Saturday, March 16, 2013

SpinTunes 6 Round 4 Reviews

I'm not a judge. I have no standing. But I'm going to review this round anyway, and reveal my preferences, too; because that's the kind of jackass I am.


OK, this is tough, because I like all these guys, but I'm going to do it anyway. I'm being as critical as possible here, which is quite likely to mask the fact that I like all of these entries. If it sounds as if I'm worst possible take on things, that's probably true, but only because cheerleading is a little less interesting to me today.

First, let's look at what the challenge really says. "Write a protest song in which you try to convince your listeners about something you strongly believe" (that's from Round 3). Round 4 constrains the contestants to the same topic they used in Round 3.

Here they are, ranked in order of my preference, top to bottom.

Ross Durand - Someone's

A few things put Ross' entry on top for me, though Edric's is undeniably more emotional and RC's is smoother production. This, like Ross' previous entry, is the quintessential War Protest. This could easily have been a bad thing, since Ross is supposed to be trying to convince someone of his point, and Hawks are notoriously difficult to sway. But Ross grabs you with a strong, strong beat and an intensely listenable hook that keeps you there for the message. Of all of these songs, This one is the one I would listen to, by choice, most often, while paying attention to the lyrics. These are lyrics and a message that can't be ignored. Then Ross drops napalm in the form of Sierra Durand for the penultimate chorus. "Someone" is an impersonal pronoun: Sierra makes it personal. We can send "someone" to war, but this little girl's dad needs to stay safe at home. By extension I start thinking about the other little girls with dads of their own. This was exactly the right string to pull. The production has a definite "live" feel to it... I could hear this played down at Shady's on a Saturday night with beer, peanuts and a whole lot of whoopin' and hollerin'. I'm a sucker for songs with the human factor.

RC - Get Out Of My Way

I thought that RC's lyrics lacked some subtlety last time. He definitely corrects that here. The shift to first person is always a good choice. RC's no longer telling me about these problems, he's showing them to me, and that makes the difference between preaching and persuading. My quibble is that it may be a bit too subtle here... RC almost misses his own challenge by focusing on general problems rather than inequities (he left himself a really narrow challenge), but this is tenuously rescued by one line: "I hear the schools across town are so much better". Solid production, smoothly listenable and good replay value means that people will hang around for the message. It's possible that the production works slightly against it as a protest, in that it's easy to just sit back and let this tune wash over you without paying much attention to what it says.

Edric Haleen - On The Matter Of Bullying (Part 2)

At first you'd think, yup, Edric poured everything into that and it's a shoo-in... and it may very well be. I know *I* love this song. I was indeed the stereotypical chess-club nerd in the locker. I actually carried a slide rule in a holster... this is the universal bully-sign for "give me a swirly". This song should be punching every emotional button I have. But my logic wouldn't let me be until I understood what was bothering me about it.  Who's Edric convincing, and of what? At first it seemed to me like preaching to the choir... the message is just one that doesn't require a lot of convincing. Who disagrees with the statement that bullying is bad? That's when I did an about-face and realized that it's a good thing he put in the talking points at the end, or one could easily driven to despair if one were pre-disposed to that mindset by bullying. That kind of suicidal reinforcement obviously isn't the intended message. On the other hand, "You're special, and don't let those bullies destroy that" would be a great message to convince your listeners of, but unfortunately it's not in the actual song*. This is a song for healthy people who already agree with you. For that group, I think it's very effective as a protest in that it would move those healthy people (especially those who have overcome abuse) into offering help that they might not otherwise, but it's not something that I would recommend be played for someone who is actually suffering from abuse at the present time.

* I know it's possible to have a healthy discussion about whether being on the recording makes it technically part of the song or not, but in my mind, stepping away from the piano and dropping character signals the end of the song, and the beginning of a serious talk that's not part of the song.

MC Ohm-i - If You Were Gay

I'm going to sound like the world's biggest curmudgeon here, which is really sad, because I really, really like MC Ohm-i's stuff. His first stab at gay marriage didn't get me because it had no emotion. This is more of that. Ohm-i is definitely focused on that "convince your listeners" bit, but he's going about it like that annoying guy on the bus who keeps quoting facts and figures at you who you'd really like to steer into a discussion about baseball or sneakers or what kind of onion is best on hot dogs but you can't because you can't get a word in edgewise and why did you have to miss that earlier bus and OH MY GOD you've eighteen more blocks to go and is it possible to cut yourself with a ballpoint pen?  OK, I'm exaggerating. My point is that I think this subject goes over a lot better with a first person perspective and a little heart. Between that and the audible "seams" in the sample, I'm left wishing I could justify placing this higher. 

(Just an observation: there were a boatload of "gay marriage" songs in the last two rounds. We might have done one ourselves in Round 3 if we hadn't already done the topic, and as a protest song, too. I think I may go ahead and produce it better now.)

And that's all the songs. Yup. Every blessed one.

UPDATE: Someone has pointed out to me that there were shadows this round. OK, many people have pointed that out. And they noticed that there were no reviews of those shadows here. In my defense, I've already posted reviews of every blessed song, which is all I promised. That said here are...

THE SHADOWS!   (bum bum BUUUMMMMM!)

Again, a reminder... we were tasked to do another protest song, using the same topic as last time. Since the BYD gave us an anti-PC rant and one against Big Software, that's the target. I think I know what's going to happen here...

Boffo Yux Dudes - Wireless Head (SHADOW)
I immediately like the rhythm and the instrumentation. I also like the song a lot... easily my second favorite BYD song ever (after "FOOT!"). It doesn't meet this challenge, though.

Boffo Yux Dudes - Tear it Down, Build It Up Again (SHADOW)
Err... uhm.... I'm going to argue that this meets the challenge, because it expresses the same sentiment as "Eliminate the upper class / Along with the lower and middle" from Eat the Whales. There. I said it.

Cherry Pi (w/ Boffo Yux Dudes) - Octo Pi (SHADOW)
Err... uhm.... See, it's like this... "Occupy SpinTunes" -> "Occupy" -> "Ocu Pie" -> "Ocu Pi" ("Pi" from "Cherry Pi") -> "Octopus Pie" -> "Octo Pi". That's a long way to go for a misspelled pun, but it's not a protest and doesn't meet the challenge. But it does have Cherry Pi in it, which is something.

Boffo Yux Dudes - Operating System (SHADOW)
HEY! How did THIS get in here?!? It clearly meets the challenge, taking up the same lament as "The Ballad of the Last of the Hackers" from Round 3. I don't know how to handle that.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

SpinTunes Round 3 Results and Round 4 Challenge

We were eliminated in round 3. We did do a fair bit better than I expected, coming in at 6th place in a field of 12 competitors.

Here's the challenge for the remaining competitors:
Mulligan - Write a protest song about the same topic you picked in round 3. (2 minute minimum) (your submission is due March 10th 11:59PM)
 I must admit partial culpability for this, as it's based on a challenge idea called "do-over" that I submitted. The intent of that was to present the same challenge exactly as it was presented before. If they had done that simple, simple thing then they would have gotten four new, interesting songs about other topics that these competitors also feel strongly about. We'd get new angles, new perspectives, new ideas from the same prompt.

But nooooooo... once again they have to open a six-pack of Derp Cola and pass it around before dicking with an already simple, clearly worded challenge to its overwhelming detriment. So now the judges insist that the same old ideas be re-hashed. The result... well, the result remains to be seen, but here's what it looks like from here:
  • Edric Haleen gets to write another protest against bullying.
  • MC Ohm-i gets to write another protest against the prohibition against gay marriage.
  • RC gets to write another protest about the inequality of educational opportunity.
  • Ross Durand gets to write another war protest.

A lot depends on an email sent last round. Spin asked us for a short explanation of our round 3 song. Now we know why. Dr. Lindyke would have been fine this round, as we explained that our official entry, "The Square" was a protest against political complacency, not Communism or oppression in China. On Facebook I said, "Plan A is, frankly, more exciting intellectually, but it's a complicated thought that we're struggling to illustrate." Were we competing in this round, I'd be thanking William for going with that "complicated thought". We could do a dozen songs on that topic and never mention Tiananmen Square again. We'd just paint another illustration.

Somehow I don't think these four guys were so oblique in their explanations. Of the Final Four, I'd surmise that Edric is in the tightest spot. He not only picked a very clearly defined topic, but he hit on every permutation of it in one song. Finding a new angle is going to be tough. RC's song had a very narrow focus as well... but as I stated in my review, I think it could have been more subtle, and this is a chance for him to come up with some lyrics that match the artistry of his music. Ross Durand went with the most oft-used protest topic, and I'm fairly sure he simply describes it as a "war protest", so while another angle as artistic as this last one will be difficult, it should be do-able... he's got plenty of source material.

There are a huge number of ways to illustrate the gay marriage arguments, and a fair number of them are likely to be more compelling than reciting statistics. So, if I had to handicap this race, I'd say MC Ohm-i has the early advantage in terms of opportunity. I've been listening to some of his other stuff, and he has range. I complained about lack of emotion in the last round, so I should explain this: an artist doesn't have to emote... he has to make us emote. It just takes the right words.

Handicapping aside, it's a new round, but for the first time ever all slates are NOT wiped clean. Topics having been assigned, it's anybody's round.

Fortuna vobiscum.