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Saturday, March 2, 2013

Spintunes #6 Round 3 Review: Paul Potts

OK! We're into a POWER round here, and the judging is starting to get painful. It's nerve-wracking to have to rate entries that are all falling somewhere on the spectrum between "competent and reasonably good" to "fantastic." As the competition heats up the differences in quality between songs becomes thinner and thinner, and yet it is these fine divisions that will (collectively) be used to shave off contestants. So spare a thought for the judges who are now gritting their teeth wishing they didn't actually have to ruin a few people's days. I console myself with the fact that I'm not the only judge and so I don't single-handedly decide who gets eliminated. I'm grateful for that. Judging this round has been... interesting and educational. I remain grateful for the opportunity to be a judge. As a father of five kids ranging in age from under 2 to 18, with various crises and opportunities for sleep deprivation happening every day, I have not gotten to put in quite as much time to my judging as I had hoped. I don't think my rankings would have changed by putting in more rounds of listening and commenting, although I regret that I couldn't write more thorough reviews and, more specifically, more concrete (and perhaps less inflammatory) suggestions for improvement.

Anyway.

1. Ross Durand - Don't Send Them Away: wow, I feel like this nails the challenge so hard the nail goes right through and out the other side. It has a sixties protest song vibe, it sounds like something that could be sung at a rally, it's timely, and the idea of a veteran missing limbs singing plaintively on behalf of other soldiers is poignant as hell. Good use of simple percussion, the uncomplicated but very effective guitar chords propel the song right along, the lyrics are memorable and to the point, and it ends quickly and cleanly. A great effort!

2. The Middle Relievers - Love Builds Homes: while the recording is not great, it's the _whole mix_ that is not great (everything sounds thin, quiet, and clipped), as opposed to one track, so I feel like I have a good sense for what it would sound like as a fully professional recording. Performance, great. Lyrics, great. There's something nice going on here in the vocal for the choruses -- a phaser or flanger effect or something -- maybe singing through a guitar amp? The chord choices in the bridge are interesting. I like the instrumentation. The song builds up to a cool chorused guitar solo that doesn't go on too long, finishes up and then ends cleanly and decisively. An imaginative and effective arrangement. So I rate this one highly in spite of the relatively poor quality of the recording.

3. RC - An Equal Start: I really like the concept here. The idea that we all have the same chance at life is a common meme on the right that talks about "equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome" in the context of criticizing the welfare state. This song seems to be the rebuttal to that meme. There's some good movement and musical progression here as we get into the chorus and the percussion kicks in, with some tasty soloing bits. A very effective protest song.

4. MC Ohm - If You Don't Like Gay Marriage: wow, I like this right off the bat and it just gets better. The production is really strong, the rap lyrics excellent and the sung choruses really fun and clever. The Ohm keeps it fresh by changing up the later choruses, and you don't really expect to hear about "menopause" and "ejaculate" in a song, but it works and it's nerdy-funny. The cold ending is... hmmm, I feel like it is _almost_ perfect but needed to go out on a horn stab or something; I guess I'm saying I would have done it just a _little_ bit differently. That's a very minor quibble, though, in a very fun song.

5. Dr. Lindyke - The Square: a blues song about oppression in China! Two verses/choruses and it looks like we get a bridge, so not too long, and some instrumental transition bits. Are these real drums now? In any case they sound good. The "peace or freedom" dichotomy in the chorus lyrics makes this song a little meaty, philosophically, and Dr. Lindyke is good at going for the non-obvious, non-cliched lyric and workable semi-rhymes. But we go from "not just for freedom, but for peace," as if those things were both achievable, to "peace or freedom -- there's a choice." So is the narrator admitting that the fight is fundamentally lost? That's cool, but maybe a little too "heady" for a protest song, if that makes sense. There's some soul to the vocal performance, and the blue notes help with that, but I feel that the lyrics are just a touch too abstract throughout the whole song -- there's a lack of concrete imagery, especially for a fight that manifests as students dying of gunshot wounds on the pavement, or crushed by tanks. Finally, the fadeout is a little weak as an ending here.

6. Jenny Katz - Next Nice Town: there is a nice airy, open feel in the bass/drums guitar, good dynamics and this is very nicely recorded -- the best-recorded song in the round (again). I like a lot of the lyrics but I feel like there isn't a strong over-arching idea. The narrator is going from one place to another across America, and discovering they are all the same? That seems a little generic, as if it isn't protesting anything specifically enough. Nice use of the Hendrix-esque "Star Spangled Banner" guitar riff (especially given that he lit his guitar on fire, and the lyrics then talk about burning things down). It feels like this very professional playing isn't in the service of _quite_ a sufficiently compelling lyrical idea.

7. Edric Haleen - On The Matter Of Bullying: dramatic and emotional piano accompaniment. Beautiful and poignant vocal performance, nicely recorded with a touch of reverb. I like what Edric does with the vocal performance here, accelerating to breakneck speed and then slowing it back down to make it poignant again. But. I thought it was reaching it's peak, but then realized the song wasn't done. Not nearly done, in fact, since it's over five minutes long. Really, taking the bullying theme as a metaphor for all of human progress and eventual exploration of other planets? I think maybe that's just sort of inflating the idea until it is diluted. The speed of the verses keeps it interesting, but it feels like maybe the "arc" was too ambitious for the challenge -- again, less a song and more a manifesto. It reminds me of the first draft of an essay that needs to be edited down to narrow the scope, or a Doctor Who episode that brings in the Dalex AND the Cybermen AND the Sontarans and so fails to focusing on single compelling story.

8. Kevin Savino-Riker - Dinosaur Sam: "her glass ceiling is his glass floor" is a _fantastic_ lyric. A funk song! This is a bit crazy and the frenetic feel is nice. It sounds like some heavy-duty work went into these instrumental parts. I don't think I could play that guitar riff! At least not without a lot of work. However, it rambles and sprawls, both musically and lyrically, and the focus gets slightly lost; I am not sure the jazz/funk structure works really well as a protest song. It seems odd to say that it takes too long to get to the point, since it's only a typical pop song length of 3:30 or so, but yet it does in fact feel to me that it takes too long to get to the point, both musically and lyrically. I think several songs in this round suffer from being a little manifesto-ish. I was happy to hear a real, clean ending!

9. TurboShandy - Guns: I personally appreciate the sentiment. The song is decently recorded, but there are some weaknesses with this song. The lyrics are a little too flat, more like a lecture than something poetic that is easy to remember; lines like "they react to the mechanics of the mouse well" just aren't compelling lyric-writing). The guitar, bass, and drums together sound maybe a little too fat and overwhelming. The half-step tonal shifts tend to make the song sound like it is going flat. The fade-out ending seems like a bit of a letdown.

10. Jerry Skids - The Separation Of State And Nothing: I try not to get hung up on production values since not everyone has access to the same sort of recording set-up. But in this case the constant, extreme popping of the plosives on the lead vocal is a little distracting. I like the gritty and fast melody that pushes the lengthy out at a good pace, but the lyrics seem to spin out of control just a little and pack too many concepts into the verses (see "manifesto.") The choruses are better. There are lots of nice bits in here and the song has a good "arc" and gets through its business and ends cleanly.

11. Brian Gray - Walk (Live From Woodbury): a song in support of zombie rights! OK, this is quite hilarious. I like the idea of this being on a stadium stage complete with a sparkling guitar solo. I read Brian's song bio and it sort of confirms for me that he's very interested in the technical aspects (like the 9/8 meter), but the storytelling aspect of the song itself isn't fully realized. Emotionally, it's like it's referencing the _idea_ of an impassioned performance rather than being an actual recording of an impassioned performance -- it's at a sort of a degree of removal, if that makes sense. The song is designed to have an emotional appeal but somehow leaves me feeling a little cold. The march for hunger idea isn't really clear from the song (at least, it wasn't for me).

12. Steve Durand - Just War: nice play on words (and concepts) here. I know a little bit about this subject, and so the mention of St. Augustine doesn't throw me, but -- this is supposed to be a song, not a lecture. I'm not sure what all is being evoked with the musical styling. Sort of a disco protest song? With... a saxophone solo? And a spoken word voiceover bit too? The whole disco tone usually evokes a cold detached erotic but unemotional sensuality and style over substance -- that is, emotional detachment, which (it seems to me) is exactly the opposite of the musical style you want for a protest song. So the music seems to work against the idea. Then, the cold ending does not feel like it is part of a proper coda.

SHADOWS

"Buckethat" Bobby - Knock Off: loose timing between tracks make it feel awkward and a little distracting. Feels like the recording was very rushed. I appreciate the sentiment in the song and "chances are - neither of you are right" is a great line, but lyrics like "and both sides of every argument have smaller sides to be referenced" are just not really successful.

The Boffo Yux Dudes - Eat The Whales: instrumental intro goes on too long. Chorus is funny in a very dry-humor way but the whole effect is sort of emotionally flat.

The Boffy Yux Dudes - The Ballad of the Last of the Hackers: I'm an aging software engineer. This is my life. What kind of people would rhyme "relevant" and "development?" This kind! It is really fun to hear the BYD in what sounds more like a live recording -- much more energetic than the Casio-sounding tracks. Lyrics feel like they were rushed, and the recording ends a bit weakly.

Dr. Lindyke - Memory Of A Future Past: more serious than I was expecting in a shadow! It touches on the horror of growing up in the day of "The Day After." I found myself wondering if this should have been the real entry and not the shadow, but the nuclear war threat just feels a little less relevant these days, even if the threat isn't actually gone, so I think it was the right choice to make this one a shadow. The recording has an early folk feel, with a vibrato-heavy vocal style like Buffy Ste. Marie's "Universal Soldier."

Dr. Lindyke - It's a Joke, Not a Dick (Don't Take It So Hard): Ummm. Dr. Lindyke is responding to comments by me and by Travis (and perhaps others?) expressing our distaste with the rape joke-y lyrics in their last round's song. Dave and I are not exactly in the same place, politically, so I am not shocked to be accused of excess political correctness. It's cetainly a fair cop to accuse my of prudishness, and feels ironically appropriate since when I was younger, I constantly accused my own peers of prudishness, especially the young ladies, who failed to live up to the sexual revolution I was raised to expect, and consistently refused to dress and act like the women in beer commercials. Prudishness is a sort of occupational hazard of parenting; I find myself having to lecture my progeny on why they shouldn't do the things I did -- in part because I know how those things eventually worked out for me. So Dave's not wrong, but I do feel that he is going above and beyond the call of _his_ duty to start defending other contestants against my comments, and calling me out on subtle inconsistencies in my application of what he reasons my principles actually _are_. (For one thing, like Whitman, I reserve the right to inconsistency, annoying as that may be). But... I've known Dave long enough to realize that he spools this stuff out at least as rapidly as I do, if more thoughtfully. My comments were a straightforward reporting of my thought process in reviewing the songs, and heavily qualified with phrases like "can be considered," "just a little," "I choose to imagine," "it seems to me," and "I'm not sure if everyone would see it this way." By comparison, Dave in his rebuttal has gone full-on Jesuit in attempting to take down an argument that was not ever intended to be an argument per se, as I was writing neither a philosophical treatise or a campaign speech. This is not the best forum for conducting this sort of argument, if indeed it is even an argument; as state school graduate, Dave would no doubt agree that this sort of discussion goes down better in person, with a beer, and not a Budweiser (Swedish bikini team or no). And so on the "rape joke" issue, which I think actually deserves a deeper debate than we can really give here, and various other issues and exceptions Dave has taken with my comments, it would probably be best if I just cut my losses and recused myself from further comment at this time. I'll just be over here. With my headphones on. Rocking a bit. Giggling, perhaps. And speaking of scoring, I would like to mention here, publicly, for the first time, that my wife Grace and I are expecting our sixth child this fall. SCORE!!!

2 comments:

  1. THE SQUARE:
    You're right about a lot here. It is going for the non-obvious... this isn't REALLY about Tiananmen, it's about political complacency. And yes, the narrator IS saying that the fight -- at least THAT battle -- is lost. The "Spring" is meant to evoke the "Arab Spring" and "hope springs eternal", and is figurative rather than literal. Because this is describes the modern-day remembrances of those protestors of 23 years ago, we felt that the melancholy feel was called for rather than trying to musically depict the events as they happened at the time. I suspected the fade-out might be weak, but went with it anyway for artistic purposes... the song fades quietly away as has the memory of the event.

    MEMORY OF A FUTURE PAST:
    Honestly, Paul, I like this one better. It's a "serious" shadow because we simply did two songs and had to choose. The threat isn't as "in your face", but to us that's what makes it even more scary. In place of enemies we know who fear us as we feared them, we have invisible fanatics.

    IT'S A JOKE...
    Paul, don't overthink it. The title is part of the song. My blog post is merely justification that this legitimately meets the challenge. The reason for that is simple... We honestly didn't know until late in the week that we'd have ANY "official" entry, as the lyrics were slow in coming. The other two songs were done on Fri/Sat. So I wrote this tongue-in-cheek (with a bit of exaggeration for the sake of the joke) early in the week, and if we didn't have something... ANYTHING... to submit, this would have been "it". I put it in anyway, in hopes that you'd hear the humor in it rather than take offense. Breathe, smile, and revel in bringing a new Potts into the world! Congrats!

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  2. Dave Leigh - As one of the people who sang/cheered on your Cock Fight song, if I'd known you were going to make a joke that evokes a well known rape apologist phrase I wouldn't have contributed.

    Whatever the intent of the song I feel it was insensitive to use that phrase, especially in a song set in a college. Statistically 1 in 4 women are raped while attending college.

    It brought to mind those frat boys at Yale who went around campus chanting "No Means Yes."

    http://msmagazine.com/blog/2011/05/18/yale-bans-no-means-yes-fraternity-for-five-years/

    -Heather Gray

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