History is, almost by necessity, a category of unparalleled depth and breadth; it encompasses every location on our planet and reaches back to the beginning of, well... history. And yet, with all that potential source material, there was a surprising level of convergence among the entries this round... more even than we should expect considering that most of our contestants live in the United States. Not only did we get two entries that addressed Rosa Parks’ contribution to the American civil rights movement, we got two songs covering circumstances that led to Paul McCartney joining the Beatles, three songs that chose significant events of the Kennedy administration, two songs from the perspective of a laboratory assistant, and two songs about television characters who traveled through time correcting mistakes in the past.
The above doesn’t have any bearing on how everyones’ entries are going to score; I just found it to be interesting enough to point out how ideas coalesced this round.
Okay, onto the judging. This wasn’t really a challenge that could be met better or worse... it was either met, or not met. In this case, everyone wrote about someone associated with a famous person or event in the past, and accounting for my potential ignorance of the topics covered, every song was unambiguous about the event(s) in question. We finally got a round free of mandated DQs! Pat yourselves on the back.
Keep patting, because I have reasons to love each and every song from this round. In the days since the listening party, I’ve caught myself outside of my dedicated “listening time” singing fragments of every one of your entries. Each of you has had your turn stuck in my head. I apologize for any discomfort this may have caused. Once more, and I hate to say it because it’s going to feel disingenuous to those of you who end up at the bottom of my list, but your song was great. I loved it. It’s a matter of twelve songs that are between 95% and 99% perfect, and I’m stuck trying to figure out criteria that can refine my enjoyment of your music until there is no more joy... just placement. It’s a rough gig. You guys already know how I judge, so I won’t reiterate. I’ll just implement. Best of luck to you all; I have no idea who’s going to end up in the final four, and it could honestly be any of you.
(Unfortunately, I was called in to work this weekend and had significantly less time to write up my reviews than I had originally anticipated. As such, some of your reviews are not very informative. I apologize profusely for this, and I will come back to write more in-depth commentary as soon as I am done with work today. I have to get this all typed out over my lunch break, and if I can finish my day early, longer reviews will be up not long after. Again, I’m sorry and I’ll work to correct my errors as quickly as possible.)
Governing Dynamics (Los Alamos) - This song has an excellent tone and does a great job illuminating the thoughts of someone not sure whether they’re doing the right thing. There’s one lyric that feels a little amateurish (...I’m not equal / ...what he’ll do for a sequel) - it seems like you went out of your way to use those two words, but ‘sequel’ really isn’t the right word to use to describe the scientist’s next career move. That’s the only gripe I have with the song; everything else hits the mark.
Inverse T. Clown (I Have A Leap) - You sure took advantage of our allowance of fictionalization on this one. It was a little risky, but I enjoyed it; the composition and vocals are really good here; it sounds like your drums are as 8-bit as ever, but everything else seems to have come up a notch, and the full harmonies are nicely presented. Your bridge is my favorite part of the song, followed closely by your title.
Charlie McCarron (Queen Of Heart) - This is the best song I’ve heard from you. The horns are a really nice addition, and your lyrics dance nicely between concrete and abstract as you shift from verse to chorus. Your melody, the instrumental breakdown, the horn accompaniment... everything adds up beautifully. One of my favorites of the round.
Ryan Ruff Smith (The Driver 'Dallas, 1963') - You have consistently given us the most picturesque lyrics in the contest, and you’ve continued the trend here; I’ve never heard someone describe an exploding head so gorgeously. The guitar really matches your vocals nicely, and both are excellent, but for whatever reason this song isn’t grabbing me. I can’t decide whether the radio chatter backdrop is beneficial to the song or not; I think it’s distracting while I listen, but when I imagine the song without it, it seems like there’s something missing. Ultimately, It is on the merits of your lyrical performance that the song moved up a few places from its original spot.
Edric Haleen (I Was There) - We have another taste of your particular brand of perfection with this song. The piano is precise and well-designed; your vocals are fantastically emotive, and the character voice changes work well with the song. It isn’t wowing me, however. Had Charlie not blown me away with his take on the same topic, your song would be in a much higher spot.
Ross Durand (Ivan Vaughan) - This song is simple and pleasant; you have a great hook in the chorus; this was one of the ones I spent a lot of time singing to myself during my off-time. Your voice is a great tool and fits the folk style very nicely.
Chris Cogott (Final Flight) - Another huge song served up here. You’ve got shades of Grand Funk Railroad and Led Zeppelin throughout, both of which provide favorite soundscapes of mine; the ‘...see the Electra flying home’ at the song’s conclusion gave me chills. Once more, you win my top spot, for ambitious musicianship and fantastic lyrics that really pulled me into the character.
Mitchell Adam Johnson (Pictures Of Love) - This is a pretty pretty song, and a story I didn’t know; it’s soft and bubbly, and maybe on account of that fact, it doesn’t stand out as much as others here. There are a lot of sonic cues to the Beatles here, but the first four seconds of your song always catch me off-guard, because they’re also the first four seconds of The Eagles “Lyin’ Eyes”. I’m not scolding you here, but I am explaining just what it is that’s distracting me. That this happens right in the beginning kicks me away from your song, thus requiring a little effort to come back to it, which detracts from the overall experience.
Steve Durand (Cuban Missile Mambo) - I had a great time listening to this one, and I listened to it over and over again. I think this song did the best of the lot in terms of creating a little fictional backstory that prompted a real historical event. You did it with whimsy and creativity, and I loved everything about it.
Rebecca Brickley (Oh Mercy) - I listened to the judges’ version of your song about a dozen times before I listened to the remix, and I can honestly say: the audio is improved by the remix, but the song is just as good in lo-fi. Any fans of Iron & Wine’s first album can understand what I’m getting at here. Frankly, your song is so beautifully written that the means of delivery make almost no difference in the impact the song had on me. Brilliant melody, excellent harmonies, and performance is terrific all-around. You are a serious songwriting talent.
Zarni DeWet (Eric) - Another deeply emotional song; you’ve returned to tear-jerking territory with me. Once more, you’re adept at translating the emotional space of others into sound, and you gave prompted me to think about that mother’s perspective in a way that I never had before. Your voice is at its haunting best, and the piano is simply powerful without being oppressive. Great song.
Gweebol (She Said, As She Handed Him The Telephone) - You have a very unique style in this song, blending an almost Steely Dan-ish rhythm section with your adorable lead singing voice and great little girlish callbacks in the background... and it all adds up to Gweebol: Cute And Quirky. Cute and quirky is your home turf, and you definitely benefit from home field advantage here.
(as mentioned above - I’ll be writing these, but I just didn’t have time to do so before the official review was due. They’re coming, I promise.)
RANKINGS (points awarded / artist. First position is “first place”)
12. Chris Cogott
11. Rebecca Brickley
10. Charlie McCarron
9. Zarni DeWet
8. Steve Durand
7. Governing Dynamics
6. Ryan Ruff Smith
4. Ross Durand
3. Inverse T. Clown
2. Edric Haleen
1. Mitchell Adam Johnson