Saturday, March 2, 2013

Spintunes #6 Round 3 Review: Travis Norris

1. Edric Haleen – On The Matter Of Bullying
THE SONG:
Clearly this is an anti-bullying song, but it’s more than that.  The song demonstrates one of the reasons we (as humanity) have so much trouble figuring out how to deal with bullying – it’s deeply ingrained in our history.  It ends up closer to a lamentation than a protest, which might have cost it a few positions if everything wasn’t so well put together. 
Favorite lyrical element:
There are no less than three reveals in this one, and my favorite is probably  the stanza starting with “if your skin is different”.  Fred Phelps and his ilk – or rather how society tries to deal with them without infringing on their rights to free speech etc. has always been kind of interesting to me.  Is it bullying the bullies?  Surely there’s a better way than that?  …is there, though?
THE RECORDING:
Fairly minimalist voice and piano.  As usual Edric is a good judge of when less is more (and when more would probably negatively affect the overall impact of the lyrics).  Vocals are occasionally a little difficult to hear in the quiet bits, but that’s probably just my hearing damage.
Favorite musical element:
The arpgeggio figure in the last stanza.
BOTTOM LINE:
This reminds me a lot of “Whispered in Your Ear” (from way on back in Song Fu 4) which has been one of my favorite Edric tunes since I first heard it.   I’m not sure how many times I’ll relisten to this one, as it is a somewhat uncomfortable song to listen to, but I’m glad I heard it the six times it took to get through my reviews.

2. Ross Durand – Don’t Send Them Away
THE SONG:
Anti-war (or at least anti-deployment?) song.  It’s a more or less timeless sentiment although the first two verses keep it rooted firmly in the present.
Favorite lyrical element:
“What if they tried to throw a war and no one came?”
THE RECORDING:
Minimalist, but effective voice and acoustic instruments and hand percussion.  Do I hear a mandolin in there?  No real production or performance issues to speak of.
Favorite musical element:
Musically this one is pretty simplistic, again to keep the lyrical content “front and center”. The supporting vocals during the chorus lend a chant/picket line feel.
BOTTOM LINE:
Short, sad, and hopeful.

3. Jenny Katz – Next Nice Town
THE SONG:
Jenny’s entry this round is a bit more subtle than some of the other entries and it works to her advantage.  Disillusionment with the typical suburban lifestyle is of course not exactly new, but just as valid as it ever was.  Also, Jeff Tweedy from Wilco seems to be making a guest appearance on lead guitar, so that’s pretty cool.
Favorite lyrical element:
“We’ll buy a Hummer cause we really really need one. It’s about freedom!”.  Not only does this line encapsulate the mindless consumerism the song is about, it also made me laugh.
THE RECORDING:
The acoustic guitar reminds me of Joni Mitchell and (weirdly enough) Eric Clapton and as mentioned, the lead guitar is garagetastic.  EQ wise sometime seems very slightly off about the whole recording, but that’s mostly in comparison to other Jenny Katz mixes I’ve heard, it’s nothing of any huge concern.
Favorite musical element:
Hendrix-homage solo and really the intentionally sloppy lead guitar throughout.
BOTTOM LINE:
This is already on my MP3 player/handheld computer/cellular telephone and oh god this song is about me isn’t it?

4. MC Ohm-I – If You Don’t Like Gay Marriage
THE SONG:
Usually when discussing the gay marriage issue people argue with emotions or logic.  This is the second type, which is refreshing even if some might feel it lacks an emotional component. 
Favorite lyrical element:
The last verse, and yes, name checking Antoine Dodson probably helped with that.
THE RECORDING:
Very clean, vocals easy to hear.  The synth bass could maybe use a –little- more variation during the verses, but as the song is less than 3 minutes overall it never really starts feeling too repetitive. 
Favorite musical element:
The horn riffs on the chorus.
BOTTOM LINE:
Another smart and entertaining one from MC Ohm-I.

5. Steve Durand – Just War
THE SONG:
What’s going on here?  Is it 1976?  Is that a freaking clavinet?  Nice work.  I did not see this genre coming as a protest song, but it works perfectly.  The topic is gutsy, too.  Although as time moves on more people are catching on to the whole “Obama kills Americans and civilians with flying robots on suspicion” thing, but for a long time it was curiously ignored by the media since neither the “left” or the “right” really wanted to hear about it.
Favorite lyrical element:
Barack Obama, more drone kills than any Nobel Peace Prize winner.
THE RECORDING:
Things sound slightly lo-fi which is fitting enough with the ‘70s feel.  Bass and midrange frequencies seem a little heavy on the bass guitar and vocals.  Not really a big concern but could be a little clearer.  The horns are predictably awesome.
Favorite musical element:
The way everything ties together in the chorus (horns, background vocals, driving bass line).
BOTTOM LINE:
Gutsy. Funky.  And of course, nice horns.

6. The Middle Relievers – Love Builds Homes
THE SONG:
Garage-rock (with a bit of Santana influence, surprisingly enough?) pro gay marriage tune.   In contrast to MC Ohm-I’s entry on the same topic this one has a bit more of an emotional appeal.  There’s also a Sesame Street reference.  Nice. 
Favorite lyrical element:
“Enough with all this natural law nonsense in God’s defense”
THE RECORDING:
Production isn’t too great on this one, although I detect there might be at least some degree of intentional “lo-fi” going on.  Vocals and guitars but have a touch of distortion of the not completely desirable variety.  Bass is a little hard to make out.  Drums might help everything feel a little more nailed together.  Actual performance seems okay, though, and the production didn’t really factor in to the ranking on this one (see my explanation of production importance in the round 1 intro).
Favorite musical element:
That harmonized guitar solo is nice (and unexpected).  The recurring melody (not sure what instrument is playing it, to my shame) is a nice motif as well.
BOTTOM LINE:
Despite some production issues the writing here is solid enough to get “Love Builds Homes” into the top half of the pack.

7. Dr. Lindyke – The Square
THE SONG:
Bluesy anti-apathy protest.  Obviously it seems to be about Tianenmen, but if you look a little closer at the lyrics, it’s really about protesting the mindset of trading freedom for relative peace.
Favorite lyrical element:
The chorus, in particular “every battle needs survivors”.
THE RECORDING:
Piano and vocals are good as per usual.  The drums seem a little off at times and maybe mixed a bit too much “on top” but these are minor nitpicks. 
Favorite musical element:
The intro/recurring piano riff.
BOTTOM LINE:
I don’t think that a song about Tiananmen Square was a bad idea just because it happened more than twenty years ago, but as the chorus is less about that specific incident and more about bigger themes, maybe connecting those themes to incidents other than Tiananmen would be another direction to go with this.

8. Kevin Savino-Riker – Dinosaur Sam
THE SONG:
Kind of a funk rock tune… lot of ‘70s influence on this round, seems like… about how everything sucks.  Okay, joking.  Compared to some or the other entries “Dinosaur Sam” goes a little more broad on the topic of protest.  I’m not sure it works entirely to the song’s benefit in terms of standing out from other entries. 
Favorite lyrical element:
“You've got these rules to govern over, curry favor
What makes you so special?”
THE RECORDING:
The instrumentation could be rhythmically tighter but is generally well played.  The one problem I can identify is the phrasing on the chorus.  Although I personally have quite a bit of experience with this phenomenon, the words seem rushed in to fit the music and as such they lose some of the impact they should have. 
Favorite musical element:
Is it weird if I say all the harmonics?  I hope not, because it’s all the harmonics.
BOTTOM LINE:
We’re getting into the “hate that I’m ranking this so low” part of the pack.  This is a fun (in spite of it’s content, perhaps) tune and might have moved up a few more positions with a more cohesive chorus and/or tighter recording.

9. RC – An Equal Start
THE SONG:
Nicely atmospheric acoustic  song about inequality between schools.   This could probably benefit from a little more subtlety in the lyrics, but at least there’s no danger of the intended meaning being missed as they are. 
Favorite lyrical element:
The title line is well-supported by the arrangement every time it comes up.  Aside from that, I think the bridge is my favorite.
THE RECORDING:
I think this is the best production of the round, everything seems to have been given careful attention, from the acoustic guitar mix to the support vocals.  As is usual I really enjoy RC’s guitars.  Overall the atmosphere of this song really reminds me of “How To Fight Loneliness” by Wilco (second Wilco mention of the review, boom), complete with a reverby piano solo.
Favorite musical element:
BOTTOM LINE:
Musically, this is enjoyable, but lyrically it’s a little too on the nose for my preferences.

10. Jerry Skids – The Separation Of Church And Nothing
THE SONG:
This has a barroom feel, sounds a bit like the singer had a shot or two before doing his take (not an insult).  Probably wouldn’t go over too well in an actual barroom unless it was a very particular type of bar.  I agree with a lot of the basic intent of the song but it goes perhaps a little farther than I would in a few cases.  Overall, it’s got a little less nuance than I would like, but the complaints are valid… just a bit overstated.
Favorite lyrical element:
They got no freedom of religion, got no freedom of speech
They’re just blindly followin’ cos you’re authority
Who program our young to be autonomous sheep
And slowly limit their vocabulary
THE RECORDING:
Production isn’t too great on this but works with the “live from the bar” feel.  The vocal delivery similarly feels like a stylistic choice.  I think the recording could have benefited from a little bit more instrumentation or variation between sections.
Favorite musical element:
The bridge and the final chorus when the crowd joins in.
BOTTOM LINE:
Reminds me a little of NOFX’s “Leaving Jesusland” in that I agree with a lot of it but I don’t think it’s going to be very effective in changing anyone’s mind.

11. Brian Gray - Walk
THE SONG:
Won’t someone think of the zombies? ?  A “live recording” from the benefit concert…
Favorite lyrical element:
“Hearts and brains… we’ve got lots to share.”  I dunno, this band seems more like a doomsday cult than a well intentioned social awareness campaign…
THE RECORDING:
Right up with RC for my favorite production of the round, the “live recording” idea is a really great one (would have worked well for South Bend Aid as well..) Supporting vocals and the solos are great too.
Favorite musical element:
The 9/4 time signature.
BOTTOM LINE:
So… seems like I really liked this song, right?  Yes, I did, and I’m in almost physical pain ranking it this low.  After considering it for awhile I just felt like this one stretches the challenge a little too far.  While I wouldn’t DQ it (as it does nicely work as a metaphor, as you stated in your song bio), it’s based off a fundamentally fictional concept and on that basis it kept losing spots to other songs.  If it helps at all, it is already on media player.

12. TurboShandy
THE SONG:
An overly heavy-handed anti-gun rocker.  As somebody who identifies as “pro-regulation” on that issue there were parts of this song I liked but too much of it seemed like a gross oversimplification of the issue.  Somewhat like Jerry Skids’ song, I just don’t think this is really going to change any minds.  The chorus seems to be more about the relative disconnection between media and gun violence which is of course related, but a different topic than the all out gun ban advocation in the verses.
Favorite lyrical element:
“You changed your constitution just so you could have a drink
If you could change it just to save one life it's worth it, don't you think?”
And both of the chorus variants are pretty good too (although I have cried when pixels died.  Every played The Walking Dead game?  I mean, damn..)
THE RECORDING:
For all my misgivings about the topic/lyrics, musically this is well constructed and performed well.  I like the various key changes, keeps things sounding fresh and unpredictable. 
Favorite musical element:
Key change from the verse into the prechorus. 
BOTTOM LINE:
The lyrics ould benefit from a little more subtlety or acknowledgement of the complexity of the topic.  Musically though, this is a good one.