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Saturday, August 30, 2014

SpinTunes #9 Round 4 Reviews: John DiBello

Hullo folks hullo! My apologies for missing the previous round of judging. You haven't gotten rid of me yet! You can blame dental surgery for my M.I.A. status in round 3, but as I've now graduated away from Carnation Instant Breakfast and back to Space Food Sticks, let's put a cork in this bottle and polish up the strawberry patch* by listening to your fine quartet of songs (plus a handful of Shadows) in Round 4!

*My goofy metaphors may be caused by too much pain medication.

1. James Young "When the Morning Comes"

My symbolic hat is off to all the SpinTuners this time around, because I gaze at that public-domain photo of Lincolnville Beach and all I can think about is what a kinda sad beach that looks. Where are the MTV Spring Break revelers; where is Spuds MacKenzie surfing the waves, where's Roy Scheider closing it? That's why I dig James's tuneful, mournful track, one of those full, lush sound late summer songs that sum up disappeared love come September. There's very strong vocals and instrumentals on this one, and though the lyrics water-ski on the edge of lost-love clich&#233, hey, isn't that what lost love is all about? It's beautifully produced, aiming and hitting square center in the heart: a power ballad that won't wear out its welcome after the first few hearings. The sound is sharp and crisp, but I almost feel for authenticity this would be best heard from a cheap 1960s transistor radio with sand in it, fresh from a summer at the beach.

2. TurboShandy "Twenty-Two"

TurboShandy takes a similar thematic approach to the photo as James Young: the memory of a lost love from the seaside. With its strong alt-rock sound and driving beat, it's mired in more discouragement and anger than Young's, so this would appeal to everyone (like me) who only ever wound up with shorts full of sand at the end of the season. In fact, it punches all those pain-toned buttons of memory with the trigger sound of a cheap Super 8 film projector to open and close the track: these are faded, jittery memories that you thought were worth preserving at the time. (Also, I'm a sucker for an angry, abrupt ending.) It's a fine song, vivid and sharp — I think that even if T.S. hadn't including the Irish Sea in his lyrics, he's referencing the somewhat faded, slightly sad beaches I've seen in the UK and Ireland. Major points up for not only giving an Elvis Costello reference but actually sounding a bit like an early Costello song.

3. MC Ohm-I "Black People Don't Swim"

I've been fully enjoying MC Ohm-I's contributions to SpinTunes #9 — his songs are fresh, funny, and funky, mixing some really competent rapping and clever lyrics, plus inventive and innovative answers to each challenge; he's taken them in bizarrely beautiful directions that are unexpected and inspiring. "Black People Don't Swim" is no exception. It's a solid rap with a great beat and yes, and incredibly infectious hook of a refrain-slash-title. I'm been humming it all week and I have to remember, big goofy white guy that I am, not to sing it aloud in public. But I'm paradoxically pulled in two different directions on my final critique —  I felt this one both needed to have a bigger, lusher instrumental sound behind the rap, and that it could have been tightened and shortened, not for economy but for impact: it should hit hard and sharp like a rapid-fire, well-timed comedy routine. The extended intro disclaimer section especially, while humorous, isn't really needed and delays MC Ohm-I's best strength: his lyrics and rapping. That said, it's an incredible earworm of a tune, a simple, funny idea expanded by sheer talent into a strong, beefy track.

4. Brian Gray "All You Can Eat"

Well, of course, when you think of the beach, you're going to think of sharks, especially in and around Discovery Channel's Shark Week (which admittedly I only consider a rude interruption to my weekly viewing of MythBusters. When I first saw the photo, I had a vague guess in the shadowy cobwebs of my head that at least one SpinTuner might contribute a track about sharks, and y'all haven't disappointed me. I good make a dozen puns about how this song sunk its teeth into me and that the lyrics have bite, but I'm just going to sum it up instead as Brian's song is the loveliest and most heart-felt ode to sharks doing what they do best that has yet been set to MP3. The lyrics are full of clever humor and shark trivia, and I like the story-telling feel to it. Curiously or ironically (or maybe both), it's also a lost love song, so there must be something to an expanse of panaroma-lensed sand that brings out the melancholy, missin' that girl sound in everyone. It's accompanied by wonderfully slow-bounce guitar backing, and I found Brian's song bio especially illuminating on how he achieved that effect. The lightness of the theme made it feel less substantial than the others in this round; it's a tall-tale style extended joke, and the melody and lyrics didn't chomp as firmly as the others. Sorry, I did need to use one shark-biting pun. After all.


While listening to form my review thoughts, I mixed these four tracks up and played them on random shuffle. Still, for whatever bizarre coincidence, they ran into win, place, show, and shark (in my extended horse-race metaphor judging style) in exactly the sequence as the original downloadable album — 1, 2, 3, 4 — and I worried about that for a few minutes before I reminded myself to vote with my ear and my heart, as messy as that might be typing up the reviews. As to who won and who lost, well, that's one of those things we may never know (until the final results are posted) and I wish everybody coulda got a big blue ribbon and a basket full of peaches.


Steven Wesley Guiles "If It's All The Same to You"
Lemme tell you what I wish I could have written upon seeing the photo: a song as lovely as "Sea of Love" by the Honeydrippers, one of my favorite love songs of all time — or at least the 1980s, when, as we all know, all the finest music came into being. I can't write music (I think we proved that several weeks ago with my Princess Leia song), so I'm glad Steven targeted and hit my Honeydrippers-lovin' heart with this slow-dance ballad with a lyrical doo-wop chorus.

Zoe Gray "Shark Week"
Hey, more sharks! (Cool!) And hey, why did the song I love best from Zoe Ball have to be a ShadowTune instead of one I could vote on? (Because you didn't give her a good grade in round 2, I tell myself with shame). I'm just delighted by the whole thing here. This is just sheer lunatic loveliness, and by golly, Zoe, if Discovery Channel doesn't hire you to sing this in bumpers for S.W. '15, there's no justice in the world. Wonderful.

Governing Dynamics "Surf Whatever"
I was wondering if anyone was going to turn up at this party with some good old surf rock, and Governing Dynamics delights me by subverting the trope (yes, I've spent too much time on TVTropes.org recently) with a 21st century version of 60s surf rock. It's got an indie-alt sound and a po-mo attitude to modern environmental concerns...but, like the Ventures, the guitars are still wailing strongly — love the too-short instrumental break — and at the heart of it all is the joy of surf, the allure of that Endless Summer.

Boffo Yux Dudes "Beach Chairs"
I was spared my continuing moral dilemma of judging someone I've known since high school when Boffo Yux Dudes didn't contribute a Round 2 track, but I've been missing the familiar sound, so I'm glad there's at last a couple ShadowTunes to enjoy. This track takes the summer song and Beach Boys song to its illogical conclusion: it's a '60s-style rock anthem to beach chairs, without which our asses would all get burnt on the sand. "They come in different colors kinda like a porn star" is surely the winner of the Most Valuable Lyric of Round 4 Award, and while it's all about as lightweight as a sandy towel in a strong breeze, it's a helluva lotta fun.

Boffo Yux Dudes "Panorama"
What an absolutely spot-on and appropriate song to close out the (arbitrary) sequence of SpinTunes #9 Round 4: an ode to, like that familiar public-domain photo, a panoramic wide-vision view of the world. It's short — barely a squeak over the two-minute minimum — and yet absolutely pitch-perfect, reminding me of Jonathan Coulton or Barenaked Ladies.

And of course, the theme of "Panorama" reminds me of the many, many views we've gotten throughout this ninth SpinTunes: a series of dozens of inventive variations on four simple themes. I'm in awe of the SpinTunes project. This round gave us fifty-nine songs in a handful of weeks, and I'm in awe of it, and all of the skill everyone's shown throughout. Whether I ranked you high or low, know this: these are all wonderful and show immense skill, dedication, imagination and most of all, sheer brave guts to put them out there to be critiqued. Bravo to every single one of you; thank you for sharing, and thank you for letting me be a part of it.

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