Archive for July 2011

SpinTunes #3 Round 2 Review

TL;DR Matt and Donna made a fantastic song. It’s my favourite one this round and you should check it out!

Judging this round is easier, because there are fewer entries; it’s also harder, because you need to consider the newspaper story for each song. Personally, I found this challenge a bit too liberal – so many possibilities. Then again, my personal style relies on puns, and ordinary news rarely provide them. I guess I liked those entries best that strayed from the original story a bit and developed a life on their own. Here’s the individual verdicts.

Godz Poodlz: The pop band production gives this one a Jonathan Coulton feeling, yet I’d prefer a more basic approach in the style of the folk singers from the 60s. The lyrics require knowledge of the story, which might diminish the impact of the song. Apart from that, the plot and the values sung about speak directly to the listener (at least to me) and there’s little to no part I’d skip / shorten. Nice one.

Caleb Hines: Great atmosphere, beautiful melodies. The instrumentation gives the song a movie soundtrack / music vibe. I’m not sure the handclaps belong there. Also, the chorus could have done with a bit more closure imho.

Matt and Donna: I like this one from the very start. Yes, I’m a sucker for synth melodies (and sounds) like this one. The rhythm is this perfect mix between sparse basics and driving beats. The changes to some minor chords throughout the track give the song enough emotional depth to render the lyrics somewhat unimportant. And then I read them and the annotation, and I wish I had a) found such a story and b) come up with such a small, yet clever idea. Hot contender for my favourite song of #3 so far. (PS: A different, more memorable title could have made more sense in the challenge, like “stuck between the bars”. Then again, the actual title fits the song and is clever.)

Alex Carpenter: The sound of this stripped recording reminds me of the German Monsters of Liedermaching. The quirky man-with-guitar approach isn’t the perfect vehicle for a rather serious, highly motivated lyric. Alex should have changed productions with the Godz Poodlz! The ending could have gotten bigger with some more instrumental toys, I guess. In the present state it sounds rather flat, and the song remains nice at best.

Ross Durand: Top notch vocals – love the many words in one line vs. short line endings contrast. The guitar playing is exquisite as well. Once again, switching to a minor chord (?) when it comes to “Land of the free” give the chorus an extra bit of emotion. I’m not sure how including three headlines in one song is in line with the challenge. Still, the way they are combined into something new (i.e., this song) works perfectly for me. Very good entry!

Dr. Lindyke: May I suggest you add some vinyl playing sounds (crackling?) to the recording? It’s difficult to compare this contemplative song to the rather upbeat entries most other contestants made. I like how peace is in the center of the whole song. A bit more “plot” in the lyrics (as in the third verse, where a person, a place, and an action is given) would have appealed to me, I guess.

Alexa Polaski: Mmh, this seems to suffer from deadline writer’s block. Or maybe the flat, sober rendition is intentional. I find myself impartial to this entry.

Matt Walton: I get the feeling that this is a good idea. But the execution lacks energy and passion. Or maybe it’s intentionally clean. Speeding up the whole thing and adding a jig somewhere in there would have spiced up things. Speeding up your song is generally a good idea to figure out possible changes/improvements. I’m not a native speaker, so my impression of the lyrics is rather vague. The verses sounded too much alike. It’s a song about demonstrating, so it could have done with more outgoing temperament – and possibly a mellow last verse for contrast.

Charlie McCarron: The production and performance sound quite good – still, it’s a tad too jazzy for my taste. The soaring vocals in between are a nice touch. The song managed to turn a newspaper story into a song story, thumbs up for that!

Jon Eric: Epic song, longest entry so far!? It starts out good, but the first chorus is already taking the drive out of the song. The atmosphere is gripping and it becomes clear that this will be a longer journey. The whole thing reminds me of Trans-Siberian Orchestra – probably the pathos in the vocals and the piano. When I say that this one’s too long, I don’t mean that parts are very enjoyable. The plot line holds the thing together and is one of the better ones this round.

Wait What: Did the planned marriage involve a robot? No? Then why the excessive auto-tune? The music is solid, creating a dense atmosphere. I like how it becomes bigger half-way through the song. Having the vocals in a higher register afterwards is a good idea. But why the auto-tune?

Governing Dynamics: Much better than the previous entry – or at least more true to the dynamics and the vocal/e-git combination I admire Travis for. The choice of the news item isn’t exactly quirky or anything. But the aura suits the musical style. Tip for future hit songs: Try writing a refrain that starts with an offbeat (that is, the vocals have a couple of notes before the 1 of the first chorus bar). Right now the song seems to me like a reflection of a big city in turmoil (which is an achievement), but with the right kind of hookline it could have been, well, catchier.

Pat and Gweebol: The topic of the song is rather serious, but the overall tone is quite joyful. Apart from this cognitive dissonance it’s a solid song, neatly produced and with much better vocals than I can ever hope to perform myself.

The Offhand Band: Did Billy Joel sneak into the contest? The style of the song along with its unintrosive melodies makes it easy to dismiss it as (quite flawless) background music for movies, elevators etc. The story told in the song has an important message and I wish it would have been put into more concise words.

Chris Cogott: Amazing vocals! The news were translated into highly original lyrics. I don’t think you can meet the challenge more than this entry does. There’s little to complain here, only that it’s ever so slightly outside my musical pleasure zone. Maybe it’s a bit too soft, a bit too much U2 (though there’s little to begin with), a bit too vast a harmonic soundscape. I don’t know. It boggles my mind that this appears to be one of the earliest submissions as it sound really professional. Maybe next time there will be rock guitars or melancholic twang guitars. No wait, we all will be rapping.

Steve Durand: I like how Steve has a rather unique sound that sets him apart from the other competitors. His tune is cheerful and less elaborate than some of his previous works. The vocals struggle with the higher notes – transposing is no crime, I think. The music is a bit too casual for my taste. The instrumental part in between hints at a bit more depths. But in the end it’s a plain waltz with a lot of happiness.

Gold Lion: Again, this is not exactly my cup of tea. However, the droning motive in the guitar and the strong vocals make me enjoy this song quite a bit. The refrain is beautiful and the story rather touching. The guitars could be a bit tighter, but this doesn’t keep me from enjoying the song. Also, the second vocal track is a bit confusing, at least to my ears. I could imagine that some more instruments here and there could give the whole thing a bit more colour. Anyway, a pleasant entry.

Inverse T. Clown: Oh boy, why isn’t the rhythm in the chorus a double-time feel? The verses are a bit dull, but the chorus is strong and the sounds fit the song well. The dramatic chord near the end of the refrain is very effective. The instrumental is kind of cool. There could have been a tad more plot development throughout the verses. Nice ending, good song.

Happi: Not a pleasant entry, partly because I’m not into rap. Oh, the irony. The plot fits the style, sort of. The individual parts a rather flat, but the transition keep the ball rolling throughout the song. The chorus melody is sung out of key, I guess. But who am I to point that out?

Menage’ a Tune: A jolly tune with some nice rhymes and a sincere vocal performance. I would have liked the title line to be bigger, more like a recurring refrain, maybe sung by a bunch of players. (Is it baseball? Or basketball? Or American Football?) I’m sure I’d dig the song if I had a connection to the team/type of sport.

Noah McLaughlin: The off-beat hi-hat in the verses is an interesting choice. The twangy guitars are cool. The distorted vocals work well. The songwriting feels a bit rushed. The middle-part is rather confusing, yet another indicator that more time would have led to a better song (or no song at all, who knows). The lyrics deal with a complex matter (or well, a matter I’m not too familiar with), so while I’m catching glimpses of the news in the song, I struggle to connect all the lyrical dots.

SpinTunes #3 Round 1 Review

Prologue: Here are some comments on the first round of SpinTunes #3. The challenge (“write a happy song about death”) made it rather hard to write lyrics with some sort of progression / developing narrative. I guess that’s what led to so many songs being rather short. Anyhow, I wrote the comments over a long stretch of time; the oldest ones come first.

Godz Poodlz: Jingles, self-promotion – and now an ad song. Gödz Pöödlz deliver it. The vocals remind me a bit of George Harrison. I wish had a line like “we take Major Credit Cards and cash” in my own tune. I have a couple of complaints, but they focus mainly on the production: the chorus could have done with a bit more distinction from the verses; also, the drum pattern becomes a bit dull – a more Traveling Wilburys-like Jim-Keltner-Groove would have been more to my taste.

Tally Deushane: I’m glad Tally’s vocals aren’t as permantently high register-based as in most of her other songs. The approach is certainly entertaining, but I’m afraid that both the music and the lyrics could have done with some editing. (I know it had to be 2+ minute long)

Ethan Ivey: Where’s the happiness?

Matt And Donna: The most serious song so far. Still it’s happy enough to make me smile.

Ross Durand: Johnny Cash plays U2 after taking some antidepressiva? The lyrics are happy-go-lucky, perfectly fitting the challenge. Sadly, this diminishes the replay-value.

Gold Lion: The vocals sound like they come directly from the latest hip indie dreamy shiny newcomer release. Frankly, I prefer songs like Dream Theater’s “Afterlife” (read: heavy metal) to ‘modern’, ‘groovy’, ‘soulful’ music like this. The main song idea sounds like something that could appeal to a larger audience, though.

Dr. Lindyke: Delivering the straight and plain “Don’t cry when I’m dead and gone”, Dr. Lindyke barely makes his entry happy enough to meet the demands of the challenge. This is another song that has a somewhat serious atmosphere, which gives it more depth than most other entries have.

Alex Carpenter: Cool intro, finally some rock music! But wait, is this a Minor chord? Mmh, the chorus soares just above the depressive lyrics. It takes a bit too long for it to appear in the song. Nice choice with the gun sounds in the middle. This is one of the better songs, but walking a thin line challenge-wise.

Jason Morris: A subtle plot in the lyrics that takes a little while to manifest itself and its fatal consequence. The Oohlalala-backing vocals are a nice contrast. The song doesn’t go to deep, but the music and lyrics go hand in hand. I was hoping for Jason to write some more, well, passionate, or rather higher vocal lines for the chorus. Still, good tune. ETA: The intro/guitar/beat reminds me of It’s Alright by Dar Williams.

Caleb Hines: I’m surprised that this tune is in a similar style as Jason Morris’s song. Only the interspersed minor chords remind me of Caleb. The songs tries to balance geek rock (think TMBG) and a more mature orchestral pop ballad song atmosphere. I don’t think it’s an attractive combination. May I suggest Caleb stays with the geek rock next round?

Inverse T. Clown: Whoa, where does this 80s pop come from? Now this a happy song! The lyrical approach is not surprising, but the execution makes me giggle. I’m afraid I’m slightly happy about Caroline’s demise, too. There’s potential to shorten the song (or to include a synth solo).

Governing Dynamics: As I had feared, Travis became a victim of the challenge – I just prefer him singing sad songs. The music is surprisingly happy. The serial-killer story doesn’t appeal to me. With Dexter there was at least some sort of moral justification on the side of the protagonist. Here I have no sympathy with the narrator at all. This sort of destroys the song for me. Sorry.

Luke Brekke: I wasn’t too fond of the beginning, but the Cannibal-Annabelle-rhyme is really funny. Once again, the pun of the song comes early and is then repeated until the end. The music isn’t too memorably, but the lyrics have good rhymes. The happiness is there, but could have been more pronounced.

“Buckethat” Bobby Matheson: The songs starts out really tame. Sure, someone’s dying. But hey, don’t worry, be happy! Finally, the chorus comes around. The emotion in the song feels rather content than happy. Maybe it’s just me, though. In order to appeal to my taste better next time, please add ice-cream and balloons.

Charlie McCarron: Another of these neo-folk, artsy, no-I-still-cannot-describe-the-style-properly songs. The happiness in this one is subtle. The death reference is also rather subtle, which is a nice change after so many rather blatant songs. This might be the first song that provides continuing lyrical inspiration even in the last verse. Still, the music is not really matching my taste.

Spencer Sokol: Mh, another song about not coming home. The ending reminds me of, tata, Governing Dynamics. I like that. The happiness is very subtle. I’m not sure if the percussive beats should resemble the beating heart, but it works. The song starts out a bit too soft. Maybe it could have been, well, happier – a bit more of a triumph.

Matt Walton: The first minute is entertaining, but again the lyrics become repetitive. The music is jolly enough to meet the challenge. I just don’t feel the spark that makes me want to smile. So I guess I just nod.

Brian Daniell: The lyrics try to postpone the death realization as long as possible. The chorus and the subsequent post-chorus part are a nice invention. The vocals are bit tame, but the happiness is tangible. I assume the title is a baseball reference. If I knew more about that I might get more out of this song, but it’s still a pleasant entry; I just wish Thursday to Sunday would have appeared, as well.

At this point it’s Sunday and the ratings and rankings have been published; so the remaining comments might be somewhat biased.

Edric Haleen: As expected, Edric manages to turn this somewhat plain lyrical idea into a massive assembly of rhymes and twists and turns. Since he can’t really take the story to a next level half-way through the song he resorts to making this long middle-eight rambling. Very effective. Not as catchy as I had hoped, but still a song for the higher ranks.

Chris Cogott: Certainly one of the best production so far, but frankly I miss a deadly hookline. The lyrical idea is, well, sweet? Still, I can’t hum along after two listens, which makes me a bit sad.

Glen Raphael: Someone once said something like: Using reverb is sort of cheating but sometimes necessary. So here the production makes it hard for the melodies to shine. Turning the volume of the percussions down could have helped. The chorus melody has potential. Unfortunately, the lyrics keep repeating the same notions after the first verse.

Wait What: Some of my favourite lyrics in this round. Sadly, the music flirts with cheap pop and remains otherwise unremarkable. I would love to hear Caleb Hines put some catchy music to this one. Given the present music, speeding up the whole thing is the only idea I have right now to improve the song as it is right now. The middle part is a nice change – only I don’t like rap.

Young Stroke aka Young Muscle: Did I just write I don’t like rap? Funny coincidence. For what this songs aims to be, it’s okay, I guess. Plenty of creative lyrical ideas, a solid beat. Maybe the chorus could have done with one or two more instrumental tracks, perhaps even just a low bass line.

Doom SKITTLE: Another Afterlife-song – the music is somewhat minimalistic. The voice strays from ordinary melodies, but there’s plenty of, mh, self-confidence. This tune sounds as if it is supposed to sound like this. So this entry is not mainstream at all, but it has more identity than most. Unfortunately, the lyrics fail to achieve the same rate of uniqueness. The story should have been way creepier, I think.

Steve Durand: I loved Steve’s Gamma Man with all its drama. This song remains on the beaten path, the drums sound good, the harmonies create a dense, pleasant atmosphere. After a while, the whole thing becomes a bit monotone. The middle part is more memorable than the actual ending line. The music isn’t overly happy, rather very content – but the lyrics convey a clear message of happiness. All in all I like this one quite a bit.

Menage’ A Tune: The death part in this one is subtle. The happiness is clearly there. AND IT’S ABOUT CHOCOLATE. So it’s virtually impossible to not like this one. The lyrics are possibly my favorite ones this round, especially with the happy undertones in the vocals. The music becomes a bit monotone, but yes, it’s a great, happy story about death.

The Boffo Yux Dudes: Did Monty Python just hit a bus carrying the New Model Army? It would have helped to have a clearly marked chorus. Or some whistling. The song would be much less interesting without the passionate performance.

Byron Blocker & The Offbeats: Starts off a bit like Tom Waits. Once the whole band sets in it sounds a bit to clean. Also, it’s a bit too repetitive when it comes to the lyrics. She’s dead. I get it. There could have been a more detailed story here. The music alone doesn’t appeal to me that much; also it’s rather gloomy. It’s not a bad song or anything; I just could envision this being more intense, more twisted.

Happi: The rapping sounds more angry than happy. The lyrics acknowledge this shortcoming by insisting that it’s a happy song. The chorus could have done with a slightly different instrumentation for the sake of contrast. Only in the middle-part do I sense some real passion – oh well, I’m just not the right person to say complimentary things about rap music, I guess. Sorry.

Emperor Gum: This song has a bit of a cinematic feel to it. I can imagine the figures, the deed – but, mh, it’s more a drama than a comedy. So it is a gripping song. But it sorts a clear hookline. All I’m left with is the story. And a dead body.

Jon Eric: A rather visual account of death – not that original per se, but compared with similar entries, Jon comes up with a coherent narrative that’s topped with a joyful chorus. The performance sounds a bit flat to my ears. Maybe Travis is right, demanding more banjo. Personally, I’d wish for (more) memorable melodies in the vocals. (Which is the most difficult thing to achieve, apart from getting the guitar player to lower the volume of his instrument.)

Alexa Polasky: It just occurs to me that no one used spectacular dying sounds. No Wilhelm scream (so far). This song here comes close to it at first, but then uses repetitiveness as a style element. This gives the song an 80s vibe, which is anything but a bad thing. The killer hook is absent, but the production makes the most of the song idea. The lyrics leave a lot of ways to imagine their context. Sadly, I’ve already heard too many songs about death by now. This is a solid entry. Still, I get the feeling that you could have made more of the “only gets better”-part, making it broader, more intense, better.

Pat And Gweebol: I get weak whenever I hear Uhlalala backing vocals. I’m glad someone used the Romeo & Juliet theme. The music struggles with the happiness, but it’s bright enough to satisfy the stickler in me. The female vocals are very strong. I wish there could be more fantasy, epicness, vastness in the production. But this is still a good, little tune.

The Offhand Band: This one just sounds too much like the Rutles.

Ethan Ivey: The atmosphere is nice, but then the lyrics destroy everything. I think this is a vampire story. Or it’s similar to the Governing Dynamics lyrics. Anyway, the harmonies are slightly too soothing, yet too basic to make the brutal plot a contrast big enough to justify thrashing my emotions.

Bryce Jensen: Music, lyrics, performance – they’re all not spectacular enough. Made more simple this tune could have been cheerful and pop ice-cream. Or with a few minor chords, there could have been deeper emotions to contrast with the relief of the singer in the chorus. The ending is somewhat too sudden.

Mick Bordet: Excellent lyrics! The chorus is enjoyable, too, but the performance is a bit too shaky. Some big guitars on the 1 and 2 of each bar could turn this into a stadium anthem. The “lick you” part and the flute are nice touches. Oh, and I’m a vegetarian, yet I enjoy this song.