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Friday, July 31, 2015

Competitor Reviews

Reviews Posted Elsewhere:
- Dave Leigh of Dr. Lindyke posted reviews of the Champions.
- Al Morgan, Scott Mercer & Tom Giarrosso ALL posted reviews of EVERYONE.

James Young Reviews:
1st - Matt & Donna - love it, catchy & funny, soundtracks the current phase of my life perfectly.

2nd - MC Ohm-I - best production of the bunch methinks. Liking the borrowed Sound of Music motif, if only the von Trapps had a PS4, eh?

3rd - Jenny Katz - simple, haunting arrangement suits the subject matter, beautifully played & sung.

4th - Governing Dynamics - digging the driving beat & vocal performance, though overall a bit chaotic musically for me. Also seems the least aligned to the "list" aspect of the challenge.

1) Zoe Gray - tapping Tim Burton vibes with epic results. Hard to imagine anything else winning this round.

2) Jutze - funny & catchy, love the thought of the Emperor strumming that jaunty rhythm, perhaps with Darth helpings with the BVs.

3) Dr. Lindyke - an entry that (like my own) highlights the oft overlooked emotional trauma associated with beach vacations and / or the limited building skills of the songwriter. (Joking aside, this is lovely).

4) The Boffo Yux Dudes - musically tight, esp the groovy bassline, dialog & lyrics made me laugh.

5) Rob from Amersfoort- quirky & unpredictable, great mix of sounds, top production.

6) Bubba & The Amiable Kraken - rhythm captures the sense of enthusiastic construction, the vocal, whistling & guitar melodies are a great fit with the bird theme.

7) Pigfarmer Jr - heartfelt writing & performance, esp the guitar work & harmonies.

8) Brian Gray - like the way this rushes along musically matching the exasperation of the narrator, keyboard stabs are a nice aesthetic fit with the technical theme too.

9) Hotel Rex - not my genre, but performance & production are strong.

10) Ben Taggart - a shadow in the shadow album... Warning, infinite loop! Liking the lyrics & the mournful piano, vocals perhaps a tad overpowering in places.

11) Trader Jack - musically unsettling, lyrically bonkers, not sure I'm geometrically literate enough to follow what you're actually building also!

Jutze Reviews:
Jenny Katz - Thoughts On Leaving You
The pros are: I like the beat, the original approach to the list challenge. By the way, great performance.
The cons are: The verse is catchier in my ears than the chorus. (Not really a bad thing.)

Governing Dynamics - Room Stop Spinning
A driving beat? Good. But isn’t this Governing Dynamics? Yes, it is. The guitar sounds good; the tempo matches the spinning room lyrics. I struggle to make out the list in the lyrics.

Matt & Donna - Reasons My Kid Is Crying
Piano, vocals, synthesizer? Again, I expected this sort of song from the artists. Yet, the lyrics are barely a list. I mean, I have a hard time imagining bullet points here. The title helps a bit, but only a bit.

MC Ohm-I - Favorite Games
This song approaches the challenge in a way I approve. The list is not just a compilation of items. We also get a lot of comment on each item. The mix of a shuffle rhythm and piano melodies that are 6/8 (or 3/4 or whatever) is nice. The only problem I have with this entry? I don’t like rap/hip hop. Also, the mood is a bit melancholic whereas the topic is positive (fav games, yay!).

Pigfarmer Jr Reviews:
Jenny Katz: I love the vocals. The tone and performance are good, the melody good and I think it works very well with the stripped down arrangement. My only reservation was that every once in a while I wondered what a "prosar" was.  Is it like a quasar only more professional? I really liked the pros vs cons angle and I think you implemented it very well.

Governing Dynamics: Good energy, another good vocal performance. I like the melody which floated over the guitars and rhythm. That single note guitar sounded a hair thin in places but it worked and was a good sound on top of the other guitars. The list of things to do works marvelously and that feeling of lost time or faded youth or what the hell ever it is struck a chord. 

Matt & Donna: My first thought is the piano is a hair thin, but man, it's hard to record a piano and get that full sound. It really is. And the… stylophone? works a whole lot better than I could have made it. Melody and vocals are good. It's been a while since my kids were of the crying age, but I liked the angle.  I find your list song to be a bit less listy than the previous two.  Yeah, it's a list, but that second half of the song reads like a story more than a list. That doesn't mean you did poorly and I like your song. But if I were judging I would have noted it.  Your song definitely brought back memories of my two girls. Before they were black belts and could inflict pain and bruises on their father-figure. 

MC Ohm-I: That underlying piano theme throughout was a nice touch. And I like the sound. It isn't quite as immediate as some, but it has a nice depth (reverb) that makes it sit back just enough. Your angle is excellent. Your arrangement is good. My only reservation is that by the end of the second listen I was down right tired of that melody in the piano. It is relentless. First listen great, second listen….  and by third listen… I was never a gamer in the truest sense, but I have a soft spot for this angle. Production is top notch, performance is top notch.  No-one can say you didn't bring it.

Jenny Katz Reviews:
1. River of Tears, Pigfarmer
Although I liked all the songs this round, some very much indeed, this song was my favorite. Although the song is simple, the build was well done, and the chorus sounds to me like a classic American folk or gospel song that’s been around forever (along the same lines as “Shenandoah”). I even think you could rewrite the lyrics of the verses to reflect some of the social justice issues of our time and have yourself an anthem that might actually be sung and played by many, many people. I also think you might try changing the chord at the end of the verse from the I to the IV (in this case, the C instead of the G), just to differentiate it from the chorus and to give it a little momentum. 

2. Sandcastles, James Young
My son and I were trying to figure out which band this song reminded us of… Nirvana was the one we both agreed on (“with shades of Lynyrd Skynyrd,” he said). A strong contender, this one: very well constructed (speaking of the theme) and performed. Love the drone string. 

3. Satisfaction Guaranteed, Zoe Gray
I didn’t know Lily Allen was competing in SpinTunes. This is so well written AND performed AND produced, which of course we have all come to expect from you, Zoe. The verses are the strongest of any entry. The chorus is enjoyable, too, but almost plays to me like a pre-chorus, rather than fully “landing"... I found myself wanting a chorus with fewer words and more hook. (This is pot calling the kettle black; I’m notoriously wordy. I was once given the advice to use “half as many words” in my choruses, and it was good advice—though of course rules are made to be broken.) The “your wish… is her command” (so creepy!) could be the foundation of a great repeating hook.

4. My Tiny House is Too Tiny, BYD
I loved this so much. Hilarious and fun to listen to, even repeatedly. (It may also help that my parents live in a tiny house.) The bass line in the intro is just great, and the solo makes me laugh every time I play the song. (“Hey! Don’t touch me there!”) I also love the doubled vocal in line 4 of the verses. I do think the chord progression in the chorus could be strengthened a little bit. Overall, I loved it. 

5. Bluebird, Bubba & the Amiable Kraken
I was a child in the ’70s and this song could be the soundtrack to my life in memory. Gorgeous intro, beautifully performed, love the structure and the chord progression, especially the skillful transition at the end of “bluebird has it all.” (I was wishing I could hear the guitar riff come in on beat 2 instead of 3, but that’s a tiny quibble.) I think the only reason this song didn’t rank at the top was because the lyrics left me relatively unmoved. I LIKED them, but somehow I wanted them to be metaphorical, too, or something…? Something slightly deeper. 

6. Day After Day, Dr. Lindyke
This was lovely. Kudos to you, Dr. Lindyke, for allowing yourself to write and perform a tender, vulnerable song. Funny songs are great, and clever songs can be interesting, but going for emotion (especially not in a soap-opera-y way, but a real way) requires a real artist’s courage. With the exception of verse 2, which I thought was a little too specific/chatty, I thought your lyrics were excellent—especially the REbuilding take on the building challenge. “Day after day we build castles in the sand/Night after night the tide comes rushing in” is as good a description of a marriage as I’ve ever heard. Tighten this one up to 3:30 when you get a chance and re-release for our pleasure and edification. 

7. Bridge, Hotel Rex
Total Beatles vibe in the intro—what more could you ask? Love the harmonies and the melodic line is strong. The lyrics aren’t as strong as the vibe, though—with the exception of “you’re trembling to the car,” which is beautiful to listen to—because I couldn’t tell if you were being serious or being a clueless slacker. I think you could enhance the jokey vibe by spelling out some of the (unwittingly dumb) steps you’re taking to try and build that bridge (“I don’t know what your problem is; I recorded your favorite show!” or whatever.) 

8. I’ll Do it Myself, Brian Gray
It’s odd for me to find Brian’s song halfway down the list, because I’m a big fan. (I still sing “Walk” from time to time.) This one didn’t work quite as well for me, not because it’s not well written/performed/produced (as your songs always are), but because it skewed “clever” for me rather than “satisfying." I love the drums. I might have liked to hear it even more punk, roughed up, screamed rather than sung, with a screeching guitar instead of keys. 

9. Ballad of the Emperor, Jutze
I always like your songs, Jutze. Hooky and funny, in your usual style. (I am a very hook-oriented listener, so hooks count for a lot with me.) Nice warm recording of the guitar. The only wish I had with this one was for a twist of some kind in the lyrics, something that gives it slightly more depth in the second half of the song. That’s a minor point, though. 

10. Dream House, Rob from Amersfoot
This one made me happy. The pulsing organ, the slightly creepy panned vocals, the lyric "I buy a brick/and a brick/and brick by brick”… it all has integrity, like a little dream house of its own. 

11. Building, Trader Jack
I found this interesting, but I had trouble understanding the craft/structure of it… I would have liked there to be some more correspondence between the lyrics and the backgrounds (though I don’t mean “sing in time” or anything as obvious as that :). You have interesting ideas and I look forward to hearing more. Great drums and weird melodic lines.

Shadow. Building Me, Ben Taggart
Great voice, Ben! And a strong lyrical twist. This is a lovely little song that I heard in my head for a while after listening. I’d be interested in hearing the keys play a more melodic or rhythmically “softer” accompaniment, rather than straight quarter notes. This was one of the best conceptual responses to the challenge, I thought.

James Rechs Reviews:
#1 Jenny Katz:  Loved it.  Beautiful as always.  

#2 Governing Dynamics:   I really liked pretty much everything about this.   Great job! 

#3 McOhm-I:   As with all your stuff, I like it.  A list of favorite video games just isn't going to do it for me.   But you still managed to make it good.  

#4 Matt and Donna:   A nice song, but just not as good as the others.

Rob Stevens Reviews:

1. Jenny Katz
Intricate lyrics, love the alliterations, and well sung!

2. Matt & Donna 
Original instruments. Original song subject!

3. Governing Dynamics
Fun with tragic undertones. Love the last two lines. Not really a list song?  

4. MC Ohm-I 
I’m always interested to hear what games people are playing. Much better than hearing about “doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles” and such.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Champions Vs Shadows #1 Round 1 Reviews: Joe "Covenant" Lamb

I must admit to being a little disappointed that only 4 'Champions' showed up for this.
However, I think the fact that there are so few made the eerie line up on the LP end up being the rank I put them in less spooky than if there had been a few more!  :)

So, in descending order:

Jenny Katz - Thoughts on Leaving You
A mix of Joan Armatrading and Suzanne Vega and Alanis... which works wonderfully well.
But stops very suddenly.... Not very often that one wants a Spintunes song to be longer... but this is the exception.
Think it may have missed a trick with not listing "what free means" :)
Lyric perfectly captures the insanity of relationships (married or not!) and the probability that everyone listening to this could hear a couple of the 'Pros' and think... "Yeah...."  :)
Favourite line: "The moments in bed when we briefly forget that there's anything wrong..."
The only one of the bunch that would get repeated play from me, I'm afraid.

Governing Dynamics - Room Stop Spinning
Shades of Blondie's 11:59 to this one.
This one comes over as  a bit of a workhorse... (yeah that word again!)
Travis generally produces the goods, but this one feels a bit rushed and pedestrian...
Favourite line: "How's the DJ's never heard of Sublime or Nirvana?"

Matt & Donna - Reasons My Kid is Crying
The (stylophone?) was really off-putting.
Vocals very muddy - a bit ironic that one of the lines that I heard most clearly was the hookline "can't understand you, but I don't have to"
I read the lyric (I kinda had to) and I could see the bones of what this song wanted to be - I just don't think it was fleshed out too well.

MC OHM-I  -  My Favourite Games
I get the fact that a lot of Rap is, frankly, pinching bits of other songs or 're-doing' them. But this isn't an original song as the melody is ... well... we all know.
And what happens to the vocals around 01:21 to 02:12? They are so behind the mix they are mostly unintelligible.  Don't know if this is subject to disqualification or not (tune-wise) or even content wise (as an argument could be this is *about a list*) - but either way it still comes last in my standings for the Champions.


Dr. Lindyke - Day After Day
ELTON!.... Well, actually, No. This is nothing but Dr Lindyke all the way.
For me, this is a great building song - not only about building (The relationship and the metaphorical sandcastles) but also about their deconstruction... to be rebuilt.
Overall - I think this stands as a counterpoint to Jenny's "Champions" song  (it *builds a bridge* between the challenges you could say)  :)
Nice song, nice lyric, nice playing.... but it's too long, Dave! (BUT it doesn't actually 'seem' too long... there's an odd one for ya!)
Oh.. and your vocal's too low!  :)

James Young - Sandcastles
Excellent musically. Lyric was a bit pedestrian and wasn't enough of a hook to be repeated three times. Could (and should) have been about a minute shorter. A bit of judicious editing would have had this at the top of the list. (I always liked early Pink Floyd...)  :)

Pigfarmer Jr - River Of Tears
This would have been a lot better being a bit faster. That way I don't think I'd have grown tired of the really jarring guitar motif being repeated over and over. Conversely from the track before it, this one seems a lot longer than it actually was.
Yeah... plodding is probably the best way to describe this one.

Bubba & The Amiable Kraken - Bluebird
Yeah - I like this one.
If it were me I'd not have had the electric guitar on whatever effect it is on... it hauls me out of the song.
The solo, sadly, kills it for me and drags it down the list a little.

Rob From Amersfoort - Dream House
This could have met both challenges!
Quirky... but in the good way that quirky done properly can be.
Yeah - I liked this more than I thought I did... (what!?)
Last verse shouldn't have been detached so much - seems like an afterthought.

Brian Gray - I'll Do It Myself
No denying that this one hits the challenge head on.
Lyrically it is a bit crammed (I get the reason for it, but some of the scans seem very forced-especially the second verse) and melody-wise seemed... obvious. Middle eight... "So elite..."???
Just didn’t grab me.

Trader Jack - Building
IS this about building...?
If drawing could be described as building (which at a push it could) then I guess it is. This is one 'Emperor Gum' would be proud of, I think.
It certainly has its own mad beauty about it... I kinda like mad beauty from time to time.   
However.... does this really make the 2 minute mark because it has some 'off mic' rambling at the end to take it to exactly 2 mins?

Hotel Rex - Bridge
Lyrically this is all over the place.
I can't see this as a building song. The metaphor doesn't work as all the things being discussed in the song (which we must remember is set in the same day-first line- "Quit my job today") But then says the day started anew... with a note that said "find a job"... Doesn't work.
To have it make sense the first line would have to have been about "yesterday".
Pedantry aside - it still isn't about building, as nothing is being built at all. (There's been no time) ... all of which is a shame, because I really like the tune and melody - couple of lyric tweaks and it would be nice one - but probably still not about building.

Zoe Gray - Satisfaction Guaranteed
Marina and the Diamonds?
Other than a cursory first line, this song wasn't about building anything.
Vocal effect was a bit off-putting and didn't hide the fact that the song seemed pitched just a shade too high. For a song that relies so much on the vocal, the vocal would have to be spot on perfect. Sadly, this one wasn't.
Middle eight... again seems a bit forced - the lyric loses its way there - which is a shame because it generally works all the way along... until the last four lines.
I'm assuming the whole point of this is to be repulsed by the idea of such a creation and the inhuman treatment of something inhuman?
(At least I hope so, because it made me feel uncomfortable)

The Boffo Yux Dudes - My Tiny House Is Too Tiny
Unfortunately - the same as Zoe's - other than one line saying "So we built a house" it isn't about building something.
Love the idea of this one; cute little jokey song but doesn't meet the challenge.

Jutze - Ballad Of The Emperor
Sorry Jutze - Not 2 mins.
Nice fun idea, well enough presented... but... not 2 mins.

Ben Taggart - Building Me (Shadow)
I can hardly hear this...
Sounds like a last minute recording, which is, I am assuming, why it is a shadow?
Bad mic technique, piano almost non existent.
This would maybe be a far better song properly recorded, but as it is...
Another little bit of a plodder I'm afraid.
The chorus is exactly 50% too long, or should be re-worked...
and the last twist on the chorus just didn’t work for me I'm afraid...

Champions Vs Shadows #1 Round 1 Reviews: Edric Haleen

Hello, Songwriters!

Much has been said about judging and reviewing being subjective.  To that I simply want to add . . . "indeed."  I never figured I'd write reviews.  I didn't know that I really felt qualified, and I liked WRITING songs far more than the thought of reviewing songs.

But as I decided not to sign up for Champions Vs. Shadows (http://happinessboard.com/Sample.html to catch up on why), I decided to actually go ahead and try my hand at writing some reviews.  I've always enjoyed reading other people's reviews of things I've written -- good, bad, or indifferent -- so maybe I owe it to others to pay that forward.  (And by writing reviews, I guess I'm also continuing the tradition of Champions taking a turn out to be a judge.  And since this is a slightly different take on the whole SpinTunes experience, I can still be in ST11 next January as I promised.  So I guess there's no better confluence of circumstances than this one to be a "judge.")

So here goes . . .

First of all -- congrats to all you songwriters.  You've moved the mountain and you've added music to the world.  That's a laudable accomplishment, and the world should thank you.  As I write these reviews of your work, I'll attempt to explain things to the best of my ability, and I'll attempt to share the things I look for and think are important when writing songs.  I'll own my biases, and I'll hope that people ultimately get something out of what I write.  Some things I'll say simply so they've been said, even if I don't use them when I go to "rank" the songs.  Other things I'll share because they do affect my rankings.  And so you know?  I'm going to spend most of my time reviewing the WRITING of the songs.  I'll make a few comments here and there about production values and performance and whatnot, but if this is billed as a songWRITING competition, then I feel the primary focus of the judging and the reviewing should be on the writing.

Furthermore, as SpinTunes challenges songwriters to write songs ABOUT something, I'm correspondingly going to pay a lot of attention to the writing of the LYRICS.  I'll take into account both the story that's BEING told and the craft with WHICH it's told.  So to begin, let's start with one of my strong biases -- rhyming.  Rhyme in song serves a purpose.  (They can serve several kinds of purposes, in fact.)  So let's talk about rhymes . . .

I'm going to showcase four contestants as examples -- two from each "pool."  First is Zoe Gray from the Realm of Shadows.  And I'm discussing her first because she (in my opinion) wins the rhyming category hands down.  She established a rhyme scheme and then stuck with it.  She had rhymes both within sections and ACROSS sections of her lyric.  And she made certain her rhymes rhymed properly and didn't settle for any near-rhymes.  Anywhere.  Brava.

Next is Jenny Katz from the Realm of the Champions.  She went the opposite route and chose NO rhymes -- to very good effect.  However, I do have a question for you, Jenny.  Was your use of assonance in the bridge intentional?  I'm guessing that it was, as it seems too premeditated to be accidental.  (I'm referring to "guess/rest," "bed/forget," and "eyes/side.")  I honestly can't decide if true rhymes would have been better there.  Internal rhymes help drive a line forward, of course.  Does internal assonance accomplish the same thing but perhaps with a "softer touch"?  Or would finding true rhymes have been the more appropriate choice.  I don't know . . .

Moving on to MC Ohm-I.  He wrapped (not intending for that to be pun-nish) himself up firmly within his genre and all but said, "I'm going to near-rhyme EVERYTHING, and I don't care."  And I had a lot of respect for that artistic choice.  The only place we had a true rhyme was "names/games" in the chorus, and that seemed appropriate and acceptable.  But then -- right at the end -- we suddenly had "lot/plot" and "ample/sample."  In a verse.  Where every time before we had had near rhymes.  I felt the littlest bit betrayed by that change of scheme . . .

Last of the "top four"?  Brian Grey from the Realm of the Shadows.  Let me start by simply saying this:


The sheer ambition of this lyric.  Did you (the listeners) all take the time to appreciate the crazy-wicked internal rhyming going on here?  (If you didn't -- or even if you did -- I'm going to take some space to explicate on Brian's behalf...)

Let's re-write the beginning of the lyric to showcase the rhymes by breaking the line every time one occurs . . .
(A)  What the HELL?
(B)  How could YOU
(C)  Think that that was gonna WORK? 
(A)  Can’t you TELL?
(B)  Get a CLUE.
(C)  Now the system’s gone berSERK.
(D)  Put it down, walk away, go and sit over THERE. 

(E)  See the SPRING
(F)  That’s aSKEW?
(G)  It’s installed in reVERSE. 
(E)  EveryTHING
(F)  That you DO
(G)  Makes the world a little WORSE. 
(D)  Take a nap, eat some cheese, just get out of my HAIR.

(H)  Why must _I_
(H)  Be burdened BY
(J)  Such lazy, DENSE
(J)  IncompeTENCE? 
(K)  That’s delicate; Just leave it on the SHELF. 

(L)  So now it’s my JOB
(M)  To enSURE
(N)  That your stuff is FITTING. 
(L)  Temples THROB,
(M)  Must enDURE
(N)  Freaking babySITTING. 
(K)  Tell you what: nevermind, I’ll just do it mySELF.
(And that's just the FIRST section!)

Rhymes (C) and (G) and (N) are the obvious rhymes at the ends of lines.  These are the ones your ear hears the most readily.  Within that, rhymes (A) and (B), (E) and (F), and (L) and (M) are internal rhymes ACROSS lines, which add sparkle and drive to the lines and keeps propelling them forward.  Then rhymes (H) and (J) are internal rhymes WITHIN a line, which adds extra punch to those words and works with the music to give that section a markedly different feel.  And on top of all of that, rhymes (D) and (K) are rhymes across SECTIONS!

23.6% of the words in that section are part of the rhyme scheme.  That's INSANE.  I've only written two songs with a higher rhyme density, and one of them was a 30-second jingle for Simply Lemonade that only had 38 words TOTAL!  (The other was "To My Significant Self," and I don't know between Brian and I which one of us had to work harder to craft our lyric . . . but I also don't think it matters.  Both, I'm sure, were hard-fought, and both are lyrics of which to be immensely proud.)

But I have a couple of questions for you too, Brian.  Why, why, WHY did you acquiesce to leaving "end/then" in the least frenetic part of the song?  (And after a triple rhyme, no less?  WHY?!)

And couldn't you have ironed out "around/down" in the final section?  With everything else so amazingly crafted, why that?

And I noticed you changed the rhyme scheme at the very end as well.  In the other sections, there was a rhyme between "again" and "most."  Now the rhyme's been moved down to "one through 'n'."  (Which is a rhyme for which I applaud you greatly.)

(Jeez I hate picking these nits.  Seriously, Brian -- just a tremendous thing you've written there.)

Okay -- here's some quick notes (confined ALMOST exclusively to the subject of rhyme) for everyone else.  Remember -- my view is, "If you're gonna rhyme in your lyric, RHYME in your lyric" . . .

Rob from Amersfoort -- You also boldly went with no rhymes at all (except maybe "rain" and "hurricane").  On top of that, you used repetition ("house/house/house" and "brick/brick/brick") to good effect.  A cute little lyric.  I liked it a lot.

Trader Jack -- Another lyric which didn't rely upon rhyme -- merely the combo of "four/door/more" right at the end.  Interesting lyric.  By the way -- I did the geometric construction (and I invite you to do the math in "2-14-11"), and I'll confess that I couldn't see where the 5th circle begged to be drawn.  But I nevertheless saw the three adjacent rhombi that were formed and how they would suggest a three-dimensional rectangular prism.  It's an intriguing thought -- COULD the process be extended to spheres?  To connect the centers to the circles/planes of intersection would be to draw cones.  That could be weird . . .

James Young -- I'm a purist.  Sorry.  In my book, "hands" doesn't rhyme with "sand."  Nor does "shows" rhyme with "below" or "scream" with "dreams."  I'm going to speak very fondly about your music a bit later, and I liked the story you told . . . but I'm focused on rhyme right now.  Sorry.  (But you do get credit for ONLY having extra "S"s screwing up the rhymes...)

Bubba and the Amiable Kraken -- A cute lyric.  Only one near-rhyme ("roof/view") on which to pick.  But I noticed you changed your rhyme scheme in the middle of your song.  After setting us up with "three/tree/me" and "stay/day/way," we suddenly have "back/sack/TONIGHT"?!  Why the change?  (I also noticed the extra rhymes of "blue" and "two" in the first half of the chorus, but as "size" and "lay" didn't follow the same pattern, was that just a happy accident, or did you change the rhyme scheme there, as well?)

Ben Taggart -- Another lyric with just a single near-rhyme ("child/lives") in it.  (Plus the identity of "life/life" in the last verse.  Identities usually don't work as well as rhymes within a rhyme scheme.  Epizeuksis is great for driving home a point or an idea, but mere identities sit rather oddly in a lyric.)  A touching story, and a nice twist at the end bringing it back to him/you/"me" AGAIN even when the focus seemed to be passing to the next generation.

Boffoyux Dudes -- A clear near-rhyme is "own/home."  Closer to rhyming (but still no cigar) is "tour/door."  And I'm really sorry -- I'm sure you're tickled to no end by being able to use "shrinkage/Dinklage" in a lyric -- and I applaud you mightily for the creativity employed there -- but it doesn't rhyme.

Dr. Lindyke -- Your rhymes seemed to get ironed as we got further and further into the song.  You penned "revile/while/trial/aisle" and "away/say/anyway/day" -- why, then, START with "lies/by/July/side"?  Also -- your rhyme SCHEME changed throughout the song, as well.  You started with "heart/dreams/away" (which doesn't rhyme at all), morphed through "love/love/still" (which employs an identity), and then finished off with "strand/stand/hand" which rhymes throughout.  Was this a conscious choice?  If so, how do you defend/explain it?  (You are under no obligation or compunction to defend yourself to me -- I'd just be interested in knowing...)

Pigfarmer Jr. -- You only had a couple of true rhymes in the chorus ("cried/side") and the third verse ("down/drown") -- everything else (save one identity, "sorry/sorry") was a near-rhyme.  I know that many people are not hung up on near-rhymes the way I am, and they (and you) may not agree with me "picking" on this.  I just feel near-rhymes don't work as well as true rhymes do, so please feel free to take my comments however you will.  Also -- I noticed that you, like Bubba and Dr. Lindyke, changed your rhyme scheme in the third verse.  After "strawberries/married" and "sorry/sorry," you finish up with "love you/river."  What happened there?

Jutze -- I'll of course call you on "me/beam" and "way/fail," but I'm also going to use your lyric to point out something else about rhyme.  Perfect rhyme is measured from the last stressed vowel of a word.  So by that measure, "deMOcracy" and "GALaxy" aren't true rhymes, even though the last syllable is identical.  (You, of course, are completely within your rights to tell me to take my pedantic comments about rhyme and shove them until I've tried penning lyrics in German -- or until I've pronounced correctly whatever is the German equivalent of "squirrel."  Be reassured -- your lyrics are always fun and enjoyable, but I'm off on a bit of a tear about rhyme right now, so please accept my apologies.)

Hotel Rex -- I knew "door/bar" was a near-rhyme right away.  I didn't know whether "car/more" was a near-rhyme as well (as opposed to words that weren't part of the rhyme scheme but just happened to have similar sounds) until I compared it to "list/missed" later in the song.  Then I knew.

Governing Dynamics -- Just "store/bored," "sauna/Nirvana," and "young/fun."  And technically, maybe "hurt/DESert," although the way you sung it hid it pretty well.

Matt & Donna -- I counted five pairs of near-rhymes to seven pairs of perfect rhymes (plus the repeats of those rhymes).  But at least one of them would be REALLY easy to fix -- I'll talk about it next when I get to prosody . . .

You still with me?  I apologize to all of you who found that too didactic.  (My obsessiveness over the topic of true rhyme is just one of the reasons that I've suspected for so long that I'd be better off not penning reviews.)  But hey -- if Zoe can do it, you can do it too, right?  And if Brian can weave together all those rhymes while still telling a coherent story, then ANYTHING can be rhymed, right?  (The greatest example of this that I know is "Please Hello" from Pacific Overtures.  Another example of crazily-obsessive internal rhymes.  But we'll move on now . . .)

Prosody!  How well your lyrics hang on their melodic lines.  Actually not a lot of troubles here.  Just a few words here and there that got interesting accents when sung.  "StrawBERRies" in "River of Tears."  "SUBlime" in "Room Stop Spinning."  "StorAGE" in "My House Is Too Tiny" (plus "t-SHIRTS" and "gym SHORTS," where it would normally be the adjective, not the noun, getting the emphasis).  And there was also the unfortunate little stress that comes from the melody line and the accompaniment that makes "for you TO reinvent" a little awkward in "I'll Do It Myself" (along with "incompeTENCE" in the previous section).

But then there's the one that I told Matt & Donna up above would be easy to fix.  That's the "BEcause" in the very beginning of their lyric . . . and fixing the prosody problem could also eliminate a near rhyme at the same time!  Instead of "Is it BEcause of the FLY," what about moving "is it" up an eight note and singing . . .
Tears are FLOWin' from your EYES.
Is it beCAUSE of all the FLIES
That got near your face when I opened the door?
This fix reminds me of another thing that would have been easy to fix that I discussed with Mark Meritt back in my first Songwriting Cycle.  In his song "Do It (Duet)," he sang . . .
Like PEAnut butter AND choc'late MAkin' a REESe's.
All he really needed to do was turn the ingredients around and remove the contraction.
Like CHOC-o-late and PEAnut butter MAkin' a REESe's . . .
Ta-da!  Much better.  :-)

Okay -- we're starting to make the turn from the highly objective aspects of lyric writing to the highly subjective aspects of music composition.  I'm going to kind of use the section about prosody above as a kind of a segue into the sections about music.  In general, my thought is, "If you're going to impose structure on the lyrics, then honor that structure.  And if you choose later to change or break that structure, you should be able to defend that choice."  On these albums, some songs had a clear melody to which the lyric conformed and adhered, while other songs had a more GENERAL sense of melody, which then got flexed and stretched by the particularly characteristics of each iteration of a lyrical section . . .


Jenny Katz actually did the latter on purpose.  And again, it works to great effect.  She doesn't need a strongly defined melody (or the heft and emphasis of rhyme) as her lyric already has punch and force sufficient for the song.

MC Ohm-I did the latter on purpose, as well, although in a completely different way.  When constrained by what Richard Rogers composed (and at moments what Oscar Hammerstein III wrote), he aligned his lyrics to the melody well.  But when rapping over the beat (and that VERY effective piano performance!), he got his flow going and had no need whatsoever to remain faithful to the particular pattern and sequence of the syllables he spoke the previous time around.

Matt & Donna -- There were just a couple places where you had to drop a syllable of your melody line to accommodate your lyric.  One would be fixed by what I proposed above.  The other missing syllable is at "up and snatched it away."  You tried to make it colloquial by inserting a breath there, and maybe it works.  Is there a lyrical fix that would be better?

Governing Dynamics -- Yours was the most "malleable" of melodies from the Champions pool.  Syllables were added to or skipped in the melody as the lyric dictated.  I don't know if that made it harder to perform . . . I imagine it would make it harder to sing along to or learn until it was memorized.

SHADOWS . . . plus the . . . "lurker?" . . . song as well.

Brian Grey's melody was just crazy-tight, of course, as discussed earlier.

Zoe Grey's melody was rock solid through all the verses and choruses.  The bridge was a little weird -- some extra syllables in "She doesn’t know there’s a lock, she’s not looking for the key" (which is a fantastic lyrical idea) that weren't there in "She doesn’t need to know she’s not common stock." 

James Young's lyric was shorter than many others, but his melody was solid and defined.

Rob from Amersfoort gave himself a great deal of lyrical license and freedom, and it works.  His melody doesn't repeat with fidelity, but because of the way he presented it, it doesn't need to.  (By contrast, however, the slumber party section is painfully awkward.  It sounds like exactly what is it -- something tacked on afterwards.  It seems clear your song is a minute and fifty seconds long, and that the RECORDING you submitted is two minutes five.  I'd never argue for disqualification -- in fact, I'd argue strongly AGAINST disqualification, 'cause you absolutely met the terms of the challenge -- but it makes me sad that, at least to my mind, your interesting, quirky little REAL song got a bit "marred" by the ungainly appendage with which it got saddled.)

Trader Jack, of course, largely went free-form.  And the parts where he did sing a melodic line hung together okay.  Interestingly enough -- this seems like ANOTHER song that might really be just a minute and fifty seconds long.  However, the talking (rambling?) at the end feels consistent with the entirety of the very "conversational" recording -- right down to singing along with the initial guitar riff (a choice which initially I didn't care for too much, but now I think is kind of fun, in context).  So I absolutely consider it part of the piece, and I'd argue strenuously against anyone who questioned whether it met the challenge.

Pigfarmer Jr. -- Your melody had to flex a bit, particularly in the second verse, to accommodate the words in the lyric.  And the end of your chorus seemed a bit "squeezed" in comparison to the middle of it.  Might using the word "reach" instead of "get to" help with this?

Ben Taggart -- You faced something that was kind of out of your control melodically when you lost a syllable going from "summer" or "weekend" to "day."  But the sentiment helps it work.  More in your control would have been the extra length of "And when we’re through, we’re on our way" as compared to "So ambitious, so bold."  And then your third verse has different syllable counts in EVERY line from the previous two verses.

Boffoyux Dudes -- Your (chorus? bridge?) kind of put an unnatural amount of weight on the words "but" and "because" (in turn).  And the melody seemed a lot weirder and harder to follow than in the verses.  (Maybe that's because you were trying to have the melody follow the interesting chord progressions underneath, rather than having the chords underneath either support or provide contrast for the melody.)

Jutze, Hotel Rex, Bubba and the Amiable Kraken all had a few places in the verses where extra syllables got added or dropped as necessary . . . and Dr. Lindyke had more than just a few.  But unlike was the case in "Room Stop Spinning" (in my opinion), these songs weren't really hurt by that.  Governing Dynamics wrote a much more complicated melody, and when it kept changing, it made for a more challenging experience.  These four songs all featured far more orthodox melodies, so a little flex here and there wasn't as big of a hurdle.  (At least to my ears . . .)

So now we get into the thick of things compositional.  Music is so subjective and so hard to nail down, that I'm just going to rattle off a few thoughts to everyone in the order of which I listened to the songs . . .

Ben Taggart -- For such a simple-sounding song, there are some really interesting chord progressions here.  I like it.  (I noticed on first listening at the LP that it sounded like your intro didn't utilize 4-bar phrases, and I wrote a note to make sure to go back and figure out how the intro was structured.  Upon inspection, I figured out that you did skip one bar in the second set of four.  Interesting.)

Trader Jack -- The music is cool.  It IS fitted to the sections of the lyric, which made my worry completely evaporate that this was some generic song over which you just spoke some lines.  (I did wonder that for just a bit, but closer inspection proved it wasn't a concern.)  I understand that all the fuzziness creates a particular atmosphere, but it made it hard to hear the lyrics . . . and it seemed to me like the lyrics were a pretty important part of explaining this song's existence.

Pigfarmer Jr. -- One of the songs that weren't purely chord based.  Nice arrangement.  A guitar, a bass, and a simple drum beat (plus the eventual lead) were perfectly appropriate to a song like this.  (As someone who doesn't/can't play guitar, I feel a healthy helping of envy/respect for those who do/can -- nice job.)  On a separate note -- the "echo" vocal at the end of the song seemed weirdly thin when compared to the rest of the recording . . .

Dr. Lindyke -- (Sorry about your rotator cuff.)  Like Pigfarmer Jr.'s song, this was well served by piano, simple drums, and the occasionally-insinuated synth.  Another song (like Ben Taggart's) where the song seems simple, but the chord progressions are varied and interesting.  Nice job.

Boffoyux Dudes -- Absolutely in keeping with the style we've come to expect from you guys, and I know that you enjoy bringing the fun.  (Brandi laughed and laughed throughout it when she heard it at the listening party.)  For this particular song, I kept wishing that the verse was a little more musically-complicated, and the (chorus? bridge?) a little less so.  (Your melody was pretty good in the verse but the underpinning chords made it feel a little duller, and your melody was kind of tortured later when the underpinning chords kept hopping around unexpectedly.)

Brian Gray -- Yup.  When you've got a mouthful of words, you stay away from gymnastic melody lines.  But golly, what a great arrangement.  The only thing I didn't like was the faint little scraping in the background (it sounds like a wooden frog?), but that's personal taste and totally overlook-able in the face of everything else.  The drums, the bass, and -- oh! heavens, yes! -- the B3.  Reminded me of "Gump" by Weird Al.  (Not the Presidents of the United States version, though -- interestingly enough, I actually hadn't heard the original song until I looked it up today.)  The slow keyboard break you inserted was a nice breath in the midst of the freneticism.  (Also -- I knew you pulled this concept from your "song ideas" list even before I read it on the Bandcamp page.  Congrats on being able to cross one off of your list!)

Rob from Amersfoort -- You wrote some fun chord progressions into this song.  A whimsical little ditty.  I made a note to compliment you on the B3 and the synth parts of the arrangement, as well.

James Young -- Whatever respect and envy I paid to Pigfarmer Jr. above, double it.  Very well arranged, and I simply sit here and appreciate the guitar work I'm hearing through my speakers.  Wasn't a huge fan of the fuzziness of the vocals, but that may be just me.  Definitely sounds like a song I could hear on the radio.  I also wrote myself a note on first listen -- "Music definitely more important than the lyrics, huh?"  Not a negative -- just an observation.  I've had discussions with any number of people who agree that when it comes to "popular music," the most important aspect is the drums . . . or the guitars . . . or whatever's driving the atmosphere of the song.  The lyrics are less important than the overall effect.  And I agree that that's very true in popular music.  It's in art songs -- in musical theatre songs -- that it's often the lyrics that are more important.  So while I stress the lyrics when _I_ write, I can appreciate a well-written popular song like the one you've written.  (It reminded me a lot of "Leave" by Barenaked Ladies.)

Jutze -- As Boffoyux Dudes turned in a consummately Boffoyux Dudes song, so too did you turn in a consummately Jutze song.  I wrote "ear worm" on first listen.  Goofy and fun -- need I say more?

Hotel Rex -- Not just a nice arrangement, but a nice mix as well.  This was one of the songs that had a simpler chordal construction (C, Dm and G chords in the verses; F, G, and C and an Amin in the chorus), but it had a sweetness to it, and the guitar solo was nice.

Zoe Gray -- I liked the atmosphere and the general simplicity of the song's chord structures for a song about a robot.  (And I really liked the bells in the background of the mix.)  But as I said before, I thought the bridge was a little weird musically, and I didn't like the fuzzy vocals.  It made it harder to understand the words, and I didn't think it added anything essential to the song.  (It reminded me of the one fuzzy verse in "I'm The One That's Cool," and that verse bugs me a lot . . . precisely because it's so hard to understand the words.)

Bubba and the Amiable Kraken -- Oh my heavens.  Such fantastic harmonies!  And such an engaging, fun little song.  The arrangement was wonderful.  It was well-produced.  Extra points for the whistling.  But the chorus really stole the show.  Lighthearted and sweet, and riding the cotton-candy-sweet harmonies straight into the brain.  Kudos.

MC Ohm-I -- BEAUTIFUL piano work in this song.  The strings were a nice touch, too, and the vocal harmonies were cool when they kicked in.  (The vibe and the delivery reminded me of the fun I have listening to Zach Whedon churn out "Zach's Rap" from Commentary the Musical.)

Matt & Donna -- Most of my comments on this are actually production related.  I'm not sure what the instrument or patch was that you chose to feature so prominently, but it not only kind of grated on me, it also made it hard to hear a lot of the words when I didn't have the lyrics in front of me.  (I actually had just finished writing "Hard to hear words" just as the lyric "Can't understand you" was sung for the first time in the song.)  Musically, I thought the melody was okay, but I thought the chord structure of the song verged on overly-repetitive, except for the instrumental break which seemed to try too hard to compensate in the other direction.

Governing Dynamics -- The mix seemed a bit too "reverbatron-y."  Other than that, you always do a nice job of arranging your particular moody brand of rock.  I've already discussed how I think the complexity of your chord progressions led to a melody that would have been better served by a slightly more consistently structured lyric, I don't really have a lot extra to add here.

Jenny Katz -- Yep.  The angrily-strummed solo guitar was absolutely an appropriate choice.  And it was well performed.  Another round of respect for those who demonstrate ferocious skill on an instrument completely outside of my skill set.  Reminded me generally of Ani DiFranco.

Gettin' close now.  Time to quickly talk about how people met the challenges . . . or didn't.

Jutze?  Your song was a minute and forty-six seconds.  It was supposed to be a minimum of two minutes.  By my reckoning, that should disqualify you.  As I'm just a guest judge, I'm not privy to what discussions the other judges and Spin might be having, but I imagine this one's pretty cut-and-dry.  (Sorry, man.)

Boffoyux Dudes?  I don't know whether you met the challenge or not.  The song was supposed to be about BUILDING something.  Your song seems to spend its time touring people around a house that's already BEEN built.  By my reckoning, the only thing that an outside shot of saving you is the single line (written in the past tense), "So we built a house on a trailer."  And I don't know if the official judges will think that's enough . . .

And here's the one that really kills me.  MC Ohm-I?  I don't know if you're going to survive this round.  Which sucks, 'cause I'm going to rank you first in the Champions pool.  I mean -- you submitted a fantastic song, and I absolutely understand how sampling as you did is absolutely par for the course for the genre.  But the SpinTunes competition has always expected songwriters to contribute ORIGINAL material.  There's precedence for this.  In ST3R3, Caleb Hines was DQ'd for setting the words of a 19-century poem to original music.  Now of course, lyrically you're absolutely fine.  The question hinges on whether you submitted original material MUSICALLY.  On the heels of that, in ST4R1, I tiptoed about as close to the musical line as I thought anyone could when I submitted "Sweet Dreams."  Like you, the entirety of the musical accompaniment came from another source -- this time, "Hush-a-bye Baby."  But what kept me "safe" -- and I was VERY careful to make sure this piece was there when I submitted it -- was the fact that I had original words sung to an original MELODY over the first half of the song.  Largely by virtue of the fact that you were rapping, you don't really have that.  In your song, not only is the underpinning accompaniment Richard Rogers', but every time you sing, the MELODY is his as well.  So MUSICALLY, there's nothing there that's original to you except for the arrangement . . . which is admittedly very well done.  So your survival is going to hinge upon whether the judges grant that rapped lyrics are inherently imbued with their own special kind of RHYTHMIC "melody," which in a pinch would give you a pass on the question of musical originality.  I have no idea if that idea is going to be strong enough to save you.  I've always considered myself rather good at finding just-barely-safe grey areas from which to write and submit songs -- if you survive, congratulations on having found an even greyer area in the rules than I thought possible.  If you DON'T survive, I'll be very sad for you.  I'm going to rank your song first, because as a list song, I think it beat out everyone else in your pool.  I'll leave it to the other, official judges to decide whether it gets to stay there . . .

So here we go.  You're endured my reviewing and apparently you're still here.  I've been competing in MoSF and SpinTunes since August of 2008, and I've never written reviews before.  I don't know if people are going to decide now that it was wise for me to just keep my thoughts to myself or not.  But for whatever they're worth, here are my highly-subjective rankings . . .


Top Tier
1st place -- 4 points -- Favorite Games
2nd place -- 3 points -- Thoughts On Leaving You

(I gave it to MC Ohm-I because his lyric seemed more obviously "list-y."  There have been many times in SpinTunes where really smacking the challenge pays off for the songwriter.)
Next Tier
3rd place -- 2 points -- Reasons My Kid Is Crying
4th place -- 1 point -- Room Stop Spinning

(I broke this tie in favor of Matt & Donna because again, their lyric seemed more obviously "list-y" to me.)

Lower Tier
I liked all three of these songs.  Jutze's made me laugh, Boffoyux Dudes' made my wife HOWL, and I appreciated what Trader Jack was doing with his very different kind of submission.  What I HATE is how rankings tacitly suggest that the entries at the bottom of the list have little or no worth.  That's not true.  (That's part of why I elevated the bottom of the list to the top of this section...)

9th place -- 3 points -- Ballad of the Emperor (although I suspect it'll be DQ'd)
10th place -- 2 points -- My Tiny House Is Too Tiny (although I think there's a chance it might get DQ'd, as well)
11th place -- 1 point -- Building
Next Tier
I don't know if it's coincidence or not that the two songs about building a metaphorical bridge to someone's heart and the two songs which used building sandcastles as a metaphor all finished in a clump in the middle of my rankings.  But they were all quality songs that I enjoyed.  And Rob -- I really enjoyed your song's sensibilities.  My mind kind of groups the songs in eighth through tenth place on my list as the "fun" songs, and yours was the one that tickled me the most from that little "mini-pack."

5th place -- 7 points -- Day After Day
NO RANK -- NO POINTS -- Building Me  (This is where I'd place it if it were an "umbra," rather than a "penumbra" entry.)
6th place -- 6 points -- River of Tears
7th place -- 5 points -- Bridge
8th place -- 4 points -- Dream House
Top Tier
Brian -- your efforts just screamed out to be rewarded.  Zoe -- it pleases my soul to no end to know that an entity like Pixar exists and thrives in this world.  You make me feel much the same way.  Bubba (et al.) -- You won me over with your chorus.  James -- I just love the music you wrote.

1st place -- 11 points -- I'll Do It Myself
2nd place -- 10 points -- Satisfaction Guaranteed
3rd place -- 9 points -- Bluebird
4th place -- 8 points -- Sandcastles
Whew!  I'm on summer vacation, so I had the time to spend the entire day on Tuesday and the first couple hours of my Wednesday working on these reviews.  Time to get back to be own project.  (I know at the top of this page and in the SpinTunes comments I already left you a link to this small sneak peek.  If you'd like to see that small snippet in context, here's a slightly bigger sneak preview...)



Monday, July 27, 2015

Champions Vs Shadows #1 Round 1 Songs

First off, everyone who hasn't yet, should wish Tom a big HAPPY BIRTHDAY!  Even on his special day, he made time to host the listening party for us.  So thank you Tom.

I myself had to miss most of the party.  Sick, and I have to get up at 2:30AM Tuesday.  Oh, and I ended up calling the police on my neighbors about 10 minutes into the party.

The songs are now available for FREE download on 2 albums. Until the round 2 songs are posted I will only allow people to download the round 1 albums as a whole. But even after that, PLEASE download the entire album vs downloading just a handful of songs while the contest is on going. BandCamp limits how many free downloads I can give away, and 1 album download counts the same as 1 song download. 11 Shadows beat the deadline, 4 Champions, and we had a late shadow come in during the party.

Now the most important thing for you to remember this time is that YOU get to help decide the winner.  Anyone who signed up for the contest & completed a song gets to send in your rankings.  So if you're a Champion, you get to rank ALL the Shadows from favorite to least favorite.  And if you're a Shadow, you get to rank ALL the Champions from favorite to least favorite.  It's not required, but if you want to send in reviews with your rankings, that's an added bonus everyone would appreciate.  Just send your rankings to the same e-mail you used to submit your song.

Champions Album:

Shadows Album:

(Album cover by Matt Schubbe)

- Judges, guest judges AND competitors need to turn in their reviews & rankings by July 31st 11PM (F).

- Reviews & scores will be posted August 1st before 11PM (Sat).

- August 2nd 1AM (Sun) the Second Challenge will be announced.

Videos: If anyone wants to make a VIDEO for their song, I will include it here:

Today's The Day by Erin & The Wildfire (Inverse T. Clown cover)

Building by Trader Jack

Links Of Interest:
- Dave Leigh posted a song bio for the Dr. Lindyke entry.