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Saturday, November 13, 2010

SpinTunes #2 Round 3 Review: Glen Phillips

This was a good round as an aggregate. Every song was listenable, and most of them had something really going well for them. I actually managed to make the listening party, mind you I was at work, so my full attention was not there. So the challenge was to write about a historical event. You really didn’t need to say “the rest is history, the legend lives on, we just witnessed hist’ry,“.

So here we are in a Song Writing contest and there again is no musical challenge. Just a lyrical challenge and everyone met the challenge this time. Some takes on the challenge were brilliant, some not so much. This is a good “album”. I have about 20 listens in at this point. (90 minute commute each way, gives a lot of listening time. You can add in another 10 listens each as I write.)

Spin Tunes #2 Round Three: Secondary Historical Figures
Glennny’s judgemet:

12th place 1pt - Rebecca Brickley (Oh Mercy) - This is heartbreaking. You clearly had technical difficulties, or little time to record. See 6.5th place for Zero points. I review the proper mix, though I was explicitly instructed to judge on the “judge’s mix”. I skipped the judges mix when I could, and spent my 30 listens on the “remix”.

11th place 2pts - Edric Haleen (I Was There) - It has been fun discussing music with you. No hard feelings sir. This was my least favorite song of the bunch that I can judge. This was worlds better than most of the shadows, but they’re not in the contest. You are an excellent vocalist. No conversion necessary, I like the genre you are dwelling in here. I just don’t think it works. The piano line is rather brilliant actually. I wish it was a touch louder compared to the vocals, but that’s no big deal. I was excited when I heard your concept. It was a good idea. My 3 big problems with this are the performance, the writing and the lyrics.

Performance: I think you’re over-singing the whole way through. The vocal delivery could use more dynamics. There’s a strange marriage of articulate stage musical enunciation and sprinklings of contraction Southern drawl. They clash. The vibrato, while impressive, I think is way over used. The drama is at about the same level of intensity throughout.

Writing: So Man 1 and Man 2 sound the same until the 7th Stanza (if I’m counting right). The call and response is a good idea to separate them. They are in slightly different registers when they call and respond. It’s not actually call and response, since they are not reacting to each other. It’s more like interlacing call and call. Anyway, listening to this without the lyrics in front of me is confusing. I think you should have given Man One and Man Two clearly different voices. Get a friend, a different register, a different cadence, something to tell me they are 2 different (excuse me “diff’rent”) characters.

Lyrics: This is not quite as bad as full on Wiki-pedia Rock, a phenomenon that plagues Song Fight if the title is too obscure. This was dare I say a “brilliant” concept. Your job in selling me the drama is to give me insight into the human condition, or convey the emotional experience. I know the story, I know what happened, I know it was historical, you’re not telling me what you think it means or how you felt. I suppose Man one has regret and wishes it could be diff’rent. That’s pretty thin, and I KNOW you can do better. You had me listen to 7 of your other songs. You’re much cleverer than this song. I listened to this no less than 30 times, and I never wanted to skip ahead. I really liked the piano; I like your voice, though misplaced (in my opinion) at times. Competition was tough, and this is where you landed with me. And besides” Where are the drums?” (joke) I happened to catch your chat during the listening party; no this song doesn’t need drums (though it could be really cool if done right), it is genre appropriate in instrumentation.

10th place 3pts - Inverse T. Clown (I Have A Leap) - This is cute. This is my favorite of your 3 entries. I suppose to be fair I should investigate your back catalog. Perhaps you have some suggestions for the ITC best of? I like this song. You have some tough competition. I can actually hear the bass line, the drums, the faux horns, the keys. The vocals are way up front in your signature Karaoke mix level. Your vocals are really nice. You have well placed harmonies. The bass line is my favorite part, not so much the timbre of it, but the line is good! Those complimentary faux horns are really cool too. I am projecting a real horn section for those. The long notes over the pulsing bass are great. The “drummer” and the “bass player” are not really jibing. Your vocal melody is a little weak and obvious, but it’s not bad. What I really don’t like about this song is the concept and the lyrics. Actually I think the lyrics suffer most from the concept. So I suppose I should give you an “attaboy” for thinking outside the box. You heard the challenge and then decided to fulfill it a rather smart-ass way (which I highly appreciate). So I’m hearing what happened in an episode of Quantum Leap. Was this a real episode? Or was this a fictionalized episode with QL characters? It doesn’t matter either way. You are telling me what happened in this fiction that flirts with history, but why should I care about any of these characters? Sure, you successfully tell a story, why is it a good story? This is told from an omniscient perspective, omniscient that is until it comes to the use of speculation, wherein the narrator must guess. The lyrics are as deep as Quantum Leap. It’s neat to change history, but there’s not a lot to relate to and care about. No hard feelings! Cheers!

9th place 4pts - Governing Dynamics (Los Almos) - There’s a lot to like even love about this song. Your lyrics are excellent. That is the verses are excellent and the chorus is okay for rock. I’m with you until the chorus. Though the line “Should I suspect I aid and abet” is so awesome, I want to steal it, the next 3 lines I don’t think are very good. They hold the place for vocal noises required in rock music but I don’t like the content. First off, I don’t believe those are the thoughts you truly want to convey, I think the force of “History” and “Mystery” rhyming find them coupled together (AGAIN) in a rock song. You lyrically paint a vivid picture. Your vocal delivery makes me feel for the main character. The intensity builds to the chorus where the insight to the human condition, what he’s learning is revealed. Then the opportunity is discarded, wimped out with “I don’t really want to know, because tell me who doesn’t love a good mystery?” It’s just weird, and I don’t think it’s in keeping with the established character. Those are just nitpicks, these verses might be my favorite lyrics of the album. Guitars- Yes! Nice and loud. You sound like a Radiohead fan now. I get it. In fact you remind me a lot of Pinebender. Check out “Kick It” when you get a chance. Seems like a bird of a feather. So the drums are adequate for what you’re going for. The bass is okay too, but not all that interesting, which is genre appropriate. The guitars are really cool. The long sustained notes drift into sourness or unwanted dissonance at times. That is something that might be resolved with wicked tight vibrato. That’s a nit pick, for the most part the guitars are awesome, well played and dynamic. The solo is more of a noise solo than a “notes on a staff” composition, but it works well. The big problem I have with this is the vocals. Your voice is good. The melody is really drab. There’s nothing to really grab onto. Then the worst part, or should I say the place you can improve the most is the backing vocals. Those are not harmonies. For the most part they are octaves, and they are pitchy at times. Do yourself a favor and write out some harmonies on guitar, then sing the line. I understand the draw towards the upper octave, it takes some determination to write a harmonic line. You’ve got a lot of good stuff going on, but you are out matched by your competition. It’s a cool song though, love to hear it with some re-thought vocal melodies and harmonies.

8th place 5pts - Ross Durand (Ivan Vaughan) - Ahhhhh! So nice to hear an excellent recording! Your vocals sound excellent and I really envy your acoustic sound. Ross, I consider you a friend. I hate ranking you this low. When you’re on you write songs that are sublime. Then every now and then we get one of these things from you. Don’t get me wrong, this is a quality song. Listening to your music for the past 5 years, this one sounds “phoned in”. I bet you had a lot of papers to grade or something. The song just feels like folk song by numbers. That can be okay with particularly clever lyrics or a super catchy hook. Neither of those things I find in this song. The guitar hook is catchy, but it reminds me of “Pop goes the world” which is a weird genre hop. The lyrics are fine, but rather obvious. I’m sorry man. I’m sure you’re going to win one of these things one day, but I just can’t see this song getting you there.

7th place 6pts - Charlie McCarron (Queen Of Heart) - I like this song a lot. The vocals are beautiful. I relate to the main character. The music is beautiful. The trumpet is wonderful. The piano is really pretty too. The guitar is laid back and tasteful. Your vocals are excellent! The backing vocals and harmonies are well placed and complimentary. The dynamics are superb. For the most part I really like the lyrics. Oh those guitar bends are soooo sweet! The chorus vocal is where you lose me. I get the “Queen of Heart” is designed to be taken literally, but how can one ignore the deck of cards metaphor? Or the Juice Newton song? You even drudged up a Loverboy song from deep in my memory. It’s some weird compliment, but it strikes me really awkward. I love the personal tale telling in the verses. The resolve falls flat to me. The song is great though! I will be keeping this and listening to this for ages. Well done!

0pts - Rebecca Brickley (Oh Mercy 'Remix') - Oh so this is what you meant it to sound like. It sounds excellent. Your sense of melody is arguably the best in the competition. The chorus melody is my favorite of the album. The harmony vocals are exquisite to! So there’s some implied instrumentation and dynamics (at least in my head), but how can I be sure it’s really there. Based on the fact you had to submit the other version, I take it you didn’t have much time for this song. Your vocals are bad ass, and I believe you can conjure up vocal gold like this at will. However, the piano line is pretty thin. The chord pattern is just fine, but I’m surprised how little piano playing you did, especially when it’s really the only instrument. The tambourine is a dangerous instrument. It cuts through any recording and dominates the high end like nothing else. It sounds intended for 2 and 4, but it’s not as in time as the piano which is solid. Is it its own track? Is it just a foot tappin the tambo on the floor? This sounds unfinished (still) to me. What you got works for an intro and probably the outro, but its begging for drums, bass, and guitar. Some kind of guitar or piano solo would help too. Actually, some vocal soloing might be your strongest contender. Anyway, good job! I’m very impressed with your melodic sense!

6th place 7pts - Gweebol (She Said, As She Handed Him The Telephone) - The organ was a strange choice, but I think a very good one. The vibe is very nice. Your vocals are very cool! There’s an abundance of those notes bent down at the end of a phrase. I suppose that’s a stylistic thing, but I think it’s overused. The lyrics are alright. I still don’t understand why this is the last chance. Seems like it is a chance, but I don’t get why it’s the last chance. Or if it is because the first person is imposing that ultimatum, I don’t understand why. Not a big deal, you have awesome vocal licks, and a groovy back beat. I again think the vocals are too upfront, but not offensively so. Very cool song!

5th place 8pts - Ryan Ruff Smith (The Driver 'Dallas, 1963') - This song causes me to be rather conflicted. There is soooo much right with this! The chord pattern is fantastic! The vocal melody is gorgeous! Your voice is wonderful too! You placed your tambourine perfectly, and it keeps excellent time! The art noise is cool, and I’m conflicted as to how good of an idea it was. It is very effective, but it’s also a little distracting, and probably too dominant. Only a slight adjustment to bring that back a bit, I think would cause major improvements. The worst thing is the: pretty chord- SCREECH- pretty chord- SCREECH…. I generally like string noise from changing chord positions, but those screeches are louder than the deliberate notes. I’d hate to lose the sound of the guitar the way you have it recorded, but that noise is crazy loud. You could go back and reduce those peaks in software. Maybe learn some alternate voicings that don’t require the string slide. Anyway, that is a nitpicking. This song is fantastic and gorgeous. You knocked the challenge out of the park. The lyrics are stellar. The juxtaposition of the beautiful melody and music with what we all know is going on is truly haunting. Well done!

I pretty much knew the top 4 from the 1st listen, but ordering these 4 has been very difficult. They have all spent time at the top of my playlist. Were I to decide the order next week they might be different, but here’s the order to the best of my abilities:

4th place 9pts - Mitchell Adam Johnson (Pictures Of Love) - Okay you get the “Smartest Competitor” award. You noticed that the aggregate of the judges heavily leans towards S & G. Just look how Dominating Chris did with the last challenge. So you realized you have a strong and convincing S & G vibe you can bust out. I hope you make the finals. I’m very excited and curious as to what you’ll do next. Your 3 submissions have been very different and all awesome. I remember some documentary or “movies that rock” with John’s painter friend. This makes me want to see it again. The lyrics are nearly perfect. It tells the story, it conveys the emotion, it brings me to the mid sixties. I won’t mind at all if this is the winner, it is certainly good enough! Great job!

3rd place 10pts - Zarni DeWet (Eric) - Wow! This is devastating. This is just beautiful. The dynamics and the presentation are unparalleled in this competition. Your chord pattern is smart and beautiful. I wouldn’t change a thing with the instrumentation. The subject lends itself well to a solo piano piece. The variation in the piano line is incredibly interesting; it could almost stand up on its own as an instrumental. Then you have those gorgeous vocals atop it and it’s just awesome. The lyrics make one think. I am the father of two, so of course I imagine losing a child and then having the mother of the murderer sing this song to me. This is the smallest of criticisms so feel free to disregard. Were I to lose my child, the last person I would want to hear from is any surviving member of his family. I don’t think such a mother would have the gall to actually say this. I love the “monsters in the closet” metaphor. You have me seriously questioning how I should deal with the monsters in my 3-year-old’s closet. However misguided the protagonist to be saying this, I feel for her. This made me think a lot, and feel a lot. Wonderful! I’ll be shocked if this doesn’t carry you to the finals.

2nd place 11pts - Chris Cogott (Final Flight) - Hot damn! CC just cranks out the hits! I love this in the truck and on the stereo, but it REALLY shines on my headphones! The harmonic lick makes much more sense on the headphones with the full on stereo separation. In other settings it borders on being messy. My favorite part is the riff that appears at 0:59. Thanks for bringing the ROCK! Rock power will take you far! The guitar solo is jamming! The chorus is nice and catchy. The lyrics are good, and above and beyond for the genre! Yeah, were to change anything it would be the echo setting for the harmonics, making them a subset of the tempo, and hopefully keeping them sounding deliberate. The bass is so tasty throughout! I love all the guitar sounds! Your vocals are very good too! I don’t know if it would help or hurt, but I’d be curious to hear your singular voice unaffected more often. The harmonies and effects are spot on, but having the 10 Cogott songs I have; it seems to be a staple. Of course the last round is probably not the time to experiment. I will be flabbergasted if you don’t make the finals. Well done!

1st place 12pts - Steve Durand (Cuban Missle Mambo) - Steve being Steve is hard to compete with. I think some might find your voice a required taste, but I acquired it long ago! (That was shitty, why did I give you that back handed compliment?). How do you compare this against Zarni’s tune? Classic drama verses comedy. This is not only comedy, but funny! At least I find it to be hilarious. It is poignant lyrically, at the same time funny, and it tells a story successfully. This conjures up my parents retelling of the Cuban missile crisis, I think that was the most frightened my dad ever was in his life. What can you do as the world powers play with the fate of the world? Mambo! Genius! What really brings this to the top spot on my list is all the interplay with the different horn sections, the piano, and the vocal melody. The percussion is really nice too! It’s odd too me how sparse the kick and the snare is, but that makes them all the more chilling when they appear. I mean, my daughter and I have to get up and do our best pseudo –mambo when this is on the stereo. I want more!!!! Good job!


  1. No, it's not from an existing episode. That would be cheating.

    I suppose the only reasons to care about the characters are if you A) like Quantum Leap or B) like Martin Luther King. Beyond that, it's not really going to grab you.

    I knew I was going out this round, and that there was no point in trying to wow anybody with some phenomenal masterpiece. So, I did the first idea that made me smile. I'm glad it was finally something you didn't hate.

    Until the Dawn.

  2. Glen,

    Thanks for the review, I appreciate your time and effort (wow, 30 listens, haha, that probably means you count as my third biggest fan after my parents [self depreciation for the win?]).

    The song is ultimately about someone who chooses to look the other way, out of a combination of convenience and not being sure what else to do about it--"who doesn't love a good mystery?" is indeed a bit of a wimp out/left turn, and I can see how that could be frustrating or seem out of character. Really, it's the line that -determines- character.

    My aims with my lyrics were to 1) create a believable-as-possible character and 2) establish empathy between the listener and the character, and it seems like that did happen, so I'm happy. (My aim in regards to Los Alamos/Trinity was not so much as to say "this was right" or "this was wrong" as to just make people -think about it- for a minute and I think that happened too.)

    I disagree that the background vocals are NEVER harmonies ;) But you're certainly right about octaves. That was mostly intentional. Essentially through this contest I've discovered I'm something like a baritone with a slightly higher range than usual -- I sound better at any note above an F4 or so in head voice. So the octaves were there just to thicken things up a bit. Really, what I need is a Better Singer Than Me to handle my lead vocals and then I should sing backup (which is indeed how the other band I'm in works). Also, I find it MUCH easier, for whatever reason, to write harmonies when the voice I'm harmonizing with isn't me (see last round's song - even though Joe was singing THE EXACT melodies I originally wrote, I heard harmonies in the second verse that simply did not occur to me when it was me singing the melody).

    As it stands -- I really like what I did accomplish and am unlikely to change it, at least any time in the near future. But I never close the possibility of a rewrite or two.

    Anyway, this is becoming a novel of a comment, so I will wrap it up on a quick note of thanks. You didn't mention my overall mix so I'll assume that either it was to your liking or maybe you decided there was too much backlash over it last time to bother. Well, I did check out the page you linked last time and did some pretty extensive EQ, both on individual tracks and the overall track and I'll admit the overall mix, I think, is much better and sounds better on a wider range of sound systems. So I guess what I'm saying is, I learned a few things, and thanks for pointing out that I needed to learn them.


  3. Thanks for the review! I went back and forth on the idea of submitting some extra info along with my song, but I decided to just let it be. To explain why it was his last chance: Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone before 4 other guys who were working on similar things. These guys were presenting their plans at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition, but Bell just didn't feel like going...and he had already *made* the thing. His then-fiancée, Mabel (my speaker) took him to the train station and told him if he didn't go, she wouldn't marry him. So, yes, it was a first-person imposed ultimatum. But I probably didn't say that clearly enough or early enough in the song for it to "read." Hope that clears it up. Thanks for judging and all your in-depth comments.