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.

--==//oOo\\==--

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.


SHADOWS

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!


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