Wednesday, March 26, 2014

SpinTunes 8 Round 4 Reviews

Heres' the challenge:
Painful Progression - Write a song about PHYSICAL pain, and do so using a I-V-vi-IV chord progression in the chorus. (2 minute minimum) (your submission is due Sunday, March 23rd 11:59PM)
Here's the album:

OK, here's the deal. I'm reviewing the round, but I didn't rank our votes. William did that. I'm also not telling you what order he put you in. That's because I'm evil. However, I am writing reviews, and I'm doing that without the benefit of looking at his rankings and without his input. So as far as how we affect your rankings... this says nothing. 

Told ya. 

In listening party album order:

Jenny Katz - Clear 04:20
I love the poetry of this, and the sentiment, and the fact that it completely and most unambiguously meets both the content and technical challenges. Rather than reflect on your own pain, you choose to offer sympathy for another. That's even better. It makes the song not only about his physical pain, but also your emotional pain. I loves me some layers of meaning, and the vocals are stellar. On the downside it sounds a little bit rambly in the verses, which might make it sort of "moody". The pre-chorus and chorus are much tighter.

Ryan M. Brewer - Christ Speaks 03:56
I'm torn a little bit on this one. I'm pretty sure Christ would approach the subject differently; so the editorial hand of the author is revealed a little too soon and a little too obviously. Knowing the true subject helps to understand why, but a broader audience wouldn't know that. The "golgotha" rhyme is clever but a bit clumsy. On the plus side, it does clearly communicate pain, and manages to be listenable, at that. Ryan has, I think, the most "professional" sounding production of the batch.

Jutze - The Bleeding Dragon 02:57
This sounds like the sort of thing that Hobbits would sing at the pub. Really demented, sick hobbits. Hobbits who need therapy. Who in his right mind writes a song about a menstruating dragon? Nobody, and that should tell us a thing about Jutze. However, this is the form of insanity that's just really, really entertaining. For some reason I hear this played behind conversation and clinking glasses. Is this brilliantly perfect or too over-the-top? I'm not doing the ranking. We'll see.

Edric Haleen featuring Heather Zink - I Wanna Go Dancing 04:10
Poor Edric. I will personally cheer the day that he avoids that "theatrical" label. In the listening party, Zoe dubbed this style "Theatrical Pop" (I think I'm not the only one imagining that crane shot in the music video!). He's batting a thousand. Per S.O.P., Edric has written a song bio (I wish everybody did... as a result I get to say more) explaining his creative process. In it he says, "I will take issue with anyone who suggests that the pain of a breakup is purely emotional and can’t also be physical..."  I certainly would agree to the extent that I wouldn't disqualify the song. I bet you some might, though. I'm not ranking, but given that the word "physical" was capitalized, and given that I grade with fuzzy logic and not with a binary "met it or didn't" criteria, I'd have to compare the emotional pain here and see how that part of the challenge stacks up against the others. On the other hand, it's tight and well produced and has a catchy melody, and Edric's clearly pushing his boundaries if not quite breaking through them. I'm as interested as anybody to see how well this, taken as a whole, does against the others.


Glen Raphael - Hangnail (Shadow) 03:00
The simple subject masks awesome rhymes and arguably the best wordplay on the album, delivered in the Itinerant Troubadour's signature style.

Dr. Lindyke - Relief (Shadow) 02:53
OK, I admit to this one. I even like it, deliberate lo-fi, vinyl pops and all. The song is about pain, yeah... but the deeper topic is the singer's faith. Here's a song bio.

Caravan Ray - Pain (Shadow) 03:01
A very shadowy shadow. Caravan Ray does a great job with the arrangement.

Zoe Gray - Apologize (Shadow) 02:52
This song is why Glen Raphael's song has only "arguably" the best wordplay on the album. The reveal in the last verse takes this from "professional courtesy" to "personal", and a whole different kind of hurt. Most excellent job.

Jailhouse Payback - Back Pain (Shadow) 04:09
I was thinking this is maybe about back pain. Then I realized it turned into something else ;)  I wish I could play guitar even a fraction as well as Jailhouse Payback. I love this sound.

Red Watcher - Change (Shadow) 03:04
Very impressive arrangement and production, and the tune is great. As a shadow it's "woo-hoo!", but if this were an official entry I might have a small beef about the ambiguity of the pain. There's a forest fire, but those are plants, and I'm not so sure that the singer's pain isn't entirely emotional or figurative.

Boffo Yux Dudes - Is There A Doctor In The House? (Shadow) 04:03
I can neither confirm nor deny that a "Doctor" had anything to do with this. I do know for certain that when one of the composers saw the lyrics, he knew that the iconic bassline simply had to appear in the song. Then the only trick was transitioning that to the required progression in the chorus. And the BYD know how to interpret "war sounds!" It runs long, but you can blame the BBC for keeping the show on the air for so long.

Boffo Yux Dudes - I'm In Love With The Pain That You Give (Shadow) 03:11
This sounds exactly as if the BYD ran out of time to produce the song and simply submitted the super rough demo intended as a guide for production. Huh. Tom Lehrer's "Masochism Tango" concept cleverly re-imagined as a waltz. Somebody better go back and practice.

Boffo Yux Dudes - Pain (Shadow) 02:33
I think this one may be the victim of a mixing malfunction. Sounds like the rhythm track got mis-aligned. But it exists, and is somewhat song-like.

The Boffo Yux Dudes with TC Elliot - Put The Hammer Down (Shadow) 04:28
See, now, that's better!

Boffo Yux Dudes - Window Pain (Shadow) 05:09
This sounds exactly as if the music were slapped together by some jerk with a guitar after the listening party pre-show had already started. The lyrics are good, though. Runs long.

Dr. Lindyke - Gotta Pee (Parody) (Shadow) 02:58
Are you kidding me? This is ridiculous. But it has a song bio.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


("Damn, Dave, your last debacle was called "Gotta Pee" and now you've got one called "Relief"?? What the hell is wrong with you?"  Patience, please.)

As a reminder, the SpinTunes 8, Round 4 challenge is as follows:
Painful Progression - Write a song about PHYSICAL pain, and do so using a I-V-vi-IV chord progression in the chorus. (2 minute minimum) (your submission is due Sunday, March 23rd 11:59PM)
Having gotten the previous song out of my system, I turned my hand toward creating an actual shadow entry, from actual lyrics from William Hoover. More talkee after the lyrics.


I’m not a whiner 
I’m not a shiner 
And I’ve got religious belief 
Behind a curtain 
The future's uncertain 
Lord I could use some relief 

Lord, I could use a little relief 
Lord, I could use a little relief 

I'm not the man that I used to be 
Consumed by a fire that no one can see 
I feel it inside me, it cuts like a blade 
As my life and my energy fade 

And Lord, I could use a little relief 
Lord, I could use a little relief 

We pray for miracles 
That sometimes don’t arrive 
In time to save a single soul 
I can't say I fear at all 
I know I won't survive 
But Lord, this takes a heavy toll 

I hear the stories, I sing the blues 
I listen to jazz, but I turn off the news 
Kiss little babies, Stay true to my wife 
And I've prayed to you, Lord, for all of my life 

But Lord, I could use a little relief 
Lord, I could use a little relief

Musical Notes

Since the technical challenge is a big part of this, I'll start with that. Obviously, we have the I-V-vi-IV progression as required. There are a few notes transitioning from one chord to another. But one could only complain about that through supreme ignorance, since they are not in any way connected to the chord before or behind. They are transitional single notes.

By the way, in addition to the fact that the challenge only requires the chord progression once in the chorus, there's nothing in the challenge that restricts the verses or bridge in that fashion.

The chorus, if it's not obvious, is the repeated line, "Lord, I could use a little relief".

The song begins with a record needle being placed on the vinyl, and ends with the record bumping against the label. Throughout there are the scratches and pops of a vinyl recording. It's a lo-fi recording, and I sort of wonder what some of the younger listeners will make of the noise. It's there because the singer himself is not at full fidelity. The record sounds at the end signify that this is the last performance of the album that represents his life.

Lyrical Notes

The performance starts out stronger at the beginning. By the end, his resolve is breaking down, and he's reduced to pleading with God, stating his case, as the pain overwhelms him.

I think it's important that we DON'T know what this guy's malady is. Needless to say, he's dying, and it's a slow and painful death. But the actual details of his pain...? That's not important to the song, only to the listener; so you should feel free to interpret it as something important to you. This song isn't about the cause of his pain. It's about his relationship with God.

BUT, in case such things matter... I imagine that the singer has leukemia. Despite the gender, the sentiment is that of my mother.

Gotta Pee (parody)

(Damn, Dave, are you actually going to write a song bio for this one?  'fraid so)

The SpinTunes 8, Round 4 challenge is as follows:
Painful Progression - Write a song about PHYSICAL pain, and do so using a I-V-vi-IV chord progression in the chorus. (2 minute minimum) (your submission is due Sunday, March 23rd 11:59PM)
To say I was underwhelmed would be an understatement. This is probably the most common chord progression in all of popular music. For those who are music theory-impaired, it simply means you start with the C chord, followed by G, then A minor, then F.  Then do it some more. If you were to do that, then transpose it to any other key, you would still have an I-V-vi-IV chord progression.

Now, the judges "clarified" this. *sigh*. That's never good. So here are the restrictions. There are to be no substitutions & variations of chord progression of any kind.
"I think we should say no, he can't harmonize with four-note (or more) chords, he should stick to the basic chord tones. If Edric wants to add bass notes making, say, C/D (a slash chord, C major played above a D in the bass) I think we are in agreement that these embellishments should not be allowed in the portion of the song that uses the required progression. This is different than inversions, where he might play a C major chord with the lowest note an F or a G, which I think is fine (guitar players do that all the time from the day they learn the most basic chord fingerings)." - A Judge's response.
There are so MANY songs written with this progression it seems wasteful to add to all of the noise pollution. So I decided that to maximize my artistic expression to communicate exactly how I fell about this, I could just pick one at random, since without variation they'd all sound a lot like this anyway (and more talkee after the lyrics, including a little secret):

Gotta Pee

When the clock goes off at ten til seven, 
Mother Nature calls to me 
Time to hit the bathroom 
Gotta pee 

And in this hour of darkness 
I stumble, wishing I could see 
I can't find the light switch 
Gotta pee 

Gotta pee, Gotta pee, 
Gotta pee, Gotta pee, 
I feel the pressure building 
Gotta pee 

And when the toilet's occupado 
I think we can all agree 
Painful is the waiting 
Gotta pee 

I may not last another minute 
It may be the sink for me *
These are new pajamas! 
Gotta pee 

Gotta pee, Gotta pee, 
Gotta pee, Gotta pee, 
I'm not going to make it, 
Gotta pee 

Gotta pee, Gotta pee, 
Gotta pee, Gotta pee, 
I can't communicate the 


Gotta pee, Gotta pee, 
Gotta pee, Gotta pee, 
I simply can't avoid 

Musical Notes:

Are you kidding? This is the Beatles', not mine.

Note this careful reading of the challenge:  "...using a I-V-vi-IV chord progression in the chorus". There's not a requirement to use more than one. Despite all the attempts of the judges to lock this down to the simplest chords ever, they really fail spectacularly. You don't have to be anywhere close to this progression anywhere in the song except one time in the chorus. And they can "clarify" the challenge all day long, but they can NOT change what's published.

Barracks-lawyer for the win. BOO-yah.

Nevertheless, this song doesn't meet the challenge. The Beatles used the progression in the verses, not the chorus.

Lyrical Notes

Bladder pain is physical pain.

Now, regarding the lyrics, I realize that they are commonplace and uninspired. No problem, so are the chords, so this is also a deliberate artistic choice. I also realize that many other people have used the same concept and even done parodies. I've heard some of them, and as sad as it may sound, I think this one's better. May Heaven help us.

* "Credit" for the line "It may be the sink for me" goes to Tom Giarrosso of the Boffo Yux Dudes. That totally wasn't my fault ;)

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Well, We're Out!

Looks like we're among the eliminees from this round of SpinTunes.

It's been a fun contest for us, and allowed us to stretch a bit. I wouldn't hesitate to say that this last challenge was among the best ever in terms of the variety and quality of entries it provoked.

There's ONE more round to go, in which the contestants get to answer this challenge:
Painful Progression - Write a song about PHYSICAL pain, and do so using a I-V-vi-IV chord progression in the chorus. (2 minute minimum) (your submission is due Sunday, March 23rd 11:59PM)
We may or may not shadow, but that will be up to William. Considering I just finished writing a song about physical pain I'm not in a hurry to do another.I may just submit that as a shadow.

We finished #6 in Round 3, which is exactly in the middle of the pack. Not a problem, since I really like everyone who finished ahead of us. And behind us, for that matter. Here's wishing them the best of luck in the final round.

Their "judges" in that round will be the previously eliminated competitors, and that include Dr. Lindyke, so I'll be watching the last round with anticipation!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Deconstructing Mr. E

Are you insane? I'm not actually going to deconstruct a person. That would be very messy, and possibly illegal.

No, I'm here to present evidence before the Tribunal charging that the musician known to none but this blog post as "Mr. E" is an Enemy of Christianity. A foul purveyor of filth and decadence. Though he disguises his anti-Christian rhetoric in the trappings of theatrical production, this is but a thin veneer covering his true persona (which looks exactly like the veneer that covers it). No more disingenuous tactic has ever been taken by any other denizen of Hell.

Without ado, I present before you THE EVIDENCE:

EXHIBIT A: It All Makes Sense At The End:

"Hate Speech"
A Song Fu challenge to write a song of that title. In doing so, Mr. E takes on the persona of a fundamentalist hypocrite who preaches that God's love extends only to certain people...the right people... and never to those whose faith or politics differ from our own.

This subversive premise fails to acknowledge that no person on this Earth who professes to be a fundamentalist Christian might deviate in any way from those precepts taught by Christ himself. It fails to acknowledge not only the infallibility of the Word itself, but the word of any person who might put on a white suit and collect donations at a tent revival. 

Surely we can see the dangers inherent in this line of thought? If people thought for an instant that some liars and hypocrites might prey upon the most gullible of the faithful, then it is only a matter of time before all of the faithful turn away from all of the priesthood! This is decidedly un-Biblical. If it were in any way allowable for a person to decry hypocrisy among the Church, don't you think Our Lord would have warned us about false prophets in the Bible? Of course He would!

It is quite obvious that this song is an attack on all Christians. The idea that its lyrics prove otherwise is unsustainable to those who have better things to do than to actually consider such trash. 

EXHIBIT B: The Star:
A supernova?
A song with strong religious overtones of an archaeological expedition to a planet orbiting the remains of a supernova, whose entire civilization was snuffed out at its zenith in order that a star might outshine others in the sky over Bethlehem.

The concept and much of the lyrics of this piece are from a short story by "scientist" and science fiction writer Isaac Asimov. Scientist, indeed! A chemist, I'm told. We know all about the dangers of chemicals, don't we? When referring to the Star of Bethlehem, should we not instead limit our reading to those well-respected scholars who have made a study of the Bible, and thus may treat it with some respect; and not some dime-store novelist with a predilection for wild flights of fantasy?

Here Asimov (and thus Mr. E in his imitative and derivative fashion) agonize over the loss of billions of lives to herald the birth of One. Of course this is hypothetical clap-trap. If Our Lord wished us to ponder mysterious problems of ethics and morality, would He not have given us a conscience, and an intellect suitable to that task? Would He not have given us Imagination, and showed us its purpose in the telling of parables and allegories? Would He not work in mysterious ways Himself, so that we would be forced to employ them? Of course He would!

It is quite obvious that this song is an attack on all Christians. The idea that logic proves otherwise is unsustainable to those who have better things to do than to actually consider such trash. 

EXHIBIT C: The Death of a Meme:
A meme
A song in which Mr. E imagines a world in which humanity no longer believes in God. To fully understand the depths of this depravity, one must understand that "memes" come from the INTERNET. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I'm here to tell you that God did NOT come from the INTERNET. Therefore, God cannot be a meme. Furthermore, a meme would disappear if no one were to believe in it. God cannot disappear through lack of belief because He was here before there were people here to believe He existed here before there were people here. This logic is circular, providing closure, and is therefore perfect. QED.

If Man were meant to ponder vague hypothetical concepts, would not Our Lord have provided him with the means to do so? Would not our church leaders... medieval scholars of high standing and great renown... have allowed their minds to ponder such pointless intellectual curiosities as "How many angels can dance on the point of a pin," "Did Adam have a navel," or "Do angels defecate"? Would not they have adopted the musings of pagan philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle regarding the abstraction of forms? Of course they would!

It is quite obvious that this song is an attack on all Christians. The idea that history proves otherwise is unsustainable to those who have better things to do than to actually consider such trash. 

EXHIBIT D: (Vows):
Just LOOK at these lyrics [link]. Have you ever seen anything so heinous in your life? What monster would want these sung at his wedding? Mr. E compounds this atrocity by having these "vows" sung by two people. Two human people! 

Marriage is a Christian sacrament and a Christian sacrament only. If Society were to allow otherwise, would not our laws allow Atheists to marry? Or Muslims, or Jews, or Buddhists, or Hindus, or Zoroastrians, or Shintoists, or Animists, or Satanists, or Pagans, or Pastafarians, or Wiccans, or Scientologists, or even Jedis? Would it not allow people to marry at a courthouse or Las Vegas "chapel", or in their own living rooms or back yards rather than in the sanctity of a consecrated Church structure? Of course it would!

We therefore know that marriage is limited to Christian sacrament because none of those groups have ever been allowed to marry, nor may that change. And we know that the First Amendment of the United States Constitution supports this religious establishment, preventing the government from making any laws to change that sacred tradition. And we know that Christians are commanded not to privately hallow a consecrated marriage above secular marriage while still allowing other groups their religious and civil liberties because we just know it. It's self-evident, so stop making us think about it already. Jesus told us what He thinks..

It is quite obvious that this song is an attack on all Christians. The idea that the beating hearts of millions prove otherwise is unsustainable to those who have better things to do than to actually consider such trash. 

EXHIBIT E: A Brave New World:
Apparently, this is
a real thing.
And now we reach the straw that broke the camel's back. A song which makes these other transgressions pale in comparison. Here Mr. E unconvincingly "takes on the role" of a "teacher" who is "forced" to teach his students from a "sacred text" foisted upon him by "our right-wing governor and Republican supermajorities in our State House and Senate and the will of conservative courts and, of course, evangelical lobbyists"

Here we have the smoking gun! Why else would Mr. E have named these groups explicitly, if not due to his rabid hatred of them! This song belongs to the previous challenge! There is no possibility that Mr. E respects the "wall of separation" between Church and State described by Thomas Jefferson. There is no possibility that his interpretation of the First Amendment includes a literal reading of the phrase, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion". There is no possibility that Mr. E respects the accomplishments of centuries of scientific inquiry. There is no possibility that what he decries is the Fundamentalist insistence that ALL of Life's answers are contained in a book that we hold to be infallible despite the fact that it quite plainly mis-states the value of pi. For if any of that were reasonable, then would not many of the great scientists such as Isaac Newton or Johannes Kepler or Gregor Mendel have been religious scholars who looked for truth not only in the Books of Revelation; but also in the Book of Nature spake into existence by Our Lord? Would not the Laws of Nature which require no interpretation be as (or more) binding to us than the written translations of ancient oral tradition which have undergone numerous translations with resulting loss of fidelity? Would not a full understanding of the will of God require an acceptance and inquisitive study of those natural laws as they are, and not as we mere humans wish them to be?  Of course it would!

No, this is hatred, plain and simple, with malice of forethought. We know that there are no Christians who adopt the principles of reason and scientific inquiry; none who maintain an unhealthy over-reliance on rationality and intellect; none who look to the Bible for an understanding of morality and to Science for an understanding of the physical world. These beings do not exist, for if they did, they would have started the scientific revolution themselves, constructing for themselves the foundation of science, which must then have been abandoned by Fundamentalists who failed to comprehend the point.

It is quite obvious that this song is an attack on all Christians. The idea that common sense, rationality, and the physical laws governing the entire Universe prove otherwise is unsustainable to those who have better things to do than to actually consider such trash. 

We must therefore find Mr. E GUILTY of the charges of hate-mongering and anti-Christian thought, and sentence him to be nice, or at least write something hateful about somebody else for a change. After all, we all know that the proper redress for wrongs done to us involves doing wrong to some random stranger who wasn't even in the conversation. If that weren't true, would not Our Lord have commanded us, "If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them"?

Of course He would.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

SpinTunes 8 Round 3 Reviews

This was a great round. As a reminder, here's the challenge:
Misleading Melodies - Write a disinformative song with false facts or otherwise confusing information, presented academically. (2 minute minimum) (your submission is due Sunday, March 9th 11:59PM)
And here are the songs (with excellent album art, as usual, by Matt Schubbe):

General Thoughts:

The third round of SpinTunes is arguably the toughest. I've noticed that in earlier rounds it pays to "play it safe"... put in a competent song, don't gamble, and you're likely to get through. If you get too risky and innovative early on, then the broad spectrum of society on the judging panel will either love it or hate it, with the result that once the totals are tallied, something merely competent may be ranked above something that's avant-garde.

All that changes in the third round. All but four contestants will get the axe, so for many this round will be "now or never". You've had two previous rounds to get a feel for the judges, and it's time to be as creative and surprising as you possibly can. I think everybody did that this round, so they either know what I just told you or they've simply got great instincts.

The challenge practically demands a novelty song, and everybody pretty much delivered on that as well. Actually, I have hardly any constructive criticism to deliver: it's mostly just praise. Everybody put forward their best effort, which makes it frustrating for those of us (and that's all of us) who had high hopes for the final round.

I've said it before: It would be a pleasure to go down in a round like this.

The Reviews:
(in album order)

Felix Frost - Cloudy 04:01
This is quintessential Felix Frost... rapid delivery, video-game sound, and mechanically perfect timing. It's probably the song I like best out of all his entries. For another lyricist I'd complain that maybe it's a little too random in the lyrics... confusion works best if the listener thinks he knows what's going on. But it works for this song, because that's kind of the point:
No, nothing's gotten cloudy in my mind 
And I'ma stick to the facts, you'll find 
You gotta keep up or stay behind 
because you know I'm not gonna rewind. 

Jenny Katz - Liars Cheats And Weasels 03:16
OK, now this entry is astonishingly dirty pool. It's a pack of lies that's full of pandering, name-dropping, low blows, blatant geek-baiting, and it's filking brilliant. I love it. I think the rest of us weasels do, too.

Jutze - Banjo (Rejected Wikipedia Edit) 02:09
This is an audio joke that's simply great. And Jutze's accented delivery is likewise great. I wish he'd let loose a little more on that "yee-haw!" though. Banjo solo!

Ryan M. Brewer - Jesus Christ's Biographer Gives A Guest Lecture 04:43
This is the only entry I would say didn't really go the novelty-song route. One could even argue that it's allegory or parable as opposed to being strictly "disinformative", and I could easily imagine it played on any Country station near me. Eminently listenable. BTW, big props for pausing the "I" to near-rhyme "smiled".

Edric Haleen - A Brave New World 02:58
Ooooh, Edric Haleeeeen, gettin' all up in yo' face! He plays the disgruntled teacher so well you'd think he had some measure of experience with being forced to present information he finds questionable... or at least that he can solidly imagine it. The rhymes are perfect and lyrics intricate (a real feat considering their expository nature). [song bio][video]

Jailhouse Payback - Maritime Achaeology 03:07
I joked in the listening party about it being "Achy-breakyology" (referring to the typo in the title). That's actually pretty descriptive, I think. This has a really nice beat you can two-step to. It's got a completely different take on the challenge as that taken by everyone else. There's no attempt here to present facts academically to the listener... rather, this happens to characters in the song itself. Interesting and unique. Also eminently listenable. This and Ryan's song are the two that will probably get the most time on my MP3 player after this contest is lost to the dust of history.

Zoe Gray - The Truth About Homeschooling 02:46
When this challenge was announced, I joked that the judges were asking for "HomeSchoolHouse Rock". I'm SO glad that Zoe picked up the gauntlet to tell "The Truth About Homeschooling". Nicely crafted, and a lot of work went into these lyrics. With the exception of "line / trying", the rhymes are perfect, and even that one exception made me smile.

Ross Durand - How To Write A Hit Song 02:55
I was very confused. At first I thought this was Steve Durand, not Ross.
(THAT'S A JOKE! I love Steve! Steve taught me to whistle!)
I also love Ross. And those who just sing may not realize how remarkably difficult it is to sing deliberately, consistently, and repeatably off-key. This was a great audio head-fake.
Update: My kids didn't hear the album until after these reviews were posted. They literally rolled on floor laughing along with this song. And yes, I know what "literally" means. Right at the moment Ross started rapping. Floor. Kids. Rolling. Spasms of the diaphragm that weren't hiccoughs. Poor Mike could barely breathe. For sheer hilarity and entertainment value this song won the round for them. Of course, I can say this now because Ross has already read the reviews. (As for me, Jenny's still got my top spot, followed by everyone else. I'm not judging... I can do that.)
Governing Dynamics featuring @suspiciousden - Because 04:11
I love the laid-back delivery here... it's a nice departure from GD's usual sound. Is that an ebow I hear in the background? Appropriate for the New Age topic. The childlike interjections and backing vocals from @suspiciousden give it the right touch of light-hearted humor.

Dr. Lindyke - A Historical Account Of The Life And Accomplishments Of Abraham Lincoln Of Which Every Word Is True I Swear 05:35
I wrote a song bio, so I'll point you there. And it looks like I did set a record for longest title. I think I should also highlight the fact that Denise Hudson (not to be confused with @suspiciousden, who is much more suspicious) provided my backing vocals, and also provided a bunch of little yells and things that I left in because they just made everything better.
This is a Bolian

Adam Sakellarides - Why The Sky Is Blue 02:23
The Great Greek Geek (G3) weighs in with this mythological tale. It has a little something for the Star Trek fan, for Bronies... even the odd Sesame Street fan (who's probably entered on some offender list). Hell, he even throws in Bill Nye AND some real science! The Doctor approves.


Trader Jack - (M.A.C.D.) (Shadow) 01:46
This is as avant-garde as it gets. And while I really appreciate it, I just can't listen to it all the way through more than once. It's the percussive popping pointedly piercing my brain. I like the concept, just not the pops. Were this in the contest I think the judges would have a long discussion about whether to DQ it. Not for the pops, but on the basis of "song-ness". Caleb Hines' "speaky" got the same discussion. Admittedly, is more rhythmic.

Menage a Tune - A Simple Set Of Rules (Shadow) 04:43
The concept ain't bad. "Fizzbin" is the famously confusing card game that James T. Kirk "invented" to distract some Iotian guards in the Star Trek episode "A Piece of the Action". Kirk's intent was not to teach a real game, but to escape. In this case I think "fandom" overshadowed "songdom" by attempting to describe the whole of the fictional rules. Cut it down to a couple of dense verses with fast delivery; end it with putting one over on the audience, and you're Scotty free. Now beam me up!

Monday, March 10, 2014

SpinTunes 8 Round 3: The Ballad of Abraham Lincoln

The challenge:
Misleading Melodies - Write a disinformative song with false facts or otherwise confusing information, presented academically. (2 minute minimum) (your submission is due Sunday, March 9th 11:59PM)
The name I'm using here for the song is "The Ballad of Abraham Lincoln", but that's dis-informative. The True, Secret Name of the piece is "A(n) Historical Account Of The Life And Accomplishments Of Abraham Lincoln Of Which Every Word Is True I Swear", mainly because I wanted to set a record for the longest SpinTunes title.

The song bio is after the lyrics.

The Ballad of Abraham Lincoln

When Lincoln was a little child 
His mother built a boat of reeds 
And sailed him down the river Nile 
That flows through Mississippi 
(oh! Mississippi!) 

A child of Negro slaves 
Lincoln taught us wrong from right 
His every photograph 
Integrated black and white 
(oh! black and white) 

A man without precedent 
He became our 14th President 
He discovered that slavery was wrong... 

The Emancipation Proclamation he signed into law 
Such dedication to a nation no one ever saw 

He built an army great and strong 
And he marched them down South to face the pharoah 
And there was Jefferson Davis 
On his throne upon the Pyramid 
And Lincoln said...LET MY PEOPLE GO! 

Then he built an underground railroad 
With a shovel he made from a skull 
And the timbers he split with his hands 
And the steel of his resolve 
And Lincoln said...LET MY PEOPLE GO! 

And there were plagues upon the South 
And it burned with Sherman's Fire 
And the conflagration rose 
It was fueled by Lincoln's ire 
And the firstborn were devoured 
By gators from the swamp 
And Tar Baby, he said nothing. 
Yeah, Tar Baby, he said nothing! 

And there in the Dust Bowl 
Davis was laid low 
And he bowed his head to Lincoln 
And he let the people go 
As they danced into Ford's theater 
To celebrate the day 
Lincoln stayed behind and then he quietly stole away 

And somewhere in the wilderness 
Stands a cabin made of wood. 
Yes, right now in the wilderness 
Stands a cabin made of wood. 
With a stovepipe hat upon a nail. 
And a fence made of split rail

Lyrical Notes

First of all, let's look at the last part of the challenge: "presented academically". We asked for clarification and were told, "Presented educationally. So as though you have information you're trying to teach / present to someone or some group."  Now, this doesn't specify a classroom setting, only that the song should be educational. That would allow songs in the form of the many "Schoolhouse Rock" numbers that are educational, but not told in an academic setting.

This one is narrative: a(n) historical ballad.

Well, obviously the song had to be wrong, but specifically it had to be dis-informative. But here's a basic principle to consider:

Every great lie is anchored in the truth.

The trick is taking real names and events and putting them in places that are plausible if you're almost completely ignorant. Other techniques would be to tell only the truth in a confusing way, or to make everything a lie. This last pretty much always is incomprehensible. You have to have a really, really compelling earworm of a tune that doesn't even benefit from lyrics in the first place. That's a tough thing to count on, so the approach here is to lie about the little things and leave the big ones alone. It's as if it were being told by someone who's really just bad at history, has never been to church, and has his facts muddled. It's obviously a mash-up of Abraham Lincoln and Moses. They both freed slaves, so why not?

Most people know a few facts about Lincoln... he was a president, he freed the slaves, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. They know what he looked like. Past that, it's fair game. So here Lincoln gets Moses' infancy story (and his calling). People know there's a big river in Mississippi. They know the Nile is a big river. So believe it or not, it's plausible that the Nile is in Mississippi... for some folks. And the Nile flows through Egypt, so Egypt must be nearby, in the South. Egypt's hot, so that makes sense. That slavery story had some kind of plagues; and though nobody remembers them all, they all know that the firstborn are in there somewhere. The South is full of alligators: they probably ate the kids. And people remember the name "dust bowl" though few remember what or when it was. Sounds like a nasty place to lose a battle.

And so forth.

There are a few lines I really like:
  • "The steel of his resolve".The man is so resolute you could build a railroad from the strength of his will alone. Now that's an alpha-male! 
  • "It was fueled by Lincoln's ire". A temper so hot it could burn Atlanta. You wouldn't like him when he's angry.
  • "Tar Baby, he said nothing". I could tell you how clever it was to put the Uncle Remus character here as a passive-aggressive stand-in for the Black population who quietly watched with some internal satisfaction as their former owners got their come-uppance, but the truth is... hell, I don't know what the truth is.
  • "Lincoln stayed behind and then he quietly stole away". He really didn't deserve assassination, so in Dr. Lindyke's history he doesn't get it.
There is some "Yoda-speak" like, "The Emancipation Proclamation he signed into law", but I don't think it's egregious, and properly scanned sometimes trump natural speech. If Heather Miller were judging I bet she'd notice, though.

Musical Notes

It's Blues. It might be in the key of F. Percussion at 60 bpm, and everything else at 120. What more is there to say? There are more big, high-energy notes than I'd normally like in a Blues number, but this is a song about Big Things. So it gets big noise to go with it.

Production Notes

Absolutely nothing went as planned, except the drums.So I play everything but the drums. That's a track from Jim Dooley, ruthlessly cut up and arranged (sometimes down to the single hit). This piece was tricky to do that with due to the hi-hat running all through it, but I like the result.
  • The lyrics originally weren't going to be about Lincoln, but the Kennedy assassination, but I couldn't make those work with this challenge. We can add this to the many "eerie parallels" between Kennedy and Lincoln
  • Instead of having three days of vacation from work, I wound up working overtime.
  • I'd hoped to enlist someone to play lead guitar, but no dice. 
  • On Friday, my first opportunity to record, my guitar strings broke on the first strum
  • On Saturday I got replacement strings and a sore throat. Nevertheless, I got a safety track done with the help of several Sucrets and enough time for them to numb my throat.
By Sunday I was dissatisfied with everything. My kids took a listen, and they had some great constructive criticism. I fixed the problems with timing and the percussion arrangement in a key part, then replaced my backing vocals with some provided by Denise Hudson, and added some acoustics (at Denise's suggestion). I'm sort of faking a banjo with the acoustic guitar. This would totally have banjo in it if I had a banjo. Instead the acoustic guitar is mic'ed and picked really close to the bridge.

Also, at my kids' behest, I added distortion to the guitars which were in their view "too clean". And there you have it.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Let's Buy Heather a Microphone!

When I asked Heather Zink to sing for us on our entry, I had no idea she'd be so good at it. I mainly wanted to get her into the Facebook group that's reserved for SpinTunes contestants... after all, this contest was her idea. We figured that the fact that she was recording on the built in microphone on her laptop computer might cost us some points, but would be well worth it.

Well, having Heather on the team was well worth it. And since she's such a great collaborator, I thought I'd go ahead and throw together a PitchIn campaign to get her a decent microphone. The one I have in mind is a Blue Yeti, but more we pitch in, the better the microphone, and of course Heather will have the final say. The campaign ends with SpinTunes 8, so we've got until the end of the month. So please help out if you can.



The Reviews Are In!

Just as I suspected would happen, we got some negative comments about the vocal sound quality and it cost us some points, but as I mention above, I don't really care. SpinTunes is about writing the songs, meeting the challenges, stretching yourself, and having fun with it; and we did all of that this round. We met a "hate" challenge without being hateful, with a rare Latin ballroom number, with a new vocalist, collaborating on some intricate percussion, and playing a lead on the guitar, which I'm usually pretty terrible at. The only way I got through that last bit is that I'm a pretty good actor and decided to  act like a guitarist.

We landed right in the middle of the pack and comfortably move into the third round. Our goal now is to be one of the four contestants who move into Round 4.

Here are the Round 2 reviews, and my responses for the judges:

Daniel Calwell
The guitar in this piece is beautiful. I really enjoy the style of it. Heather has a very lovely voice as well. I have nothing negative to say about this. Good work. (2 points)
I think I love you. No one's ever complimented my guitar work before, not even me. And I agree regarding Heather's voice. Thanks!

Katharina Bordet
10 Things I hate about you, grown-up version. Recording quality of the vocals wasn't very good, sounded very muffled and a bit echo-y, pitchy recording in places too. Good singing though. The quality of the instruments was much better. Despite the technical flaws, I really enjoyed the song. (9 points)
I'm glad you did, Katharina! As for the technical flaws... we feel your pain, and we've got you covered. Check out that fine PitchIn campaign at the top of the page!

Joe "Covenant" Lamb
Knocked this one out of the park. Only criticisms: Has shades of “Bad case of loving you” about the chorus, and the vocals were a little subdued. even a crank on the high end would have helped this I think. (16 points)
I guess it does there at the end. This is why I ask other people if it sounds like something else to them before I record. I blame all of them. And myself.

BTW, I guarantee that a crank on the high end wouldn't have helped. It would have highlighted the recording artifacts that Paul mentions below and made them worse (I know, I tried). But maybe you could help with the problem of making it better. Check out the top of the page.

David Ritter
Very nice guitar. Very nice. Oh man... love the groove. I really wish the vocal sound fit in. I would love to hear it remixed. If the vocal take wasn't with quality equipment maybe an effect to mask it would have worked. The wood block is cool. I would have given a much higher score if the vocal sound fit in.  I do want to be clear - the vocal performance was good, just the recording of it --7 (4 points)
Another compliment on the guitar? I'm going to need a cigarette when I finish reading these! And constructive suggestions, too? Actually, I think you're right... I might be better off making the whole thing sound like a 1930s recording. Just couldn't really decide how all the judges would react to that sort of thing, and split the difference. In the end we got what we wanted and Heather's in the group.

I hope to hear it remixed, too. Of all the entries and all the shadows I've ever worked on, I think I like this one best.

Paul Potts
This song grew on me the more I listened to it. The musical layers are roughly recorded but nicely done in a tango style, and there are some bits of ear candy like the triangle that add interest to the instruments. While the vocal performance is very fine, the vocal track leaves something to be desired -- besides boxiness, I hear compression artifacts, like this was recorded over Skype. The way the lyrics are structured and set to music, as far as rhyme and rhythm scheme, is very nicely done, but the lyric feels a little under-done, with a narrator who is a bit muddled. I'm reminded a bit of Portishead's song "Sour Times," because of the lo-fi sound of the track. (13 points)
Thanks, Paul, I figured that if anyone was going to comment on the sound quality it would be you. That's OK, for reasons I give up top, that didn't matter to me this round. It was a laptop mic, because that's all she had. But hey, there's the PitchIn campaign if you really feel strongly about it... ;)

I'm just happy that you didn't find enough wrong with the guitar to comment negatively about it (that worried me, too, as the rumba calls for a bit of guitar lead that I'd normally beg someone like you for), and thank you for the comments otherwise. The part about it growing on you the more you listen is music to MY ears. It certainly beats getting tired of a song after a few listens, doesn't it?

I think we can legitimately disagree on the lyrics. This song is primarily driven by mood, not story. Every word has its place, and we feel that for a mood song to connect with a broader audience there should be ambiguity. There must be enough leeway for the audience to "fill in the gaps" with their own experience, and internalize the song. For instance, when she sings, "I want to drop these keys and walk away," we're not told what keys. Car keys? Keys to his apartment? We think it's important not to be told so that you can adjust the story as you see fit. That you are lead to visualize the act itself leads you to construct a reason. Of course your reason will be far more significant to you than any we could manufacture and foist upon you.

Popular Vote

Looks like we got a plurality of the popular vote, and that may be the result of a nice song, the fact that Heather's on it, that we lobbied for votes, or all of the above. In any case, thanks to everyone who voted for us. You're too kind.


The Next Challenge
Misleading Melodies - Write a disinformative song with false facts or otherwise confusing information, presented academically. (2 minute minimum) (your submission is due Sunday, March 9th 11:59PM)
I was telling William yesterday that it might be cool to do a "Schoolhouse Rock". This is EXACTLY that, only it's more like "HomeSchoolhouse Rock". (that's a joke, folks)