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Saturday, July 19, 2014

SpinTunes #9 Round 1 Reviews: John DiBello

Hello Tunesters! SpinTunesters? Spinners? (No, not Spinners.) I’m John DiBello, and as soon as I get this Monty Python-style British white legal wig settled on my head, I’ll be one of your ever-lovin’ blue-eyed* judges for the spectacle of sound that is SpinTunes #9. (*Disclaimer: eyes may not actually be blue.) So who am I, you’re probably asking, even though your question should be “Who are YOU?”
Together with my plush pal Bully the Little Stuffed Bull I curate the nation’s Third Most Popular Comic Book Blog Written by a Stuffed Animal™, Comics Oughta Be Fun!, plus I write for the also-it’s-about-comics newssite Dimension 13, the website that’s impossible by the standards of physics.
I learned about records, those big black things the size of a pizza that were created primarily to be natural dust  attractors, when I was just a wee tot. My favorite LPs to blast over and over again on my Close 'n Play were recordings of the Winnie the Pooh stories narrated by Maurice Evans, an album of Arthur Siegel and Kaye Ballard reading Charlie Brown vs. Lucy comic strips, and a 45 of the Utica Club brewery theme song. Then my mom made me watch “Yellow Submarine,” and I was hooked on music for life. Except for Kenny Rogers. Well, okay, “The Gambler” excepted.
In my judging I’m obviously going to be giving points for lyrics, tune, and keeping to the theme, which is going to of course be a subjective call. I’m not going to be too draconianly strict on that, at least not any stricter than I hope you are about me splitting an infinitive toward the end of that last sentence. Humor, cleverness, and audacious rhyme count too. (ARE there any lyrics greater than Murray Head’s in “One Night in Bangkok” where he rhymes: “This grips me more than woulda / Muddy old river or reclining Buddha”?) I’m less likely to grade on technical aspects but go ahead, impress me with a backwards masking chant of “vote for our song, John…it will bring you candy.” Any sort of surprises (musically or lyrically) that surprise me, make me giggle or guffaw, ooh or ahh, or indeed snort milk of any flavor out of my nose, are definitely a plus.
But be yourself, rock away, and most of all, have fun! I’m lookin’ forward to all your tunes. Go ahead; sock it to me.
Wow! There’s a whole lotta great tuneage here in round 1, and I’ll be hummin’ along with them for days. In fact, y’all inspired me to write my OWN anthem, which, although I know I can’t enter it, I thought I’d share with you lucky people. And because I can’t write music any more than a tortoise can climb a tree, it’s already set, like a MAD magazine musical parody, to the tune of “Princess Leia’s Theme” from Star Wars.
Oh Alderaan, our sweet Alderaan
A finer world you won’t chance upon
We are peaceful, we have no weapon
And surely we’ll never see our armageddon
(So there’s no reason at all to us threaten)
We’ve got rolling hills and grasslands and fine televised media
At least as far as we can tell from checking Wookieepedia

Oh Alderaan, our fine Alderaan
We’ll never have a sad denouement
We've got more seas than on Tatooine
And the Rebel Base is not here, it’s on Dantooine
(At least we think that, the last that we've seen)

Even Gungans could emigrate here but we don’t quite encourage it
(In truth, if we have to be clear, we actively discourage it)
(Disparage it)
Oh Alderaan, our dear Alderaan
We really don’t mean to prattle on
The galaxy’s filled with admiration
But what’s is that above our population?
It’s not a moon, more like a space station

And what is that beam that is aglow up
I think it’s going to
Okay, enough of that. LET’S PLAY COUNTDOWN! I mean, SPINTUNES!
1. Brian Gray “St. Agnes”
If “St. Agnes” has a literary or fictional inspiration, I didn’t catch it (I’m picturing something of a cross between Edward Gorey and an all-girl Oliver Twist), but while it anthemizes away, it paints such a vivid picture I don’t even need it to be based on something else. This is pretty much exactly the sort of song I was hoping for when we set challenge #1 for a national anthem: a melodic, rhythmic, absolutely singable tune (don’t try to hit those same high notes, though!). I love how it grows in strength and voice as the song progresses, the initial lonely drumbeat gaining a “full orchestra” backing to the plaintive chorus of young girls’ voices and their poignant lyrics for a newly founded, painted flag nation asserting their independence but still asking fro someone to recognize that. Better and more musical minds than mine will probably examine the gentle melody from a technical point of view, but “St. Agnes” can bring me to my feet and put a tear in my eye, too.
2. Benjamin J Spencer “Alcoholia”
Ah, we’ve all been there. Remember those old allegorical maps of Christian righteousness that showed you the proper path to Heaven, along the road of Good Deeds and just past Sacrifice? I was always much more interested in the route in the other direction — Lecheryburg, Gambling Town, and Whiskey Lake always sounded like much more interesting places to visit, if not set up a permanent afterlife. Benjamin J Spencer’s created a great anthem to this township of tipsiness in the form of a rollicking (what else?) drinking song, and I love the way it, like a night out on a pub crawl, deteriorates into chaos at the end. Like any good anthem it’s sung best while loud  and proud. You may swear the next morning you’ll never sing this anthem again, but it’s too darn catchy.

3. Sid Brown “The Shire”
There’s probably been about eleventy-one bad folk (or filk) songs about Middle Earth, and especially the Hobbit-infested Shire, enough to make Gandalf puff furiously on his pipeweed and glumly wish for the appearance of a Balrog. Don’t worry, this isn’t one of ‘em. Creating an anthem for the Shire seems uphill work against the history of Howard Shore’s lush score for the Lord of the Rings movies, but this is a Hobbitses-at-home tune of home celebration, a drinking song as cheery as a bottomless mug of beer.  It’s got a lovely fiddle and guitar backdrop against its flavor of a cheerful, homey Irish jig (I’d honestly love to hear this covered by the Pogues). The tempo is little bit quicker than you’d expect a national anthem, but hey, there’s drinkin’ to be done here. As snug and as homey as Sam Gamgee’s non-existent boots.
4. The Boffo Yux Dudes “Latveria, We Bow Before Our Doom”
As I said in my intro, “me loves the comic books.” (I think I said it more grammatically then, though.) This anthem to the miniscule world power that is the Balkan state of Latveria, ruled over by the iron fist of supervillain Victor von Doom and created in the pages of Fantastic Four comics by Stan Lee and Jack “The King” Kirby, hits me square in the middle of my Ruritanian-lovin’ heart.  Any Latverian anthem has got to be as much a salute to the tiny country as it is a HEEL, DOGS submission under Doctor Doom, the tin-plated dictator who actually IS plated in tin. Extra points for sounding like a REAL national anthem (with added death rays) and for beating me to my usual Dr. Doom punchline of “RICHARDS MUST DIE!” it succeeds in being pitch-perfect to its source material as well as infectiously hummable — not only a good anthem, it’s genuinely funny. (Disclosure Note Thingee: I do actually know the Boffo Yux Dudes in real life, and they know me. My enjoyment of “Latveria” is based purely on the song and not any personal connections. I’m pretty sure they’ll turn in some stinkers or two in upcoming rounds, and I won’t be afraid to say so, and yet they’ll still invite me over for Sunday meatloaf. Right, guys? … Guys?)

5. TurboShandy “Oitopia”
Cool! sez I, looking at the title of this track. Wonder if this is a punk/ska tune. YES IT IS AND DAMN YOU for playing to my ska-lovin’ weakness! A fine rockin’ tune that makes me wanna do the Madness walk (please excuse me while I round up several of my friends to help). Nice fuzzy grunge and a solid hard drumming beat to it drive an infectious rhythm, and bonus marks for the antiestablishment lyrics! I not only salute the checkered black-and-white flag of Oitopia, I wanna spend my next vacation there.

6. Mr. Gee “Mordor, O, Mordor (Orc National Anthem)”
Wins points with me for its darkly authentic slow-march drum beat but also the rasping vocals of an all-orc chorus. This would strike patriotism into the dark, dark hearts of any Black Rider and would bring a tear to the giant flaming eye of Sauron. Also, the lyrics show a fantastic familiarity with the minutia of Tolkien’s tar-filled fantasy dystopia. (Now go outside and play for a while!) It’s a really strong anthem that proves the maxim that one does not simply walk into SpinTunes, one marches under the ceaseless whip of a brutal sadistic chief orc, you know, Grungor, that guy who has the necklace made of pointy, pointy elf ears. Now excuse me, I gotta get this rock-heavy ring off from around my neck before I sing along with the fourth verse.
7. Heather Zink “Bless Our Land Hyrule”
Okay, I’ll admit it: I’m so woefully video game unsavvy that I had to Google this one to get the reference. But it LINKS (y’all see what I did there?) a mythical land with lovely overlapping a cappella female vocals that soar above the SURFACE (get it? Get it?) of its source material. Bonus marks for yes, sounding like a true national anthem, although I challenge anyone male over the age of fifteen to hot those notes. Practically wonderful in every way; all that’s missing is an OCARINA (I’m kind of overdoing this, aren’t I? yes.)
8. James Young “Elbonia! Elbonia!”
Remember that Dilbert animated show from the turn of the century? With Daniel Stern and Chris Elliot? Heck, for that matter, anybody remember TV network UPN? Well, if you did and if that show had featured an elaborate musical number about its fourth world country of Elbonia, this would be it. It’s got an exceptionally apt grim rhythm and turnabout lyrics that actually have a punchline (i.e., Elbonia’s not fond of its neighbors). It captures with humor and tone the perfect pitch of a post-Communist semi-Soviet state, plus, you can dance to it. If you could dance in waist-deep mud.
9. Governing Dynamics “Roland Lives! (Battle Hymn of the Crimson Nation)”
Color me educated: from the title alone I’d thought this was a geeky reference to Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, or an even geekier reference to Robert Browning’s perennial entry in the Norton Anthology of English Literature, "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came."  Turns out to my video-game-ignorant surprise that it’s a geekiest reference to the Borderlands first-person shooter series, which only goes to prove how rich the variety of fictional nations is (even though no one ever writes one about the land of Swift’s Houyhnhnms, probably because no one wants to be bothered to check the spelling). I like the idea, unique among the entries, of this being a battle hymn — a perfectly acceptable subset of national anthems. It’s suitably rhythmic and driving with just that perfect touch of bloodthirstiness, although I’m wondering how well they can carry all those guitars into battle.
10. MC Ohm-I “Plankistan National Anthem”
Ah, fair Plankistan! The only country where you’re expected to be horizontal. MC Ohm-I tune has a great urban beat that would be fun to dance to if it weren’t more important to the natives to be lying down. The melody is catchy and the concept funny — I love the idea of basing a nation on a silly but harmless fad. (Anyone up for a trip to Slapbraceletania?) It’s probably the song in Round ! that I most would love to see an elaborately choreographed video for, and it does what the platonic idea of an anthem should do: celebrate the uniqueness of its country. At least until that tragic border war against Moonwalkia.

11.  Jerry Skids "The Island Is My Home"
Listening to this, I could picture a sumptuously filmed commercial for airline tourism to this idyllic island, and I’d be on Princeline.com post-haste, wrestling Bill Shatner for a cheap flight on a fine, safe airline to this paradise on the sea. Unlike its inspiration, it doesn’t cheapen out at the end, and I can easily see this tune as a theme not for saluting but for kickin’ back in the sand, and getting so relaxed you might feel you’ve died and gone to paradise. AIEEE WHAT’S THAT POLAR BEAR DOIN’ HERE?!?

12. Kolton H. “Oceania Prevails”
"If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever." wrote George Orwell. This song doesn’t last forever, but at over four minutes, it’s the longest in this round of SpinTunes. And it begins with the sound of boots stamping (or is that marching?) It’s the first of two anthems for Orwell’s Oceania, and tick off all the boxes for referring the novel. Airstrip One? Check. Ingsoc? Check. Big Brother? Doubleplusgoodcheck. An extremely competent and catchy song that has a dark (minor key?) undertone to its steady industrial beat. It wouldn’t have been out of place on the soundtrack of the John Hurt movie version. It’s a political song you can dance to. Here’s another quote: “A revolution without dancing is not a revolution worth having.” — Emma Goldman.
13. Army Defense “Kron”
A clean, sharp guitar riff clashes against the fuzzy vocals as this one kicks off, and I can’t help thinking that the vocals could have been mixed a mite more cleaner, but then again, it’s METAL, and nobody ever gave points to the bands of the Great Metal Migration of the Dust Bowl era for incisive lyrics like “THE BUST BOWL SUCKS THE DUST BOWL SUCKS.” I’m not familiar with Kron as an imaginary country (then again, aren’t they all) and “Kron” sounds less like a country’s national anthem than a rock anthem. No patriotic crowd could keep up with the rich-rockin’ vocals of this one when they was required to stand for the Kron national Kronball season opener. But I’d certainly roughly bob my head up and down to the middle chorus of KRON KRON KRON KRON KRON KRON.

14. The Roy Hammer Trio “Costaguana”
Technically fun and tuneful, its layered, intricate, and lovely intro leads into a kick-ass little tune that has my head bobbing and my foot tapping. It’s utterly unsingable as a true national anthem, though, and while the lyrics spotlight the high points of its politics and geography, it lacks the dark South American feel of a dictatorship. I don’t know exactly where this tropical destination might be, but I’d definitely give a whole lighter of silver for transportation to this utopia, where surely nothing can go wrong.

15. Megalodon “Digitaistan”
This one reminded me of one of my favorite guilty pleasure songs, “Together in Electric Dreams,” Philip Oakey & Giorgio Moroder’s unlikely 1984 soundtrack hit. Aw, c’mon, what can I say but “I heart the eighties!” Megalodon’s anthem for a digital world has a similar charming retro (I dig the modem sound effects and 8-bit style melody). The lyrics are smart and clever, and there’s a digital Easter egg to decode in the middle, but the words obscured by fuzzy vocals (I had to read the lyrics to discern ‘em all). Might be a case of a little too much information crammed into a byte of space. The ragged vocals render moot both the relistenability of this song and the question of how long it would take it to download over a 28.8 k baud modem.
16. Steve Durand “Oceania, ‘Tis for Thee”
The second of two anthems for Orwell’s 1984 nation. It captures all the lyrical tropes of the book and its Newspeak “war equals peace,” but it has an almost-lighted quick rhythm and upbeat tune. It’s certainly fitting as an anthem (especially that dandy opening fanfare of trumpets), but to me, it’s a little more cheerful than the source material. I think you ought to feel oppressed by the anthem of Oceania. This might be a case of me docking a couple points because a song is TOO cheery.
17. Caravan Ray “The Lonelystani National Anthem”
This dandy alt-pop song about Lonely Stan in his Lonelystan (population 1) is witty, catchy, and a clever mindworm of a tune that I’ve been humming pretty much all afternoon — but it doesn’t feel or act in the least like an anthem and might have better been saved for another, more fitting, round of SpinTunes. It’s a great song and I like it a lot, but nobody’s singing and saluting this flag to this tune, not even Stan, who I’m guessing is lying on the couch covered in Cheetos crumbs. To use a baseball metaphor, it’s a solid crack on the bat but it’s hit straight into foul territory. And it’s the seventh inning stretch and I’m heading off to get a beer and maybe some of those excellent garlic fries, but I might need to head to the car before the game is over to beat the rush and I think my extended baseball metaphor went out of bounds a sentence ago.

18. Felix Frost “Croton Alley”
Points for sheer originality and uniqueness of concept: an atonal melody (over a Beatlesque calliope-like rhythm) and slightly mechanized vocal tells the tale of an alien-conquered Earth from the POV of the victors, but that would have to be some casually rockin’ Grays to promote this tune as Terra’s new national anthem. (When actually, as I’ve been told on good authority by listening to Coast to Coast AM, aliens actually prefer Elizabethan-era madrigals.) At just under four minutes it’s one of the longer tunes in Round One, and it grows a little weary around 2:15. It tells much more of a story than you’d expect, or want, in an anthem — a decent song, but seems more a refugee from a concept album than an obedient welcome to our alien masters.

19. Pigfarmer Jr “Zamunda National Anthem”
Very far down on the alphabetical List of Fictional Countries on Wikipedia (c’mon, ‘fess up: how many of you consulted that list when creating your tunes?) is Zamunda, the kingdom without a queen from Eddie Murphy’s Coming to America. Unfortunately, unlike the movie, this tune doesn’t tickle me: it’s slow, ponderous, and funereal, which, come to think of it, pretty much describes Eddie Murphy’s 21st century filmography. On the bright side, Pigfarmer Jr can rest assured there will be no court case against him by Art Buchwald claiming he was the one who wrote the Zamunda National Anthem.

20. Zoe Gray “Country of the Sun”
Zoe Gray’s got a high, lilting voice that with the proper training and some expert production would be, for me, a tasty slice of Tori Amos cake with some Kate Bush icing (hold the Alanis Morissette). But the production is definitely not professional (it sounds recorded on a hand-held cassette player) and her piano playing is a tad on the high school talent recital side of things. If this had been a proper anthem rather than a metaphor for…freedom? Independence? Stevie Nicksism?…it just might have squeaked by a little higher on my list, but alas, it’s a little too allegorical. But: nice lyrics, upgrade your recording, consider adding additional instruments. In other words, needs a lot of work. But do keep on working, there’s the seed of a strong voice here.

Adam Sakellarides "The Terran Empire Anthem"
That’s “Terran Empire” as in “the one where Spock has a beard,” and I can absolutely picture dress-uniformed McCoy and Scotty dutifully belting this one out while Kirk rolls his eyes and Sulu fingers a knife. It’s fun and the lyrics capture the innate sleaziness of a mirror dimension “where women bare midriffs.”

Plenitude “Santa Prisca National Anthem”
Ah, songs inspired by comic books, you are hitting me straight to the heart. I’m loving this Spanish and English anthem to the island home of Batman’s hyper-muscled nemesis Bane, which celebrates both the romantic and the sinister nature of the place. Even Bruce catches Alfred whistling this one from time to time in the Batcave.

Dr. Lindyke “O Hail To You Fidonia”
That thunderous clap your heard a few minutes ago was me slapping my hand to my forehead when I finally got what this song was about: cheerful, patriotic fleas celebrating their doggy home. Mega-applause for providing not only a hilarious concept perfectly realized, and for perhaps the only anthem for a three-dimensional world.

Whether I loved ‘em or had criticism for ‘em, this was a solid round and I applaud everybody’s creativity. Some of my favorite fictional lands have memorable national anthems — Freedonia, the Duchy of Grand Fenwick, Robonia (“a land I didn’t make up”) — and you’ve all added to that rich tradition.
I’m reminded of the Robert Wuhl stand-up routine about New Jersey’s real-life consideration to make Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” their state anthem. Because every anthem needs lyrics like “It's a death trap, it's a suicide rap” buried in the middle of it. You’d kind of need to re-define the whole concept of an anthem to make that work, not to mention being, along with Wendy, living with the sadness. The unsuitability of that classic for a state song was the concept for the intangible “anthemness” that was one of the factors I judged on, along with lyrics, melody, imagination, and whether it made me laugh like a loon. My favorite of the tunes captured all of those elements.
And in conclusion, did New Jersey really want an anthem that ended with “Ru-uh-uh-un / Mm-mm-mm-mm / Uh-uh-uh-oh-oh-oh-oh / Ru-uh-uh-uh-un /  Mm-mm-mm-mm / Whoa-oh-oh-oh / Whoa-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh / Ru-uh-uh-un?”
See you all next round!

1 comment:

  1. Hello! Thanks for the reviews, your time and effort are much appreciated.

    I am happy to hear the touch of blood thirst came through -- if you watch a few videos you'll find Pandora is a very brutal place. I don't think you could survive there without adapting.

    I have decided that everybody wears an external speaker into battle and sings along. I like the visual. :D