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Saturday, July 19, 2014

SpinTunes #9 Round 1 Reviews: Dr. Lindyke

Before we get going, read this if you haven't already
[My Judging Criteria for SpinTunes 9]
(There's an addendum) 

And now here's the part where I get to make people feel put-off by sticking to those criteria (or judiciously bending them). Namely:
  1. Did you give us what we asked for? (hit the intent of the challenge) 
  2. Composition over production (but for heaven's sake, please try) 
  3. Production still counts, 
  4. Genre doesn't matter, and 
  5. Song bios help.
The "judiciously bending them" comes in with number 4. In the case of an anthem, genre actually counts to an extent. But let me illustrate that by putting it into context. We're asking for an anthem. A national anthem. Where the country is doesn't matter. The nationality doesn't matter. The genre, in that sense, doesn't matter. But an anthem is pretty much defined as a song praising your country. If were to look it up in a dictionary, I'd get something like this:
An*them (noun) - a solemn patriotic song officially adopted by a country as an expression of national identity.
Definitions differ somewhat, but all would use some variation of patriotic or expression of loyalty. Now, I don't expect it to be especially solemn, but it really should be something that you could imagine as being officially adopted by the people of this imaginary world. And no, we didn't link you to a specific definition of "anthem" or "country", because we do want you to be creative within the spirit of the challenge. But you've got to hit that spirit. So some folks may be as upset with me as I am with myself at the rankings I'm giving some very good songs that just don't happen to be very good anthems. Basically, when I listen to the entries, I asked myself, "would the patriotic inhabitants of this fictional land actually officially adopt this as their national anthem, to be played and sung in public?" And on top of that is a boatload of unavoidable subjectivity.

We gave it a 2 minute minimum limit. Most national anthems are far longer than that, even though only the first one or two verses are commonly sung. Nobody gets disqualified for time, thankfully. I'm also disinclined to disqualify anyone for failing to provide an anthem since we didn't strictly define it. Definitions are so clear, though, that I have no guilt over using compliance in my rankings.

One other thing... if you're new at this, I wouldn't stress over the rankings too much. Different people will rank the same songs differently. The important thing is to survive the round and press on.


Brian Gray - St. Agnes
This is just stellar. STELLAR. I'm hard-pressed to tell you which one was better, this or Heather's. Brian, if it were up to me I'd crown you and Heather king and queen of the round. However, I give the edge to you just because this is just so... uplifting. And yes, I know that these rhymes and notes were meticulously placed for the purpose of manipulating my emotions, but it works, and that earns you something. The fact that the "nation" of St. Agnes is unrecognized makes it imaginary on a whole other level within the fictional tale; and makes this an anthem of hope, love, defiance and inspiration for a people who struggle for legitimacy. You've obviously just returned from Scotland. This is an ANTHEM, bigger than its subject matter and quite possibly bigger than your intent. I can imagine the home-made banner flying proudly overhead. I can hear the cloth fluttering in the breeze. Bravo (or brava, for the ladies of St. Agnes)

Heather Zink - Bless Our Land Hyrule
Like Brian's, this is just stellar. Only one instrument, and that's Heather's voice. Take notes, the rest of you. And Heather wrote a killer song bio. And this is her first song! This, btw, is the importance of a song bio: the only criticism I could have had about this Legend of Zelda-themed anthem is the lack of an ocarina. The bio just nips that in the bud, and shows us that every piece of this was carefully crafted. Touche', Heather. I blame you for this excellent entry.

Jerry Skids - The Island Is My Home
This is, without being all solemn and stately, exactly what an anthem IS... a song of praise about your homeland. And I can imagine a group of people singing it, especially a relatively small group as are on the Island. There's a little homage (in structure) to God Bless America, which one could expect from castaways, and a more modern feel that would be expected from contemporary composers. Even the show-specific stuff is of historical significance to the community, no less than the "rockets' red glare".  A few of the competitors were shooting for a contemporary anthem, and I think Jerry Skids hit it.

Sid Brown - The Shire
I don't have a lot to say about this because, while it's not your typical anthem, I can't think of anything else that would be appropriate for the Shire. This is exactly the sort of thing the Hobbits would come up with. And that, I think, is key to my placing it here... I'm not looking for something that sounds like the anthem of my country. I'm looking for something that sounds like an anthem they'd choose for theirs.

Kolton H. - Oceania Prevails
If I were to do a new film adaptation of 1984, I would want this song to be in it. And actually, the mini-intro on Bandcamp is doubleplusgood, so check that out. I had a bit of a conundrum here listening to it. I didn't like it. Then I changed my mind in a big way. It's not very "anthem-like" from a modern perspective. Nor is it likely to be the thing imagined by George Orwell. However, "1984" is not a year in the past, but one that's forever in the barely-attainable future. So in this world in which all vestiges of the past are routinely swept away, I have to allow for a futuristic anthem of mind-numbing drubbing that does the same. Something that can not only be marched to, but is good for little else. And here we have it.In this world there are no nightclubs, there are no sporting events. Just the pounding of boots. "Fighting the Eurasian menace" gives way seamlessly to "Fighting the East Asian Menace" in mid-song. And the next time it's sung it'll be the other way 'round. That IS Ingsoc. We have two anthems for Oceania in this contest, and I'm giving this one the edge for escaping the box, then building a new box. One of cold brick, with no windows and only one room: Room 101.
This, btw, also illustrates the advantage of picking a well-known topic for your anthem. With original material there's more room for creativity, but it's an uphill climb. With familiar material you have far less to explain, and can thus get more mileage from your metaphors; more onomato- for your -poeia.  
MC Ohm-I - Plankistan National Anthem
Plankistan, revisited! We already know about this bit of real estate from MC Ohm-I's previous meme-themed entry, Down in Plankistan. A land of weird-ass Middle-Eastern planking rappers would have an anthem like this, I think. My biggest beef with it is just that the diction's a bit muddy, and the lyrics deserve to be heard.

Steve Durand - Oceania, 'Tis For Thee
Steve knows music. This stately march praises the dystopian Oceania from Orwell's 1984, and is a solid tackling of the challenge. It doesn't break any new ground, but it doesn't have to when it covers existing ground so well. The sound is very clean and much more conservatively traditional than Kolton H.'s take on the same subject, so while I like them both, I'm giving Kolton some bonus points for creativity.

Mr. Gee - Mordor, O, Mordor (Orc National Anthem)
I can actually imagine orcs singing this. I can't necessarily imagine them composing it, but singing it? Yeah, sure. It's a little odd in inserting an acrostic in the lyrics, but I can roll with that. This sounds very raw, but it should.

Zoe Gray - Country Of The Sun
OK, this is an unexpected reading of the challenge that I can't ignore. It is a thoroughly credible take on the idea of a "lonely anthem". We said "an imaginary country" and Zoe took it to mean exactly that... a country of her own imagination, in a way that's far more "meta" than just making up a country and giving it a name. This is a land not imagined to be real, but imagined to be imaginary. Ooooh. That said, there are some pretty hefty production issues that have to be addressed if you want to get through another round, Zoe. Use a metronome... just a click track that you can listen to through some headphones while you play. And there are some issues with phrasing and meter that leave you stumbling or stretching. But those are actually kind of minor and fixable. Your rhyming is solid. I would have liked it to be less on the melancholy side, but what can we expect in a country of one?

Governing Dynamics - Roland Lives! (Battle Hymn Of The Crimson Nation)
The most un-anthem-like anthem here, and possibly on of the most un-GD-like songs I've ever heard from GD. Again we see the value of a song bio, because as nice as I am, if you really assume that I'm going to read the whole frikking plot to that game, you're on drugs. It's a bit too much backstory to help a casual listener of the song, but fortunately the anthem contains enough universal themes to balance it out...defiance and independence in equal measure. I really dig the guitar work here. This is the best of the "electric" entries save Oceania Prevails.

Caravan Ray - The Lonelystani National Anthem
Hey, Ray...? Who's there to sing backup in Lonelystan? BTW, great country name... Lonely Stan. :)  Now, you might have gambled that in a nation of one the national anthem is whatever the hell you want it to be, and I suppose it is. While this is a well-done rock piece, it feels an awful lot like you're trying to game the challenge more than meet it. So while I position you to get through the round, I'm not scoring it over some of the more solid entries.

The Boffo Yux Dudes - Latveria, We Bow Before Our Doom
OK, it's undeniably an anthem. But would Victor von Doom actually allow Reed Richards to feature so prominently in his own national anthem, or would he go for something a bit more traditionally self-aggrandizing? I'm going with B. You went for the laughs, though, and that's cool. I'm positioning you to go through.
And that's the downside of picking a well-known topic... people second-guess your interpretation..
TurboShandy - Oitopia
TurboShandy sort of worked the challenge backwards. Rather than trying to fit a song to a country, they imagined a country that would fit the sort of song they'd write anyway. I think that's a bit of a cop out. While the result is an anthem of sorts, I'm not really feeling it, so I'm putting it in the middle of the pack. Sorry, guys.

Benjamin J Spencer - Alcoholia
That's a lot of clinking glasses. I'm still not sure on what side of Oitopia I should place this. In the end, I think Oitopia was executed a bit better, so I went with subjective feel.

James Young - Elbonia! Elbonia!
Elbonia. Dilbert. Waist-high mud. Metal anthem. I get it, I do. I just don't feel it. I wish I could be more specific than that. The vibrato vocals are smile-inducing, though.

Megalodon - Digitalistan
I actually laughed when I heard the line, "with no loss of resolution", since it's pretty plain that the vocals are clipped pretty badly. I know that's on purpose for that "digital" feel, but that line's unintentionally hilarious. A vocoder effect would have been more convincing here, I think. I'm struggling in a Kevin Flynn kind of way to make sense of the "country" of Digitalistan, but I suppose my imagination can stretch that far.

Felix Frost - Croton Alley
OK, this is one you're going to hate me for, and that sucks because I like you. I barely know where to start. I know this is your "thing"... so you can chalk this up to a matter of taste, but at least I'm going to try to explain WHY I'm putting it where it is. I first heard this and thought "Challenge? What challenge?" It's just like every song you've ever submitted. Not the slightest attempt to step outside your comfort zone. MC Ohm-I put down the rap for this challenge... you could have stretched a little Secondly, I opened this up in a DAW, fully expecting the waveform to be a nearly solid mass of clipped blue, and damned if it wasn't. Listen to the bands that influence your style, and you may notice that the one element they have that you're lacking is dynamics. There's no subtlety in this; every instrument is full on LOUD, all the time, every note, bang, bang, bang. Add to that a melody that seems designed to deliberately throw the audience like an urban cowboy on a mechanical bull. An anthem is by its nature an emotional, inspiring tune, and I can't buy this as an anthem, even sung by aliens. I'm sorry.

Pigfarmer Jr - Zamunda National Anthem
OK, Zamunda is the fictional country that Eddie Murphy hails from in "Coming to America". I do appreciate your attempt to make it sound genuinely "anthem-like", though it drags terribly. I'm presuming this is in an attempt to get it to fit the 2 minute limit; but as it was about 20 seconds over, you could have picked it up a little bit. Or done another verse without lengthening it. The problem is, you wrote it in first person POV of a single individual. While that's good to describe the movie, we're looking for an anthem for a whole country.

Army Defense - Kron
It's a song about Kron, and very well performed on some kind of fiery guitar. But it doesn't really shout some kind of "anthem", does it? The are some kind of  lyrics, but they're sparse and disjointed. I have some kind of suspicion that the other judges may have some kind of disagreement with me on this one.

The Roy Hammer Trio - Costaguana
Again, a song about Costaguana, but not even close to an anthem. "...nevermind, Costaguana just wasn't for me"? In an anthem? BTW, I'm completely puzzled by the drums on this. It's like the drummer's on a completely different planet: Planet Caffeine.

S(tephen) & M(ike) - Westeros, Valar Morghulis!
Nice try.


Adam Sakellarides - The Terran Empire Anthem (Shadow)
In the mirror universe, this is a great song. It also has a goatee. Those are jokes, because this is a shadow, and I can do that. Were it an entry, I'd get my Vulcan on and say that it's a bit too descriptive in a way that wouldn't make its way into a totalitarian anthem. We know that killing's a way of life, etc., etc. What I'd be looking for is a song where you put yourself in a Terran's head and make that killing noble. BTW, all women bear midriffs... women of the Terran Empire bare theirs.

Plenitude - Santa Prisca National Anthem (Shadow)
The rest of you guys are so lucky that this wasn't an official entry. Santa Prisca is, of course, the home country of the Batman's nemesis, Bane. Not the Tom Hardy Mr. Magoo version, but the real deal from the comics. In that weird-ass world, this is a song of praise indeed, and the professional sound puts it right over the top. Great job! Next time don't shadow, compete.

Dr. Lindyke - O Hail To Thee, Fidonia! (Shadow)
And now I find that I've used the term "weird-ass" more than once in these reviews. That's a segue for a judge's shadow if ever I heard one. After you folks in the Facebook group asked about the definition of a "country", the judges discussed it. My take on it was this: "if a bunch of fleas decide to form a government, then the dog they live on is a country." This is their song. It's ridiculous, yes. But it's a patriotic anthem, sung by fleas, about their home, and there's a limit to the amount of work I'll put into a shadow just to make a point. I'm afraid I wouldn't have given you much competition.

1 comment:

  1. Hey, thanks for the time and effort you put into these reviews, Dave.

    I'd actually put about 40 or 50 hours into Borderlands in the month or so before Spintunes so it was on my mind, and I felt like doing something a little more in the punk area. I'm glad the universal themes came through. Fan songs aren't usually my thing but everything sort of aligned.

    We'll see how un-GD-like I can manage to be next round. :)