Monday, July 2, 2012

SpinTunes #5, Round 1 Semi-Review


Since I have limited time this week, what you're getting here is pretty much initial impressions of the songs I felt like reviewing. Since there are 30 official entries and I'm writing about 11 of them, you're probably not in here. Shoot me.

I expected a lot of "last day at the office, you suck" kind of songs here, and got them. A lot of them. I really doubt that all these songwriters work in boring clerical jobs, but that's most of what we got. What's up with that?  It can't be just a case of attempting to squarely meet the challenge, in that the challenge doesn't say whose last day of work, nor what kind of work. As challenges go, it's pretty open-ended. 

Several artists stand out for me by virtue of creativity and originality. They're not necessarily the best in the round, but they kept my attention. Here they are, listed in order of presentation on the album. With 9 eliminations, there are a lot of spots in the next round. Some artists I haven't reviewed will get through on decent production or excellence of execution. I'm not reviewing every song this round... I don't have the time. So if you aren't in this list it doesn't mean I hated what you did; it just means you probably wrote about your last day at the office.

The Album. Vote for your five favorites >HERE<

Francis Wms. - Redundant Redunit
I was hoping to keep this list to only the songs I like the best, but I just couldn't. This stands out for sheer horribleness. It's pure sampled babble and noise. You can literally move the slider of the audio player anywhere in the song and you'll be unaware that you've jumped to a different location. There are "lyrics", for all the good they are to you. They're as jumbled on the page as they are in the song. They all carry messages of hope; which makes this (in my mind at least) an artsy piece that juxtaposes the numb shock and despair of losing a job with the eulogizing of a social worker. But art only works when it's possible to interpret the message, and this noisy mess keeps that from happening. I'd just as soon never hear it again. Also, I'm pretty sure everything here is sampled, and there are no original lyrics, which might earn it a disqualification. So why am I so cruel as to mention it here? Because it does stand out as unique... and because Francis Wms. stuck his neck out and took a huge chance with this production. As this number shows, that doesn't always work. But people deserve credit for acts of courage.

Mariah Mercedes - Ending(eternal)
Mariah interprets the last day of work as personal death. Not a bad interpretation of the challenge, but this is a bit tedious to get through. Should Mariah make it though to the next round I hope she finds a hook for that one.

Edric Haleen - The Death of a Meme
With his usual Broadway flair, Edric manages to pull this off his unique concept with some sections that are soaring and inspirational in their way. I'm pretty sure that some people listening to it are going to hear the soaring parts and want to re-write the rest. That thought depresses me.

Felix Frost - Leaving Lyman's Liquor Store (update)
Musically, it's a 16-bit videogame soundtrack. That's a strength and a weakness, as the harsh synthetic sound is a "love it or hate it" affair. If this review sounds like a "hate it", it's only because I'm focused on the things that detracted from my enjoyment. By this time I know that Felix's disjointed style is a matter of choice and preference, so even though it's not for me, I appreciate the intricate technical effort and talent that went into it. Overall, it's OK, but didn't make it into my first pass at these reviews because it didn't affect me strongly in either a positive or negative way. The repeated orchestra hits get a bit tedious... my ear wanted a break, and thankfully got one. But with that break comes the major problem I have with it... it's a videogame soundtrack right down to hearing the different levels and cut scenes. And that's fine for separate songs, but it seems too much for a single piece. The transitions are jarring, to say the least. It also seems too much for "the last day of work". Obviously it's his last day at the liquor store; but it's also his last day as a bandit. And he throws a lot into that last day: selling the store, blowing a safe, escaping the sheriff, having dinner, going to another town, committing another stick-up, engaging in a shootout "in the dark", then robbing a miner, noting that a reward had been posted, botching his escape, and winding up in jail. Clearly this isn't a one-day affair, and the song isn't about "the last day of work", regardless of which day you take to be the "last". To me, it meets the challenge very tenuously, if at all; and that's as a result of over-reaching. I think it would have met the challenge squarely and frankly been a better song if it were limited to selling the store and announcing his intentions to become a bandit. (I'd prefer it as a short story rather than a novel)

Menage a Tune - Crowning Glory
Menage a Tune pulls off one of the best songs of the round, in my opinion. When JoAnn first told me what she had in mind, I anticipated 10 minutes of tedium, but she and her crew managed to put a story spanning 6,000 years into a concise and compelling format that's unique within this competition. Breaking out from the grey uniformity of the crowd, Menage a Tune tells instead a story of the completion of the building of the Pyramids from three different points of view: the Architect, the Pharoah, and the Archaeologist. The music is culturally appropriate, well produced, and the harmonies are spot on. JoAnn's part would probably sound better in a higher range, as in the outro, but that's a quibble.

Ross Durand - I'm Lying
Ross' take on the last day at the office stands out for the emotion. This is the story of a man who, instead of quitting or retiring, is fired, and can't bring himself to tell his wife and kids. Really poignant.

Buckethat Bobby - On the Pogey
I learned a new word today... "pogey". Apparently it's what they call the dole -- employment insurance -- in Bobby's faraway corner of our spherical world. This is a lighthearted sea shanty. The thing about a shanty is that it's supposed to be familiar, keeping within set bounds to be instantly teachable. While this is very successful at that, the formulaic nature would keep it from leading my list of songs were I judging. Still, this song is to my mind the most fun in the round. It sounds to me like something Popeye's relatives would all sing at a family reunion. 

Orion Sound - Praying
Wow, I'm so used to the Orion Sound writing songs I hate that I'm completely unprepared to deal with one I actually like. This ranks among the best songs in the round. It explores a variety of ways that people react to losing their jobs, from despair to anger. I'd love to hear it re-recorded minus the unnecessarily stilted pronunciations of words like "DIE-eh-ty" and "in-DUS-try", and fixing the harmonies on the first line of the last chorus. The backing vocals could be pulled back so they don't obscure the diction of words that are worth hearing clearly. That my only quibbles are with these picky production issues is telling, because otherwise I think it's a great song. Whether The Orion Sound actually intended to write a great song or wrote one accidentally while endeavoring to shock is completely unimportant to me.

Emperor Gum - Pygmalion (update)
OK, I'd like to review this on the basis of the song alone -- but this isn't Song Fight, so I'm looking at it with an eye toward the challenge. My first impression was that this didn't meet the challenge. Then I read the lyrics and I'm still having a hard time with it. It doesn't seem to be about that last day of work; it's about 'Galatea'. The only way it squeaks by is through implication based on the use of past tense in the lyrics... the work of creating 'Galatea' is done. Beyond that, it seems to lack a hook. I can appreciate through-composition, but it's a tough thing to accomplish without sounding like a ramble.

David Ritter - Graveyard
This song about a gravedigger's last day on the job combines an excellent concept with uneven execution. Zombies. The abrupt start could use an intro. The phone call makes me smile.

Boffo Yux Dudes - The Ballad of JJR
Political satire! Boy, that Chris Cogott makes everything sound better, doesn't he? I kid. One lyrical quibble: "No man I call my enemy" scans better as "I call no man my enemy". As it stands, you miss the next line while you're trying to unravel this tortured grammar.

Godz Poodlz - It's a Great Day at BigMart Today
More satire! GP manage to do the "screw you" take on the last day challenge with some more depth than you'll get from your middle finger alone. Yet one more thing that's impressive about the divine canines!

Greg Hosack - I'm Gonna Go
Greg gets mention here for excellent execution, and for an introspective take missing from a lot of the competition.

Dr Lindyke - Mayan Holiday (Shadow)
Normally I wouldn't comment on my own song, but I will anyway. Since the challenge doesn't say whose last day of work it is, we imagined it to be everybody's. The question was how to do that. The answer... destroy the world! And this being 2012, it was obvious to us how that should happen. Also, this being 2012, I felt sure we'd get a few "Mayan disaster" entries. This is the only one, so yay self! Uniqueness! As is usual for me, production sucks, especially when played next to these other entries; but I don't care about production. You knew that. By the way, this is really fun to play live. (And really... if you can't admit to liking your own entry there's something seriously wrong with you.)

Zoe Gray - Say Goodbye (Shadow)
Oh, wait! Zoe comes in with a just-under-the-wire entry about the Sun's last day of work! Original! In an unusual twist, I like the verses here better than the chorus. The verses are introspective and witty. The Sun's attitude in the chorus diminishes the sympathy gained in the verses, and this line bothers me: "I'm going away till the day I die". Where does a sun go? It would be a stronger and better song, I think, if the sun simply died. It could dwindle, it could explode, it could be snuffed out like a candle flame... whatever. But, check this out... Zoe is 11 years old! And the reason I'm giving her more critical feedback than some "that was great!" platitude is that she put out a better song than quite a few of the adult competitors. If she can do that at 11, then she'll be astounding in short order. And I know that her dad will keep her straight about which advice to keep and which to ignore.
Update: this is very likely advice that should be ignored. I played the song without commenting on it for some other people, and it gets smiles and laughs in the right places, and "Awwwww"s in the right places. Some things transcend logic.

8 comments:

Emperor Gum said...

[/shoots]

Alvis said...

Hey, Dave;

Glad we (BYD) made your list. If nothing else, you know we're going to try to stretch the challenge however we can.

Now, I don't normally quibble with quibblers (I kid back), but the "No man I call my enemy" actually had a bit of foresight involved. Lyrically, I was trying to pull stylistically from the lyrics of the 50's/early 60's folk boom, which to these modern ears sounds precise but stilted (I have an uncle who has tutored me in this era, perhaps a bit more than I have enjoyed), which is why I think that music reached a kind of cultural cul-de-sac and hence stands out a bit today. Maybe it didn't work, but at least it was a deliberate choice.

As for Chris Cogott, look no farther than the description of yourselves above to see why we eagerly enlisted his services; we're in the same boat (though by ourselves we're trying. Very trying.) It's like a Clydesdale pulling a Radio Flyer wagon, isn't it? We're just hanging on end enjoying the ride.

BTW, re: Mayan Holiday. I am jealous that you came up with it and nailed it. Jimmy Buffett needs to steal this from you and slip it into his set to see if any drunken Parrotheads notice.

Dave Leigh said...

Emperor Gum, a review of yours was actually going to be in this list and I somehow missed it. I will make the appropriate revision this evening when I've got some time.

Al, Thanks for the clarification. I still think it sounds better the other way, but that's probably only because it does. ;) But it's nice to know you don't actually talk like that.

And thanks for the kind words about Mayan Holiday. It actually sounds more Buffett with just guitar (and margaritas on the beach as you watch the rock getting bigger is exactly what I was originally thinking), but I haven't played this guitar in many moons, so my fingertips just wouldn't cooperate for the duration of an entire song. I'll probably do a YouTube post with guitar, though.

Ben said...

Aw schucks mine wasn't even about this time period let alone a lame office job! Just kidding, I'm maybe relieved I didn't have to endure your stern but accurate criticism. :D

- Felix Frost

Rusty said...

Thanks for your enthusiasm for Godz Poodlz. It's nice when people "get it." It's even better when they get it and like it too! That was noticed and noted at the listening party too.

We were afraid there might be several "going postal" type songs. And we were pleased that there weren't as many as we feared.

Here's a thought for Mayan Holiday. Send out a signed and numbered "Limited Edition" CD Single (basically the CD-Rs that you dupe) as your Holiday Card this year!

Dave Leigh said...

OK, Graham, I've updated the list for you.

Ben, I added some stern but accurate criticism for you, too. I'm afraid that my telling of it will sound worse than it was, though.

These are probably the only two additions that I'll make, unless somebody actually requests a review.

Russ, that's actually not a bad idea, assuming I can get it knocked into acceptable shape, production-wise. I could send them early, seeing as how "we won't make it to Christmas this year".

Anonymous said...

To answer the question "What's up with that?"

We have been criticized for not meeting the challenge squarely. We were questioned on whether or not Crystal Harris dumping Hugh Hefner was topical news. We were questioned whether "toilet demons" constituted a "nightmare" (acceptible) or a "fear" (not acceptible). I've seen other artists have to justify their songs.

I don't think these artists are creatively bankrupt or unoriginal for squarely meeting the challenge given the highly subjective guidelines.

Mmm lasagna.

glen

Felix Frost said...

Wow, I didn't expect you to bother reviewing it. Thanks :D

All very good criticism. I realized late that the transitions were too startling but it was too late. And all things considered it doesn't bother me much (I listen to lots of music with crazy transitions), but I would have changed it with more time.

And I must admit I'm usually a little selfish while writing Spintunes songs in that they double as part of a personal project of mine, which is an album full of epic novelesque stories. So yeah, you're absolutely right it's too long XD

Normally I wouldn't reply to a review, but you're not a judge this time so I can tell you agree with you without feeling like a suck up! Hahaha.

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