Saturday, July 29, 2017

ST13R2 Reviews: Josh Holober-Ward

NOTE: Josh's reviews are ranked by number.

Hi! Wow. It's been a minute.

My name's Josh Holober-Ward, and I am absolutely honored and thrilled to be a guest judge for this round of Spintunes. I once wrote some silly songs about moleman tragedies and cat memes for Song Fu 5 and Spintown 6 about ten thousand years ago, and it's inspiring to see this big incredible crazy contest/collaboration still going strong.

For the judging, I listened straight through the album a few times, stopping to replay a few tracks along the way. This was a seriously enjoyable batch of songs, and a tough bunch to rank. What a wonderful problem to have. Let's get right to it!

Shadow: PigFarmer, Jr. - CoMo '93
Good advice. Doesn't sound like you heeded it while recording this.

Shadow: Red Watcher - As Long As They Choose
Woah, this is gorgeous! Beautiful piano (I'm a sucker for dem major 7th chords). WOW okay, the synth at 1:20 just legit gave me chills. REALLY love the vibe of this one, great lyrics, great chord progression, enjoyable all around. This would be in my top 10 if wasn't a shadow.

Shadow:  \αlpha.ßeta\ - Stop!
*starts dancing* COOL. Cool. For the first 20 seconds, but then... Something seems off-- it feels like the vocals and backing track are in a slightly different key. Your vocals sound great, but something is definitely clashing with the backing track and it makes this a bit of a tough listen. The beat and message are awesome though.

19. Jordan Carroll - School Report
This is such a masterpiece I don't know where to begin. So I won't.
(The other judges let me in on how this happened. Whoops!)

18. Rob From Amersfoort - Dear 15-Year-Old Me
The way this weaves kind and genuine advice with minor chords and creepy vocals is *awesome*. So weirdly unsettling and I kinda love that. The lyrics are pretty standard for this sort of prompt, but the sheer bizarreness of the music makes it stand out. Cool, but I'm not sure how many repeated listens I would give this.

17. JoAnn Abbott & M.A.T - Happy Birthday to We!
This is so delightful! I like the framing of your birthday being the occasion for why you're writing to yourself. I love how much personality you put into your vocal delivery! The slight laugh in "Bad times--hah, there's been loads". Is the "you sound like my mom" voice you or someone else? "Wow". Hahah, I love whoever's voice it is, adds a nice little touch to this. This really warmed my heart and made me smile.

16. James Young - Everything Will Be Alright
Cooooooooool chill sound here, nice simple guitar and crisp vocals. Love the reverb on the choruses. "Everything will be alright... I assume", I like how that doesn't exactly inspire confidence. Feels a little short and unfinished, but I like what's there quite a bit.

15. Kevin Savino-Riker - Catch-22
This is such a sweet, complex song. I like the perspective of the singer not having all the answers but still trying their best to give advice. Nice re-framing of the phrase "catch 22" in the last line.

14. Megalodon - Mixtape - 1987
Nice! Great guitar, great rhythm, love the line "forgive this diachronic crime". Dig the harmonies that come in at 1:22. I like how this straddles the line between serious and comedic, lots of the songs on in this round seem to be going for that and I feel like this is one of the more successful ones. Pretty guitar solo, probably my favorite part. Smooth sailin' can be so rough is an awesome last line. Nice!

13. Alex Valentine - 12 Years Past
Nice angry grungy guitar strumming, I really get the sense you're trying to tap into your teenage self. Really enjoy how you set the tone nice and early with "all your fake fucking friends."  Like, "hey buddy, I remember angst, I speak the language." The verses flow super well into the chorus and vice versa. The "just the first step to the woman you want to be" was a nice surprise, and especially relevant now. Adds a whole new layer to the theme of self-acceptance and "you're perfectly OK" line. Thoughtful, heartfelt, catchy, I like this one a lot. Keep it up!

12. Little Bobby Tables - Hindsight
Groooovy, total "Code Monkey" vibe from the intro guitar rhythm and drums. Enjoy the "warn ya / California" rhyme. I like the slight tremelo in your voice, there are a few moments where I felt like you could sound a little more confident. It does sound a little bit like you're trying to be quiet for the mic, and it disconnects a little from the rockin' drums and electric guitar. But I'm being nitpicky, I know this is more about the writing than the recording, just felt worth mentioning. Moving on-- Yay guitar solo! I like the journey the lyrics take you on here too, how the letter keeps progressing with age and you change your voice. Enron stock, oh god. Bahahaha. I like your style and you got some laughs out of me. Awesome.

11. Governing Dynamics - To A Stubborn Young Man In The Year 1998
NICE. Okay, I was waiting for someone to make the time travel joke. Gold star! Beautiful electric guitar here. I do feel this song may have benefited from another instrument coming in later, or harmonies, or drums. It's a beautiful song, but I found myself wanting more of a build or variety as it progressed. Earnest lyrics, I can tell you're writing from the heart here, and I dig the uplifting message. "You don't have to overdo it, but you can always be better." Good stuff.

10. Boy on the Wall - All the Way Up
Digging the lines "You’re a musician with pernicious inhibition / You’re just wondering and wishing but I’m asking you to listen". Delicious rhymes, om nom nom. I like the synth after the chorus a lot here. Awesome vocals, kind of reminds me of Third Eye Blind in a good way. Super groovy sound. Solid song, enjoyed this one a lot!

9. Matt Walton - Hey Me You Probably Don't Want To Hear This
Okay, the funky recorder genuinely cracked me up. It may just have been because I just came from Edric's 10 minute musical, making the transition delightfully jarring. What a cute and playful little jig is this. Really made me smile! The percussion coming in at 1:30~ is well-timed and adds a lot. I love how personal this is, and also your commentary on recorders while playing one. I do think this could have been one or two verses shorter, but other than I thought this was super solid. Lovely and joyful.

8. Jerkatorium - Steady On
Awesome vocals, guitar, drums, everything! Like the repetition of Steady On in the chorus. Also like the Dear me/Hear me, Hey me/Yay me. Digging the subtle synth in the bridge! Killer guitar solo. I feel like it deserved a stronger ending, the quick fade-out felt disappointing after all that awesomeness! In my opinion, this would benefit from either a longer fade or a big build to a full stop. Overall a great track, hit replay a couple times and kept finding new things to enjoy.

7. Micah Sommersmith - Take Care of Yourself
ACCORDION. +27 POINTS. This sounds like a Weird Al demo from the 80's. WHICH I LOVE. Seriously enjoy how playful and fun this whole track is. Short, sweet, funny, to the point, I love it. Definitely stands out and sounds fresh, and I'm a sucker for how delightfully goofy your style is. Gold freakin' star.

6. Jailhouse Payback - Don't Let Mom and Dad    
YES. Killer chorus. I'm not a vinyl enthusiast, but my god, this is like THE anthem for people that are. Great detail with the "wooden box you built". I love how personal this feels. I like that this has a very specific angle and you sell it super hard. "On wax, the way God intended" is a wonderful line. Great sense of humor, super fun overall vibe, really enjoyed this one.

5. Melissa Phillips - For You
Wow, your voice is absolutely beautiful. This is an expertly constructed song, love how sweet the lyrics are. Replayed this one several times, it's just solid, beautiful, and uplifting. I love the line about the boy "who'll teach you 3 chords". I also appreciate that the advice being given isn't from a place of "I have it all figured out now and here's the correct course of action to take!", it's more about having a positive mindset and accepting the risks and stumbles that come your way. Really nice work!

4. W8 What - To My Teen Self
Alright. You had me right from the slidey guitar intro. Love the whole vibe of this one, the spoken "But your happy-self must profess" is a great moment. LOVE the piano and guitar breakdown moments in the last minute or so! One thing I'm not sure how to feel about-- Are your vocals auto-tuned? It sounds like it to me, and I feel it may have been better without it. This is such an intimate, funny song that I would actually rather have the personality that comes with vocal imperfections. Especially with such a playful and catchy country style. That said, if this is your sound, I can't argue with how clean, tight, and well-produced it all sounds. Just a nitpick, overall I really enjoyed it.

3. Sara Parsons - Better
Wow. I missed your voice. I still have a few of your songs come up on shuffle from the Song Fu days, and I can't tell you how happy it makes me that you're still putting music out there :) Anyway. This song is as beautiful as everything else I've heard from you, and my new favorite. I literally sighed "mmmm..." after the "You're getting better day by day..." moment of the chorus. Seriously, Sara, this is gorgeously written and sung, especially the chorus. I love how the last few lines are a little more quiet and solemn. Absolutely wonderful.

2. Glen Raphael - Dear Me
I absolute adore your style. Fantastic vocals, fantastic guitar playing, catchy tune, I really enjoy how it just sounds like you just sat down in front of me with your guitar and knocked this out of the park. Always a fan of raw recordings like this, lends such a great intimate and organic feeling to the song. When the musician sounds like they're having fun, I'm usually having fun, and this song is a prime example of that. Love the "ba bada bum bada bum", breakdown for the same reasons. Buy Apple and hold it <3 The PS at the end genuinely cracked me up. One of my favorites, downloaded this and added it to my shuffle rotation.

1. Edric Haleen - To My Fifteen Year Old Self
Jesus Christ, Edric. Can you be less of a fucking genius for one second? I have to admit, I'm a total sucker for your style and I enjoyed every goddamn second of this. As a huge fan of Bo Burnham, Tim Minchin, and musicals in general, I'm totally biased here but... but that bias comes from a deep love for lyrical and musical excellence, which I see you consistently create. Bias aside, this is an objectively herculean artistic undertaking and I have an immense appreciation for that. Had a huge grin on my face for all 10 minutes and 39 seconds. ALSO, funnily enough, all these years later, I still regularly go back and listen to / show people Zero Point Nine Repeating, and my FAVORITE THING ABOUT IT has always been you arguing with yourself. So naturally, this entire track was an absolute delight to me, I love the philosophical journey, the thorough discussion and dismantling of the topic, the sarcasm and self-referential humor, the well-placed profanity, the genuine epiphanies, the tremendous care and attention put into the instrumentation and arrangement of each section, how the entire piece flows logically and elegantly from one thought to the next... "Your self-indulgent, masturbatory gedanken experiment?" Yeah. Shit. I don't usually swear this much but I fucking love your work, man. Is this even a song?? It's like 7 songs and a ton of dialogue and who cares I love it I JUST LOVE IT. This is hands-down my favorite and it's not even fair.