Saturday, March 12, 2016

SpinTunes 11 Round 4 Reviews

It's the final round, and this one's a Photo Finish! The challenge:
Photo Finish - Write a song inspired by the Everett Leigh photo below:
The photographer (and subject) of the photo happens to be my brother.

As this is an "inspired by" challenge, with no set lyrical or technical requirements, it's a pure contest of songwriting craft and pretty much anything goes. And listening to the songs it occurred to me, not only that all of the composers belong in this final round, but also that I found it really, really difficult to rank them. They're all excellent! So, being at a loss myself, I turned to my good friend Vizzini for his opinion.

Vizzini is renowned for his blistering sharp wit and refined taste. I found him at a tavern near the outskirts of Florin, sharpening his stiletto. Being Sicilian, he's rarely without it, though he prefers to use his brain and hired muscle. I explained my predicament, offered him my MP3 player and lyric printouts and ordered a round of drinks. Presently the barmaid arrived to pour the wine. I motioned for her to leave the bottle.

Presently Vizzini turned off the player. "They're all very good," he opined.

"I know," I replied. "I guess it must be as hard for you to rank them as it is for me!"

"Inconceivable!" cried Vizzini, "I already know who the winner should be!"

"Really?" I was impressed. "Would you enlighten me?"

"Of course!" he answered. "Let's go through them one at a time, in album order.  We'll start with the first entry, 'The Real Indiana Jones'. Jailhouse Payback, prompted by the appearance of your brother in the photograph, engages in well-defined storytelling concerning the movie character of his title. Within this, he incorporates other features of the photograph... clouds, sky, the sea, and the rocky shore. Coupled with a very catchy tune, infectious beat, and solid performance that includes an impressive guitar solo, clearly this entry must be my favorite!"

"Interesting!", I said. "So this is number one. What's your second choice?"

"Not so fast!" cautioned Vizzini. "I haven't finished describing my first place choice!"

"Alright..." said I, puzzled, "Do continue."

Vizzini continued, "Governing Dynamics' entry, 'Sound On Sound' has a very different feeling, much more melancholy and laid-back. Though the vocals may seem a little more shaky, we have to remember that this is a songwriting competition. And Governing Dynamics went beyond the image of the photograph. He did the sleuthing to learn of the actual location shown in the photograph and incorporated that into his song. That kind of detailed craftsmanship certainly earns him some bonus points. Plus, the guitar work in this number is superb. Clearly, this entry must be my favorite!"

"So," I ventured, "This is the best of the lot? You're ready to move on to number two?"

"Not even remotely! I'm just getting started! I haven't yet discussed Ominous Ride and 'Rocks And Sky And Water And Sand'! Though the band claims not to be proud of this mix, it's largely due to the same perfectionist attitude I bring to my own work!" Vizzini inspected his stiletto with a slight frown and resumed polishing the razor edge as he continued to speak. "This piece encapsulates the resonant sound that is the signature of Ominous Ride's previous work. It also displays a different kind of songwriting; one based in pure emotion rather than narrative. One image expressed in light prompts others expressed in lyric and sound. This emotion isn't lost even on an intellectual like myself! Clearly, this entry must be my favorite!"

I sensed a clear pattern. Despite that, I fed the troll. Then I turned back to Vizzini and queried, "I suppose now you're ready to move on?"

"You'd like to think that, wouldn't you! But I'm not some moron who leaves a thought unfinished! There's another entry to consider! Megalodon took a literal left turn with their entry, 'Stout Cortez', winding up on the West Coast instead of the East, describing a sunset instead of a sunrise. Such things are perfectly allowable when the image alone is your prompt. And according to the band, the photo prompt prompted a memory of a poetic prompt to prompt the music and narrative! Inconceivable!" It occurred to me that perhaps that word didn't mean what he thought it meant, but I allowed him to continue, "Megalodon turns this into the story of an explorer on the Western shore of a vast continent. Not only is this highly imaginative, it gets whimsy points for putting your brother in a rubber room. It's also arguably the best produced song of the bunch. Clearly, this entry must be my favorite!"

"But that makes four favorites!" I complained, "How would you rank them?"

"I've already told you what I thought of each song!" snapped Vizzini. "A clever man can hold more than one thought at a time, and a Sicilian never goes back on his word! And that reminds me, I've been employed to kidnap a certain young maiden, and must collect my associates and procure seagoing conveyance. I'm on a tight schedule, so now I must take my leave!"

Vizzini began to walk away, then turned back to the table, sweeping the bottle of wine and two goblets into his pack before bustling out of the door.


Realizing that I had just wasted an evening and a good bit of coin without being any closer to a solution, I decided to call on my brother for his opinion. After all, he took the photo. It's only fair that he get a say in ranking the songs.

I found him at a tavern near the outskirts of Florence, sharpening the contrast on some images in Photoshop. Being a photographer he's rarely without it, though he prefers to use his brain and in-camera settings. I explained my predicament, offered him my MP3 player and lyric printouts and ordered a round of drinks. Presently our server arrived to pour the sweet tea. I motioned for her to leave the pitcher.

Presently Everett turned off the player. "They're all very good," he opined.

A sense of dread coupled with deja vu began to wash over me. It quickly abated as he continued.  "The poetry in the lyrics for all were easy for me to relate to and I truly liked them a lot. But if I have to rank them, then here are my personal preferences, in order." He slid a piece of paper across the table to me. On it he had written his verdict:
  1. Jailhouse Payback - The Real Indiana Jones
  2. Megalodon - Stout Cortez
  3. Ominous Ride - Rocks And Sky And Water And Sand
  4. Governing Dynamics - Sound On Sound
I turned the paper over and realized it was the bill. When I looked up, Everett was gone.


Sadly, Vizzini didn't offer an opinion on the shadows, but here are my thoughts:

Jailhouse Payback - Steps And Regrets (Shadow)
To be perfectly honest, of the two entries from Jailhouse Payback, this one is the one that got stuck in my head. It's a lot catchier. Nevertheless the right song was submitted as the official entry, as The Real Indiana Jones captures more of the flavor of photo than this one. It's a little strange to hear "Up on the mountainside" when looking at a photo of the ocean. Lots of banjo goodness in this one, and it's earned a permanent spot in my MP3 player. This sort of song is why I'm a Jailhouse Payback fan.

Boffo Yux Dudes - Sunset (Shadow)
Ooooooh, this is a little darker than we're used to from the Dudes. They went with the 'sunset', and produced a solid ballad of regret. There's still a hint of what I call "BYD Mode" in the chorus, which makes it recognizable as a Boffo Yux Dudes production. I'm a bit distracted by the instrumentation, though. Are these instruments out of tune on purpose, by accident, or is it just my ears? If this were a piano, some of the notes might be found in the cracks between the keys.

Boffo Yux Dudes - The Color Of Invisible Light (Shadow) 
My high school teachers always said, "write what you know," leaving me puzzled as to why they consistently rejected my monographs on serial murder. Nevertheless, this advice seems to have worked out pretty well for the Dudes with their background in broadcast media. The first bar establishes that this tune is going to be in signature "BYD mode" clean through. They're playing to their strength in the same way that the Riddler is playing to his every time he sends Batman a postcard. It usually works out, right? The photographed colors of the sunlit sky led them to this pensive piece that notes that most of the electromagnetic spectrum is factually "invisible light" (which, as a former USAF radio tech, I truly find fascinating). Besides the fact that this has some really nice organ work, there's gotta be a prize for this line alone: "Listen to the song I sing, it’s pulled out of my rectum." I can't argue with that!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

I Made A Clarinet...

Since this pic was taken I've added a bell.
I made a clarinet.

Really it's started out a recorder with a clarinet mouthpiece, but it sounds a lot like a B-flat clarinet. In fact, I was going to make a recorder, but by using the clarinet mouthpiece I saved a lot of trouble getting the fipple (whistle mouthpiece) right. The clarinet mouthpiece and reeds bumped the construction cost from about $5 to $40.

Then it sort of went from being a modified recorder back to being a (keyless) clarinet, as I took a heat gun to a section of pipe to make a bell and added it to the body. Since the body itself is nothing more than a straight piece of CPVC and the mouthpiece and bell are easily transferred, I'm experimenting with different fingering arrangements.

Well... really they're pretty much just a CPVC plumbing pipe cut to lengths, with finger holes drilled in them, but they sound OK. In fact, they sound a lot better than I thought they would. 

After making it, I discovered that the clarinet reed/recorder fingering combination is sometimes called a saxinet.

In making the instrument I made some reference to The Physics of Music and Musical Instruments, by David Lapp to get the tuning right.

Item Picture

written by David Lapp
published by the Wright Center for Science Education Tufts University

SpinTunes 11 Round 2 Reviews

SpinTunes 11, Round 2. The challenge: "Write a song about your favorite guilty pleasure".

This round I'm looking for sincerity. We did say "your" guilty pleasure, after all. Now, there's no way we can check up on that, so I don't really care if it's your actual guilty pleasure or not. I'm looking for you to convince me that it IS with a marriage of lyrics and style. And hell, if you can make ME like your guilty pleasure, then that's just icing on the cake.

That's the part I write before hearing the songs. Now that I'm hearing them, I don't know what to say... once again, there's no way these should be spread into 16 slots, but them's the rules. So here are the rankings, top to bottom. And if you see less verbiage from me than usual, it's because you guys (and gal) seem to know what you're doing. So I'm just sitting back, chillin', and enjoying the songs this round.


Glen Raphael - Cadbury Shanty
You brought the troubadour in strength, Glen. Clever lyrics, a tune with nice contour, an addictive rhythm. And spoons. Yeah.

Jailhouse Payback - Watching "Lockdown"
C'mon... a band named "Jailhouse Payback" jointly writing a song called 'Watching "Lockdown""? A song with genetics like this cries out for a smokin' C&W sound with banjo? AND THE DELIVERED! What's not to love about this? A favorite.

Ominous Ride - Cheap Wine
There's that great sound again! I could go for Mogen David myself.

Mark Humble - Secret Desire
LOL. Mark, I never knew you were such a meme person. Heavy metal, sweat, long hair and cheezburgers. Meow.

Adam Sakellarides - Guilty Pleasure
JUDGE Judy -- GUILTY pleasure -- oh, you're killing me. I can't believe I'm putting this here.

Ross Durand - Uh Oh!
Oh, wow... This fun number is a callback to the classic commercial. It's also an effective defense of childhood comfort food. :)

Megalodon - Exact Change
Oddly enough, my mother had this same mania. She'd dig around in her purse until the entire queue was tapping their toes like Fred Astaire. Then she'd beam at the clerk, pleased with herself beyond all reason. I like this song. It's got a nice beat, it's easy to listen to. It doesn't jump up and demand anything from me, but it doesn't languish either. Good stuff.

"BucketHat" Bobby - Ode To Internet Explorer
I hate the browser. I don't know why I like the song. Maybe it's just that a little resemblance to "Under the Sea". Maybe it's the hand claps. Maybe it's the fact that I was never cool enough to use Piczo. Whatever. I still like it.

Governing Dynamics - Ireland Delay
When I heard the first line I could have sworn I had heard the phrase "City of Angels" from you before. It bugged me so much I went and Googled it. I couldn't find it, so I guess it's deja vu. It's the sort of phrase you can get away with once, so check it off your bucket list. Smooth rock, with more than a touch of U2's style. Oh, let's face it, you nailed the style. And a good pastiche goes far.

Edric Haleen - My Dear Wife
Candy Crush is addictive, or so I hear. I wouldn't know: as with heroin, I've never tried it. And here I am on the day before St. Valentine's, submitting a review of an Edric Haleen song in which he blames his wife for wasting his time. I hope Edric has a recovery plan.

Pigfarmer Jr - I Like p0rn
Everyone loves p0rn, even the people who are offended by it. And pleasures don't get much guiltier than this. The music outdoes the lyrics here. I guess that's not a bad thing... a friend of mine commented that it has an "appropriate" rhythm. Don't ask. Really. Just don't.

James Young - Love (Actually)
Really nice rhymes and near-rhymes. I was kind of getting into the schtick where you're calling out the actors for other roles, and I wish you'd kept that up. It would have helped with the awkward "Billy Bob Thornton" line. Musically, there's nothing *wrong* with it, but it doesn't grab me. I'm pretty sure the other judges are going to rank this higher.

Rob From Amersfoort - Girls In Leggings
This has a nice, quirky sound. I can't quite be as enthusiastic about the so-so lyrics. To make it up to you, here's a link:

Ellie Sparrow - Bathe In Media
I like the simple accompaniment, but the instrumentals still overrun the vocals. Not as bad as in round 1. Ellie... PLEASE... your voice is nice. We want to hear it. Don't bury it.

Emperor Gum - Electricity
I don't quite buy this as a guilty pleasure. I'm not even sure it's what we meant by "guilty pleasure". Congrats on the musical departure... this was a big change for you, and well done. It's particularly clever to bring the electric sound into a song about electricity... but I can't shake the feeling that it was soft on meeting the challenge.

Jon Eric - Candy Cigarette
Argggghhh... I hate it when this happens. I don't think this song meets the challenge. If I got it wrong, I apologize, but I've got to be able to say "challenge met". This kills me because the song is catchy and poppy, and very cool. It's as sweet as the lyrics. It's TITLED like it should be, but you're singing about the girl, and metaphorically compare her to the candy cigarette exactly once before comparing her to other candies. That's not what we asked for. You're supposed to write a song ABOUT your guilty pleasure. Now, the girl might be that, but that's not where the song went with it. It's doubly sad because this would have been PERFECT for Spintunes 9, round 2: "Write a song about unconditionally loving someone who plainly isn't worth it." The first verse and refrain easily nails that challenge.


Brian Gray - Building An Orc Army (Shadow)
Intricate rhymes that would make Eminem bow out! Speedy delivery! Funky beats! If this hadn't been so long in the making and had been written for this challenge, you'd get another number one ranking from me. I'd even buy it as being a guilty pleasure. I mean, after all, Saruman *did* hide his dirty misdeeds as long as he could, and obviously took pleasure from his megalomania. But you didn't write it for this contest, so you'll have to content yourself with being the very best shadow of this round.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

SpinTunes 11 Round 3 Reviews

OK, we're up to Round 3, and down to 11 competitors. The challenge:
Greek Chorus - Write a song with no chorus based on an ancient mythological figure/story. (2 minute minimum length) (they had 8 days)
Before I get on with the reviews and rankings, here's what went through my mind when we selected this challenge. In other words; once again, here are my biases:

The songs
"No chorus" is pretty straightforward. For me, that's no stanza repeated. You can swap out tunes, have a hook, etc... you just can't repeat a group of lyrics. Obviously we can't say the same for the music, or strophic form would be out, leaving us to allow only through-composed tunes. That's not what we're looking for. So personally, I'm fine with it being in a verse-chorus format musically, so long as every verse is lyrically distinct. I'm also fine with short refrains and callbacks no more than a line in length.

As for the content. I'm looking for exactly what we asked for... a song based on an ancient mythological figure or story. We got some questions early on as to how "ancient" is defined, and I was pretty clear that I felt that 500 years or so would do it, particularly if you were going to pull from some lesser-known mythology. Any older than that and you'd start dropping off some mythologies such as those of the New World civilizations or the Norse. For my tastes, the older and more obscure the better.  I don't mind looking something up, and am very happy to learn something new. So I was hoping for some bit of Aztec or Akkadian lore. I also prefer stories to purely emotional or allusory lyrics in this case. And though the song itself doesn't really have to be ancient, I think you'd have to really get my attention if you're going with a modern theme.

So before I listen, that's what I'm looking for: a song with no chorus based on ancient mythology. Let's see what we got...


Ominous Ride - Sisyphus
Oh, yeaaaaaahhh.... you got me with the opening guitar. Then again with the vocals. I'd expect to see this on a vinyl LP as part of a rock opera. Very Pink Floyd. A little more distinction between Sisyphus and Death would be nice.

Governing Dynamics - Wax Wings
I'll have you to know that Procol Harum was one of my favorite bands back in 70s. You caught my attention with the organ, Travis. Prog rock suits you. You've got a good start on a three-act piece here. I know you were worried about the length, but honestly, something like this cries out for a longer piece. Though six minutes is pushing it for a competition, you could easily double it (or more) on an album with no problem.

Glen Raphael - Elisha The Prophet
OK, Glen, I'm diggin' this. Ancient mythological figure: check. Clever, entertaining lyrics and catchy tune: check. The song is so good in my estimation that I'm going to be picky, perhaps unfairly. It sounds ever-so-slightly rushed, and it's heard mostly in the guitar work. I know you were actually rushed to get onto the JoCo cruise, so it's understandable.

James Young - Unbound
I gave my three of my top four spots to retro rock. Sue me. This has a nice slow start that steps up in exactly right spot. You'd have edged out Glen into my number three slot had it not been for the first part of the fourth verse, which I think could probably use a little tightening. Don't ask me how... it's a feeling.

Megalodon - Cassandra
The intro dragged a bit, but I forgot about it when the song started. The challenge does say "based on" ancient mythology, and that's what you went with here. A "modern-day Cassandra". I'm actually surprised that you're the only group that took the allegorical approach. I did say you'd have to really catch my attention with a modern theme, and you did it with that groove.

Edric Haleen - Is That Too Much To Ask? (An Appeal To The American People)
Through-composition is a sure-fire way of meeting the technical challenge. Of course, Edric, for you this means basically, "write a song". This is your briar patch, after all. ;) That said, the final "WAR!" was probably over-the-top. It might actually have a bigger impact coming from Jesus if it were under-stated. Generally I'm finding that I like the subtlety of Elisha a bit better.

Emperor Gum - Pyramus
Topic-wise, this is what I'm looking for! Ancient and story-based. Told in Emperor Gum's trademarked very-private-conversation perspective. Musically, this was a great arrangement. Vocally, I wish you'd gotten a guest singer. But I have to judge the song, and I like this. It sounds very much like it would be intended as a musical drama, and though you've used this structure before, it took me a while to figure out why it doesn't work as well for me in a stand-alone song as it would in a play. To explain, take a look at Edric's theatrical approach: it's to sing to you, the audience. Governing Dynamics tells a two-person story, but you feel as though you're one of those characters because he limits himself to "I"/"me" and "you". It may sound odd, but as I see it, first person implies that you're speaking to the audience directly, as does second-person directed at the audience. Even third person implies that you're talking to the audience about someone. All of these are inclusive in some way. But in this case your characters are so focused on each other that it feels as though the audience is excluded. It's a private moment and my gut reaction is to mind my own business. Incidentally, that is my theory regarding the Beatles' runaway popularity in the early '60s. Prior to them, most songs were sung to a specifically named person. But the Beatles sang "I Wanna Hold YOUR Hand", "She Loves YOU", etc.. They made it personal.

Jailhouse Payback - The Story of Xenu And The Revolt In The Stars
Guys, this song had me screaming at the Moon as it was playing in the listening party from the moment the word "thetan" was first uttered. You get banjo points, you get Ray Stevens pastiche-points, you get entertainment points, and you get all of that deducted for screwing with the "ancient" requirement.  Yes, I know Xenu is supposedly 75 million years old, but you and I both know "the Commodore" dreamed up this story around 1966. If I let you get away with this one, then what's to say someone couldn't just up and invent a brand new story about character like "Smeghead, the Magic Caveman" and claim that even though he was conceived yesterday he's obviously "ancient" because he "lived" in the Neolithic age 10,000 years ago? That's pretty much identical to what's happening here except that it was another guy, not you, who dreamed it up recently. So although you squeak by on a very slim technicality... although I love your song more than any other song on this list... although if the challenge had omitted that one word you'd have come in first place by a Country-and-Western mile... *sigh*

Ross Durand - Sympathy for Hades
Ross, it's a nice homage to the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil". Got a little out-done this round, though. Could have benefitted from a little more out-of-the box treatment.

Mark Humble - Waiting For Persephone
I usually like your stuff more, Mark... and I like this one to a point. It actually sounds longer than it is. I was surprised that it's only two and a half minutes long. I think it could benefit (oddly enough, given this criticism) from some more length that you could take advantage of with a softer opening and a brighter, more joyous Spring.

Rob From Amersfoort - Pygmalion & Galatea
It's a good topic. The lyrics are thin, though, and the music is a little more video-game than either storytelling or emotion.


Jeff Brown - Orion (Shadow)
Perhaps could use a little variety, but very nice. Would be a good piece on an album between two more energetic pieces.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Spintunes 11 Round 1 Reviews

Well, it's that time again. SpinTunes 11, Round 1, and I'm judging. As always, I'm going in to the round with certain expectations. This time I'm expecting...

...something different. Something narrative, if possible. A moment in time or a frozen emotion if not. We’re not asking for a lot… there’s nothing technical about the challenge. But we are asking for a song about something, so the more meaning that gets packed into it, the better.

If you’re new to SpinTunes, know that I do my best to judge this as a songwriting contest, not a “battle of the bands”. Performance counts, definitely, but it’s possible to overcome limited instrumentals or vocals with really good songwriting craft or instinct or emotion. And I’m pretty sure that where some of my choices surprise you, it’s explained by one of these factors. In the end, it’s subjective, and there you go.

If you’re returning to SpinTunes, you’ll have gotten on my good side if you brought something a little different than you have before, mainly because this is such a light challenge.

Don’t read too much into the rankings. Many of these were too close for there to be a difference… and I mean there are groups of as many as five people that I want to put in the same slot. But somebody had to come before somebody else. The fact that I can’t tie rankings disappoints me, too. Keep in mind that the rules this time don’t include eliminations, so try to jockey to maintain or get a better position next round!

Here they are, ranked from top to bottom:


Ominous Ride - Maiden Trip
I’m always up for an ominous ride. Love the sound, love the sound, love the sound. This is delightfully mysterious… which fits perfectly with the early prog rock sound, just this side of psychedelic. If I were to remake The Prisoner, I’d want this song in the soundtrack, preferably when the Rover shows up. There’s nothing really to explain. Just enjoy.

Mark Humble - The First Time You Broke My Heart 
I’d buy this.

Emperor Gun - Leaving
I have to admit. When this started to play, I winced a little. I was prepared pain and felt I’d have to interpolate a lot. When the chorus kicked in, I was delighted. The voice… well… you know the voice and guitar both need work, right? The ohs and ahhs could be retired, or even stood against the wall and shot. But this is one of those cases where I’m going to say screw all that, and judge the song. It’s got story. It’s got heart. It’s got ambition. It’s got Lancashire. I love it.

Steve Durand - Original Sin
I’m gonna give Steve bunch of points for chutzpah. And then more points for the speakeasy sound. And then some more for the lyrics. And some more for pulling off a humorous number that doesn’t feel like a novelty song. Oh, hell just have a bunch of points. I want to see this performed. By a big band in white suits. With dancing. And costumes.

Ross Durand - Premiere
Ross Durand doing Edric Haleen’s schtick… you don’t hear that every day. Except this is definitely Ross through and through as well. It lifts you up... it sets you down. This is just a very nicely crafted song.

Glen Raphael - First Time (Phantom Menace)
Glen, if I haven’t said this before, you’ve got one of the most pleasant voices of anyone I personally know. (If I have said it before, fuggedaboutit.) This is how to do novelty. You set it up, you hit the punchline… you satisfy the time requirement and get the hell out of there. I Iike that you don’t overplay the joke. I like the understated humor. You patiently set the hook and started reeling me in with “what I need is decent acting.” This has a really nice and relaxed delivery that I really like.

"BucketHat" Bobby - Free To Be Me
Bob Dylan with a squeezebox. I know… Bobby doesn’t really sound like Bob Dylan, and there’s nothing politically minded about this piece, but I’m still reminded of that style. Maybe it’s the carefree disregard for putting the notes on an actual scale. As for the lyrics, I don’t know why the singer’s attitude has undergone such a transformation, but this isn’t really a narrative song… it’s just celebrating an emotion. I’m good with that… real good. This gets ranked above some frankly nicer sounding entries because of the simple sincerity of the song. I'm older than the average bear (I’m working on my second semi-centennial), and it rings true. There's a moment of release when a person decides to let go of self-imposed stress and just decides to be satisfied. Happiness is a state of mind that you can achieve at any time in any station. Spend too much time desiring the things you haven't achieved, and you can't appreciate the gifts you already have. Ask Buddha.

Governing Dynamics - Fool Me Once
A NEW SOUND from Governing Dynamics! I really needed to read the lyrics for this, as the delivery was indistinct. It’s appropriate for this style, but highlighted the fact that even reading them I didn’t quite connect with them. First betrayal. Not sure what kind of betrayal, but there it is. I could see this or something like it in the soundtrack of some indie film.

James Young - Alone
Maybe I’d score it higher if I felt more connected to it. There are lots of generalities (so general they’re almost cliche). Often that’s a plus because it broadens the potential audience, but here I don’t get the feeling of a narrative. The verses seem disconnected from one another. If you’re going to go with an autobiographical sound, I’d like to learn something, or at least be fooled into thinking I have. Musically, it’s very nice. It’s the sort of thing I’d listen to if I wanted some background ambience that wouldn’t distract me.

Edric Haleen - How It All Began
Talk about specificity in autobiography! All that’s missing is your locker combination! The narrative is excellent, and as usual the rhyming and meter are precise. Very well crafted, as usual. It doesn’t rank higher because, although it explains “Edric” to me, it doesn’t “put the Edric in me”, if you know what I mean (and I know you do). The bare vocal melody works… but honestly, the ending doesn’t grab me. Perhaps it’s intended to leave me hanging, or wanting more. Mostly it left me wanting an ending.

Jailhouse Payback - First Time Caller
BANJO. You get banjo points. OK, here’s a thing. I don’t write these in the order you see them here. I write them as I’m listening, then I shuffle them around, so if you read all the reviews you’ll see that this song answers some criticism of other songs… namely, that if you’re going to go autobiographical, do it with some specificity. Even if it’s made up, make be believe I’ve learned something about “you” (the character). This song does that very well. Now that I’ve said something nice, I’m going to balance it with this: pick a target. You’re calling the radio station, talking to the D.J.. But the first verse is directed at your love. And so are the choruses. Try “her coat”, not “your coat”. and fix the last two lines of the chorus. The last verse is fine, directly addressed.

Sam Rodewald - My First Song Will Be
Well, we did title this “My First! song”, which could be literally interpreted as “my first song”. This sounds like it should accompany hand-drawn animation, maybe in pastels. I don’t know why, but I like it. Sam, I just wish it had an ending. Maybe it will, someday, when you write your first song. ;)

Jon Eric - Perry's Song (Everybody's Waiting)
I’m not fond of the bridge (lame, frame, shame, became). Otherwise, well-crafted.

Rob From Amersfoort - The First Time You Die
Did Adam Sandler sign up under a pseudonym? Actually, I quite like the concept. And this is just quirky enough to make me smile.

Adam Sakellarides - Have You Heard?
I’ve got to be in the right mood for novelty songs (even the ones I write). This could move up or down the list depending on my state of mind. BTW, I love brussel sprouts, too. Broiled, in butter, with a little garlic.

Pigfarmer Jr - Kill A Man
Sort of a song, sort of a rap… I think I’d call it a Colin Mochrie delivery.

Megalodon - My Foolish Mind
The hook is so much better than the verses that it’s almost distracting. Maybe going autobiographical wasn’t the best choice here. Lots of specificity; the verses read like a diary than a song. But the vocals and the instrumentals are nicely arranged and easy to listen to.

Keen Sid - Never Done That Before
It's their first time making out. The vodka's talking. And it's all very casual, which leaves me not very emotionally invested. Musically it’s tight, but to me it sounds like every garage band in every garage in Middle America.

Jeff Brown - The First Time
For a moment I thought this was Governing Dynamics gone acoustic. That’s not terrible… he’s won this thing before. You start out fairly strong, but after the first chorus you sort of fall into a semi-made-up-as-I-went-along sound, though. I’m not really saying that’s what it was, but you didn’t sound confident with the chord changes. Probably few more times playing it through before might help, performance-wise. I’m a little confused by it, and here’s why… the delivery sounds very sincere, but when I pay attention to the hook… “the first time I believed you”, it makes me wonder why this is so melancholy. If your partner is that untrustworthy, it seems to me that other emotions might take the fore. If I "can’t see lies from truth", I must have believed something before now. I know… logic doesn’t always rule in a song, but it does help to sell the emotion if it’s got a good footing.

Ellie Sparrow - Footprints On The Moon
I’m not quite sure what to say about this one. I want to like it more... I do. The quiet voice is nice, but it seems to me that the drums are just out place with soft voice and detract from the minimalist ambience. Maybe a hi-hat alone would have done the trick better. And I think that this one was simply cut short rather than having no ending… a technical glitch that really should have been caught because you submitted in plenty of time. But there are other rounds....

Ben Taggart - Like The First Time
This has a very sincere feel… the sort of thing a girlfriend might hear and go “awwww…”. Unfortunately, for me it wasn’t enough to overcome the execution.

Turtle Fence - First
You got a real turtle to sing this, didn’t you? I’m sorry… I’m not sure this moves much beyond the concept. It's a novelty concept that sound novelty. It could probably lose the last verse.

The Boffo Yux Dudes - First Wurst
It feels like it’s trying very hard to rhyme. I’m not sure it’s trying very hard to do anything else. I hate putting you guys in the basement, but that's the way it worked out. Kill it in the next round.


Brian Gray - First One Here
A completely different sound; clever, funny lyrics; social commentary; historical shout-outs; a danceable family-friendly Latin show tune; AND it meets the challenge… You’d’ve gotten a seriously competitive ranking if this weren’t a shadow. As in top spot. You’d have been the first one here.

Marlon - Take Your Money
DAMMIT, Marlon! How can you be so good and so bad at the same time? I’m going to be completely honest with you… the performance on this makes me want to roll up in a ball and die. But then I suck it up and listen, and the song itself isn’t bad at all. You’ve not given us ONE first time experience, but a dozen, rapid fire. I get this kind of almost Copacabana kind of vibe from it, and once again I imagine a song of yours being played with different instruments (lots of bongos) and different voices and liking it.

Stick around and shadow the next round.

Jailhouse Payback - Get Involved, Rechs
Jailhouse Payback - Special Glasses To Read
Jailhouse Payback - The Chewbacca Thing
Jailhouse Payback - Hot Breakfast On A Weekday
Jailhouse Payback - The Very First Time
Jailhouse Payback - The War To End All Wars
Jailhouse Payback - Pulled Over
Jailhouse Payback - To Sing When He Was Sick
Jailhouse Payback - My First Rap
Nice try, Rechs… I’m not going to review nine freakin’ shadows. But I will say this: the previous holder of the most shadows in a single round went to the Boffo Yux Dudes. And then you’ve come along with not just nine songs, but nine songs that all meet the challenge squarely, communicate a theme, and don’t suck (and I’m fudging on the last one, because it’s supposed to sound like that).  Forget the gauntlet being thrown… The bitch has been slapped.

Not only that, but with our resident rapper out of the competition, you managed to slip in a rap to Represent. OK, so it’s this rap, but still…

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Weird Instruments 5 - The Lap Skate Guitar

Take a skateboard deck. Add some strings, frets, tuning pegs, and a pickup, and you've got a manbearpig... er... a lap skate guitar.

It looks and sounds like this:

Here's a write-up, including an "OMG" headline which I'm too proud to reproduce: [LINK]

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Weird Instruments 4 - The Sapeh

Today we have a traditional lute from Borneo... the Sapeh.

(Or sape... Or sampet... Or sampeh... Or maybe sapek... in this case the spelling seems so informal as to be accidental)

At first it looks just like any other lute, but upon closer examination you'll notice some unique features:
Sapeh front, side, and back
(click to embiggen)
  • Only one of the strings is fretted. It's the only string used for melody. The other three strings are drones. The frets themselves are tiny, just extending across the one string.
  • There's no sound hole. That's because it doesn't need one.  The instrument has a hollow back, and the whole thing is carved from a single bole of wood.
  • For such a heavy instrument, it sounds light and ethereal. The resonance chamber opens away toward the body of the player. 
  • It has electric pickups. As it turns out, these things are very easily converted to electric use.
  • The tuning pegs are rudimentary dowels.
  • The strings are of different physical lengths, and each has its own nut. They're fed through holes in the head to the tuning pegs.

The Atlas of Plucked Instruments (did you know there was such a thing?) surmises that this instrument was devised by boat builders, which may account for its odd design.

There's a site on Angelfire where you can actually buy your very own finely crafted beast. However, if you were to carve one yourself, you might want to note the tuning, which should be as follows:
String 1: Tune like the middle C of the piano
String 2:Tune like C one octave lower than middle C
String 3: Tune to A, a minor third below middle C
String 4: Tune to F, a perfect fourth above middle C

And now that you've had the nickel tour, here's a playlist of sapeh music to keep you busy: