Monday, December 17, 2018

ST15R4 Deadline News and Listening Party

The Round 4 deadline has come and gone, and the listening party will be Monday, December 17 at 9pm.

For now you should know:
  • All 4 bands made the deadline
  • As of this writing, there are 8 shadows
  • There will be no Wildcard Reinstatements
  • Judges will review and rank, but the final rankings will be obtained from all competitors who took part in Spintunes 15 (no matter when or how they were eliminated)
  • The album will be publicly available when the listening party starts. Votes will be due by Saturday, December 22, at 12 noon US Eastern Time.
As usual, the listening party will be hosted by Tommy G. on YouTube. [Here's the link]:


Saturday, December 8, 2018

SpinTunes #15 Round 4 Challenge

This is simple enough ;)
It Grows On You: Write a cumulative song, in which the verses repeat but with additional material each time through, resulting in longer and longer verses.
An easy example would be The Twelve Days of Christmas. Other examples can be found here:  
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cumulative_song

Good luck to our four finalists; and to everyone else, remember two things...

  1. YOU ARE RANKING THE FINAL ROUND! It's YOUR votes that will determine our winner!
  2. SHADOW! Should any of our official competitors miss the deadline, you could be reinstated into the final round!


Submitting Entries:
  • Your entry must be received by Sunday, December 16th, 2018 @ 11:59 PM EDTOtherwise it'll be posted as a shadow. Received means that it has to appear in my e-mail inbox (spintunescontest@gmail.com) by the given deadline. I will be going by the time stamp on the e-mail. One minute late is too late.
  • You are allowed and encouraged to submit a draft of your song early just in case something horrible happens and you miss the deadline. Then you can add polish to your song and send in a better version closer to the deadline. The last version received prior to the deadline is your official entry. 
  • Lyrics are mandatory. No instrumentals. Having no lyrics will get you disqualified.
  • Name your file the song's title, but without spaces & punctuation.
  • Title of the e-mail should be the title of the Challenge & your band's name. (e.g. "It Grows On You - Dr Lindyke") (The title of the song is whatever you want it to be)
  • Include information on anyone that should be credited for collaboration. Remember, collaborations are OK, even among competitors. You must write your song, but if you want to use another vocalist or musicians, do so. 
  • If you have a BandCamp account, you can just send me a link to your song on BandCamp if you include all the info I mentioned above. Make sure you have it set as a free download. THIS IS THE BEST FILE SHARING OPTION!
  • Other file sharing options if you need them: Sound Cloud (set to download a format BandCamp is ok with) & Drop Box. Please send an e-mail as I already stated, but with the download link if you need one of these services. 
  • If you're using something other than Bandcamp, It's best if you send your file in a format that Bandcamp accepts (.aiff, .wav or .flac, at least 16-bit/44.1kHz) You can find the specific requirements for Bandcamp files HERE.
  • If you send me an MP3, I will attempt to convert it for you. But be warned... I will be strapped for time, and I will post whatever Audacity spits out of the conversion. So if you picked the wrong sample rate, your dulcet tones may wind up sounding like termites or chipmunks or random static. And that is what will be judged. So please... save and submit your files in the right format. 

Side Notes:
  • You are allowed to send in a little background about your song. We encourage and appreciate "song bios". You don't have to do it, but if you want to write a couple sentences about your song I'll post it on the BandCamp page for people to see. I'll even link to longer blog posts if you want to explain your song on your blog. Some judges will read this extra info, but they aren't required to.
  • You can send in an entry to SpinTunes 15 without competing. Just tell me it's a "Shadow Song". It will be played at the listening party, but won't be ranked and you might not receive feedback from the judges. Check the FAQ if you don't know what that means. You can even complete past challenges from previous contests. It's a nice way of playing along if you can't commit to the schedule or you just want to get your feet wet.
  • The only other way to get your music played at the LP is to cover "Today's The Day" by Inverse T. Clown.

Feel free to leave any questions in the comments.







ST15R3 Results!

And our SpinTunes #15 finalists are...

Artist/songDave*TravisJoeEdricRyanChumpyMicahTOTAL
Mandibles312712114
Faster Jackalope123521619
Zoe Gray656246730
Third Cat797633230
Vom Vorton561855833
Governing Dynamics474399537
Temnere10451077437
Good Guy Sôjàbé289984341
Brian Gray9108168942
PigFarmer Jr.8310410101047

* My rankings are only used in the breaking of ties or in case one of the regular judges doesn't deliver. All the regular judges did deliver, so my rankings are not summed into the total. The ties between Zoe Gray and Third Cat and Governing Dynamics and Temnere were broken by me.

** DQ


The next challenge will be posted at 10pm Eastern time. A very nice way to lead into Christmas! Those of you who were eliminated, please shadow. You've got one last chance to be reinstated! And please remember, YOU will be ranking the final four entries to determine a winner!


ST15R3 Reviews: Ryan Finholm

[DAVE'S NOTE: These are Ryan's rankings. His detailed reviews, as usual, will appear on the https://twojerksonevote.com podcast along with Chumpy's]

From favorite to least favorite:

  1. Mandibles
  2. Faster Jackalope
  3. Third Cat
  4. Zoe Gray
  5. Vom Vorton
  6. Brian Gray
  7. Temnere
  8. Good Guy Sojabe
  9. Governing Dynamics
  10. PigFarmer Jr.

The podcast is going to be posted today, very very soon, at https://twojerksonevote.com.

ST15R3 Reviews: Chumpy Wumpikins

[DAVE'S NOTE: These are Chumpy's rankings and comments. His detailed reviews, as usual, will be included with Ryan's in Jerkatorium's podcast, to be found here: https://twojerksonevote.com/ ]

My rankings might be a bit of a surprise to folks who have listened to my commentary on the podcast, which was recorded much sooner than usual after the songs were released. After several more days of listening and trying to think critically about the songs, the challenge, and my personal biases, my thoughts on ranking have evolved somewhat. A song I misunderstood and too quickly dismissed was reevaluated, and a song I initially really liked was diminished because I felt it wasn't "appreciably different" from their other songs in the contest.

The podcast is meant to be fun and entertaining, but I realize that my biased and flippant "hot takes" on people's hard work might be upsetting -- especially if I completely fail to understand what you're trying to do. For that I apologize in advance.

  1. Faster Jackelope
  2. Mandibles
  3. Third Cat
  4. Good Guy Sojabe
  5. Vom Vorton
  6. Zoe Gray
  7. Temnere
  8. Brian Gray
  9. Governing Dynamics
  10. PigFarmer, Jr.

ST15R3 Rankings: Joe Lamb


So - I was harsh this round.

And it wasn't that easy because tribute/sound-alike/ in-the-style-of was always gonna be difficult to balance. Some of the tracks below are listed purely for the fact that the 'original' artist isn't very high on my 'likes' list. What I will say is, that for the most part after the top 4 the difference between the last batch is tiny... except for number 10.

(Sorry Dude... didn't work on any level for me.)


1. Brian Gray - Boy and His Kumquat Tree (P. GLass)
Lyric too minimalistic even for Glass - GLass collaborated with lyricists like L. Cohen and Suzanne Vega... Even "Einstein on the Beach' s 'numbers' verses increased as they went on. 
Musically, well, minimalism is minimalist, it is reminiscent of Glass, certainly - it meets the challenge. But it doesn't blossom like Glass does. 
Lyrically? Sorry, it's lazy. So, as a 'song' I have to mark this down. (I'm not gonna mark you down for ripping off the Koyaanisqatsi 'song' tune) - I guess this shows why minimalism is difficult to do properly.    
8th
 
2. Zoe Gray - Old Lovers' Bridge (H. Williams) 
Quite liked the fake steel guitar. Challenge met, (but then it's C&W and would not have been too hard to accomplish. (I'm actually hearing more of a 'Ranger Den' influence on the vocals! :) ) Decent enough CW song... but (although I grew up with my Dad listening to Hanks Williams and Snow, hardcore CW isn't really my thing. 
6th
 
3. Vom Vorton - Silver Streak (Fu Manchu)
This'll be a rocking wee song then. (A bit close to "The Action is On" but certainly varied enough to be a loving "Tribute to..." 
Love the mix - musically it is spot on. If you could have forced a harmonic falsetto onto this it would have opened the track out a bit. 
1st
 
4. Faster Jackalope - Ghia's Got Room For Two (P. Spektor) 
VERY brave attempt. The Wall of Sound cannot be an easy thing to emulate 'at home'. Let down by vocals being a little muddy (something Spektor never really had) and also a little too long for a Specktor track (Phil RARELY made it to 3mins averaging around 2:45) - but this is pretty good. 
3rd
 
5. PigFarmer, Jr. - Who Are You? (V. Ice) 
Rhymes are fine. Rap is dull. Not like Ice at all. (If you had done the Under Pressure hook backwards, or upside down, it might have been clever.) Sorry... Not.
Sincerely- J. Lamb (Song Fu 5:Master... ahem... :)  )    
10th
 
6. Temnere - The Grifter (Bad Religion) 
Yeah, a good rock song. TBH, Pretty average, and shorter than I would have expected... a solid middle track.
5th
 
7. Good Guy Sojabe - Ahab (Moby)
Ooooo I don't really like Moby much. So listening to something that's supposed to sound like him didn't fall easy. You accomplished the sound-alike though. The song was a bit too plodding Well mixed though. 
9th

 
8. Mandibles - Right Again (Abba) 
Okay, I hear where you are going ABBA-wise. (Was never going to be easy to accomplish, like the Spektor track earlier. But yes. Only thing letting down the pastiche is that 'second' female vocal in the verses was a touch too low in the mix. Could this be a lost ABBA track? Without listening to hard... almost! But if you had ended it with a typical ABBA flourish as opposed to the fade-out, it would have nudged this into a joint first for me. 
2nd 
 
9. Third Cat - Hideaway (Yazoo) - 
Ohh is this too close to "Only You" to be a tribute.. or is it a rip-off? I verred to the first option. For a Vince/Yazzoo homage it's lacking in production. The middle eight gives an inkling of where you could have gone with this - but it's ended up a bit too one noted. It's good - but it's not 'up there'. 
7th 
 
10. Governing Dynamics - Leave It At That (B. Dylan) - 
Is this Dylanesque.. well... without doubt. Vocal could have had a bit more of the Dylan nasality though. And it's the lyric that let's this down as a Dylan song... this is  great Travis lyric - but not the same disjointed but flowing Dylan words. (I guess that's why some people call him a genius... personally, it can hit me or not)... But this was a good track (Moothie was perfect!) 
4th


Sorry Shadows - it took me too long to write down what are usual more succinct reviews this time.... But- again, there are songs below which would easily have made it higher than some of the actual round entries. (TBH.. ALL of them would have!)

("Surfin the Web"/"They Know"/Eagles would have been top 3, easily (although I'm not sure who Jackelope and Matchy were supposed to be, but I could guess. :) ))

ST15R3 Reviews: Edric Haleen

Hello again, Participants!

You've all written and submitted another song -- congrats!  (Everyone still having fun?)           :-)


THE LOW-HANGING FRUIT:

I knew I'd be writing my reviews somewhat differently this round.  With the challenge being what it was, I knew I couldn't start by "sounding off" again about imperfect lyrics -- for I knew that many of the artists or bands being pastiched would have used inexact rhymes in their songs . . . so the SpinTunes competitors this round would essentially be honor-bound to follow their example!  So I'm completely dispensing with "n - 1" of the comments I might normally have made.

The "nth" comment, however, is not going to go gentle into that good night.  And that's entirely because one of our contestants decided to pick a fight with the judges this round, throwing down a gauntlet in the form of a rap-inspired diss track that didn't just impugn the judges as a collective entity, but went on to single out yours-truly in specific.  (I won't name-check him as he did me, but his initials are "PigFarmer Jr.")  So to you, "Junior," I say that I'm going to go ahead and earn your shade by calling you out on perhaps the single most egregious rhyme in the entire competition so far:


        You can't get away with mispronouncing the name of a judge just to force a rhyme with the word "saline"!


"Haleen," properly pronounced, sounds much like the first name of the famous singer, Ms. Dion, with the first "e" in her name (or the first "a" in mine) being pronounced somewhat lazily as a short-u sound rather than a short-e sound and with the accent on the second syllable . . . not the first.  Another example of a rhyming word might be "trampoline," if again you pronounced the "o" lazily as a short-u sound and accented the last syllable like the Americans do (rather than the first as do the British).

(It's a fortunate thing for any and all "farmers" concerned that I already promised at the outset of SpinTunes 15 that flagrant mis-rhyming wouldn't affect my rankings at all...)

All that being said . . . before I go on to the next section of my reviews, I want to stress to everyone involved that I know and understand full-well that PigFarmer Jr. was just having some fun with his lyric.  I wasn't offended in the least . . . but was happy to "respond in kind" to this new Kimmel-Damon-type feud that's been newly-started.  (And T.C.?  If you wanna see how it's really done . . . may I refer you to Jutze's entry from ST10R2?  You'll notice that he knows how to pronounce my name . . .)           ;-)


Okay -- moving on . . .



DEPARTURES:

Usually, on my first pass through the songs, I take notes on rhymes and rhyme schemes (and prosody problems if they crop up), plus general thoughts about the songs.  This time, however, I devoted my first pass to the question, "How great of a departure do I think this song really is from what I've heard from this artist before?"  This challenge did, after all, specify that the artist or band you chose to emulate should represent a style "appreciably different from your own" -- and we also told you that "the judges will be paying particular attention to how great a departure competitors made from the kinds of songs we've already heard from them."  So I listened to all the songs . . . then went back and listened to some songs again while simultaneously doing some "research" on this round's competitors . . . and then ranked the 14 songs from top to bottom.  Here's what the list looked like when I was finished:
Upper Echelon:
Brian Gray (1)
Jocko Homomorphism (2)
PigFarmer Jr. (3.5)
Zoe Gray (3.5)
Governing Dynamics (5)
Brian?  You won this component of the challenge in my book.  Whereas there are some competitors with a very consistent style (I think of Governing Dynamic first-and-foremost here), you (like me) dabble in many different styles.  So to get away from anything similar to something from your past body of work, you really gotta reach for something wildly different.  (Had I been in this round, I would have actually attempted to emulate Temnere, with the hard-rocking guitars that I don't do and the fast, intricate drums that I also don't do.)  "Going Glass" was an amazing choice.  Consider me very impressed.

Jocko Homomorphism?  I know your song was "just a shadow" (i.e. it won't really "officially" count), but I was amazed by the leap you took.  Not just from your other two ST15 songs, but also (especially?) from "A Notational Distinction."  Good on you to get help with the instrumentation that was outside your wheelhouse.  (And good on you, PigFarmer Jr., to lend your talents to JH's track.  If I wasn't playing this new feud of ours to the hilt, I might even publicly speculate that you might be, like, a really nice guy or something!)  One of the things I love about SpinTunes is its potential to push artists beyond their comfort zones and encourage them to stretch and grow.  You exemplified this in spades.

PigFarmer Jr.?  To ditch your guitar and your melodies for a synth-backed rap track (say that five times quickly!) was another great departure.  I simply couldn't decide between you and Zoe which was the greater stretch, so rather than ranking one of you third and the other fourth, I ended up splitting the difference and ranking you both as "3.5th."  Well done.  (But I was serious about that tongue-twister bit.  Say it quickly five times . . . as penance for your imperious attitude towards the judges if for no other reason!)       ;-)

Zoe Gray?  You choosing Hank Williams definitely felt to me like an appreciable stretch . . . particularly as evidenced by the fact that you turned to a synthesizer to do the guitar parts that would otherwise still presently be a bit outside your wheelhouse.  I'll tell you now -- I saw your Patreon post about "How To Sing" the day after this third challenge went live.  I remember thinking, "Well, there ya go!  Zoe gets to write that Queen song now, doesn't she?"  (It reminded me of when I was thinking, "Gosh, I really want to try writing a big orchestral thing instead of all these piano/vocal songs I've been writing" . . . and then ST1R1 told us to "write a song from the point of view of a superhero/supervillain.")  So maybe someday we'll get to hear that song from you, but in the meantime . . . this'll totally do.      :-)

Governing Dynamics?  You totally ditched your "traditional" sound for this song, and your vocals also sounded a lot . . . "sunnier"?  more optimistic?  lighter? . . .  than they usually do.  That earned you the final spot in my upper echelon.  Fun to hear that from you, if even just for this single moment in your timeline.


Middle Echelon:
Third Cat (6)
Faster Jackalope I (7)
Menage a Tune (8)
Mandibles (9.5)
Good Guy Sôjàbé (9.5)
Faster Jackalope II (11)
Third Cat rose to the top of my middle echelon because it was the only one of these six songs where I didn't write, "Style, maybe . . . but instrumentation?"  What I meant by writing that was, "Yes, maybe they chose a style that would receive a different name/label than their typical style . . . but they style they chose still nevertheless used basically the same instruments that they're already comfortable and familiar with using.  So I deemed all of these songs to be strong, solid entries . . . but not enough of a "stretch" (this round was named "Rubber Band," after all!) to propel them up into the upper echelon.  So nothing to hang your heads about here folks . . . I just felt that there were five other entries that reached even further than you did this round.


Lower Echelon:
Vom Vorton (12)
Matchy Matchy (13)
Temnere (14)
Vom Vorton?  For you, I simply wrote, "Departure?"  You did an extremely nice job emulating Fu Manchu . . . but short of turning up the fuzz on your guitars and adding a pronounced cowbell to the mix (Christopher Walken would be proud), I didn't really see how this was much of a departure for you.  (Sorry.)

Matchy Matchy?  Same kinds of thoughts.  You did a great job of emulating Flock of Seagulls.  But compare your entries from Rounds 1 and 3.  Short of removing fuzz from your recording, adding some reverb to your differently-inflected vocals, and replacing the vocal harmonies in the background with synth pads, how does this new song really represent a sizeable stretch?  I didn't think it was enough of a stretch, so I landed you down here -- sorry.

Temnere?  This was the most disappointing song of the round to my brain -- in part because you're so good at writing and recording and producing . . . in part because I was really hoping to see you in the finals . . . in part because I was so impressed with how you nailed the challenge last round . . . and maybe in part because I had decided that I would have tried to make the leap to emulate you if I were writing for this round, so I was looking forward to hearing how far away you'd leap.  But you went from songs with driving guitars and awesome, frenetically energetic drum tracks to . . . a song with driving guitars and an awesome, frenetically energetic drum track?  I know you dropped the keyboard and the harmonies . . . and I know you did a great job emulating Bad Religion . . . but this seemed like less of a departure than any of the other tracks on the albums did.  So I ranked you dead last.  So sorry.  You're great, but I felt you really whiffed on the challenge this time . . .


ARRIVALS:

My next passes through the song were dedicated to the question, "How well do I think this song "matches" the sound of the artist or group that inspired it?"  For that, after all, was the second half of our instructions to all of you (". . . as well as how faithfully they emulate the chosen artist's style").  And may I just say?  HOLY CRAP!!!  You all did not disappoint in this regard!  I had no one in my lower echelon . . . and no one in the "bottom" of my middle echelon, either!  One band (Jocko Homomorphism) was solidly in the middle echelon, and everyone else was pushing ever-upward through the ranks.  So here's what my results looked like at the end of this pass.
Upper Echelon:
Boy And His Kumquat Tree (1)
Old Lovers' Bridge (1)
Silver Streak (1)
Ghia's Got Room For Two (1)
The Grifter (1)
They Know (1)
Eagles (1)
There were so many diverse styles in this round . . . and I couldn't fault any of these songs (fully half of the entries!) for their replication of the style of their inspiration.  So they all tied for the top spot -- I honestly couldn't think of how to put any of them above any of the others.

A couple of individual notes:
Brian?  At 2:07, your musical motif was highly reminiscent of <something-I-couldn't-quite-recall>, and sounded very "Portal-2-esque."  And 3:09 sounded very much like it was pulled from "The Princess Bride."  But these were coincidental . . . and didn't detract from your ranking.  There was a lot of really nice, really subtle stuff going on in your track, and it made me smile at its uncanny resemblance to "all-things-Glass," even though I'm not particularly fond of Glass when it comes right down to it.  I can recognize craft and attention to detail, and you did praiseworthily well at both.
Zoe?  Speaking of attention to detail, I really liked all the pitch-bending you did with your synthesized guitars.  As I've done throughout this iteration of SpinTunes, I imagined the authentic guitars you so clearly intended rather than the approximations you were "forced to employ" as you stretched yourself to create this song.  So kudos!

Temnere?  Matchy Matchy?  Vom Vorton?  Just want to say again -- you all turned in fantastic songs/fantastic efforts.  The quality of your recordings is unquestionable, and I loved listening to your tracks.  I just felt like you three didn't adequately stretch yourselves in a round where stretching yourself was kind of "the alpha and the omega."

"Lower" Upper Echelon:
Leave It At That (2)
Surfin' The Web (2)
These were the other two songs that were unquestionably in the upper echelon for me.  Each had one thing that took them down just smidge beneath the other eight.  For Governing Dynamics, it was how 1:24-1:46 was so much more "one-very-specific-bit-from-Billy-Joel" than Bob Dylan.  And for Menage a Tune, it was the fact that, in this whole round, this seemed to be the only song that I couldn't imagine actually being performed by the artist/band that inspired it.  This struck me as kind of an "anti-Beach-Boys" Beach Boys song.  I don't remember the Beach Boys ever mocking the surfing community or the beach-bum community in their lyrics the way you did with your "too fat to go out swimming" and your "my Speedo's too tight" lines.  These really strong moments of self-deprecation made it clearly a Menage a Tune song . . . not a "Beach Boys song."  But they were still both well done and, like I said, were absolutely and unquestionably in my upper echelon for this pass.

"Lower" Upper Echelon/"Upper" Middle Echelon (honestly couldn't make up my mind):
Right Again (3)
Hideaway (3)
These were both quality recordings as well.  You'll notice that I'm really splitting hairs with the differences between strata this time around . . . I don't know if I could really do a great job of articulating exactly why these two songs were, in my wildly subjective opinion, just a shade below the above songs and just a shade above the songs still to be named.  But after days of deliberation, that's exactly where they landed.  Nice efforts, both.

"Upper" Middle Echelon:
Who Are You? (4)
Ahab (4)
These two songs struck me as being in the vein of Vanilla Ice and Moby, respectively, but not quite "spot on" matches.  I know that, on one hand, I'm ranking these two songs "second and third from the bottom of the pack."  But please remember, in my estimation, both of these songs are still of higher quality than something I'd term "a good, solid entry."  Everyone really slayed this component of the challenge, so congratulations to both of these songs, as well!

Middle Echelon:
We Were So Grand (5)
A good, solid entry.  It definitely was "shades of Jimmy Buffet," and I give you guys mad props for writing something that you had to "outsource" in order to record it.  I'd have pushed this song even higher up through the ranks of my now-quite-graduated echelons had you reached even further to add in some of the other voices (percussion, backing vocals, etc.) that Jimmy Buffet songs usually include.  But as a "bare-bones" version of a Jimmy Buffet-style song, this absolutely fills the bill.  Congrats!


CONNECTIONS:

So -- with so many people doing such a top-notch job on the "emulation" portion of the challenge, the defining factor in my final rankings turned out to be my estimation of how "stretchy" the competitors proved themselves to be this round.  When I added up the points I assigned, the results were as follows:
"Philip Glass" -- 2 points
"Hank Williams" -- 4.5 points
"Bob Dylan" -- 7 points  (I broke this tie with the quality of GD's production.)
"Jimmy Buffet" -- 7 points
"Vanilla Ice" -- 7.5 points
"The Ronnettes" -- 8 points
"Yaz(oo)" -- 9 points
"MaT-as-The Beach Boys" -- 10 points
"Blink 182" -- 12 points
"ABBA" -- 12.5 points
"Fu Manchu" -- 13 points
"Moby" -- 13.5 points
"Flock of Seagulls" -- 14 points
"Bad Religion" -- 15 points

(Bold print represents shadows)

So congratulations to everyone for turning in really high-quality songs this round!  I can't believe that one judge-trashing bastard managed to somehow sneak into my top four in spite of my raging antipathy towards him and his completely unwarranted diss track . . . but math is math, right?  Good luck to everyone who ends up successfully advancing to the final round -- whoever you end up being, you'll certainly have earned your spot.  And remember -- in the next round, while I'll probably be right back to haranguing people about inexact rhymes and such, my reviews won't really matter a single whit!  It'll be all of you who will be tasked with choosing your champion!  So here's looking forward to one more round of songs from SpinTunes 15 . . . and thanks to everyone who's made this iteration of SpinTunes possible!  (Even if some of them demonstrably have zero respect for judges whatsoever . . .)


;-)



(P.S.  T.C?  Let me know whether you hereafter wanna be the Damon character or the Kimmel character in our little drama . . .)

ST15R3 Reviews: Micah Sommersmith

The following is submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the position of SpinTunes 15 Judge:

PREAMBLE

This was a very difficult round to evaluate. It seems to me the judges were tasked with ranking each song along three independent axes: 1. Similarity to the target artist; 2. Difference from your usual output; and 3. Quality of the song in its own right.

Some of you produced great songs that sounded different from what you usually do, but couldn’t quite pass for the target artist’s work. Some of you produced great songs that hit the target, but the target was a little too close to what we’ve already heard from you. And some of you chose a brand new sound and hit the target, but ended up with a song that I didn’t enjoy in its own right. So you see how reconciling these three criteria could be difficult.

I ended up producing no fewer than six rankings:

  • First, I ranked the songs based on my gut feeling about a combination of all three criteria. There was no way to ensure that the balance of criteria was the same for each song; I just went for my overall impression.
  • Then I ranked each song according to the first axis: fidelity to the target artist's style.
  • Then according to the second axis: difference from your usual fare.
  • Then the third axis: simply how much I enjoyed the song on its own.
  • Then I added together your ranking 1-10 from the previous 3 to produce an aggregate ranking.
  • Finally, I compared the aggregate to my first, gut ranking. They ended up being very similar, with half the songs in identical positions and the rest only a few spots apart. I didn’t just average the two, but I did make some compromises, resulting in a single final ranking.

For all I know, my fellow judges threw darts at a board to determine their rankings. It would probably be just as fair. Without further ado, here are my reviews of your songs, presented again in ascending order of excellence:

OFFICIAL ENTRIES

10. PigFarmer, Jr. as Vanilla Ice - Who Are You?
Hip-hop was not a bad choice for getting far away from your usual style while remaining in at least somewhat comfortable territory. Your lyrics are very end-rhyme heavy, which is ok because Vanilla Ice’s are too for the most part. You get in some good lines (the diss on Edric and “Sorry… not!” standing out as highlights), but more specific references and similes would always be welcome. 
The biggest problem is the lack of energy throughout, due in part to the monotonous instrumental and the lackluster chorus, but mostly to the tempo - I clocked a live performance of “Ice, Ice, Baby” at 116 bpm (which is not particularly fast by some rappers’ standards) and your track at a sluggish 88 bpm. Getting your flow up to speed takes work, but it pays off.

9. Brian Gray as Philip Glass - Boy and His Kumquat Tree
Kudos for going further afield than anyone else in this round. I was very very torn about how to feel about this song. 
On the one hand, you’ve clearly taken a hard look at Glass’s compositional style and applied it here: The multiple rhythmic layers of repeating phrases, adding up to a slowly shifting soundscape, are on the money. There’s some cool phasing effects between the various parts, especially in the section beginning at 2:07, though I think you could have let it play out further and become more obvious. Glass generally writes for orchestral instruments, and your synth sounds suffer a bit in comparison, but I do think it was smart to go full synth rather than fake orchestra, avoiding a repeat of last round’s trumpet problem. 
On the other hand, this is a SONG writing competition, and the “song” portion of your competition is the same phrase repeated on one note, with the same rhythm every time. While Glass is primarily an instrumental composer, he does offer some models for vocal writing, e.g. “Songs from Liquid Days”, and your vocal feels like a cop-out, both as a Glass imitation and in its own right. 
On yet another hand, your song bio does a lot of heavy lifting here toward making your intentions for the song explicit. I don’t think one needs to read the bio to enjoy the song as a piece of Glass-inspired (mostly) instrumental music, but it seems like a different kind of cop-out to give us soooo much context outside the song. I think the judges should be expected to evaluate this song on its own merits, not as a portion of an epic song cycle/musical/concept album that’s only 3/?ths completed. With that in mind, it’s interesting but I don’t think it stands well on its own.

8. Vom Vorton as Fu Manchu - Silver Streak
Here’s a band I had never heard of, but from what I listened to, you managed to emulate the style quite closely. Your song doesn’t feel quite as high energy as their music - I think part of it is your voice and part of it is a dearth of crashhhhh ccccymbals. The tone on your guitar in the very beginning is grating and pretty unpleasant to my ears, but when the whole band kicks in the guitar tone is fuller and a lot more fun to listen to.  
It’s a smart move to write lyrics within their subject matter, though your own lyrical style still comes through, with multi-syllable rhymes like “steering” / “engineering” and especially “cost to me” / “velocity.” The melody, or lack thereof, seems in keeping with theirs, but that doesn’t make it interesting to listen to. I think, again, that your voice is a little too restrained for what the style demands. In general, you’ve crafted a song that is both fairly true to the target style and fairly different from your usual work, but it doesn’t excite or interest me the way some other songs this round do.

7. Zoe Gray as Hank Williams - Old Lovers' Bridge
Not many artists in this round deliberately set out to imitate the vocal inflections of their targets to the extent you did, which merits recognition. At first listen it felt like a parody, but when I actually listened to some Hank Williams and came back to yours, it felt more natural. You clearly took seriously the task of adopting his vocal style.
Lyrically, adopting the story of Odysseus into the language of country music was a clever idea which I think paid off. Of course the ground was set for you by “O Brother Where Art Thou” but you make the concept your own. One could argue about whether Hank Williams would have written these lyrics, but that’s a pretty subjective argument to get into. For me, the lyrics work and feel natural.
The music, on the other hand, displays some elements that I simply can’t find in Hank’s catalog after listening to and reading chords for kind of a lot of his songs, among them:

  • Minor chords in a major-key song (vi in the bridge)
  • For that matter, a bridge, i.e. a contrasting section that only appears once - all of Hank’s songs I listened to were either ABABAB or AAAA…
  • The back-and-forth IV-V-IV-V harmonic motion of “and i walk through the valleys  / and i walk over the ridge” - in fact, I couldn’t find motion from V to IV in a single Hank Williams song.

All this is to say that Hank had a very consistent musical vocabulary that you deviate from in some notable ways. That’s not to say it’s a bad song - I think it’s a pretty good song. But if an unattributed lead sheet showed up in some archive, I don’t think any musicologist would mistake it for a long-lost Hank Williams song. 
As for the instrumentation, it’s clear you studied and attempted to emulate what you heard on his recordings, but the MIDI sounds don’t do justice to what I’m sure you’re hearing in your head. I don’t want to penalize you for that, but at this stage in the tournament I kinda feel like I have to.

6. Faster Jackelope as the Ronettes - Ghia's Got Room For Two
The talent, ingenuity, and technical know-how contained in this band is on display as clearly as ever here. Lots to love here. Similar to Zoe’s Hank Williams pastiche, the Ronettes’ influence is clear here, but it sounds more like a modern song consciously borrowing some elements of their style, and less like a song completely within their style. 
Frisbee’s vocal melody is great but sounds very, well, Frisbee-like (compare “Is it your French perfume?” to Round 1’s “their purpose seems so ambiguous”). Bella’s (excellent!) vocal feels more in the style, although the final line “But there’s not enough time to do everything” feels like the phrase is going to continue, but instead everything drops out before returning to the A section. It’s a neat effect, but it doesn’t feel like something the Ronettes would have done. 
The percussion is consistently excellent and does feel right for the style, but the other instruments don’t always add up to produce the true wall-of-sound effect, and the guitar solo, while subdued and tasteful, feels especially out of place - I’d expect a string melody instead or something similar. 
It’s a very very cool moment, probably the highlight of an already very good song, when the male and female lead vocals come together in countermelody, especially when they lock together on lines like “me and you.” But it doesn’t sound like the Ronettes, which, from all that I’ve listened to, very much featured Ronnie as the lead, with the other singers secondary. 
Speaking of the vocal layering, when Bella has multiple lines overlapping at the end, they start to crowd each other out and things feel a little confused. It might be solvable with some different mixing or EQ choices, or you might want to simplify things and cut out one of the parts. 
Finally, the song is longer than it reeeeally needs to be, especially given where you’re taking your cues from. “Be My Baby” is 2:41; “Baby, I Love You” is 2:50, etc. Cut out one or two of the choruses at the end, and the 60s radio DJs will like it a lot more.

5. Governing Dynamics as Bob Dylan - Leave It At That
Lyrically and musically you hit the target here. Using the title as a brief refrain is a classic Dylan touch, a la “Tangled Up in Blue”, “A Simple Twist of Fate”, etc, etc, as are the elliptical, wistful lyrics. I like this stanza especially: “I'm the trickster of this village / I'm the truth's bell ringer / The harder you try to hold on / The slicker I slip through your fingers.” Oh, and the AABCCB rhyme scheme of the B section, ending with the refrain, is executed very well.
The guitar is played well and the harmonica does its job. I don’t love the mix: the harmonica and especially the organ are too loud, the vocal is often too soft, and the drums are waaaay too soft, though from what I can hear of them, they don’t really add anything of interest to the arrangement, so I would suggest cutting the drums out entirely.
I’ll give you credit for deviating from your regular style, at least as displayed so far this tournament. You play the acoustic guitar in a style distinct from your electric guitar playing, and your voice, while not going full Dylan (probably a good thing), is more suited to the folk style than what I’ve heard from you before (and - no offense - just nicer to listen to).

4. Temnere as Bad Religion - The Grifter
I was not familiar with Bad Religion at all, so I appreciated the AVClub link. Your song is both true to your target style and a good one in its own right - it packs quite a punch in its brief runtime, has a satisfyingly anthemic chorus, and its lyrics are notable for their political cynicism and their verbosity - “thesaurus punk,” indeed.
I do feel that you had a chance here to go a lot further from your home style than you did. No guitar harmony or keyboards, sure, but we’ve got pounding drums, killer riffs, and soaring vocals, as expected from Temnere. You admit you’ve wanted to do a song in their style for a while, which tells me you know it’s not too far out of your wheelhouse.

3. Good Guy Sojabe as Moby - Ahab
Prior to this round, I wasn’t aware that Moby actually sang on any of his tracks - I only knew the loop-heavy Lomax-sampling tunes from “Play” that have infiltrated everyone’s brains. Once I listened to his album “18” I started to recognize what you’re going for, and I hear the subdued, low-register vocals and short, repetitive phrases of songs like “We Are All Made of Stars” and “Sleep Alone” echoed in your song. The refrain “And I don’t want to feel sober / And I don’t want to feel love” is clearly a nod to those Lomax samples and a very nice touch. I think your vocal melody is actually stronger than any I’ve heard of his, and the “under my skin” section is especially memorable - I just wish it were further forward in the mix. The vocal gets buried just when it should be brought out.
Lyrically, this gloomy, oblique track is either a break-up song or a loose retelling of “Moby-Dick” or both, and I don’t mind the ambiguity of the lyrics because they combine perfectly with the music to create a distinctive atmosphere. Stylistically, I think it actually lands somewhere between Moby and Good Guy Sojabe, as you are generous with your guitar parts and use a more varied harmonic progression and fewer loops than Mr. Melville Hall tends to.
If I may pick a nit for a moment - the multi-tracked vocals sound great, but you need to coordinate the ends of syllables, not just the beginnings. In the line “Ignore the news” I hear no less than 3 distinct “s”’s in the word “news.” Maybe it doesn’t bother other folks, but it drives this church choir director crazy.

2. Third Cat as Yaz - Hideaway
I wasn’t familiar with Yaz (or Yazoo, or whatever) but I really enjoyed listening to “Upstairs at Eric’s”. Your song seems to come closest to “Only You” - which I think I have actually heard before? Or maybe it’s just so good that it seems instantly familiar. In any case, you take a number of cues directly from that song, including the opening synth arpeggio. Ideally an entry this round should identify the underlying musical assumptions behind the target artist’s body of work, and use them to create a new song, rather than lift surface elements from one specific song. I found the rest of the Yaz album, with a couple exceptions, to be more consistently upbeat and dance-y than both “Only You” and “Hideaway”, and I suppose I should be upset that you’ve given us a pastiche of one specific song, rather than the artist’s whole body of work… but… this song is really good? It’s sweet and sincere and also catchy and just very pleasant.
Small things to criticize: the synth countermelody under e.g. the opening lines is overly busy and feels like it clutters things up. It’s a good idea to have the more sustained synth to contrast with the staccato arpeggios but I don’t think this particular idea is the right one. (The corresponding synth line in “Only You” is simpler and cleaner.)
And one lyrical complaint: “in love let’s stay” and “love we play”. Object-subject-verb word order almost never sounds good in modern pop music. I understand that it allows for the rhyme across sections with “hideaway”, and that’s great and all, but… no. Leave it to the sonneteers. 

1. Mandibles as ABBA - Right Again
It’s a tall order to imitate the style of one of the greatest songwriting teams in pop history, but you pull it off. Production-wise we could quibble, but compositionally, this slips perfectly into ABBA’s musical language. The chorus lodged itself into my head on first listen and has stayed there for most of the week. It’s based on a simple hook, both lyrical (“right again”) and melodic (three descending notes), which gets varied in both respects (lyrically: “right again” / “alright again” / “right, my friend”; melodically: mi-re-do / fa-re-do).
There are many other brilliant musical moments: The swing from minor to major in the verse; the imitative melodic repetition of “If you saw the good in me, / How wrong could I ever be?”; the borrowed minor chord on “right, my friend”. And lyrical ones: the stealth rhyme in the chorus of “get” and “let”; lines like “And I demurred, the words all blurred into a mess / And I confess” - I mean COME ON! And it all adds up to a great complex picture of a relationship, with the narrator both contrite and defiant, as summed up perfectly in the title and elaborated through the whole song. Damn, this is a good track.
I suppose I should criticize something. The song has two brief instrumental sections: an intro before the first verse, and an interlude between the first chorus and second verse. In my opinion, the interlude is much stronger and fits better with the sound of the song as a whole than the intro does, and I’d recommend replacing the intro with an expanded version of it. If you do keep the intro as it is, the synth part has some weird dynamic issues where some notes are dramatically louder than the preceding and following notes.
Additionally, you have some great synth countermelodies throughout, but they’re curiously absent in the chorus, e.g. after “What does it get you when you’re right again?” You could fill out the sound more with some instrumental responses in places like this.
Did I mention that, um, this song is amazing?


SHADOWS (UNRANKED)

Jocko Homomorphism as Jimmy Buffett - We Were So Grand
Sounds like quite the party! Your voice is in particularly fine form this round, and I can tell the lyric draws on fond memories. The fun-loving party theme is there, but does it really SOUND like Jimmy Buffett? No, but maybe it could with some more involved instrumentation. And lines like “Solidarity, / We march to the sea, / And our hymn never sounded so grand” are a little, well, grand for the Parrotheads. Since it’s a shadow entry, I’m content to forget about Mr. Cheeseburger in Paradise entirely and enjoy the song for what it is.
Menage A Tune as the Beach Boys - Surfin' The Web
It’s fun, it’s funny. The Beach Boys’ influence is obvious, although the lyrics make it more of a parody than an earnest homage. The layered vocals are very well done, although the lead vocal is dramatically louder than the other tracks - this is most conspicuous during the “summer never ends” sections, where the various vocal lines are basically equal in compositional importance but not in volume. 
The organ is a little loud, the drums a little quiet, and I’d like some guitar or something else to spruce up the instrumentation.

Faster Jackelope as ??? - They Know -
Sorry, Song Fight is down the hall.

Jerkatorium as Matchy Matchy as [presumably] A Flock of Seagulls - Eagles 
Solid lyrics, nice production, Chumpy’s voice in fine form, etc, etc. When are you guys going to surprise me?

APPENDICES

APPENDIX A: GUT RANKING
PigFarmer, Jr. - Who Are You? 10
Brian Gray - Boy and His Kumquat Tree 9
Zoe Gray - Old Lovers' Bridge 8
Vom Vorton - Silver Streak 7
Governing Dynamics - Leave It At That 6
Faster Jackelope - Ghia's Got Room For Two 5
Temnere - The Grifter 4
Good Guy Sojabe - Ahab 3
Third Cat - Hideaway 2
Mandibles - Right Again 1

APPENDIX B: FIDELITY RANKING
PigFarmer, Jr. - Who Are You? 10
Faster Jackelope - Ghia's Got Room For Two 9
Zoe Gray - Old Lovers' Bridge 8
Good Guy Sojabe - Ahab 7
Brian Gray - Boy and His Kumquat Tree 6
Vom Vorton - Silver Streak 5
Governing Dynamics - Leave It At That 4
Temnere - The Grifter 3
Third Cat - Hideaway 2
Mandibles - Right Again 1

APPENDIX C: DIFFERENCE RANKING
Temnere - The Grifter 10
Faster Jackelope - Ghia's Got Room For Two 9
Good Guy Sojabe - Ahab 8
Vom Vorton - Silver Streak 7
Third Cat - Hideaway 6
Brian Gray - Boy and His Kumquat Tree 5
Zoe Gray - Old Lovers' Bridge 4
Mandibles - Right Again 3
Governing Dynamics - Leave It At That 2
PigFarmer, Jr. - Who Are You? 1

APPENDIX D: QUALITY RANKING
PigFarmer, Jr. - Who Are You? 10
Brian Gray - Boy and His Kumquat Tree 9
Vom Vorton - Silver Streak 8
Zoe Gray - Old Lovers' Bridge 7
Governing Dynamics - Leave It At That 6
Temnere - The Grifter 5
Good Guy Sojabe - Ahab 4
Third Cat - Hideaway 3
Faster Jackelope - Ghia's Got Room For Two 2
Mandibles - Right Again 1

APPENDIX E: AGGREGATE RANKING
(Numbers = Sum of previous 3 / New rank out of 10)
PigFarmer, Jr. - Who Are You? 21 / 10
Brian Gray - Boy and His Kumquat Tree 20 / 9
Vom Vorton - Silver Streak 20 / 8
Faster Jackelope - Ghia's Got Room For Two 20 / 7
Zoe Gray - Old Lovers' Bridge 19 / 6
Good Guy Sojabe - Ahab 19 / 5
Temnere - The Grifter 18 / 4
Governing Dynamics - Leave It At That 12 / 3
Third Cat - Hideaway 11 / 2
Mandibles - Right Again 5 / 1

APPENDIX F: FINAL RANKING
(Subjective combination of A and E)
PigFarmer, Jr. - Who Are You? 10
Brian Gray - Boy and His Kumquat Tree 9
Vom Vorton - Silver Streak 8
Zoe Gray - Old Lovers' Bridge 7
Faster Jackelope - Ghia's Got Room For Two 6
Governing Dynamics - Leave It At That 5
Temnere - The Grifter 4
Good Guy Sojabe - Ahab 3
Third Cat - Hideaway 2
Mandibles - Right Again 1