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…

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