Saturday, November 10, 2018

SpinTunes #15 Round 2 Challenge

Everyone has met someone who's done something nice for them. This Thanksgiving season, you get to return some of that love. Your challenge:
Gratitune: Write a song that expresses or conveys genuine gratitude for someone or something. Your song may be fictional but the expression of gratitude should be sincere. Your song must include vocal harmonies.

Submitting Entries:
  • Your entry must be received by November 18, 2018 @ 11:59 PM EDTOtherwise it'll be posted as a shadow. Received means that it has to appear in my e-mail inbox ( 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. "Gratitune - 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.

ST15 Round 1 Results

The first round is complete, and the judges have spoken! As usual, the rankings vary quite a bit from judge to judge, but one thing is certain... Zoe Gray takes this round without breaking a sweat! (Don't get cocky, kid!)

Zoe Gray122128
Vom Vorton21012621
Glen Raphael4658124
Faster Jackalope6864327
Brian Gray81861336
Good Guy Sôjàbé571011740
Third Cat1541271149
Ominous Ride1013175550
Boffo Yux Dudes9151413455
Governing Dynamics1197101855
PigFarmer Jr.12111815965
Running Green Lights181211141267
Menage a Tune71415171972
Jocko Homomorphism161616191077
Rob From Amersfoort201813162087
Lichen Throat191919181691

Joe Lamb had some pressing real-world concerns this round, so my rankings count. I'm also the arbiter of ties, and the above order remains unchanged.

Five contestants are eliminated this round, but the good news is that wild card reinstatements are in effect. So we all encourage you to shadow, shadow, shadow, and remember that your shadows do have to meet the deadline!

Thanks all, and I'm looking forward to the next round! The challenge will be posted in a little under 2 hours.

ST15R1 Review: It's a PODCAST!

Ryan, Chumpy, and Micah all discuss their thoughts about the entries in this round's podcast!

Here's your link!

ST15R1 Review: Edric Haleen

Hello, Participants!

First of all -- congrats on completing and submitting a song!  That's a non-negligible thing that no one can take away from you.  Second of all -- thank you for your bravery in turning your song over to the subjective opinions of our lineup of SpinTunes reviewers and rankers.  To the extent that the reviews are praiseful and reaffirming to you -- yay!  To the extent that the reviews are constructive or instructive for you -- yay!  To the extent that the reviews reveal insights or impressions that you hadn't anticipated or intended -- yay!  (And to the extent that the reviews miss the mark with regards to something that you HAD intended -- sorry.)  Please use these reviews as affirmational or educational wherever you can . . . and remember that the rankings are not just relative [as opposed to absolute] but also highly subjective when you check to see where in the pile you ultimately "landed."

Let's get started!


I assumed that this round would be dominated by the "human gaze" -- and BOY was it ever.  Only Mandibles really broke free of this trap by focusing on the planet's most defining feature, with its human presence only intruding into the song in an incidental manner, as an incidental matter springing from the aliens' primary mission to acquire the oceans for themselves.  An honorable mention might go to Heather Miller who seemed close to escaping this trap -- but this would be based upon the amount of time she spent describing the green of the planet's flora . . . and would have to overlook the fact that the song was being sung TO the humans who inhabit the planet (and plant and cut and mow and shape).


Anyone who knows me is going to have to work really hard to feign shock that I'm going to have something to say about rhymes right up front.  But don't worry -- my thoughts on true versus near rhymes are not going to factor into my rankings . . . just my comments right now.  Folks?  You all got pwned by Zoe Gray again.  She wrote more rhyme pairs into her song than did anyone else in the competition except Ominous Ride . . . and her percentage of perfect rhymes was higher than ANYONE else's, bar none.  Zoe?  You clearly know that there is power and utility in using true rhymes over near rhymes . . . so I'm going to go ahead and call you out about your singular lapse with "reason/seasons" even as I'm praising you before others for your craft.  But respect and kudos nonetheless.

On the other extreme?  Running Green Lights seems to have made the intentional choice to eschew rhymes completely in their song.  Which is, of course, a perfectly acceptable artistic choice.  A bit of history right now:  We had a round of Masters of Song Fu where the challenge literally WAS, "Write a song that doesn't rhyme."  And one of our judges for this very round of SpinTunes helped Denise Hudson sing a beautiful song called "Something Very Horrible (Bluebeard's Lament)."  But neither of them realized during the recording process that a single rhyme pair DID slip into the lyric . . . and it jumped right out when our current judge entered and sang, "My love, you'll be al-RIGHT / You've reached a place of safety / Be careful, good NIGHT . . ."  I was reminded of this while listening to "Here To Say Hello."  Because there IS a very clear masculine rhyme right off the bat ("place"/"face") . . . and then there's no other rhyme at corresponding points later in the song.  Since the one rhyme was right at the beginning, my brain was then "looking" for the rhymes that would follow, and kept getting distracted when there weren't any.  So if that rhyme was unintentional, it landed in an unfortunate place.

I think I counted eight songs that included triple rhymes in their lyrics.  Faster Jackalope and Matchy Matchy each attempted two of these (but not all three rhymes in either case were perfect), and Third Cat attempted two of these as well (and one of the sets of three WAS perfect).  Menage a Tune, Good Guy Sôjàbé, Glen Raphael and Red Watcher all attempted one, and rhymed them correctly in each case.  MOST ambitious in this category was Vom Vorton with THREE perfect triple rhymes ("wise"/"skies"/"disguise," "ship"/"trip"/"tip," and "expanding"/"misunderstanding"/"landing"), plus one triple rhyme which technically employed an identity (and possibly a slip in prosody) to work ("translator"/"later"/"accelerator") . . . and it looked like Vom Vorton also attempted a quadruple rhyme . . . although the fourth and final word didn't actually quite rhyme with the first three ("scenery"/"greenery"/"machinery"/"mean to me").

(Again -- this is me being pedantic.  I know not everyone shares my opinion that near-rhymes are to be shunned, and I'm not going to factor the above thoughts into my rankings.)

I WILL, however, take issue with lapses in prosody.  If you have to mis-stress a word to make it fit, that to me is a justifiable lapse in craft.  My list in this regard is rather lengthy:
Menage a Tune -- alSO 
Mandibles -- masSES, POLLutants, filtraTION 
Faster Jackalope -- GALactic 
Vom Vorton -- transLAtor, accelerAtor 
Good Guy Sôjàbé -- spirALS 
Lichen Throat -- spherOID, alcoHOL 
Temnere -- haBITaBLE 
Third Cat -- chickENS 
Boffo Yux Dudes -- meTAL, TAP-danCING 
Ominous Ride -- nothING  (Also -- you followed a pronunciation of "mil-li-on" almost immediately with a pronunciation of "mill-ion" to make both words fit in different contexts) 
Heather Miller -- harmonY, ALready 
(And Brian Gray?  The way you sang it on this recording, "come on" kind of tiptoes with danger too, yes?  Maybe delivered a little more emphatically and "spoken" with a little space between the words would help.) 
(Running Green Lights -- "Remember" sounds kind of weird -- but mostly because of the way in which you stretched it out right at the beginning of your song when people are still trying to acclimate to the "world" you're creating") 

One final word about lyrics -- I also kept track of whether or not, once a lyricist established a metrical framework on which to hang their words at the beginning of the song, that structure was followed throughout the rest of the song.  And yeah -- no, it wasn't.  By anyone.  Not completely faithfully.  So in my rankings I'll factor in whether or not that seemed to be INTENTIONAL . . . as opposed to lazy.  (Temnere was closest to pulling it off perfectly -- everything was solid EXCEPT for the "squeezing-in" of "habitable" in "Hi Tek Ray Gun."  And Brian Gray almost had it too, except that the "been" in verse one has no corollary in verses two or three, and there's no extra syllable between "can't" and "keep" in verse three as there is in the previous two.  And Jocko Homomorphism was close as well, except for "tireless" and the last two lines of the song.)  On the other hand, the lyricist for Third Cat is the one person who most clearly decided to intentionally NOT repeat any lyrical structure throughout the song -- to fairly good effect.  It's possible that Micah Sommersmith may have gone this route too -- it's just hard to tell his intention due to his lyric being so short.)

(Okay -- one MORE final word about lyrics.  Special props to the lyricist for Temnere for employing the plural noun "vasts" in your song.  But now that's really it.  Moving on . . .)


Music's a LOT more subjective.  So I'm going to just share some "standout thoughts" here, based on my initial three passes through all the songs.
Mandibles -- Oh my goodness do I love your first chorus.  Every bit of it.  Puts my brain very happily right into the best parts of the 70s musical scene.  Even the "distance" of the lead singer's vocals is an important component of the enjoyableness of the chorus.  The melody's great; the instrumentation is gorgeous and subtle; the backup vocals are lovely.  I look forward to its recurrence throughout the song, although the more pronounced synth pads in its subsequent iterations strikes my ear as an unpleasant intrusion.  If the quality of the verse rose to the heights the chorus reaches, this would easily be my top choice for the round.  (I don't find the verse's melody to be as good as I wish it were, so that highly-subjective judgment does leave the door open for other songs to fight for the top spot in my rankings.  But DAMN am I happy you wrote that chorus!)
Brian Gray -- This song has a great chorus, too!  When I hear you launch into the first "People of Earth, we bring you freedom" I imagine you're feeling the same kind of joy singing those words on that melody that I felt when I sang "In time, a love becomes astounding!" in "Love" from SpinTunes #1.  And this song boasts strongly-melodic verses as well, which in turn buttress creatively evocative lyrics (I love that your Base 12 race makes friends at "maximum warp," "storms in hot" to solve problems, and uses the facile ingestion of ice cream as the true measure of a being!)  Prosodically, when you hang your wonderful lyrics on your wonderful melodies this time around, you do leave odd spaces in the thoughts being expressed, which does require some effort on the part of your listener to truly parse what you're doing here.  But musically, your song and its arrangement are fantastic.
Zoe Gray -- Wow, your song starts out just SO beautifully.  The way you started off with "I didn’t know the sky/Could sing this shade of blue" immediately hooked me and I was enraptured.  And when you sang "There’s all these songs around/I think they call them birds," I was brought right back to that place again.  In between, however, the melody and lyric struck me as "just-not-quite-as-good," and -- boy I really hate saying this -- was kind of a letdown to my brain.  And then I spent the time waiting for verse two to start thinking, "Okay -- this is all okay . . . but I can't wait to hear that awesome part come back again at the top of the next verse."  But when you sang "I didn’t think the seas/Were something that could change," that didn't "do it" for me like the first instances did.  But then "There’s something in the night/I think it’s called the moon" rose back up and almost got all the way back to the wonderful <whateverness> you struck in that first verse.  So I have NO IDEA exactly what conspired to make those moments so magical in my brain . . . but I'm guessing it's some ineffable interaction between the melody and the arrangement and your delivery, plus the somewhat naive perspective of the character and the abrupt confrontation of the listener with creative, original, unexpected descriptors/descriptions (hues being sung and birds-as-songs) that really just made those particular moments things to behold.  (That may very well be of zero help whatsoever to you as a songwriter, but I wanted to share with you how powerful I found those moments within your song.  And then I have to apologize again for saying that the rest of your song, by contrast, struck me merely as "good.")
(Oh -- I also really liked what you did with the backup vocals for "tune (tune)" in verse two, Zoe, even if that very last little bit was maybe a little out of your range.  I can easily imagine what it sounded like it your mind, and it was really nicely done.)
Running Green Lights -- I thought your intro was a bit too long.  And I didn't like how the vocals weren't well-synched to the accompaniment in the choruses.  But I did really like this song -- the melody, the lyric, and the arrangement.  The sound of it actually reminded me of some of the tracks on Liza Minelli's "Results" album...
Third Cat -- 0:00 to 0:28 and 0:47 to 1:07 are just wonderful.  I love the bouncy, syncopated synths, the simply rhythm track, the bass's entrance, and the quirky lyric that introduces us to this song.  I love how the singer launches into the vocals with his Peter Gabriel vibe.  I like how this part of the melody keeps starting on the supertonic, then ends on the mediant on "cat," and on the supertonic an octave down on "at."  And the first instrumental break is a welcome re-visitation of this piece of the song.  I just wish the rest of the rose to the same level for me.  But I did want to commend you on those standout moments.
Glen Raphael -- You always do such a nice job of creating a full "experience" with just your voice and a guitar.  And you definitely have your own distinctive style.  But this song, to my ear, was somehow "too" Glen-Raphael.  I kept thinking, "This melody and delivery sounds EXACTLY like some-other-Glen-Raphael-song-that-I-saw-probably-a couple-years-ago-now-on-one-of-his-YouTube-videos-but-that-I-can't-put-my-finger-on-right-now."  It was very nice and up to your usual standards of quality . . . but it was just too uncannily "you" for my brain to really process it on its own merits beyond that.  (Also -- in the lyrics you typed, "Deception at the core" . . . but in the recording you sang, "Deception at OUR core" which completely changes the weight of that line.  I'm assuming that "our" is in error and that you really meant "the" . . . could perhaps "their" be even more appropriate?)
Boffo Yux Dudes and Menage a Tune -- These were songs where the melody didn't always mesh well with the accompaniment.  In "Message To The Hindmost," the arrangement is perfectly serviceable; in "It's A Strange New World," the arrangement is delightful -- particularly nice job with the piano riffs, Ted!  But in both songs, I was wondering which came first -- the accompaniment's chord structure or the vocal's melody line.  For in each case, I feel that something should have been altered before submitting the final recording.  If the accompaniment was scored under a predetermined melody, then the person doing the scoring should have (in my opinion) either chosen some better chord progressions in certain spots to better connect with the melody as written, or else lobby to alter the melody to provide better concordance between those components.  Alternately, if the melody was written over a predetermined arrangement, then the person crafting the melody should have (again, in my opinion) followed the chord progressions better so as not to have those select moments of "disconnect."
Matchy Matchy -- I thought that "You’ve had like forever/To get your shit together/But you’re all too stupid/And shallow, whatever/I’m leaving here" was hands down the best part of your song.  That section really stood out as very effective (save the near-rhyme of "together").  Musically it was fundamentally solid and lyrically it was amusingly colloquial and condescending and it had an energy and a effervescence that was fun to replay and replay in isolation.


Okay -- all of the above was written after my initial rounds of listening.  Now I'm going to play all of the songs again in sequence, comment upon each, and sort them into my upper, middle, and lower echelons for purposes of rankings.  Those strata will then help me arrive at my final rankings.
Alien BBQ -- The vocals sound "distant" like we hear also from Mandibles' entry -- but in this case it doesn't lend anything to the recording.  I won't mark down for that -- I'll imagine a version with better audio instead because this is first-and-foremost a songwriting competition -- but I did want to make note of it.  The melody and the arrangement are both steady and serviceable.  I read your impetus for the lyric on the Bandcamp page, and it's cute.  (I do remind you that ~70% of the planet is covered by water, and that about 93% of the land on Earth falls outside the borders of the United States . . . but hey, anthropocentrism already rules this challenge, so ethnocentrism's not that big of an additional step.)  I think this is a solid entry, but not stellar, so I'm going to rank it in the middle echelon.
It's A Strange New World -- The concept is fine.  As I did with the previous song, I'm imagining a better singer singing the vocals -- which helps with the bits that might be out of tune, but doesn't fix the problems I described above with the melody and the accompaniment not always lining up well.  I don't know how the recording actually came together, but the audio actually sounds spliced when the middle section comes in -- as if the middle section were composed and recorded entirely separately, and then "fitted in" when the rest of the song coalesced around it.  I can even imagine I'm hearing another such break in the audio when the middle section ends and it returns to the final verse.  This is another song which I think is solid-but-not-exceptional, so I'm going to place it in the middle echelon of songs, as well.
Dihydrogen Monopoly -- This goes in the upper echelon primarily on the strength of its chorus (especially the first iteration), as discussed earlier.  Unlike I did for "Alien BBQ," I don't have to imagine a different audio recording of the vocal -- here, the distance of the vocal actually adds to the charm of the song and the effect its working to engender.  The verses are fine (save some lapses in prosody), and I appreciate the idea of this song, particularly as it was the least anthropocentric of the batch.  Time will tell just how high it gets ranked . . . but it'll definitely be in the top tier.
First Impression -- A well-produced (anthropocentric!) song.  Slightly awkward musical transitions, but each section works well.  I do take a very particular kind of issue with one part of the lyric.  "They seem to derive pleasure/From the same place that they make their waste" seems a very odd bit of knowledge for aliens to have acquired about humans.  It reminds me about the contemporary debates about whether or not to allow transgender humans to use this bathroom or that bathroom.  I have been using public bathrooms for over 40 years and I have NEVER seen a penis that wasn't my own.  So I don't understand how people are so afraid of allowing transgender humans some additional measure of dignity . . . and I'm not sure how aliens would have come by that one particular observation in this lyric.  But whatever.  Good job writing and recording this song -- I'm sure it will rise to be one of the higher songs in my middle echelon.
For the Glory of Gleeble Glorp -- Another song that definitely earns its way into the upper echelon.  I don't think I've mentioned yet how much I also love the giddily-fun consonance of the title and how it shimmers in the air every time it's sung.  The melody is fun and catchy, the back-up vocals are delightful, and there are just so many fun little details to keep the listener engaged.  (That oddly-timed, stutter-step delivery of the word "alien" really serves to lend a delightful focus right where such a focus would have maximum effect.)  This song screamed out "Brian Gray" with moments here-and-there reminiscent of JoCo and Jellyfish.
Watching The Skies -- Another very well-produced (anthropocentric!) song.  Most of the musical sections are strong, and the transitions are even better than in "First Impression."  Only the final stanza seems a bit weird, as the sung lyric keeps falling behind the accompaniment one gradual sixteenth note at a time.  Also, the lyric seems a bit "list-y" for my taste.  But definitely a strong entry in the middle echelon.
The Aliens Are Coming -- In the sooper-secret judges annex (the interior of which I honestly never thought I'd ever see!), our initial response was that this song was sung by a human (and thus a ready candidate for disqualification).  It was Micah, I believe, who realized that it could have indeed been a "scout" alien singing the warning that the larger fleet's arrival was imminent.  So perhaps we JUDGES fell victim to a bit of anthropocentrism initially, as well.  I'm going to send this song into the middle echelon, as well.  The music is solid and well-recorded.  The melody is appropriate for the style (as is the effect on the vocal recording).  My biggest issue is that the vocal, even within this style of music, seems a bit too simplistic or "surface" for the challenge it was written to meet.  But I enjoyed the atmosphere the song created.
wonder -- I've already talked on a bit about this song.  I'm going to put it in the upper echelon because above-and-beyond the fact that it's end-to-end a very good song, there are a number of different places and ways in which bits of it are great.  There are times when the melody lands on unexpected notes -- sometimes I really like them (like "explorer" and "horror" and "thunder" in the chorus) and other times when I'd change them (like "Myths from which they’re NAMED/Beyond the SEAS, there’s you/There’s YOU").  And the backing vocal behind the first "Do I deserve this" is lovely, as well.  Nice job, Zoe!  Keep writing . . . and I'm really interested in hearing more about this musical you've written.
Godspeed -- This song reminded me of a Governing Dynamics song when I first heard it.  Another very well-produced (anthropocentric!) song.  I like the recording, the mood, the melody, the message.  There's one bend in the second guitar solo that I thought should have just gone up a half-step instead of a full-step (it's at 2:18 into 2:19), but that's picking nits.  If the song had grabbed me more, I'd be putting it into the upper echelon for its proficiency.  But I found it just "nice," not "gripping" -- so I'm putting it into the middle echelon where it'll probably be another top song.
Alien -- I don't like the really long intro, but I've said that before.  I'm also not a big fan of the weird "in-out-in-out" volume effects in the recording.  And my brain is really bothered when the vocals don't sync with the accompaniment every time "It's alien/It's alien" comes around.  But other than those details, I really do like the song.  So because I'm imagining a version with those recording details "cleaned up," I'm happily putting this in the middle echelon.
Here To Say Hello -- This was recorded really "hot."  This makes it hard to listen to, even when I turn down the volume.  The guitar in particular has a very jarring timble in this song.  And the verses -- while I love Breaking Bad and get all the references in the lyrics -- are uninspired and rambling in their construction.  And then, when we DO get a more tightly-constructed chorus, the melody doesn't really work for me.  Even when I imagine someone else singing the melody you wrote in tune, I still don't care for the melody.  So while I do appreciate your efforts in submitting this song, when ranked against the others I'm going to rank this song somewhere in the lower echelon.  Sorry about that -- but do keep writing!
Hi Tek Ray Gun -- This is technically very proficient, as is everything else I've heard from you.  I really like your sound and your approach to making music -- particularly when spurred by something as quirky as some of these SpinTunes challenges.  And I can even choose to believe (and possibly this is the correct interpretation) that your aliens' animus was towards all life on the planet, meaning that you could dodge being hit with the ubiquitous "anthropocentric" label.  If you've read the comments about the other songs, you'll see that high production values and solid writing alone isn't enough for me to automatically consider you in the upper echelon of my rankings.  But your song was "fun" enough to/for my brain that (and if that's actually a horrible insult in the death-metal world, then I apologize, but . . .) I'm putting it in the upper echelon of my rankings.  (Congratulations.)
Our World -- Just as was the case for Zoe's song, I'm putting this song in the upper echelon of my rankings because of how good the really exceptional parts were within a song that started out "good" to begin with.  It was recorded well, with a lyric that was quirky and fun.  In a couple of particular spots, I'd have picked a different interval for the backup vocals to sing, but that's about it.  Well done.
Humans Seem The Same To Me -- Absolutely a strong contender in the middle echelon.  Well written and sung and played and recorded with an important (if exceedingly anthropocentric!) message.  But I just can't propel it into the upper echelon with the resounding sense of self-similarity hanging over this song.  Sorry.  But well done, Sir.  (My wife likes your song and its message a lot, too!)  A couple quick questions:  In the lyrics, you typed, "When anybody spends a moment in their mind," but when you recorded, you sang, "When anybody spends a moment WITH their mind."  Which did you truly intend in this case?  ("Our" versus "the" or "their" seemed clear; this one less so . . .)
Can We Be Friends? -- Another good, solid (anthropocentric!) song.  The chorus seems a little unpolished, but the verses are solid.  But this one's definitely going to stay in the middle echelon for a very particular reason, and it actually has to do with the spoken intro/outro.  (And for long-time fans of MoSF and SpinTunes, reading what I just wrote probably made a sizeable number of you laugh out loud, right?)  This song seems to be written specifically to the human race.  (This seems to become clear in the second verse.  The first verse might suggest a generic "boilerplate" song sent out to any planet under investigation, but when the alien starts to sing things like "Peculiar though you are" and "So much you don't know" in verse two, this suggests more specificity.)  But the intro/outro seems to suggest that this song was archived in a vault accessible to whole hosts of species from across the Universe.  Why would this come to pass?  If it was written specifically as a message to our species, why would it needed to be decoded from some universal lingua franca?  And why would it be available to other species for their perusal, if it wasn't relevant to or written about them at all?  This perplexing facet of the song is going to preclude me from considering whether it might otherwise merit being moved up into the higher echelon.  Still a good song, though.  Thanks for submitting it!
I Won't Displace -- My initial response was, "I can't appreciate this melody."  But the more I listened to it, the more it became accessible to me.  And I can definitely see the work and craft you put into the composition of this song.  So while I can't really get into the story this song tells, I can appreciate the song for what it is.  So I'm not going to bump it down into the lower echelon of rankings as I initially suspected I would.  Middle echelon it is.
A Message, Dear Leader, From Your Humble Servant, Xebax -- Yeah -- sorry, Marlon.  I'm sending this to the bottom echelon of my rankings.  And it's probably not for the reason that you or many others might expect.  It's not the brevity of the song (at just 0:55) or the inexact rhymes or the simplistic story or the threadbare production values or the out-of-tune singing . . . or even the anthropocentrism.  It's actually first-and-foremost nothing more than the apparent lack of effort.  And that appearance, in my mind, stems from a single source -- the error at 0:25.  That one error that you left in the final recording makes the whole song seem like a single-take effort -- like you weren't even willing to record the song a second time to get rid of that mistake.  Now true -- maybe the midnight deadline was coming fast.  Three other bands submitted songs after you, but if they all came in at 11:45 p.m. that Sunday night, then maybe time was your enemy.  But on the other hand . . . your song was less than a minute long.  But it reminded me of another song -- one by Mike Lombardo -- a song that actually made Mike the ultimate winner of the final Masters of Song Fu (over the runner up band . . . half of which was comprised of none other than our own Dave Leigh!).  It was called “This Song Is Meta (And So Is This Title)” -- and it was actually quite a quality song.  But the thing was?  Mike was (is!) a very talented musician.  And it was clear to me that, for HIM, this entry was a total throwaway effort.  Mike was (is!) the kind of guy who could sit down and improvise that piano accompaniment like it was nothing.  And the lyric he wrote above that accompaniment was a rambling, stream-of-consciousness bit of pandering drivel that couldn't have taken him anything close to an entire night (as he went so far as to claim in the lyric!).  But it won.  Over an arguably better (and far more well-crafted) song by Leigh & Hoover.  That result angered me more than any other result since Molly Lewis won with "PEEEEEEEEPS!!!" based on nothing more than the size of her Internet footprint.  Your recording reminded me of that same kind of lack of effort . . . and it wasn't nearly as good as Mike's token effort.  So I'm not going to rank your song highly.  But since Dave encourages shadows and has created a rule by which eliminated competitors can be reinstated into the competition . . . I invite you to shadow next round and show us what you can REALLY do if you're either not short on time or not short on ambition.  Make us believers!  :-)
Unsatisfactory -- I could paste almost all of my review for "Godspeed" into this slot, and it'd be dead on (except for the note about the note in the second guitar solo).  You always do quality work, and you've got a championship title to confirm your stature.  But I'm going to keep this song in the middle echelon of my rankings, as it didn't really offer me anything above-and-beyond great proficiency to push it into the upper echelon of contenders.
Message To The Hindmost -- Just like with Menage a Tune, I'm imagining a better singer (and less grating sound effects), so the out-of-tune bits aren't going to hurt your ranking.  But I do still have problems with the disconnect between parts of the melody with associated parts of the accompaniment.  The song is fine -- the conceit is classic BYD -- I'm going to rank it with the other middle-echelon songs.
The Game -- I love and sympathize with the message.  The technical construction of the lyrics seems "loose" and a big undisciplined, but the lyric as a whole is appropriately expansive in scope.  (I'm going to repeat what I wrote in the very first review in this list -- that ~70% of the planet is covered by water, and that about 93% of the land on Earth falls outside the borders of the United States . . . but ethnocentrism's not a more pressing concern than the issues raised in your song, so that's just an academic point that's not directed at you, specifically.)  I do regard this as another solid entry, but its another one that stays in the middle echelon of my rankings rather than having something that elevates it into the upper ranks.
Abduction -- Well-produced and well-written.  Nothing that really made it stand out in the crowd, but solid and capable.  This would definitely be in the middle echelon of my rankings were it not a shadow.
Missouri 1980 -- You made a wise choice making "Alien BBQ" your official submission and saving this one for a shadow.  I didn't like the idea or the execution of this one nearly as much.  This one probably would have been one of the two highest songs in my lower echelon had it not been a shadow.
Song About A Stranger -- I can tell you worked hard on this -- the craft shows through -- but it just doesn't resonate with me.  I wasn't engaged by the lyric or the melody or the music.  Like the review directly above, this probably would have been the other of the two highest songs in my lower echelon if it weren't already a shadow.
First Glimpse Of Green -- I've heard some really, really good songs from you.  This one was just kind of average . . . which, from you, was a disappointment to me.  I did like the break your song afforded us by letting us hear about trees and green growing things rather than humans and the various and sundry problems they've engendered.  But it didn't really grab me.  This probably would have been one of the lower songs in my middle echelon had it not been among the ranks of the shadows instead.
Everything Everything Everything -- This song was fun and upbeat while simultaneously delivering its in-your-face condemnation of our species.  Well-written and well-produced, this would have been in the middle echelon of the rankings if it were an official entry.

Okay -- it's now 1:36 a.m. on Saturday.  I'm sure I'm up to at least six listens of every song now if I were to total them all.  Gonna go get some sleep and then suss out the final rankings when I wake up.  Best of luck to all of you in the next round!

ST15R1 Reviews: Dave Leigh

First, a quick note. As mentioned in the last post, the regular Judges for this competition are Micah Sommersmith, Ryan and Chumpy of Jerkatorium, Edric Haleen, and Joe Lamb. And this is a first... all of them are former champions (of SpinTunes or Song Fu)! Each and every one has been on your side of the fence. This round, my own reviews & rankings will only be used in the case of ties. Joe's not available this round, so my rankings count.

The Spintunes 15 Round 1 challenge was:
Strange New World: You are an alien visiting the Earth. Write about what you found.
The obligatory note on judging: there are no official judging criteria. We use a selection of judges precisely because different people have different tastes, and this is reflected in their personal rankings. All judges are individually tasked to rank songs according to their own preferences.  In my case, I prefer to rank according to how well I think you met the challenge, with some balancing and jostling based on other criteria, such as clever lyrics, production, etc. I'm not that hung up on arrangement and polish if I feel the song itself is good.

The dirty secret of judging is that when we select challenges, we've got our expectations, and we have our hopes. We expect a certain kind of response. We hope you'll pleasantly surprise us. My expectation for this one was something in the nature of a travelogue. That is, we did ask you specifically to write as an alien about what you found, not your plans, or about your feels (unless those are triggered by what you found). So unless you pleasantly surprise me with a better idea that still meets the challenge, I'll give some heavy weight to people who squarely met the challenge, as I have always done.

The entries for this round fall roughly into a mere handful of tropes: Space Invaders, Humans are Bad, This Place is Great, etc. I thought I might see more alien abductions, but that was more a '70's thing, I guess. There shouldn't be a lack of options. This challenge is wide open and presents so many possibilities! So -- just for fun -- I present here a few items from the "ideas not used" bucket to consider:
  • Humans aren't the only thing on this planet, nor the most impressive. The alien could land anywhere... Africa, the Amazon Basin, and write about what he finds there. Even the bottom of the sea. Maybe this alien is aquatic.
  • Alien visitors are not interested in abducting Earth people. Earth cows, though... they're hawt. Unfortunately, alien sex wrecks havoc with bovine genitalia. Totally worth it. Lot of news stories to support this one.
  • Aliens aren't here to kill us, enslave us, or anything of the sort. But they found a race of beings willing to abandon their planet on the slim hope that somewhere in the vast reaches of space they'd find some other rock more hospitable. The aliens are all for it... they encourage it. When we leave, they'll just move in, 'cause they made the same choice already and they've since learned not to be so damned picky.
  • The alien is stuck here and found a job.
  • It's a return trip. The alien found something important he left behind. (Star Trek fans might fondly recollect "A Piece of the Action")
  • Nobody gave a time frame. These aliens visit Earth in the distant past, and find it young and inhabited by low-brow hominids. So they plant the seeds of future civilizations.
But those aren't what we're reviewing. These are:

Zoe Gray - wonder 
This has it all: description... feels... love... Interesting rhythms and tune. You nailed it. And I love the character's point of view. It's the little things... "sing this shade of blue"... the fact that to an alien who may not have a massive moon at home, the changing tides would be strange and miraculous. I feel the influence of "Part of Your World" in this number, and that's not a bad thing.

Vom Vorton - Watching the Skies 
I've get a really strong "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" vibe from this one, and I love it. It's exactly what I'd expect from a travelogue, and it's executed perfectly, IMO. It mentions the good and the bad in the form of non-judgemental advice for the traveler in a strange world. It's unfortunate that the editors will whittle it down to "Mostly Harmless".

Mandibles - Dihydrogen Monopoly 
We found WATER! As screwed over as we think it is, an alien civilization would be overjoyed to find the most precious commodity in the Universe in such an accessible form. And as we humans would go batshit crazy over finding any world even fractionally as good as the one we have, I'm totally on-board with this premise. Even though I'm not a ukelele fan, I think it works well in the chorus, giving a sort of Hawaiian islands feel to a piece about being surrounded by the ocean. I'm not as enamoured of the verses, but I don't really have good constructive advice on them either.

Glen Raphael - Humans Seem the Same to Me 
This really stands out for me. I have a whole family of cats... eight of them. Every single one is a different color, and I certainly don't think they're substantially different as cats or see themselves that way. I doubt an alien would have any more capacity to understand our differences than those cats do. Cats are the same. Humans are the same. This song a bittersweet, though hopeful, of our insignificant differences from an outside point of view. And it doesn't hurt that I can listen to Glen sing all day.

Good Guy Sôjàbé - Godspeed 
Soulful sound. Unfortunately, the "humans are bad" trope is so pervasive I find myself looking for a fresh take on it, and that hurts its placement a little. But this is fantastic in execution and mood.

Faster Jackalope - First Impression 
The first thing that hits me is the very nice retro-rock sound. Very listenable.

Menage a Tune - It's a Strange New World 
I see what you're doing there JoAnn... hiding behind that sweet grandma façade to disguise the fact that you're a blood-sucking plant from outer space. Lots of nice callbacks to "Little Shop of Horrors" in here. I think I'd prefer it with more of a 50s rock feel than the swing, and if you really ground in the vocals on "now it's suppertime!" So full marks on concept, but it could use something more in the execution to make it really make it hit home.

Brian Gray - For the Glory of Gleeble Glorp 
Brian, you're screwin' with me here, because -- just as listening material -- this is hands-down my favorite song of the round. But it's not really describing what you found on Earth, is it? Nope, it's all aggression in the name of Gleeble Glorp. So even though it's kick-ass and fun, I'm ranking it down a good bit for the weak response to the challenge.

Boffo Yux Dudes - Message to the Hindmost 
Larry Niven wrote a series of novels and short stories in a universe he called "Known Space". In it there is a race known as Pierson's Puppeteers. The fun fact about Puppeteers is that the brain is in the torso. The Puppeteer has two brainless heads, each with a mouth and voice. Their "leader" is the Hindmost, being the most cowardly of the lot. And having the nature of herd animals, once they fixate on something, they all pretty much follow suit. Now, that background is important to appreciate that this song is sung by two voices of the same person. Not only does this attention to detail make it geeky to the max, but this entry is (almost) unique in actually identifying the alien species that visits so those of us in the know are preloaded with their point-of-view. And it's this point-of-view that makes a stampede of tap-dancing Puppeteers oddly plausible in Niven's universe.

Ominous Ride - The Game 
Old-school Coolio, en femme. Rap gives the opportunity to make dense rhymes, and that's done here. This particular style of rap lends itself to political head-bashing, and in fact I've used it that way myself in a previous SpinTunes. It's a nice style to try out, but I (personally) wouldn't do it again, preferring more subtle means of communicating the parable.

Governing Dynamics - Unsatisfactory 
It's slow and sad and at least we didn't get invaded.

PigFarmer Jr. - Alien BBQ
This guy just likes the BBQ. And yup, he introduces himself as an alien. That said, there's really not much about this piece that screams "alien". Seriously, you could replace the first two lines with "I'm a real life Yankee and I come from New York State", and the song would be basically the same. So while it's fun, and I'm one of those who would echo a shout of "BARBEQUE!" from the audience, it's not really grabbing hold of the challenge.

Marlon - A Message, Dear Leader, From Your Humble Servant Xebax 
One of the great pleasures of doing this contest is that I occasionally get to hear a song from Marlon. I enjoyed his previous entry so much I covered it. Because when you get right down to it, even though he's not singing smoothly, and his "instrument" is knee-slaps, the actual songs that he writes aren't BAD. Take this one... I like the concept of "going native". For a long time I've held some notes for a sci-fi story in which the Earth is renowned for cooking, which to other races is weird and unique. And here it is in the song. The "they hardly use their nukes for war" line turns all the "Humans are Bad" tropes upside down, reminding us that maybe... just maybe... we're the ones who AREN'T bad, overall. And to top it off, it meets the challenge head-on. This is just a nice 55 seconds, and frankly, I plan to cover this song, too. All that said, if it weren't for the fact that this is a songwriting competition, and I'm imagining the song with the best possible production, it would rank much lower.

ShyFox - Can We Be Friends? 
ShyFox vocals are so clean and "honest"... love 'em. And it's got that indie garage-band feel. Challenge-wise, there's not much descriptive about it, being mostly lost in a plea for friendship. If he had FOUND friendship and written about that, then it would more squarely hit the challenge and I'd rank it higher.

Third Cat - Our World 
As I hear it, this is basically it's a straight-up invasion song. Maybe they find Earth cat to be cuddly and loveable as I do, or maybe they're just delicious. Hard to say. It's well produced, but doesn't stand out for me.

Jocko Homomorphism - I Won't Displace 
I can see this in a Tim Burton animated production. It's got that weird, almost Victorian quality. I put songs into two categories: there are "story" songs, and there are "feels" songs. This is a story song. But the story is WEIRD. Our alien visitor is a Martian ghost. And it's really his story, and not terribly descriptive of Earth.

Temnere - Hi Tek Ray Gun 
JEEBUS! I am SO glad I have written lyrics for this one! There's enough high energy in the drum track alone to power a hi tek ray gun. So full marks for heavy metal mayhem. As far as the challenge goes... "weak and fleshy carbon" is as descriptive of Earth as this song gets. At least, until he glasses the planet, gets bored and moves on.

Running Green Lights - Alien 
HEAVY autotuning here is oddly appropriate for "alien" vocals. This MIGHT be an invasion? The thing is, this is extremely light on the descriptive portion of the challenge. "It's alien"... OK. HOW? As a song, I like it. As a response to the challenge... meh?

Lichen Throat - Here to Say Hello 
This starts out like a 90's 16-bit videogame soundtrack. Then the vocals kick in and I don't know what to think. The meter as delivered don't really match the rhythm, though I see that as printed, they COULD. The conceit of the song is fine. The guy has picked up transmissions of Breaking Bad and he's a fan turned tourist. But it sounds ponderous, and that hurts its replayability.

Rob From Amersfoort - The Aliens Are Coming 
Rob, You're supposed to BE the alien. I'm afraid this is a clean miss of the challenge in my eyes. We're not disqualifying anyone this round because with a bit of squinting and a stretch of the imagination, this could be interpreted as an alien scout, but the constant use of third-person pronoun means I don't buy it, even in the best possible light. But this interpretation does keep you eligible for re-instatement should someone else miss the deadline next round, so I encourage you to shadow!


Red Watcher - Abduction (SHADOW) 
I wish you hadn't entered this as a shadow. I have nothing bad to say about this song, and nothing I can say to constructively improve it.

PigFarmer Jr - Missouri 1980 (SHADOW)
Love the idea, and it should have been your official entry. It needs three things to rank highly there:
  1. Heavier, 1980s-style drums
  2. A driving bass line. Again, hit that 80's feel for a song worthy of an "Awesome Mix Tape"
  3. Break up the syllables of "lady". Instead of "Laaaaady's the sea", try "Laa-Deeee is the sea" to drive home the reference to "Brandy" by Looking Glass.
Micah Sommersmith - Song About a Stranger (SHADOW) 
Accordions can be creepy.

Heather Miller - First Glimpse of Green (SHADOW) 
Astrophysical Fun Fact: there are no green stars. This is a physical limitation imposed by the spectra emitted by the elements produced in stellar fusion. So it's perfectly plausible for an alien to have never seen the color. Excellent job putting a message across in the bridge without it coming across as heavy-handed or preachy. I love this take on the challenge, and would love to hear it produced more fully.

Matchy Matchy - Everything Everything Everything (SHADOW) 
Low-rent Jerkatorium wannabes.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

SpinTunes 15 Contestants

While we're waiting for the Judges' reviews, lets hear from our contestants! (in order of submission)

PigFarmer, Jr.
Son of a man who once owned a pig.

Menage a Tune
JoAnn does Lyrics and sings. Ted plays piano and sings. Both come up with the music, and somehow they have managed to create a few tunes over the years. Let the games begin!

Forged in the fires of Palestrinian counterpoint, three voices joined together to form Mandibles. They fought their way through Nur Ein XIII, and saw that there truly was Only One.... but alas, it was not they. Not to be discouraged, Mandibles immediately set to preparing their first live show, and were only moderately stymied by the realization that only one of them could passably play any instruments. Now, having learned to play, the members have scattered to the winds, combining their voices through the power of friendship!

Faster Jackalope
Faster Jackalope is a mythical rock band of North American folk and indie rock scenes (a fearsome band) . Faster Jackalope is said to be so dangerous that hunters and rock critics are advised to wear stovepipes on their legs to keep from being gored. One of the ways to catch a Faster Jackalope live show, is to entice it with whiskey, the band's beverage of choice. Faster Jackalope can imitate the human voice, according to legend. During the days of the Old West, when cowboys gathered by the campfires singing at night, Faster Jackalope could be heard mimicking their voices or singing along, usually as a tenor, but sometimes as a jazz trio. It is said that Faster Jackalope, only records during lightning flashes and that their 3 locations (WA,CA,and PA) make the act difficult despite their reputation for productivity.

Brian Gray
"From there to here, from here to there, Brian Gray is everywhere."

Vom Vorton

Ex-band-member, current cat enthusiast. Long term songwriting-contest-addict. Guitars, synths, drum machines and singing, hopefully in roughly the right proportions.

Rob from Amersfoort

Blablabla Let's just see 

Zoe Gray

Zoe Gray sprang fully fledged, holding a guitar, from Zeus’s head seventeen years ago. She is now a homeschooling senior in Philadelphia. This summer, she wrote a musical, and is currently learning how to fully orchestrate it with Berklee Online. Spintunes champion, feminist bard, wild fey, bastard, Shakespeare aficionado.

Good Guy Sôjàbé

UK-based rock three piece. Formed in 2014 by singer SOrin and previous SpinTuners JAmes and BEn. Pronounced “Soh-Jah-Bey”. Our weakness is our greatest strength.

Running Green Lights

Jordan and Natalie return to channel their inner Depeche Mode, kinda.

Lichen Throat

However much you assume I know about music, I probably know less.

unheavy metal. light metal??

Third Cat

Resides in the United States of America. Interested in a variety of vibrations. Likes The Zombies.

Glen Raphael

Glen Raphael is a Brooklyn nerd-folk performer whose songs cover such topics as quantum physics, bedbugs, gorillas, and the Statue of Liberty's mid-life crisis. His act combines the intellectual and heartfelt with the silly, often with intricate fingerstyle guitar accompaniment.


Singer/songwriter looking to mix it up and challenge myself to creating original content.

Jocko Homomorphism

Jocko Homomorphism started as a bunch of mathematicians covering Devo in grad school. After graduating and moving across the globe, JH now puts out occasional solo jams.


marlon. was born in the desert and is therefore confused and frightened by the ocean. He hates bananas and sloths. marlon. loves people and hopes to be one someday.

Governing Dynamics
Trying to Do The Work.

Boffo Yux Dudes

Old guys who do know better. The Dudes started in 1987, reformed in 2009, and got time off for good behavior. Now they attempt to do music. Allan Morgan, Tom Giarrosso and Scott Mercer head this version of BYD with rabid optimism that they'll be remembered for more than just all those replays on Dr. Demento. Record holder of most ST shadow songs submitted. We live 3000 miles apart, so cut us some slack. Or cut us some HardTack. Be careful - you can chip a tooth on that stuff!

Ominous Ride

If you can imagine a cross between Simon and Garfunkel, Whitney Houston, and Primus, my music is like none of those.