Let me start by apologizing. After the first round, I failed to give my explanation for my judging standards. I’ll start by saying I don’t like song bios or explanations. A song should stand on its own, period. If I listen to the song and feel I don’t understand, I might go looking for more information on my own, just as I might with any song I might hear on the radio or elsewhere. So I might read your explanation, if the song gets me interested first. You shouldn’t have to explain why your song meets the challenge. I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt in most cases. If there’s any logical explanation as to how your song meets the challenge, then to me, it meets the challenge. If not, then it doesn’t. This challenge would have been difficult to fail (it was too easy), and in my mind, you all did what you were asked.
Secondly, I like creativity. When you were asked to write an anthem for a fictional country, some of you did just that. You completely fulfilled the challenge. But if there’s no twist, I’m not interested. The twist doesn’t have to be in the lyrics, it may very well be in the music. If you’re THAT good, you might write a great song in some classic style, without throwing in a twist. But most of the time, a great song has something familiar but is punctuated by something unexpected. But you know, the whole damn thing probably shouldn’t be unexpected either. Something about it should be familiar or accessible. But something about it should be new and different. Surprise me. Take a chance. If you have to, err on the side of doing something unusual.
Thirdly (is that a word), I like a sense of humor. No, your songs don’t HAVE to be humorous to be good. However, if you take the song challenge and do something funny with it, I appreciate that. We ought to stop taking ourselves so seriously. At least have fun with it. If you sound like you’re having fun, that helps your cause. That being said, there’d better be something about the songwriting process you DO take seriously. Maybe that’s singing on key, keeping all of your instruments in tune, keeping the beat, etc. Your song should feel free and easy, and not seem like it was written under pressure. Unless you’re David Bowie…. Or Vanilla Ice.... Wait, Vanilla Ice Cream? Yes please.
Finally, production quality is nice, but if you write a great song, I’m more likely to forgive so-so production. Awful production can certainly ruin your otherwise good song. If your song is lousy, then you’re going to want excellent production quality. But even then, it might not save you! The better your song is, the fewer bells and whistles you will need. Good production and arrangement, as well as good performances can definitely compensate for other imperfections in your song. Production especially helps if, like me, you write boring songs . What I really want is to hear YOU and hear your SONG. Good studio skills should allow your song to flourish, but shouldn’t be ALL there is. And for pete's sake, don't over-do it (hint: some of you did).
And lastly finally to finish up and close out, but not really, because I'm going to keep talking afterwards, I’ll be honest. I don’t like the song challenge this round. I just don’t think it’s very interesting, and it's somewhat cliche for a song topic. And to give you Bruno Mars as an example? Yikes. So if your song was boring, I blame the challenge. If you managed to make it interesting, I’ll be doubly impressed.
Now, on to the rankings. This was really hard. I really liked one song a lot. The rest of them were hard to get excited about overall, although the more I listened, the more they grew on me (like a fungus in some cases... no, no, I mean the good kind of fungus.). On the whole, I want to hear people take more risks! I did ultimately find aspects of all the songs that I liked. There were no truly awful songs either. Everyone put forth effort here, and I appreciate that. I listened to all of these songs at LEAST four times, some more than that. Mainly because I had a really hard time ranking after #1, so I kept listening to try and clear things up. I will tell you, some songs got better the more I listened, some got worse. More listens helped me weed out the song that had good production value, but really weren't great songs. So there's a clear #1 for me, and then, everything else was REALLY close together. So I actually feel terrible about ranking some of you near the bottom, because in all honesty, you were so close to being #2. So don't despair if you finished low in my rankings. I didn't actually hate or loathe any of these.
REVIEWS (in order of awesomeness, or reverse order of suckitude, however you want to look at it.)
MC Ohm- I. “Love her again in hell”. Just from the title, you were already winning this round. I had been a little disappointed with this round. Then FINALLY. This song. “I would hop on a grenade for her like I was Bruno Mars”. What the hell are you talking about? Who says that? (By the way, that’s exactly how I WANT to react to song lyrics). “I was military. She was in it for the TRICARE”. Oh hell yes. More people in the Spin Tunes should write lyrics like this, no? “I was a cheery parade. She was a massive rain.” Very nice. Your chorus is catchier than anything else anybody did this round. I had you ranked somewhere in the muddy middle last time, but this is moving you to the top of my list. I’ll follow you to hell because I love this song. It’s the most listenable, dare I say irresistible song of the round, and also the most fun and the most interesting. AND, you fulfilled the challenge (which wasn’t really that difficult). Great example of how great production doesn’t MAKE the song. The song makes the song. The great production allows the song to succeed. This is the song, like zoe’s last round, that I am listening to over and over because I love it so much.
Turbo Shandy. It’s becoming obvious that you guys are a great band. This is really different from your song last round too. You guys know what you’re doing. Color me impressed. I’m getting nitpicky now of course, but here goes. I wonder if you’re not pushing yourself with your lyrics. If you handed this song off to a pop country artist in Nashville, the song would work. To me, that’s not a good thing. I want lyrics that are over SOMEBODY’s head. Not everybody’s, but somebody. That being said (god I overuse that phrase here), you guys are clearly a great band musically. I just want you to pull out your thesaurus and push for something more complex, because then you would be SO SO SO good. But hey, it’s already really good. You guys are badass.
James Young – Moth. Oh, oh, oh. That’s a lot of “ohs” to start off the song. I think you could’ve left those out, or at least shortened that part. Because my immediate raction is “uggh, I’m not gonna like this.” But then once the first verse starts, I actually really like this! I like a song that brings more than one emotion to the table. You do that. This song has personality. I love your harmony on “to survive!” and “by the light!” I’m actually moving to this song. The chorus is completely spellbinding. Awesome job, James. Really, really good. I love that I can hear you hit the stop button at the end. I really do. I love that. But leave out that intro or make it a screaming electric guitar instead of ooooh. And it’s nothing against ooohs, I usually like those. It’s just your song has so much personality, and that intro doesn’t adequately introduce the song. Maybe put them at the end?
Zoe Gray - Jesse’s Girl. I love the intro, and i like your quick transitions between intro/verses/choruses. The first verse: you nailed. The chorus I don’t love quite as much. Then: “I was all like oh my god it’s Pinkman, Pinkman, what the hell am I gonna do.” That, my friends, is a line you will never hear in another song. Ever. That’s the kind of thing that a lot of these “more experienced” songwriters need to learn from YOU. Say something nobody else has said or will say. Look at a lot of these other songs and you’ll see a bunch of interchangeable clichés. That’s why that line about Pinkman, pinkman is so awesome, awesome. Who the hell is pinkman? I don’t know. But I actually do give a sh**! That being said, the chorus isn’t quite as interesting lyrically as the verses are.
On the second chorus (yes, this review is two paragraphs, your welcome), you hit a couple of pitch problems. Then the bridge. It kind of temporarily changes the mood completely and I’m not sure it really fits in the song. I think the song might be better without the bridge at all. Maybe a little instrumental interlude would have worked better than the bridge. Or maybe something where you put in a few harmonized oooohs and aaaaahs. Overall, I really appreciate the chances and risks you take creatively. Keep it up. Do you sound like a teenager? Yes. But that’s because you are one. Be who you are.
Steve Durand – One More chance. Steve, I’ll be honest, I was not that thrilled with your song in the first round. But I’m giving you “one more chance”. (Ouch, sorry, couldn’t resist). I really like this one. This tune is just slick. The old timey horns? My god man, that is cool as heck. I still think you could come up with something a little more interesting with your lyrics. But the music is sort of in a classic style, so that aspect doesn’t drag the song down too much. Really impressed with this….melodically and stylistically. Don’t know what else to say, but very nice!
Brian Gray - Otisburg. I like that chord profession a lot, and I love the idea of a song about Otisburg. I’m totally picturing Ned Beatty when I hear this. I’ve talked about how peoples’ lyrics are just too straightforward. Say something different, or say something in a different way. Brian, “You the brains and me the part that’s not the brains.” So far, that’s one of the first lines from a song this round that I really like. I love the melody in your chorus. And I love those two hits of the tom in the chorus. Another good line: “Narrate your first person peer review.” “Every morning, grab a paper, dodge the train.” You’ve got some decent lyrical twists here. Overall, I can’t help but feeling this isn’t as ridiculously great as your song in the first round. We shouldn’t punish you for that, but still, maybe this isn’t quite as slick performance wise as last week’s song. Overall, good song.
Sid Brown – I’m just too in love with loving you. You sound a little bit like Kraig Johnson from Run Westy, Run. The style/genre here is pretty close to stuff that I listen to. Sometimes that actually makes me a harsher judge. I hate cheap Americana tunes. And with your title, I admit, I was expecting this to suck. “I was sitting on the corner”…. Beginning sounds pretty cliché. In fact, I kind of wonder if you’re spoofing alt-country songwriters with this song. Then you’re like “watching things roll by”. I kind of like that you said “things” rather than something specific, because it advances the sort of “what the ****” feel of this song. I think I’d have liked it better had you said “watchin’ shit roll by”. Had you said that, I'd have moved you up two spots. There’s a lot of cliché in your lyrics. The thing is, your voice is like the rug that ties it together. Your voice is what makes the song feel authentic. Your vocals are so rough and imperfect and that’s what makes the song work. You struck the right emotion for this song. If you gave this song to a better singer, it might really suck. But when you do it, it’s kind of awesome. It brings me back to early Uncle Tupelo. I want to jam with you, dude. I like the back porch sound over the super-produced stuff. I keep moving your song up and down my rankings. I can’t decide what to do with it. I think you are so close to being near top for me, but there are just too many clichés in the lyrics. Even if you don’t make it to the next round, I really like what you’re doing. Just throw in a swear word or something. Kick over the rocking chair on your front porch on the next song, and break that thing.
Kolton H. – Sacred Drug. Cool intro. I like the lyrics well enough. Your singing, again, I want to hear more clearly. Like maybe scream it a little or something? I get the sound you’re going for, but I still want to hear your voice a little more clearly. This style of music is a little out of my comfort zone, so dude, I have no idea how you did this. And actually, that makes me more impressed. On the negative side, I really want to hear your voice (I know I already said that). Like, I’m wondering if you’re trying to cover for using a lousy microphone or something. Because EVERYTHING else about this song is good or great. But the vocals just really hold you back. Your voice actually sounds cool, I just really don’t like the way it’s processed. Like, it sounds like an evil cartoon snake is singing it, and I want Kolton H to be singing it (if you really are an evil cartoon snake, I do apologize). I’m torn. I feel like there are two songs here, one I would rank near the top, and one near the bottom. I guess that means I put it in the middle. If I could advance as many as I wanted to the next round, Kolton, you would definitely make it. I will not be at all disappointed at all if you make it.
Army Defense- Don’t Fool Yourself. Jeremy Messersmith and Elliot Smith’s secret love child, is that you? This could not be more different from The Battle Hymn of Kron (“Lessons learned hard!”… see, I still can’t stop singing that one). Dudes, this doesn’t pack quite the punch that last week’s song did. The Kron song really stood out compared to the other songs that round. Completely different. This one, on the other hand, kind of fits in with what other people did. Of course you didn’t know what everyone else was going to do, and this is still a good song. The performance overall is a little sloppier than what you brought last week. Don’t get me wrong, I think you have the makings of a very good song here. I like how the lyrics don’t hit you over the head with the song challenge. That deserves to be rewarded. The vocals have some good emotion, but the melody seems to wander a little more than I would like. This song has some good things going, but it could be cleaned up a bit. It sounds like you’re still not totally sure about this song. I think y’all could perform this with more confidence. And don't forget to tip the cowboy singer. Let him know you care.
Steven Wesley Guiles. My god man, slick production. Jealous. Mix = totally tasteful. Performance is amazing. On the other hand, I hate to say this, but nothing about the lyrics get me excited. The instrumentals are really well done. But the chorus is kind of silly. I guess my reaction is “awesome music, awesome musicianship, but I’m not sure I really like it that much.” Yeah, I predict others will rank this higher than I do, because the production is near flawless and the performances are nearly faultless. But the song itself? It’s ok. A little too sweet for me. I could see this going over really well with junior high kids, but really badly with college kids. A lot of good things going on here, but just barely misses the mark for me. I actually feel guilty for not liking this more.
Governing Dynamics- Where the River Meets the Earth. Awesome start to this one. I love the mood you establish. Just a great all around intro. I love the way the drums are mixed, and the drumming overall. I think by the middle of the song, it feels like it starts wandering a bit. “The case cracks…..” That seems like it’s going to be a chorus, but then it doesn’t really sound/feel like a chorus to me. Cool guitar playing as always. This just doesn’t quite hold together for me. Man, I’m torn, because there are aspects of this that I really like a lot. I really like the drum sound. I like the guitar sound as well as the overall musicianship. But I think the melody just feels like it’s wandering a little bit. You just start to lose me at points. I might just edit this song down and cut out a bunch of parts to make it a shorter, more focused song. Nothing wrong with a 2 (or 3) and a half minute song. At least cut off a minute. Maybe you tried to do too much. I still really like what you bring to the table.
Jerry Skids – Another Apology. This sounds straight out of the 1990s. And I was an awkward teenager for much of those, so I’m not sure that’s a place I want to go. The drums sound kind of artificial. In all honesty, that kind of hurts it for me. You do a really nice job performing your vocals here. But the rest of it musically is missing a “real” quality for me. Something about this sounds artificial. I know that’s not very specific, it’s just my gut reaction. Lyrics sound like they are from the heart, but I’m waiting for some kind of a twist or something unexpected, and I don't get it. A little too straightforward for my taste.
THE SHADOW PEOPLE:
Heather Zink (shadow)- YES. I want more like this. I am a HUGE fan of your voice. There are a few “easy rhymes” here. You are well aware that this isn’t perfect, but jeeze, you are ridiculously talented. Keep doing this Heather. I for one would like to keep listening to your stuff . I like how you altered your vocal dynamics too. You don’t sing with just one emotion. Keep doing that. There are so many things about your voice that are great. Thank you for sending this in. Glad I got to hear it.
Dr. Lindyke – Nothing but Love (Shadow): What can I say, I love it. Honestly, this is one of my favorites of yours. Instant classic. “She once used a broom on playboy TV”. You schooled most of these contestants in writing lyrics. This would have been a top contender for me, had you been in the competition.
Plenitude – Are you Here (Shadow): Real classic vibe going on here. The production is a little hissy! De-Ess!! De-Ess! And I don’t mean the little Nintendo video game. But really the song is really good. I like it.
Megalodon – The harsh light of day. (Shadow): You’re much more loose and comfortable than a lot of the contestants. I loves me the piano. I wish this one was in the contest too.
Felix Frost- Jasper (shadow). Ah yes, that intro must be the video game theme song I ordered. I loves songs about learning how to kick. But seriously, that’s the kind of quirky element I like. Are we talking about ultimate fighting or what? I love it when I can’t figure out exactly what the songs about. Cool stuff, Felix Frost!