Saturday, February 2, 2013

Spintunes #6 Round 1 Review: Paul Potts

This is my first time judging SpinTunes. After participating in a couple of contests, right now I find myself without adequate time to write new songs. I am grateful to Travis for offering me the chance to serve as judge. I have wondered for some time what it would be like to be on the other side of one of these contest. I have yet to win one, but at least no one can say I have no idea what it's like to participate.

Despite some unfortunate deadline eliminations, there were a lot of songs this round. I tried to listen to them all several times, over a period of days, and make initial notes on a personal Wiki, and then come back to the notes and update them. Because of the sheer number, I'm doing my best _not_ to write a long, detailed reviews.

There were 30 songs to judge -- the second mix of Baby Panda Sneeze isn't under consideration, and there was one shadow. It's frustrating trying to rank _all_ of them. Oh, it's actually easy to list my absolute favorites, the ones I am craving to hear again, and also the ones I least want to hear again, but it's the "mid-pack" that is frustrating. Let's get on with it...

1. Jenny Katz - Boom Goes The Dynamite: This is such a VERY different take on this meme than Steven's version! It's just gorgeous. Oblique and original lyrics. The sultry chanteuse thing with the minimal drum kit and brushes really tickles my ears, especially the way the guitar is the rhythm section instead of the drums. It has this little bit of darkness to it, like Portishead -- I would almost expect the nightclub band in a David Lynch film to be playing this in the background. Also, it's quite nicely recorded -- well-done technically as well as performance-wise. Some great little touches like the subtle use of the kick drum on- and off-beats.

2. MC-Ohm-I - Down In Plankistan: Very funny and engaging arrangement, and imaginative use of the meme -- it makes up a whole short story about the meme. Well-performed vocals. One of the best songs of this round. I'm guessing the music was mostly assembled out of a sample library but that doesn't matter, the sounds were well-chosen, well-put-together, and it works well.

3. RC - The Philosoraptor: Really fun song. Nice, funky bass line, very cool guitar work, creative percussion, nice scratching. Clever lyrics with the dinosaurs warning modern life forms ("for all your advances -- I don't like your chances" is a great line). A very likeable song. On the downside, maybe just a little too cool emotionally for the subject matter (compare to The Police, "Walkin' in Your Foosteps"). At 3:36, feels just about the right speed and length.

4. Steven Wesley Guiles - Boom Goes The Dynamite: I think this song is in the style of Big Audio Dynamite, channeling Joe Strummer's vocal style and telecaster tone - how very appropriate. Anyway it's very enjoyable, nice hook and nice synths and kick drum and even a fun bridge. Ends perfectly without dragging out too long (which is pretty important when a song's lyrics have only a very few things to say). The transition into the bridge feels somehow too abrupt.

5. Josh Holober-Ward - Internet Cats: A clever take on a bunch of cat memes in which the cats defend themselves against the stupid ideas they've been tagged with. I like the way it mixes up several different dumb cat memes and very clearly indicates which one is which without repeating their names. Quite funny, and a lot of fun with the little vocal bits. Josh, you can haz kudos.

6. Ross Durand - First World Blues: Nice guitar work. Recording seems just a little fuzzy. I always tend to enjoy Ross's lyrics. Singing's fun but not great. People who have heard my song "Leaving Ann Arbor" know I'm a fan of kazoo in pop songs and so I smile when we hit the kazoo break. Lyrics aren't stellar but fit decently into the traditional country-blue structure. Nice integration between accompaniment and vocals. Short and sweet.

7. Jerry Skids - Not A Good Guy: Jerry's take on the "evil Bert" throughout history is funny. Minimalist instrumental arrangement, but it works fine. I like the layered vocals, even if they are a little sloppy and the recording quality is not great. I like how it builds up to the impassioned choruses and then a final sad coda -- some real musical insight went into building an emotional arc here. The only instrumentation is the guitar, but it's played so passionately it doesn't really need more. My only real criticism is that the verses could use tightening. It would be better to keep just the best gags and keep the track around the 4 minute mark.

8. Glen Raphael - Ask A Ninja: Simple live-sounding recording is a brave choice especially since the recording is not stellar, but it's good enough to get the idea and the lyrics work really well. Glen really showcases his playing and singing. The lyrics are funny. It sounds like I'm hearing this song in a cafe. I can't help but LOL at the ending.

9. Edric Haleen - For Zoe: Edric's style of impassioned musical theater, sung by someone else; the trials of actually being the person behind a meme. Clever goes almost without saying when talking about an Edric Haleen song: "you post them on the Internet for everyone to see. The sentiments are yours, but you attribute them to me" -- what a perfect line! The song is pretty, there's an arc to the lyrics... but with the length, it keeps pulling too far into seriousness for too long and then has to get dragged back periodically to the meme concept. I like the way this works but the verses need to be much shorter, and even at almost 5 minutes the song lacks a really effective ending.

10. TurboShandy - Piss Lighting (My Canine Friend): Looks like the meme here is "Courage Wolf" which I have to admit I did not get at first. Great heavy guitar work, although after that guitar intro I was expecting more of a death-metal vocal than what I heard. It feels like the vocal style doesn't quite match the guitar style. I like the use of canine sound effects in the little breaks. Decently done but just doesn't really grab me. The lyrics don't feel like they really tell enough of a story.

11. Kevin Savino-Riker - The Ballad of Andrew Meyer: Kevin wisely tells a story about the meme and just references it once, like some of the better entries this round, rather than hammering on it. Nicely done. Maybe just a touch too much reverb on the vocals in the first part.

12. Army Defense - Miss Teen South Carolina: Very nice instrumental work in this track. I like the way they are constantly changing it the instrumentation, adding a percussion bit here, changing up this and that. But I think some of this is kind of to cover up the fact that the lyrics are a little sparse. Still, fun and gets the point across without going too long.

13. Brian Gray - Descartes And I: Brian mentioned finger-picking in the chat, but I'm not quite sure what is going on with the instrumentation -- is that a guitar synth, or some kind of MIDI guitar like one of those Casio things from the '80s? Or a MIDI track? Anyway, it's pretty cool, although it kind of falls into the "uncanny valley" between real and fake. As usual I like Brian's chord choices. His lyrics are clever and reference some other memes, but it feels kind of fragmented. It also goes a little too slow and too long. We're 3:38 into it before we even get some drums in attempt to shift it into higher gear, but at that point it's too late and it's already started to tire.

14. Blimp Exhaust - S. A. P. (Socially Awkward Penguin): A quality performance, mix, and master job with the exception of the drums, that sound very mechanical. Lyrics like "she offered to buy you coffee but you said no thanks, I'm not thirsty" make me smile. Nice guitar work. Chorus lyrics are a little weak. Length is about perfect. Good ending.

15. Dr. Lindyke - Famous Last Words: Lyrics are OK. Feels a little forced-sappy to me and too many cliches ("why not lend a helping hand" is a cliched line), but there are some better lines. The vocal performance seems just slightly off, and the recording seems fuzzy and muffled. Still, it has a bit of an arc and some emotion in the performance.

16. Godz Poodlz - Miss Carolina: Godz, I've missed the Poodlz! There really is no substitute. Funny lyrics, but too many repeats of snarky but not-all-that-funny lines like "you're Miss Information to me." Performances are a little weak -- even ukulele parts -- so it feels one-take-and-we're done. Chorus is a little too long, maybe, so at the end of 3 repeats it's dragging.

17. The Chocolate Chips - Forever Alone: The production is quirky and it's not a great mix, and yet, I find myself liking the mournful sound here and the odd instrumentation, the accidentals in the melody, and the fat bass synth sound, with the guitar part flying in. More like a sketch than a painting, but promising, and I am hoping to hear more from this artist.

18. Ross Durand - One Red Paperclip: The whiny/silly voice thing feels a little weak in this track, although the lyrics are decent. Backing horns are a nice touch. It feels like Ross is saving his energy for the more competitive rounds. Is that a parakeet in the background?

19. "BucketHat" Bobby - Problems: A Dylan pastiche with a heavily reverbed vocals and instrumentation that might come out of Highway 61 Revisited. I know Dylan is like unto a God for a lot of musicians, but I've never been able to enjoy that album all that much, and I've tried many times. Anwyay. There's an interesting idea here -- Bobby goes through the first two verses agreeing with the original meme, but then the lyrics take a turn to reveal that even in the first world people are _actually_ falling into poverty. This basically contradicts the sarcastic idea of the meme and its idea that first-world problems _aren't_ real problems. So the same chorus words are saracastic in the first chorus, but serious by the third? I was interested how Bobby was going to really cement that idea, but the song doesn't quite seem to do it.

20. T.C. Elliott - One Red Paperclip: Reasonably catchy and creative music and lyrics, competently done, but the song really doesn't stand out that strongly for me.

21. The Orion Sound - Hashtag (Damien's Story): Better than some previous work I've heard from The Orion Sound. There's some cleverness here in the lyrics, especially the way they tell a story to illustrate the meme. The chorus lyrics aren't very memorable, though.

22. Brandon Lorrekovich - Hankey Plankey: I love wah-wah guitar. "You're plankin' between my heart and my soul" was funny but, honestly, is kind of a vague filler line that doesn't give much of an image to work with, especially for having such a prominent place in the song. Good vocal performance but the music gets a little repetitive and the song itself runs a little long. OK, a lot long. It feels to me like the song tries to make up in musical style what it lacks in lyrical substance.

23. The Middle Relievers - 2 Eyes 1 Regret: Instrumentation is pretty. This one at least made me smile with the variety of vocal techniques in use, especially the falsetto in the chorus. To be fair, chosing to write about _this_ meme sets a very high degree of difficulty, because even the _toned-down song referencing the original_ is pretty much guaranteed to be not just tasteless, but Divine-eating-dog-poop-off-the-sidewalk-in-a-John-Waters-movie tasteless. I have studiously avoided looking at the infamous video for all these years and it's probably still best if I only imagine it. The humor in the lyrics makes me almost want to finally watch it. Almost.

24. Vincent Black Shadow - Baby Panda Sneeze (Judge's Mix): I'd like to encourage the artist here because the musical arrangement here is _extremely_ creative and I really like that. From what I can hear, the vocal performance is good and the lyrics are pretty funny, telling an actual story about an awfully lightweight viral video, even if it's a pretty weak foundation to build a song on. But it is marred by a very strangely EQ'ed recording. I'm not sure what went wrong here. I hope the artist will survive to the next round and figure out a better way to record because I'd like to hear more.

25. Andy Glover - Hey Winnebago Man: Lyrics are OK -- not inspiring, but adequate. Vocal performance is a little weak, especially backing vocals. The song would probably have been better without them. The tambourine hits wander off the beat so the song probably would have been better without them, too. However, the song gets credit in my book for its short and funny lyrics that address the cursing Winnebago man directly and tell him he's got a potty mouth.

26. Q - Chuck Norris: Chorus singing is a little weak. The spoken parts did not make me LOL although the artist tried. There is no real arc to the lyrics. They do get some credit for trying the unconventional arrangement and phone-filtered vocals and the result is not that bad, but just not that much fun. Please don't send Chuck Norris to beat me up.

27. Jailhouse Payback - Gem Sweater Lady: Nice arrangement, although the recording sounds muffled. Competent performances all around, but the song has really vague lyrics that don't rhyme well and aren't memorable. "The gifts of the modern age are sometimes hard to understand, but you can understand" is one example. So the music goes along but the whole song doesn't really get off the ground.

28. Wait What (The Band) - We R Not Gay: I don't know what exactly is going on here but it's not much fun to listen to. The performance is not bad, but the lyrics are tedious. Stereotyped homophobic gags just aren't funny. Also, I'm not clear on what meme they are trying to reference here.

29. Atom & EV - Welcome Wagon: I know the songwriters here are trying to do their best with a pretty dumb meme, but the net result is just not that fun to listen to. The bleeped vocal thing is getting old, the singing is unimpressive, and the instrumentation is bland.

30. Foobar - Leeroy Jenkins: the piano is OK, and the singing is adequate for the job, but the mixed-in voices and especially their uneven volume levels makes it painful to listen to. I understand that the song is using clips from game audio, but they would need to be better compressed and EQ'ed to smoothly fit into the mix. There are far too many of these clips and the constant repeats of the same clips get on my nerves.

SHADOWS

Dex01 - I Hate a Meme (Shadow): This shadow doesn't get a number ranking, but if I did give it a rating, it would rank somewhere in the middle of the pack. The instrumental tracks don't really come together that well. I can appreciate the sentiment, though, and I'm sure a lot of the contributors agree with the lyrics. So, it's a great song to end the album!