Saturday, August 26, 2017

ST13R4 Reviews: Brian Gray

Woo-hoo, my rankings don’t count anymore! Thus, I’m not providing them, and to be honest not even deciding inside my own brain which songs I like better than others. In fact, I’m noticing as I write that I’m having things to say about songs I like that may make you think you’d have been at the bottom. You probably would not have been. I mean, maybe you would have been. It’s like a 25% shot. At any rate, it’s a good thing my vote doesn’t count, because with a week-long trip full of a whole bunch of no electronics, I didn’t have the same amount of time to digest your music. So this is based on just a few listens rather than charting out the harmonies, dissecting the lyrical patterns, etc.


The first thing that I noticed when we decided on the challenge was that this is basically the same thing as the previous round, but for harmony instead of lyrics. That is to say, you are probably writing two songs with the same chords and different melodies and lyrics, instead of two songs with the same lyrics but different harmonies and melodies. Except that one of you didn’t, did you? I’m sure you all suffered through how difficult it is to fit two songs together. How do you overlay them? Different voices? Left v. right ear? Counterpoint composition? Handing off or bouncing back and forth? One slow and one fast? Some combination of the above?


Jailhouse Payback: Path of Totality / Oregon to Myrtle Beach
Music:
Inventive! I was expecting a lot of very simple progressions – since two distinct melodies were going to have to fit over them – but you use almost all of the chords available to the relative major of your minor key. The melody flows well in the first part, less so in the second. I think I’m going to have a lot of opinions this round where I like one better than the other, them both being new and in such close comparison. The other suggestion I had was that you could work on the transitions to tie the whole piece together.
Lyrics:
Some really clever stuff here with the way the lyrics interplay. Was it intentional to use “Casper” in the second song where it would overlay with “ghost”? It matches well with “Abe” and “Lincoln”. Plus, just the imagery of references to things like “Bruce” allows you to say a lot with a few words because you’re leveraging narratives established in much longer works.
Synergy:
The above lyrical combinations are inspired. Musically, I’d have liked to hear them blend together better. Maybe sparsify the lyrics in the second part so that they can alternate with the first without quite as much overlaying. Or perhaps it would be sufficient to have each lean to a side so they’re more separable, at least with headphones on.


Jerkatorium: Oh No / Sunblock (ft Sheri Hinshaw)
Music:
You made some adventurous choices, with both the harmonic style of the first part and some of the compositional decisions. I’m not sure of that secondary dominant (V/vi) that resolves back to the tonic (“I just want to sit and ponder my regrets”). Going to vi there would be cliché, but sometimes combinations become that way because they work so well. Here you took a chance and I think the song would have been better served by taking the road more traveled.
Lyrics:
As an art form, I have nothing to call out about your lyrics, except perhaps how the word “begun” fits into the cadence. Some interesting ambiguity – and perhaps switching 1st person? – with respect to who first suggested the time off and who needs more or less of it. But all that mystery works together, and I think the listener gets the combination of frustration, sadness, and resignation you intended. One thing that bothers me, perhaps unreasonably, was the combination of talking about how it was supposed to be a “peaceful day”, but then the other person is back after “43 hours”. How long was it supposed to be? And if 43 hours is being back early, how did you not get a peaceful day? Or was it supposed to be 2 or 3 peaceful days, and your being back early prevents this one from being so?
Synergy:
Really, really good. You use both fast/slow and two different voices to accentuate the differences, but in a way that when you play them it comes across as something any normal songwriter/producer might have done to make the lead and backups blend (and it’s pretty clear the second part is the lead).


Menage a Tune: Rebels Out For Glory / Reflected Glory
Music:
Musically, this is kind of what I was expecting from the round, in terms of keeping the chords simple. The weirder you get, the less room you have for truly different melodies, which is part of why we have 47 million popular songs with different melodies built on top of variants of I-V-vi-IV (or I-vi-IV-V in the 50’s). You took a more middle road, but erred on the side of essential chords that allow more melodic flexibility, and I think that was a good decision.
Lyrics:
Denser internal rhymes than we’ve seen in the past from you. They give this piece a nice layering, and a stylistic backing of the central theme, which is clearly quite meta. Even that exhausted “accidental” catch at the beginning feeds into a contrast with the light, easy, bouncy feel to “Rebels”. Had that been the only part written, I’d have asked if it was meant to color the song in an ironic hue. And if so, why leave it at that? If not, you’re better without it. Here though, with both parts they fit better having the labor, frustration, and emotional exposure inherent in the competition foreshadowed by this little part that doesn’t veen make it into the body of the song(s).
Synergy:
You can tell just by reading the lyrics that part 1 is denser than part 2, so I was expecting a faster, punctuated former over a long-phrased, slow latter. What ended up taking form is a 2nd part alternating fast lyrics with open space, and I’m not convinced it was to your benefit. When they come together, they kind of step on each other for a bit, then part 2 clears out and we hear part 1 clearly. Then we’re back to the stepping on each other. To get these to knit together better, I think try making JoAnn’s part use longer, legato notes taking the job of a pad, allowing Ted’s part to assume the percussive burden.


Sara Parsons: Eclipse
Music:
Ahh, the exception to the rule. You kept the same general harmonic “sense” as your songs progressed between passages, but part 2 was in the relative minor, reflecting very convincingly the change in mood as the relationship follows its path. But then how are you going to bring them back together? You sing the part 2 melody over the part 1 chords, which is an interesting chioce. Had you followed the minor version, I’d have interpreted this as the outcome of the relationship netagively coloring your memory of how it started. But doing it this way lightens the second part. Perhaps reflecting on the good times makes the rest not seem as bad? I might have to think on this more deeply, which is a good thing for a song.
Lyrics:
Your lyrics always flow well, and are so pleasant to hear that they stay out of the way of your narrative. I do feel like “really super buff” might have jarred me out of this immersion a bit, it’s just a bit blunt. Beyond that, part 1 does its part masterfully in communicating its message. Part 2 has me a bit bewildered. The core of the music – the emotional content – remains intact and I can feel what I think you want me to feel, but I fall short in comprehending the narrative. I’m not sure who left whom, and why, only that the relationship ended and he’s still in love. Perhaps you got scared and broke up with him? I could imagine any of a dozen scenarios.
Synergy:
The synergy makes the piece, for the reasons noted above in “music”. More than any other song in this round, I believe yours needed a production-created way to differentiate the melodies when combined, the most naive (and style-preserving) being nudging them left and right.