Just a quick caveat on this: The middle rankings were SO difficult to order, so if you have a bone to pick with me about your ranking, just know that I ordered and reordered this several times before I was even halfway okay with it. Now, on to the reviews!
Edric Haleen – The Terrible Things That Transpired Today
This one was already pretty high on my list for sheer ambition, but it took the top spot because of how successful it turned out to be as a challenge to you, the songwriter and also a means of storytelling for the listener. I know some people may give you flack for being a bit of a bounder and exploiting some loopholes in the challenge wording, but this time around it resulted in something pretty incredible.
Not only was the use of a single letter executed in such a way that the story was easy to discern and follow, the music really served to build up the story’s escalating narrative beats. It SOUNDS as if tension is building and building while these 3 children pick and fight until the teacher has just had enough. Well played. And, of course, your voice sounds wonderful. Great job!
Jess Scherer – The Twisted Tongue
This is almost TOO cute. I’m almost positive I got a cavity from listening to it, but not to worry. Lest I sound too negative, eating enough candy to get a cavity is a positive thing as far as I’m concerned, and means that I totally dig your song. A lot.
There was a really great sense of propulsive-ness to the instrumentation that served the lyrics so well. The tongue twister aspect of the song was well done (and difficult to sing. I tried.) and the 7 letter limit never made the lyrics sound forced or labored. Great rhyme scheme, great piano solo, and a lovely dramatic pause at the end. The verses and chorus were well structured, and the song is JUST long enough without overstaying its’ welcome. It left me wanting more, just like a good piece of candy. See what I did there? Full circle.
Steve Durand – A Song About Letters
Oh, boy Steve, you really hit a home run this time. Having been raised, like all children born in the past several decades, on Sesame Street I immediately was transported to my parents living room on a weekday morning before I was pre-school age. The delivery, the voice, the chord structure, even the sound effects all were so well done in terms of giving it that classic Henson feel (especially that banjo). Your use of multiple instruments to play the songs melody over the various spoken word portions was a lovely touch as well. Is it too much to say I feel like I learned something from this song? This was a fun one, and like the other entries that have earned high marks from me, the lyrics never felt forced. But was it too much to ask for a reference to Nuns? You chose N, after all. Nah, I’m kidding. This was great.
David LeDuc – Seven Letters
This one almost got placed lower, but after a couple of listens it quickly became one of my favorites. There are so few honest-to-god rock n’ roll songs in this competition (sorry guys!) and this was a nice shot in the arm for my ears, if I can mix that metaphor. The bass part was crushing it hard, and then your guitar riff kicked in and things REALLY got cooking. Your voice sounds the best it has the whole competition. It’s really suited to howlin’ and yelpin’, which not everyone can do, and the vocal effects really enhanced some of the more interesting aspects of your voice. I also really enjoyed the lyrics. They painted an appropriately bad-ass picture without being too specific, and the song feels really accessible to multiple listeners. Nice work.
Gold Lion – Crossfire
This was another very nice effort by you, Miss Lion. Your voice was great, but that’s basically a given in a song by you, and the verses flowed very naturally into the catchy simple chorus. Here’s where I had a little trouble, though, in that the song’s structure got a little repetitive for a good chunk of it’s run. I LOVED the last minute or so, with the breakdown and the outro being very strong, but I feel like the song could have been a good half-minute shorter and retained it’s effectiveness. The percussion was a little overpowering at times, as well, but I’m nitpicking. This was a well executed song despite my quibbles.
Brian Gray – One Of Us
This one took a little bit to grow on me, as well, but I ended up liking it more the more times I let it play. The intro is FULL of energy, and really gets me excited for the song to come. The first couple of verses feature a dip in energy, though, that it takes the song a bit to recover from. Your singing, while very good, feels tentative at the beginning of the song. I’m not sure if that was a deliberate choice of yours but it really takes the wind out of the songs sails initially. Once things do pick back up, however, you’re really firing on all cylinders. Getting back to your voice, in this song it’s pretty incredible, and mixed with the chords and the style of instrumentation sounds like some sort of long-lost collaboration between Bowie and The Talking Heads. The chorus melody was tops, and the harmonies were beautiful. I’m also a sucker for alliteration, so the fact that some of that was sprinkled about didn’t hurt either.
Rebecca Angel – My Tights
This is the (ugh I hate using this word) peppiest entry from you this competition. There’s a lot of good stuff to recommend in here, but one thing I couldn’t get past was the choice to use vocal doubling for nearly the entire song. You have such a powerful voice, but when it’s doubled up it loses a lot of its clarity and gets kind of muddled. My favorite part of the song was the ending when I could hear your voice by itself again. I did enjoy the use of multiple instruments in this song, and also thought your harmonies were aces. Really, if you had sprinkled in more harmonies and let your voice stand on its own more this song would really shine.
Common Lisp – I.O.U.
I read the song bio for this, and man! Did you have to be hospitalized after completing this song? It sounds like it nearly killed you! That said, I’m glad you lived to complete it. This was a solid entry. I really appreciated the unconventional percussion you used on this since it stands out well most of the time, but not in a “what IS that!?” kind of way. The lyrics (which I know you labored over) are well done and suit the unconventional structure of the song to boot. The “round” element was also a nice touch, highlighting the circular nature of the song. All that said, I feel like the song is trying to carry too much at times. Once all the instruments and percussion kick in together, things get a little too busy and I feel that the simple love story you wrote gets a bit lost. I feel that if you scaled back a little instrumentally the lovely lyrics you wrote would have a chance to really hit, but this is still, as I said before, a solid entry from you.
Ross Durand – Advice (Easy As ABC)
You’re not usually this cute in terms of your songwriting, Ross! I do like that you’re pushing the boundaries of what’s expected from you, though. The lyrics are super on this entry (and teach good life lessons), and the melody is nice as well. What I really wish is that the song had a few more surprises in it later on. It works well enough, and is pleasant to listen to, but I feel as if the songs journey is kind of a straight line. I know you probably kept things simple for a reason, but some harmonies or some more instrumentation, even some dynamic shifts would have taken this song up a notch. Still, it’s very sweet, and we could all use a little advice now and again.
The Orion Sound – It Never Said He Wasn’t
Oh boy. I see you took Howie’s “Don’t put the joke in the title of your song” comment to heart. This was, as is par for the course from The Orion Sound, a very silly entry. Definitely had some LOLs about this one at my desk. I think the lyrics are clever and funny, and the chorus is particularly ear-wormy. Really strong work on that. I feel that your vocals at the beginning aren’t nearly as strong as they become later in the song, however. And the guitar solo, while pretty shred-tastic, seems to be jumping around the rhythm of the other instruments in a distracting way. This was a funny idea, and a pretty catchy tune, but it suffered a bit from execution that could have been tighter.
Governing Dynamics – Go To Sleep
This was a pretty nice little number with a beginning that made me sit up and listen with lovely chords and some nice, tinkly instrumentation on top. Very pretty. But then, it starts in with the verse and I realize that while well performed, this sounds very similar to other entries you’ve submitted. Not that it’s bad to have a distinctive personal style, but while listening to this I felt as if you haven’t really stretched outside of your comfort zone during these challenges. I know everyone has different goals and outcomes they set for themselves when they enter something like this, and I won’t presume to know yours, but it’s nice to be surprised by a musician you think you have a handle on. Make of that what you will, I guess. I did like your lyrics, though, as they flowed well, and the harmonies were well done. That’s gotta count for something, right?
Kevin Savino-Riker – The Tin Knight
The story in this song was really great, one of the most unique in the competition. The story gets bogged down a bit by the monotonous verses, though, which are like vast seas in comparison to the short harmonious choruses. I found myself waiting for you to get back to the chorus, since it was the strongest part of the song. This is one entry that sometimes showed the letter limitations in the lyrics, too, making the verses seem a bit padded out for length. But that chorus was so pretty. If the rest of the song had harmonies and momentum like that you’d really be in business. That said, this is a cool story that got a bit lost in the delivery.
Jacob Haller – Come To Me Now
This is an entry where the song bio isn’t just recommended reading but almost necessary to get anything out of the song. I know you mentioned that lyrics weren’t that important to you when writing this, but they really feel like an afterthought. The instrumentals are nice, but they don’t really make up for the fact that this song lacks energy. The story has several beats, as per your song bio, but none of them really come across in your delivery. Again, as per your song bio, I know you weren’t concerned with interpretation either, but to the listener it sounds like you took the easy way out on this one. I get what you were going for, but it doesn’t really make me appreciate the song more than before I read your bio.