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Saturday, February 2, 2013

Spintunes #6 Round 1 Review: Debs And Errol

Hello! Debs and Errol here with our review of the first round of Spintunes #6: “Ceiling Cat Is Watching You Songwrite”. We are going to judge the contest together and where we disagree we’ll speak individually.

The first round required the challengers to write a song based on an Internet Meme (link). We’ll do our best to give feedback across a number of factors - emotionality, originality, performance, production and of course, music and lyrics. Our goal here is to be as constructive as we can and give you new ideas and suggestions to think about going forward. If you have questions or want further clarification on anything we say, please do not hesitate to ask. If you completely disagree with us, that’s also completely okay. We disagree with each other all the time in our band-life. (Errol: ALL the time.)

We’ve spent a lot of time with your songs over the past few days and we’ve found ourselves humming many of them at odd moments. This is our first SpinTunes experience and we’re floored by the overall quality of these submissions. Ranking them was not, not easy and everyone who submitted should be commended. Now on with the judging!

1. RC - “The Philosoraptor”
We loved this from the moment it started. The percussive intro draws you in and the variety of instrumentation weaving in and out keeps you there. We could easily listen ten times and notice something new each time!

Debs: In fact, I did listen ten times! Probably more!
Errol: That’s because you have a disorder.

The modulation from Em to F at the instrumental break was a great decision. It creates some brightness and really opens things up. We didn't give the lyrics much credit at first because the vocals weren't as strong or full as they could have been (particularly in the slides like "figured") but they are seriously impressive. The moralistic tone criticizing humanity’s hubris is an interesting contrast to the ludicrous nature of memes in general; there are some really clever turns of phrase. A very fun song and the lyrics make it stand out.

2. Jerry Skids - “Not a Good Guy”
You have a knack for memorable melodies and they are really strong is throughout the song. The chorus is deliciously singable and because we are harmony junkies we are pleased to no end!

D: Especially the harmonies in the bridge section. Damn!
E: You can’t use that catch phrase. It’s taken, I think.
D: Huh? That’s a catch phrase?

The vocals overall aren't as clear as we wish and there were times where it felt as though they might have been recorded a bit hot. Sometimes the alignment of harmonies and mains were so loose that we had to work to understand the lyrics. We’re not saying that aligning them loosely is always a bad thing, but here, it may be worth experimenting with blending and mixing the vocals so they could be tighter.

3. Steven Wesley Guiles - “Boom Goes the Dynamite”
This is a really fun ride. We love how loose and relaxed it feels both lyrically and musically. The emphasis you put into the vocals and the way you’re emoting them are brilliant.  We like the dramatic shift in in the "Dreams" section in terms of timing and lyrics and the hook is super catchy. Having said that, it becomes overly repetitive near the end. We think you were trying to build up the end section to overcome that repetition, but it still sounds the same.

D: The mix does not sound as tight as it could be either, but I’m not too sure why.
E: The treble near the beginning sounds a bit too present. It reaches in and then twists.
D: If you say so...
E: Anyway, I hope the kart rider was a reference to Mario.
D: Now you’re trying to change the subject.

4. TurboShandy - Piss Lightning (My Canine Friend)
The verse is catchy and we like how tight the timing is. This may be a matter of taste, however, there is a disconnect between the instrumental hook (example: 00:10 - 00:24) and the rest of the song. The hook is syncopated and in a minor key, however it’s attached to a driving, upbeat riff in a major key. The only thing that ties the two together is silence.

D: Huh. You’re right. That has some interesting emotional connotations, actually. It kind of implies conflict and dissatisfaction. Now I want to re-read the lyrics. Am I thinking about this too much?
E: Maybe a bit.
D: I had a little trouble with the harsh “S’s” too.
E: The “S’s”?
D: Yes. The “sssss”.
E: I know what “S’s” are.
D: Then why are you asking?
E: Because you get riled so easily.
D: *sigh*
E: Your “S’s” are harsh in your sighs.
D: You don’t make sense.

It also feels there isn’t enough variety between the pre-chorus and the chorus. So when the pre-chorus is supposed to build to the chorus, there is little room to go. Same with the vocals. The harmony seems to have the same presence in all three: verse, pre-chorus, and chorus.

5. Andy Glover - “Hey, Winnebago Man”
This has a happy, slightly-swingy, easy-listening Paul Simon feel to it that we enjoy. The guitar and vocals have a great flow and carry us along, but there are little elements that need work. We love the piano in the breaks, for example, but its timing is quite static so it feels as though it's dragging as opposed to helping the song forward. The harmonies in the chorus could use some tuning but create some really special moments with the sparser (or non-existent) guitar. You've clearly got a lot of musical intuition and it shows right there. Mix-wise, the tambourine is a bit too loud and the main vocals could be kicked up a notch. We like that the lyrics aren't complicated - with all the fun musical stuff going on, the music takes precedence. We see what you're going for here and we like it.

6. Foobar - “Leeroy Jenkins”
We understand the piano ballad style you are trying to go for. Laid back, pensive, melancholy in some places, and the lyrics are great and have a lot of humour to them. The verse melody has a really nice tribute feel to it and bringing in a second vocal on the second line really supports that. Unfortunately, the clips from the original video were really abrasive.

D: I was really confused.
E: You had no idea what the meme was.
D: No... no I didn’t.

The song stands up well on its own and doesn’t need those clips in there to push the point. Sadly whenever they kicked in, it was hard to hear and focus on anything else and it killed the feel of the genre you were going for. And maybe you meant to do that. Maybe you wanted us to feel like those poor players, so serious with their spreadsheets and meticulous planning, being completely overwhelmed by Jenkins. And we did.

7. Jailhouse Payback - “Gem Sweater Lady”
E: The mix is really well balanced and we like the melody uniqueness of the first line. However, because it is a difficult melody, it is hard to sing and sounds forced at times.
D: I don’t agree with Errol on this one. I don’t think it sound forced. Though I do like the melody, it’s not something that would stay in my head because it’s not that accessible in terms of singing along.

The song is easy to listen to and we like the difference in the instrumental bridge, however there isn’t any contrast throughout the song until that bridge. The lyrics itself comes across as if it’s accusing the listener of encouraging Gem Sweater Lady. So in mocking her, you mock us for enjoying the meme.

D: I don’t know that meme, but I like the meta-anaylsis.
E: Neither do I. But I know Tron Guy.
D: Tron Guy?
E: Do you even know what Tron is?
D: A genre.
E: What?!
D: I thought it was a trick question. Mechanical guy. Cartoons.
E: Ok.... go with that.
D: What’s wrong with enjoying memes?

8. Ross Durand - “First World Blues”
This feels like a very natural song style for this meme. We like that the mix feels lo-fi and a little rough around the edge because it gives it an old-time quality that suits the blues and your voice really well. Moving through a whole day in the lyrics keeps it cohesive and focused. There aren't really any surprises here though so it feels like you played it safe. Furthermore, the First World Problem presented in this way loses its bite. To us, it’s a meme that staunchly criticizes the affluence and entitlement of Western Civilization but we think it somehow loses that in this song. That’s just how we look at it though.

D: It is a really solid song.
E: For sure.
D: …
E: Wait... I’m reading over these comments, and I know there was more to this. Have you been deleting things?
D: Umm....Look over there, it’s an errant ball of yarn!

9. Q - “Chuck Norris”
This song has a great groove and engaging instrumentals that are really solid. We like the spoken vs. sung contrast between the verse and the chorus but find the vocal delivery in the chorus hard on the ear, due in part to distortion, timing issues and the mix not feeling quite smooth there. Lyrically it's fun but not unique; this is the obvious path to take for the meme.

E: I found some of the lyrics were clever.
D: I like the first line about the harmony.

10. The Middle Relievers - “2 Eyes 1 Regret”
D: I was so, so hoping someone would choose this one and you guys have nailed it.
E: What?! You know a meme other than Double Rainbow?
D: I know memes!
E: It figures the only other meme you would know would be this one.
D: What do you mean by that? I only watched it once!

You're clearly a having a great time here and it shows in the playful timing and vocal treatment. We love how the guitar and piano fit together in terms of their structure and in the overall mix. Lyrically, you capture it exactly with lines like "Why does this exist" and "I don't know how to feel". Really, that's pretty much all you can say, right? The one thing we're not crazy about is the synth in the instrumental break, which feels heavier than anything else and lacks finesse. The vocals could be tighter as well, especially if they are doubled like that, but the falsetto is awesome. The more we listen, the more we laugh. As far as sheer entertainment goes, this wins.

11. Army Defense - “Miss Teen South Carolina”
This is quirkly and weird.

E: What’s ‘quirkly’? Is that like like quick and quirky?
D: I misspelled!
E: What about quick, quirky and dirty? ‘Dirkly’! That could be your new nickname!
D: I don’t think you should be allowed to type anymore.

There are so many slightly-bizarre elements merged together and it's really quite attention-grabbing. Having the first three lines in the verses sound syllabic and robotic (or at any rate, not natural) is really neat, it's like a musical reflection on her mind being stuck. We expected this to be pretty topographical but the parallels in the "Home is where the beach/heat" sections really do make you think, so big props there. The tangent at 1:45 is a really, really fun journey all on its own. We see what you did there, repeating the line so it would get stuck in our heads. Well, it worked.

12. Glen Raphael - “Ask A Ninja!”
This is clean, straightforward and a lot of fun. Your lyrical phrasing in bits like "...off" and "upon them" keeps things fresh and engaging and really make the song pop. It’s a really effective use of space so kudos. space there. Keeping it on the shorter side is good too, as nothing felt repetitive or overused. It's not as unique as some of the others but it's really solid and entertaining. It's begging you to play it live. And the ending is just plain awesome.

E: Oooh, if played live, you could get ninjas to act it out!
D: We could strangle Errol’s!
E: You’d like that.
D: What? No I wouldn’t. I was referencing the song’s ending!
E: No spoilers!

13. Dr. Lindyke - Famous Last Words
D: A ‘Whole New World’ riff!
E: Uh... I admit, I have no idea what meme this is.
D: It’s about ways to die!
E: That’s a meme?
D: Ohhhh....wait! It’s about  Randy Pausch!

Your voice is great and fits the song very well, however the chords feel a little plonky on the piano after the cool piano intro you had. We like the minimalistic approach better as the drums, when they kick in seem to flatten things down a lot and make the song blander and the string orchestration feels too heavy. It’s neat how the nod to 'A Whole New World' is settles in the chorus, but we don’t feel that it’s really needed, as “Famous last words” already serves as the hook. It feels like it’s there to create sentimentality and we’re afraid it might turn people off (and we actually parody Disney songs). Maybe it’s because we still don’t know what meme it’s supposed to be about?

D: Yes we do, it’s an inspirational lecture that he gives before he dies. These lyrics are things he said. And the ‘Whole New World’ connection comes in because he worked at Disney. Do your research!

14. Jenny Katz - “Boom Goes The Dynamite”
E: … Wow.
D: … Wow.
E: I think I want a new bandmate now.
D: When you can play like that, you can get a new bandmate.

We were waiting for something to break up the boys club. Here it is and WOW, does it ever deliver. You utilize the blank space in your lyrics gorgeously and you make it seem effortless! None of the rhymes seemed forced. You're giving us poetic glimpses of the story but nothing concrete. Tease! It's brilliant work and only makes the song and story more alluring. At first, we were a little confused about how this connected to the meme, so thank you for the clarification there. It’s not as quite a direct hit on the meme but your interpretation puts it in a more universal context which gives it a lot of staying power out in the real world.

15. Edric Haleen - “For Zoe”
This is absolutely breathtaking and as far as an emotional punch goes, it wins hands down. There are so many wonderful lyrical moments ("Your family was all the world you knew..." is a particular favourite) and you've truly mastered the "show, don't tell" adage. Zoe sounds beautiful (very reminiscent of Les Mis) and we're floored at how much emotion you've infused into the piano part. A simple arrangement like this can really expose a song and is a true test of its strength but this one simply blows us away. We have a feeling it will still resonate with many who have heard it long after this challenge is over.

E: And she’s eleven.
D: Eleven!
E: Good grief, my eldest is eleven and I’m just glad she’s toilet trained.

16. Brian Gray - “Descartes And I”
Mmm, smooth all around and the harmonies are complete joy. This is a smart, understated lyric that has some great moments (the nod to Robert Frost and the "chicken"/"egg" line made us laugh out loud). Structurally, the song felt a little long. We think it's because the (extremely cool) chord progression after the second chorus was a signal that it would be over soon and then it went on longer than expected. Shortening that third verse by a couple of lines to get to the chorus sooner might be an option there. We weren’t that wild about the drums in the last chorus. We understand their function but it just feels really late in the song to be introducing that element.

E: And this song was stuck in my head this morning.
D: That’s better than all the other things that get stuck in my head.
E: Like the Imperial March!
D: Well, that’s pretty cool.

17. Godz Poodlz - “Miss Carolina”
There is a cute element to this song and some really smart lyric bits like "miss information" / "misinformation". However we wish it would be cleaner and crisper. The instrumentation of the uke (we think it’s a uke) is strong but the drums don’t seem to fit well. It feels too prominent and pulls focus away from the vocals and the other instrumentation.

E: I was really hoping the Ay-yi-yi-yi was going to be more shrill.
D: Only you do annoying things like that.

18. Blimp Exhaust - “S.A.P. (Socially Awkward Penguin)”
Crunchy! You capture the wry S.A.P. sense of humour really well in the lyrics and vocal tone and we like the minimalist approach as far as the instruments go (i.e. not a billion guitars). Changing up the rhythm of the guitar for the chorus was good, but more musical contrast between the verses and the chorus will help keep the listener engaged. It doesn't have to be a crazy shift; it could be as simple as doubling the vocal in the chorus, adding a harmony, delivering the lines with a different rhythm or changing up the melody slightly. Great production too!

E: I like penguins. Not as much as Totoros though.

19. Steve Durand - One Red Paperclip
Hooray for showtunes! It's impossible not to smile while listening and it has such a fun, playful energy. The brass is top notch, but that goes without saying. You keep it loose in terms of rhyme and structure and blur the verse vs. chorus mentality a little bit which is great. Would love more expansion in the "measure"/"treasure" bit before jumping back into the last chorus since that's the crux of the song. However, that’s also because we want the song keep going.

D: It's so darn adorable.
E: I’m from Saskatchewan!
D: We can tell at times.

20. "BucketHat" Bobby - “Problems”
The lyrics here are cool. You’re biting at the irony of first world problems but in a really understated way. What you do to contrast the first and last verse is pretty clever and we really like that a lot. However, the blending of the instruments is a bit off. The accordion is coming in a bit too hot at times, and the vocals as well. We don’t normally like to pin things on the production, but it’s a bit more noticeable here.

E: I’m surprised you haven’t written a song about all your problems.
D: My “problems”? Thanks. I do write songs like that. You don’t listen.
E: That’s because they’re emo.

21. Atom & E.V. - “Welcome Wagon”
D: This is classic! :D
E: This makes me laugh just listening to it.

The second most entertaining behind the poo one as far as laughing goes. The resigned, straight-faced characterization you give the vocal totally makes it.  The censor beeps are funny but eventually become too prominent. It is also different frequency than the normal censor beeps. Having them turned down a bit would have helped. A tighter vocal delivery would do well in this song, sometimes the breathing interrupts.

22. The Orion Sound - “Hashtag (Damien's Story)”
E: Uh oh, I’m super biased towards these types of songs.
D: Like in a good way? This is totally, totally one of my favourite vocal performances.

Great voice, lots of energy and emotion and massive skills on falsetto! It would be cool if there were some harmony in there as well. The time shifts really keep our attention and although they’re quite dramatic, they’re never jarring. We really like the rhythm and feel of this song. The production quality is a bit lower on this one, instruments can be blended better but it makes up for it in heart. In terms of lyrical content, it gave us what we were hoping for from this meme -  a social commentary that twists back on you and worms its way in as opposed to a straighter take.

23. T.C. Elliott - One Red Paperclip
We dig the upbeat, bright sound, the instruments are sitting together nicely and your vocals have improved too! There are some really nice musical flourishes here like the drums at 0:25 and the bass at 1:09 (F G Bb F Eb) complementing the main guitar riff. We also really like the doubled vocals on selected lines in the pre-chorus. As far as song structure and chord progression go though, we found it predictable and so it doesn't stand out. The chorus needs to be different and distinct from the verses but it felt as though you settled into a familiar chord pattern too easily. We'd love to see you push the envelope more in terms of more unusual chords and melody. Nice job, TC!

E: You can’t say that at the end! We are impartial judges!
D: I want to say hello!

24. MC Ohm-I - “Down In Plankistan”
Debs: Typing something out here is taking me way longer than it should because it's impossible to sit still while this is playing. This song is the complete package with a ridiculously danceable groove, a flawless vocal delivery and a stellar lyric/story that draws you in and keeps you there. On top of that, I can't get that descending Arabic-sounding riff (D Db Bb A) out of my head. Floored.

E: ...
D: Errol?
E: Don’t bother me. I’m dancing.
D: Ya... don’t do that.

25. Brandon Lorrekovich - “Hankey Plankey”
The instrumentation is totally fun in this and it has an awesome group. And the vocals do a good job with delivery, however they are being buried by the music. You can also tell where the track stops and comes back in which detracts a bit, but that’s more a production thing. The lyrics really suit the style but some of the rhymes (“higher”/”tired”) seem a little forced.

E: You’re just biased because you used to date a funk band.
D: I didn’t date the whole band!
E: Oh? You seduce everybody!
D: That joke’s getting old.

26. Vincent Black Shadow - “Baby Panda Sneeze” (Judges Mix)
Vince seems to be saying, "Listen closely because I'm going to tell you a secret" with his minimalist approach at the beginning. It’s as if we are seated around him on the floor as he sings it. The verses are the strong point; they're catchy and have a definite "sneaking up on you through the bamboo forest" vibe. This song has so much potential but there is no build, and we desperately feel there should be. It started so quietly at the beginning and we thought that was to heighten the contrast when the build came. However, the choral and jungle sections at the end were a letdown. We enjoyed it immensely otherwise!

E: I do like pandas though.
D: Predictable.
E: What? Is it because I’m Asian? Is that what you’re saying?
D: * Sigh *

27. The Chocolate Chips - “Forever Alone”
D: I’m a sucker for emotion.
E: Yes, you’re emotional.
D: Shut up!
E: See? Totally emotional.

You've really conveyed a lot here with this relatively minimalistic approach. Musically, you've really complemented the lyrics; the instruments work together well but seem detached at the same time and it gives us the sense that there's a lot of open space and isolation. Really great work there. You're using discord and dissonance effectively and that, along with some poignant lyric lines, make this stand out. It bears repeating that the minimalist lyrics are done quite well, you've said all that needs to be said.

28. Wait What (The Band) - “We R Not Gay”
You’ve done a great job of making people pay attention to the lyrics. The instrumentation is simple and well in the background bringing your voices to the forefront. And the voices are interesting and charming because of the slightly robotic feel you have put to them. The men’s choir was great and you have a catchy riff.

E: There could have been a knitting thing in there.
D: You want to put knitting in everywhere!
E: That sounds wrong.
D: You’re incorrigible.
E: You’re emotional.
D: That’s it...
E: What? Where are you going?! HEY!

29. Kevin Savino-Riker - “The Ballad Of Andrew Meyer”
E: Uh. Debs left. So. This is song is cool. I really like the guitar! The guitar was pretty cool. And I like your voice. The note dissonance you are doing for “to know” is a bit too dissonant for me. That’s me though. Uh. Hmmm... what would Debs say. It’s cool that it’s like a musical version of Andrew Meyer taze incident. I like that. I like how the effects drop out when you cut your mic. Nice touch.

30. Josh Holober-Ward - Internet Cats
D: You suck at reviewing.
E: Oh, you back? Cool.
D: Don’t talk to me.

Another showtune! This has a great opening and the lyrics really pulled our focus, as they should. You do some playful things (like stretching out "looooong" on the second verse) that shows you have a good intuition and a good sense of this style and the "length"/"depth" line is just clever. The "meow" idea was cute felt a bit filler and lost its novelty the second time.

E: I like the “Meow”s!
D: I said don’t talk to me.

The verses are super strong but this song falls short for us because it needs an emotional payoff that never comes. You create a brilliant springboard off the "Nyun-nyun crap" line that should launch into a chorus that's bigger and more emotive. We want you to get indignant, get bold and stop playing the vocal so safe. We're only asking because from what we've heard, we know you can do it. Bringing in guest vocalists for the other cats and having them harmonize with you on the chorus would also help keep the song dynamic and interesting. There are so many exciting directions you can take this one in!

31. Dex01 - I Hate A Meme (Shadow)
E: I’m confused.
D: I don’t care.
E: No... I am legitimately confused.
D: You always are.
E: Why isn’t this song “I Hate Memes”
D: I don’t know, and I’m still mad at you.
E: You’re always mad at me.

The driving force of the song is fun, and...

E: And the beginning makes me think of “Hey Mickey, you’re so fine! You’re so fine you blow my mind. HEY MICKEY! HEY MICKEY!”
D: That’s because ‘A Whole New World’ has primed you.
E: … heh... good one.

Anyway, it is a fun driving force but there’s nothing crazy unique that makes it stand out for us. You’re obviously not holding back with emotion in the vocals and that’s awesome. The harmonies really lock in well especially right at the end there but there are a few timing issues and some strange vocal distortions on the lyrics. A great rage meme song though and we like how you’ve go meta and bring in other memes too!

E: We’re done.
D: I spent more than 12 hours on this.
E: That’s because you’re emotional.
D: You are the most unoriginal person I know.
E: I’m peckish. Let’s go for phở.
D: Like I’m going to hang out with you after all that abuse.
E: You know you want phở.
D: … ok.

1 comment: