and wonderful bass work, this is still a solid song. Great job.

From There - Ross Durand
Challenge: A - About Thousand Oaks.
Lyrics: B - Not bad but not above average.
Structure: A - Classic rock structure.
Melody: B - Not bad but not that memorable.
This one sounds like an Eagles B-side. Not a bad song but clearly not a single. There isn't really anything wrong with this tune... it just doesn't sound special to me.

Golden Valley Sunday - Ryan "Ruff" Smith
Challenge: A - A song about the Golden Valley.
Lyrics: A - Nice imagery and rhyme work.
Structure: A - Solid.
Melody: A - Great. Sounds like you've heard it before except you haven't.
This is wonderful tune. Written in a different time it would stand out as a jazz standard. If I close my eyes, I can see a solo pianist playing it in a small club. Very nice work.

Not In Copiague - JoAnn Abbott
Challenge: A - A song about Copiague.
Lyrics: B - Nice but not above average.
Structure: B - Standard. But given the pace, could be improved.
Melody: A - Very nice. Pleasant.
This is a hard song to critique because without accompaniment, it makes it difficult to judge what's really intended. The difference between a good song and a great song can sometimes be the way it takes a left turn and I can't properly judge that without hearing the chords that are being used to support the melody. This song could be better than we think.

It's My Hometown, Syracuse, Baby! - The Boffo Yux Dudes
Challenge: A - Clearly about Syracuse.
Lyrics: B - Not bad but not great. A few funny lines though.
Structure: B - Standard but with a few left turns that I'm not convince help it.
Melody: B - Not bad but not as catchy as I'd like.
I like the comedy aspect of this one but musically, it didn't hold my attention. I might re-think the arrangement and shorten it. I think that would make it more enjoyable.

Darktown - Gweebol
Challenge: A - A song about Darktown.
Lyrics: A - Good imagery. Almost creepy... but in a good way.
Structure: A - Odd but good.
Melody: A - Odd but good.
This is an interesting tune. Grows on you once it gets under your skin. This one might become my favorite over time.

Where I'm Gonna Go - Zarni DeWet
Challenge: B - Meets the challenge but I'm still not sure exactly where we are talking about. Is it around these towns or part of them?
Lyrics: A - Some of the best imagery and rhyming I've heard in this competition.
Structure: A - Solid.
Melody: A - Great. Memorable.
This is a wonderful song. One of the few where I really get a sense of what it's like to be where the singer is singing about. I only wish it was a little more clear as to the place. It would have made all the difference.

Fairfield - Heather Miller
Challenge: A - A song about fairfield.
Lyrics: B - Not bad but not above average.
Structure: B - Fairly standard but I would make a few cuts to some of the repeating verses in the chorus.
Melody: B - not bad but not very memorable.
This is a pleasant tune but pretty average. Not sure what to suggest to improve it. Some songs are just B's... they all can't be amazing.

In Paradise With You - Steve Durand
Challenge: A - This is clearly about Kihei.
Lyrics: B - Nice but what you'd expect from the style.
Structure: B - Exactly what you'd expect from the style.
Melody: A - Very nice. Sounds like we all know it except that we don't.
I'm very conflicted with this one. I want to rate it higher because it stays true to the style... but... the style isn't anything to write home about.. but... I get why he chose it because of the location... but... argh... I like it. Good job.


I Just Can't Find A Virgin - Duality
Challenge: B - Really about looking for a virgin in Dundee. But is clear that it's his hometown.
Lyrics: A - Great. Funny.
Structure: A - Solid.
Melody: A - Catchy.
I really wish this one the official entry from Duality. It's much more fun than "To The End Of The World". I ranked this one higher because it did better what it was trying to do than the official entry. Great, fun song!

From Home - Via Satellite
Challenge: B - Clearly about a place but not sure exactly where.
Lyrics: B - Seems a little mellow dramatic. Then again, I didn't live there.
Structure: C - Sweeping. Didn't hold my attention like I thought it should.
Melody: C - Not bad but not memorable. Like a Kate Bush B-side.
This is a very powerful song. I wish it was a little less grand and gave us some depth. I'm sure some will bathe in this song, it's just not my temperature.

Living In The Countryside - Bram Tant
Challenge: A - A song about Bachte-Maria-Leerne.
Lyrics: A - Good rhymes. Nice imagery.
Structure: B - Not bad but I might make some tweaks.
Melody: B - Not bad but not as catchy as it could be.
I really enjoyed the de-evolution of the singers perspective in this song. I might tweak the structure a little to make the song feel less long. I am looking forward to hearing more work from you, Bram.

And now, my ranking of all the songs in Spintunes #2. (This was very difficult. Several songs landed in the same place using my objective (letter grade) scale so I had to go back to what I enjoyed the most to break those ties... and it was still very hard. Anyway, here it is:

1. London - Mitchell Adam Johnson
2. Lansing, Michigan - Edric Haleen
3. Fairfield - Chris Cogott
4. A Song About Woodsetts - Danny Blackwell
5. Golden Valley Sunday - Ryan "Ruff" Smith
6. Darktown - Gweebol
7. South Bend Aid - Brian Gray
8. Here - Rebecca Brickley
9. Where I'm Gonna Go - Zarni DeWet
10. Oxford - Ben Walker
11. Leaving Ann Arbor - Common Lisp
12. Song For St. Michael - Russ Rogers
13. Stillwater MN Air - Charlie McCarron
14. I Love LA - Charlie Wolf
15. From There - Ross Durand
16. In Paradise With You - Steve Durand
17. To The End Of The World - Duality
18. Not In Copiague - JoAnn Abbott
19. San Francisco - Ominous Ride
20. Mount Holly - Austin Criswell
21. Fairfield - Heather Miller
22. The Pinpoint Accurate Telling Of The Origin Of Salem, OH - Inverse T. Clown
23. It's My Hometown, Syracuse, Baby! - The Boffo Yux Dudes
24. Starts Over Avalon - Governing Dynamics
25. Cheltenham - Emperor Gum
26. LBC - wait WHAT
27. Level - Swatshots
28. Fired - David Ritter


  1. your face is sophomoric imagery

  2. okay, now that IS hilarious. I actually lol'd when I read it (which I didn't do when I heard your song).

    For the record, I'm not opposed to grade school humor. I just think it should be... you know... funny.

  3. here is a link to my (danny blackwell) songs. free to download mp3s, so you don't have to hunt me down,if you hear me on the radio...