Saturday, August 12, 2017

ST13R3 Reviews: Dave Leigh

Today you're going to get reviews from me!

I work with a lyricist. For me, this challenge is merely my normal modus operandi when my goal is to retain the original lyrics without editing. But I was informed by the judges that this isn't really typical. Many of you don't work with a separate lyricist, or you write your melody first, or you write in a way that the words and the music are written iteratively. We wanted a technical musical challenge, and this one was to get you out of your ruts and phrase songs in completely different ways than you've done before. We couldn't very well just give you lyrics, so we very sneakily gave you two completely topical challenges so you could get comfortable in your zone. Then you were asked to change both the tune and the style of one of those prior entries while retaining the exact lyrics you used before. As such, we're not judging any deficiencies of the lyrics themselves... but phrasing, delivery, and flow all count. And since you have the choice of song, I may that into account, too.

To my mind, the essence of this challenge is that you really have to step up and out of the "box" of your own making. And that means making it as different as possible while still making it sound entirely as though it were written that way in the first place. Ideally, the lyrics should sound completely natural in their new musical setting.

Sara Parsons - DAY(by)DAY
Sara, my lovely, you have knocked this one completely... Out... Of... The... PARK. It is everything we hoped for from this challenge. No only did you change the tune and style, you changed the phrasing. You changed the feelz. And you improved on the original Round 2 challenge!  Using dubstep was an inspired choice. In this new entry, your letter to your younger self sounds as though it came from the future. It sounds like something I dare say your 15-year-old self would never have imagined herself doing. And that's perfect. Without changing a word, it shows growth, it shows change... and when you hit the drop, it doesn't just encourage, it empowers in a very badass way. That's something completely new.  You take the round, hands down.

JoAnn Abbott & M.A.T. - A Swinging Happy Birthday To We
I'm giving Menage-A-Tune the second place spot for many of the same reasons I gave Sara. Since they entered with JoAnn's name this time 'round, it's easy to forget that this is actually a collaboration between JoAnn and Ted Kiper; and they used that collaboration to great effect this round. Changing lead singers is a sure-fire way of changing the mood, but they went far beyond that. You can't get much different than the style they've chosen here: a well-researched Swing beat to replace the "Romper Room" sound of the original. Eight-to-the-bar replaces the 6/4 time signature, and the original tune is completely swept aside. If I have advice to give for this one, it's to get a nice set of SoundFonts and re-render the MIDI using them. Without changing a single note, it will give this number an authentic "Big Band" sound that would put a smile on Benny Goodman's face.

Jailhouse Payback - On Wax
Switching time signatures is great way of making sure of you've got a different style going on even when you retain that "Americana" feel that defines your group's sound. And you're getting a ton of performance points from me for your live instrumentation, which I think is the best of any of the groups here. The tricky part of switching signatures, of course, is getting the lyrics to fit tightly in the new rhythm. For the most part you do that with better delivery than in the original. You had a few "in microphone" edits that to me felt careless, not conscious, and they knocked you down a spot, but I'm still recommending you for the final round.

Boy on the Wall - Bail Me Out (Do Over)
This one's another big winner in my eyes. Completely different phrasing, instrumentation, and feel turns this from garage rock into a polished club dance number. The percussion on this is addictive. I feel like I'm listening to George Michael, and if I heard this over the air in my car I'd crank it up. VERY nice!

Little Bobby Tables - Star Man Redo
I really love this. The guitar ballad of the first round has transformed into a spacey techno number. I think you've really nailed the sweet spots of making it both transformative and improving on the original challenge. But we're operating under contest rules, and you took quite a few liberties with the lyrics. We specified (in italics) "exact same lyrics". And while we know that certain edits take place "in the microphone", and we're willing to make allowances, in your case they just added up.


Kevin Savino-Riker - 22-Over
I really like your opening guitars, and you've got some great vocals throughout the song. Also, your tunes is, I think head and shoulders above your previous entry. Regarding the percussion, I think you've got way too much of a good thing in there. You've got triplets stepping all over your lyrics. I'd prefer to see it dialed back to little more than keeping time in the verses, and the good stuff saved for when you open up in the prechorus.

Governing Dynamics - To A Stubborn Young Man In The Year 1998 (red mix)
The tune different. And to be sure, I think it's a better implementation of the song than you did last round. I know we didn't ask for a change of genre, but one of style. I'm not giving you an awful lot of style change points, though; It's basically louder shoegaze. That's not a horrible thing, but it doesn't put you in the final round in my estimation.

Jerkatorium - Center Square Redux
Aw, man... I think you guys picked the wrong song to re-do. The original "Center Square" has a strong stylistic taste that's tough to wash away. I think "Steady On" might have been a better candidate for revision. Having said that, I like the callback in the leader, and I really love your opening groove. Actually, I love everything about the tune. I also love everything about the lyrics. The question here is, "does this music go with these lyrics?" I gotta say... not really, no. It's not like putting pickles on your peanut butter sandwich, but it ain't jelly, either.

Alex Valentine - Past Adolescence
When I'm listening to these songs, one of the exercises I do is to strip away all of the instrumentation in my mind and listen just to the pattern of the vocal rhythm and the melody. To me, those are better indications of style than which instruments you chose, or how fast/slow/loud/soft you chose to play them. And if you look at your vocal patterns here, you didn't change it much. You inverted the contour here and there, but your flow is the same. This meets the challenge, but I don't think it's the kind of dramatic change that would put you into the final round.

Glen Raphael - One More Thing
This is different, yes; but not terribly so. You're not exactly showing us a different side of yourself. So while there's nothing wrong with it, I don't think it could displace any of the songs higher on my list. You showed us a competently met challenge, but it's that something extra that gets a song to the top.

Melissa Phillips - For You - Do Over
I know that piano is not your forte (look! a pun!) but bravo for trying something new! It might have been a good idea in this round to combine the piano with the guitar, maybe as a single melody line or counterpoint. Setting that aside and looking at the tune alone, I think I'm going to have to recycle the comment I gave Glenn Raphael, just above.

Edric Haleen - Beating the Challenge
At a first listen, the listener might think this entry was a cop-out. It wasn't. There's a full story here for the careful listener. Your favorite super-spy (I'm imagining DangerMouse) arrives at the super-secret enemy facility, takes a deep breath, and uses his supreme computer hacking skillz and gadgetry to gain entry through an encrypted door lock. A stream of encoded letters and spaces is fed into the lock... mostly garbage, but some of them unlocking part of the code. As each letter of the encoded door key message is discovered, you hear an electronic beep from the lock. Having successfully identified all of the letters of the encrypted message, the door unlocks (you can hear the sound of it sliding open), and our intrepid hero triumphantly moves forward, having beaten the challenge. The listener with time on his hands can decode the message.

This might not be Broadway, but it's certainly Hollywood. And technically, there are lyrics (each letter is sung to an individual note) and the "tune" of the code (as distinct from the entry/exit music) is deterministically fated by the Round 1 lyrics. So why doesn't all this work rank higher? Well... because you're sliding this through on a technicality, I'm going to return the favor: your lyrics are not linguistically or semantically the same as first round challenge. E.g., your lyrics are now "Em Oh Arr Kay..." etc., where they were "Mork". And you acknowledge this in your re-formatting of the lyrics sheet.

In devising a hyperintelligent response to the challenge, you've ironically managed to lose the 'intelligence' (i.e. content) of the original song. Whereas the lyrics did evoke images of Robin Williams, they're now meaningless camouflage for a handful of cherry-picked letters. I really can't say that it's a re-imagining of the original song. Really, any letters would have done here, and no one would have noticed. I can't even take the hidden message into account, as that would constitute the introduction of new lyrics.

When I'm judging, first I rank, and then I write the reviews and adjust. And frankly, I had this song ranked further up until I wrote the review. Then I realized I couldn't in good conscience put it higher. That said, you used the same letters in the same order as your Round 1 challenge, and that saves you from a DQ and makes your Round 4 shadow a candidate for reinstatement. And I do hope you shadow this next round. The rule changes means shadowers are bona fide contestants, and I really want to see what you can do next round.


(qualifying shadows, unranked)

Megalodon - The Quiet One 2 (Shadow)
Nice! This would have done well in competition, I think. You did a great job changing up the style and tune, and the words sound comfortable in the new setting. And that's exactly what we asked for!

Micah Sommersmith - Sisters (Shadow)
It doesn't get any different than this. And this is another where the lyrics sound at home. You really took me by surprise with the amount of production here. Techno seems to have been a popular choice among acoustic artists this round!

Rob From Amersfoort - My Platinum Blonde (Shadow)
I'll be honest, I think this sounds really, really creepy and stalker-like. I hope that's what you're going for. And sometimes that's what a listener wants! I'd say it solidly meets the challenge.

Rob From Amersfoort - Letter to Self (Shadow)
Are you a fan of Tim Burton movies? For some reason this seems the sort of thing that would work well in Burton's quirky brand of animated films. I'm not sure I'm fond of the 2/4 time signature as a regular thing, but sometimes it works.

\αlpha​.​ßeta\ - Stop! Redux (Shadow)
Had this been in this round, I'd have voted for it to go into the final round. This is smooth, silky, and sexy. DAY-UM! No objections at all.

(non-qualifying shadows, unranked)

Pigfarmer Jr. - Shrooms (Shadow)
I'm not about to eat those damned 'shrooms! This is a great take on the challenge, and a better