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Saturday, August 4, 2012

Spintunes #5 Round 3 Review: Mick Bordet

Ross Durand featuring Bryanna Acosta - Apart
I've heard rock-opera, folk-opera and a couple of other derivations, but I think this is the first country-opera I've come across. I'm not exactly a fan of country music, but I love this track. If you think about it, country is almost a modern equivalent of opera in terms of subject matter and here we have forced marriage, lost love, murder, war and a classic black-hat villain. There are three very well performed characters, three solo acts and a beautiful duet to finish off with. When the bad guy comes in, a gravel-voiced black heart who takes us into rock/blues territory, my mind is made up. This really is a fully-fledged mini-opera.

Menage a Tune - Poison, Or, All Of Hamlet In 4:04
A wonderful, slightly ramshackle performance that feels as though it was written around the same time as the play, a time when opera itself was in its infancy. The starting and ending verses build and build in tension before unwinding to the spiralling downward "poison… poison… poison" - all very dramatic! This is certainly the most clearly operatic of all the songs in this round, with a selection of mini-songs strung together that do form a proper story. Having three very different vocalists certainly helps the characterisation and I think this is one of the best vocal performances to come out of the Menage. I get to the end of this piece and feel thoroughly entertained. Great work!

Edric Haleen featuring Kevin Savino-Riker - (Vows)
This song brought my better half to tears. Real tears. Several times. I would surely be incurring the wrath of Bridezilla to give it a low score. Of course, as an Edric Song™, it has a slightly different spin on the challenge, whilst still managing to tick all the boxes. This is just begging for a Richard Curtis movie to feature it in the central scene, exchanging the wedding vows interspersed with a slow-motion montage of leaf-strewn parks and walks on the beach. I particularly like the way the separate vows come together in a soaring duet that manages to keep the voices distinct, despite occupying the same register. The simple piano arpeggios are all the backing the song needs, along with a soft, string pad that joins to stir the emotions. The sampled woodwinds stick out a bit, not because they are not well arranged, but rather because the playing makes it obvious they are not real instruments, but they are the only things I would change about the song. Whilst it does meet all the criteria of the challenge, it doesn't feel to me as 'operatic' as other competitors and though there are both dialogue and story, neither stands out.

Mariah Mercedes - Dear Jeremy
Putting your voice in the same song as Mariah's is surely a daunting prospect, but 'Jeremy' is undaunted. Which is a pity. He should have been more daunted. Much more. It really doesn't stand up. Maybe if all the male vocals had been spoken it might have worked, but there is just too much of a contrast. There seems to be confusion in the first verse as to who should be singing - Mariah comes in on the last couple of lines for some reason. At the end of the second verse the lyrics make more sense to be sung together, however. The second section is beautiful, reminding me of Joanna Newsom: simple tumbling rhymes and delicate guitar and reed organ backing and that perfectly tender vocal. The different sections work well to give an impression of the story progressing as time passes, while the lost love and interfering parent is typical opera fare. Well-placed sound effects also help to give the whole thing a dramatic effect, yet the disparity between the female and male voices is just too much and drag this listener back out of the atmosphere.

Governing Dynamics featuring Rebecca Brickley - Dark Places
The Governing Dynamics sound gets a bit of a vocal upgrade to bring us a radio-friendly duet that meets all the challenge requirements, but leaves me feeling underwhelmed, like the two characters are not listening to each other and the story holds no interest. Musically, the instrumentation is a fairly standard guitar-rock arrangement with little to stand out apart from the very effective overlapping vocals which are certainly the strong point of the song. It is really more of a duet than a mini-opera, though if AOR is your thing then you'll probably love it.

RC - He's Dead, Jim
The Trek theme sounds a little bit shoe-horned in, but it was appreciated that it was played on twangy guitar instead of choir or theremin-like synth patches. The song certainly doesn't feel very operatic at all, but does tell a story and features two viewpoints (just about) and it did make me laugh in several places with well-placed Trek in-jokes. The music is very well-executed geek rock, with a rather tasteful guitar solo that stands out as being better than most in this genre. Surely this could make regular appearances at scifi cons for years to come; it certainly has more to offer than "Star Trekkin'", though it might be mostly over the heads of non-genre fans. This loses a point for the dialogue being rather one-sided, though that is part of what makes it work.

Felix Frost - Lyman Boone And The Moonshine Scoundrel
Since almost all Felix's songs until now have practically been mini-operas, I expected nothing less in this round. Cowboys - check. Jewels - check. Frantic-paced, scattered melodies - check. This time around things start off a little slower than usual and for the first 50 seconds we get a gentle build up that veers off into flamenco rhythm (inspired by Carmen?) and it seems like Felix is taking a new approach. Then the standard chop-and-change style returns with almost every line of dialogue accompanied by a different backing, staggering from one to another without much finesse. It feels like the whole thing has been written in 8 to 16 bar sections then glued together at the last minute without much concession to consistency. A pause here and there between sections, a change or two in tempo and some more focus on the vocal could help make listening a less tiring proposition. If Felix decides to combine all these SpinTunes entries into an 8-bit western concept album, then I hope he introduces some space into the music - he has a unique style that just needs developed.

The Chocolate Chips - The True Way
The muffled, robotic vocals in this make the lyrics essential reading as they are quite indistinct in many places. I'm not entirely sure whether this is supposed to be a sci-fi mankind-comes-of-age song, with the mention of other dimensions and universes and the alien-robotic vocals, but the more I listen, the more convinced I am that it is describing some Jonestown-like event. It is creepy, just downright creepy. The farty synths and sparse rhythm section create a unique and somewhat unsettling atmosphere to accompany it. Did I mention it is creepy?

Dr. Lindyke - Mr. Nobody (Shadow)
After last round's self-referential song, comes this meta-mini-opera about writing a song about writing a song about… it's all gone recursive! The different sections each have their own themes and some great intertwining lyrical lines as well as dialogue that not only tells the story of the birth of a song, but sounds like things people would actually say. As it progresses, the song becomes about the band's relationship (due to William's general non-appearance) as much as about the creative process and the legacy they leave, giving it a sense of resolution that only a few songs manage in this round. I hope that, at some point, we'll get some of these Dr. Lindyke songs re-recorded with a good microphone. Another classic.


  1. While I'm disappointed to be ranked last in your rankings - I do appreciate the "creepy" label as that's precisely what I was going for. I understand: creepin' ain't for everyone!

    The lyrics were influenced by factoids from the Heaven's Gate Cult (some of the lines were taken directly from that cult leader's quotes), the Jonestown Massacre, and something else that I won't mention as it'd be a bit controversial to bring up - but the reference is in there...

  2. Thanks Mick!

    Fun fact: some of the lyrics were actually directions we wrote down to come back and fix something, or were actually things we said while writing it, and just decided to use.

    For instance, I have a handwritten annotation on one of the lyric sheets that just says "add counterpoint and other shit". As deadline approached we just decided that this was a pretty good line and kept it.

    Likewise with "Does it really matter who wrote down the line?" (actually, "rhyme") and "I'm sure whatever you decide is fine," both of which were taken from emails we exchanged.

    I do hope to get better vocals recorded for this. It was supposed to be two vocalists anyway, but you know how plans go awry.

  3. Thank you so much for your kind words Mick, I am glad that YOU were entertained and ranked me so highly, I did my best to meet the challenge. I wish I had been able to move on to the final round.