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Saturday, May 1, 2021

SpinTunes 17 Results

The votes have been cast and the ballots have been counted. The winner of SpinTunes 17 is

ALSO IN BLUE!

Also in Blue excelled in their very first SpinTunes, placing in the top three in every round. A judging spot is open to them in SpinTunes 18.

23 competitors cast ballots by the judging deadline. To preserve their anonymity while still allowing those interested to peruse their ranking patterns, I asked my four-year-old for a list of animals, which I replaced competitors' names with and then alphabetized. Here are the full voting results from the competitors:


In addition to winning over the contestants, Also in Blue earned - incredibly - first place from every single judge. Here are the results from the judges:


Reviews:

Thanks to all the contestants who contributed your talents and creativity to craft a truly wonderful collection of songs. 

Thanks to the judges: Cybronica, Denise Hudson, Jocko Homomorphism, and Wil Whalen, for thoughtfully and carefully undertaking the impossible task of ranking and reviewing these songs. 

Thanks to our guest judges: Dave Leigh, Brian Gray, and Zoe Gray. Extra thanks to Dave, the outgoing SpinTunes administrator, and to Travis Langworthy, SpinTunes founder, for supporting me as I run this contest for the first time.

Thanks to Tommy G for faithfully hosting the Listening Parties each round - a critical part of maintaining the SpinTunes community.

Finally, thank you to Matt Schubbe for crafting wonderful album art for every round.

All of you make SpinTunes the fantastic community that it is. Thank you all, and see you for SpinTunes 18!

ST17.4 Reviews and Rankings - Guest Judge Zoe Gray

Our last guest judge for this tournament is SpinTunes 15 champion Zoe Gray. Here is what she has to say about this round:

--

Wow. Wow wow wow wow wow. Hi, y’all. I wanted to judge more rounds of the competition this time aroundand it unfortunately just didn’t line up with my school schedule, but I’m finally coming in this last round here to be… absolutely blown away by the quality of submissions. What a difficult challenge for a last round! And what deftness of skill with which you all executed it! It was a pleasure to get to listen of all of your submissions, and although I’m loathe to have to rank them, that is my job, so rank them I must.

Rankings: 

1. Also In Blue - Forgotten Cities
2. Sober - Judgment is Gonna Come
3. Cavedwellers - What You Do
4. Seen-Man-Ski - Sometimes I Forget Myself


Also In Blue - Forgotten Cities 
There seem to be two major camps in the interpretation of this challenge. The first is straight up repetition: pick your favorite 25 words, more or less repeat that phrase for the length of a song. The second is the attempt to pick 25 words that can be used in various contexts and slyly disguise the fact that the song you are creating has only 25 words. You somehow managed to excellently execute both. Straightaway, I was incredibly impressed by the vocals. You’ve created a song here that I would genuinely want to listen to, to add onto my playlists and work into a regular rotation any time I’m in a Decemberists/Johnny Flynn/Andrew Bird type dark folk mood. But as I got about two minutes into the song, and we were out of lyrics, and there was still half the song left, I sat there wondering what was about to fill out the rest of those 2.5 minutes remaining. A long banjo solo? A Zeppelin-type beat drop and electric guitar shred? 

What I didn’t expect was exactly what the song needed– a miracuolous, beautiful chorus, in canon and harmony. The second time through these lyrics was a revelation. How perfectly it dropped me into the world of the song. If I were writing a slightly gritty mythologically-based show like Britannia or American Gods, I would tap you for my theme song. Masterfully done– never once was I pulled out of the song by the fact that there were only 25 words in it. The uses of repetition felt not made out of necessity but out of a want, a yearning, almost spiritual or primal. Which is, of course, exactly what this song is supposed to evoke in its listener. Top notch work.

Sober - Judgment is Gonna Come
This song has a truly beautiful arrangement. The slides in the beginning, the acoustic guitar (which is expertly played and recorded), the riff between verses, which is played on either a banjo or with a slide guitar? Your vocals were perfectly fitting for this genre of music, and I was so happy when the harmonies and vocal doubling kicked in, because they were incredibly tight and well blended. This song is like if Renegade by Styx dropped an acoustic version. You got around/through this challenge by using repetition, and you used it well. This kind of repetition works very well for this kind of song, a sort of Wailin’ Jennys-esque mantra with just few enough lyric changes to guide a listener into singing along, if she so chooses. I, for one, was certainly head-bopping. Great vibes, really nice work preserving the integrity of the challenge without making those 25 words limit you. 

Cavedwellers - What You Do
This is a clever way to execute a “simplistic” song (only so because of the restrictions of the challenge)– by framing it as a Beatlesesque, almost doo-wop retro song. This reminded me of the titular song from “That Thing You Do”. I commend you for going the route of not just repeating the same stanzas but making your allowed words mean different things and work in different contexts. That’s harder than it looks, and I could see the craftsmanship and effort you put into training these phrases like ivy towards the words they needed to use. The chord progression was fun, the guitar solo slapped, and the melody at the “you were not true, two to one” and corresponding sections at the ends of the verses was so very catchy. This could very well pass, except for a few errant lyrics that feel just a little shoehorned in, as a song which a listener would never realize is only comprised of 25 words. 

See-Man-Ski - Sometimes I Forget Myself
I really like the arrangement here. Right when I wanted a build/escalation, halfway through the first verse, it came in. The guitar work was absolutely masterful, and the instruments lent themselves to an almost late 90’s or early 00’s vibe. See: Blood Like Lemonade by Morcheeba. I think the challenge that this song ran up against was feeling just a little too long for its content, which is always gonna be the challenge with this kind of challenge, but that’s, well… the challenge. I liked the use of repetition but at a certain point I wanted more of a build or a breakdown or something musically to sustain through the repetition of the lyrics, or, better yet, to enhance them.

ST17.4 Reviews and Rankings - Wil Whalen

Sorry, I’m on a bunch of painkillers from dental surgery so I will be briefer than usual this week:

Another overall extremely strong round.  Very tough to put these in any sort of objective order but I’ll try!  


See-Man-Ski

Very nice composition.  Great buildup, though I think during the second half that repeated airy synth line holds back some of the effect by remaining so consistent.  There’s something very 90s alt rock about this.  At times the vocal delivery and rhythms/song structure remind me of Crash Test Dummies.


Cavedwellers

A nice upbeat (musically, at least) tune in an otherwise more somber and low key round. Unfortunate miscount aside, I do feel like this song does the best of the main entries at mixing up the source words to create new sentences rather than building repeated lyrical frameworks and swapping a few words in and out.  Both valid choices but this one ends up feeling less repetitive because of it.  Interesting weird synth stuff going on near the end, sounds like something bitcrushed?


Also in Blue

Just love it.  Hard to find anything to pick on - even if it's a little repetitive lyrically, it’s constantly evolving and playing out differently.  Was easily my first place from the first listen, instantly memorable and earwormy.


Sober

Another fine song and set of performances, instrumentally and vocally.  Your songs are always so consistently polished!  This one I think suffers most from repetitiveness - the subsequent verses are so similar they don't really add anything narratively. 


Also: The main banjo riff in this makes me think of Bon Jovi’s Blaze of Glory every time I hear it.  (Come to think of it there’s also a little bit in Also in Blue’s song that sounded similar.)   


Rankings:

Also in Blue - 1

See-Man-Ski - 2

Sober - 3

Cavedwellers - 4

ST17.4 Reviews and Rankings - Jocko Homomorphism

Reviews and rankings from Jocko Homomorphism:

1 Also in Blue
2 Sober
3 See-Man-Ski
4 Cavedwellers

========

Also in Blue

Excellent! The arrangement builds and fades, alluding to your inspiration. I like how the choral backup builds on the second chorus. The stereo work is beautiful overall. You already know where you put the work in, so I don't feel like I need to spell all that out for you here. Hard to see how to improve this. The sibilance at 0:29 is too harsh, I guess?

Sober

Wonderful singing and arrangement as usual. I like how the sound of chains takes over where most other songs would use cymbals. Accordingly, it would be neat to have variations on the chain sound for the different parts of the song, especially the a capella. The subject is a little rote for my taste. You don't need many words to talk about judgement, which is good. Just, there's a lot of songs out there about judgement, and your song concept doesn't stand out amongst them.

See-Man-Ski

This piece is driven by its textures. I like the flute that comes in just under the minute mark. The song a bit start-and-stop, with all the energy being focused on the start of a couplet, and everything stoping for a beat or two at the end. I think it would work better to have a longer phrase in one or more of the instruments to keep things flowing. With all the layers of tonal sounds, I also think it would benefit from more percussive sounds. Maybe more of the fret sounds, and bring the existing drums further forward in the mix, but also additional sounds. Shakers? Fingersnaps?

Cavedwellers

The subject is kinda by the numbers, isn't it? I see how the "one plus one" / "two less one" idea plays in the space we've carved out for this challenge, but that was done better in "Finite Simple Group" by the Klein Four. It just takes a lot to get me invested in a relationships song. That scraping sound in the right ear is interesting. The bass could be more energetic during the verses, especially with how tame the guitars are playing. Shame about the word count. Watch out for time stretching at 1:07.

All the Robots

"Some of the Robots" is a pretty cheeky take on your identity. I particularly like the line "We can't be every one of the robots." I could see this as an interlude on an album, or a short radio/podcast blurb. Catchy, fun, and sweet. I like "Helicopters on Mars" better. A playful, all-ages portrayal of (rigorous, but still silly) current events. The call-response parts are a good fit. I wonder how this would go if it ended with an in-your-face false cadence, "helicopter on, helicopter on, helicopter on Mars!"

Jocko Homomorphism

I didn't intend the chorus to be this much of a shift from the verses. I question how many people will recognize the word eliding when spelled out at this tempo, or at all.

The Dutch Widows

I like the tropical vibe of this song. It just kinda zones out, just like the songwriting days you're describing. For something written in one morning, this came out pretty nice. You should consider polishing it up in the future. The bass drum is a little strong in the bridge, and the drums could use another pass overall. I would add a longer jam out session with more instruments to end the song as the vocals fade away.

Governing Dynamics

This is a pleasant slow jam. You didn't say as much in the liner notes, but I can't help think your lyrics are a reflection on opening yourself to criticism in this competition. The instrumental end is a little long for what it is. Maybe you could keep the bass in longer, and give it some more energetic counterpoint with the guitars?

Hot Pink Halo

A fun etymology bop. I like the pun. Something about the lyrics don't quite fit the meter in the B section, at least when I'm reading along with the line breaks on the lyric sheet. Here's a thought: dub in some printing press sounds! Especially when you mention them in the lyrics. Or if you don't have any on hand, use some other mechanical sounds. I probably wouldn't be able to tell the difference. The ending jam loses my attention a bit when it gets to the 'pit orchestra warming up' bit. This could be snappier if you ended right on the second instance of "you're my type", singing "type" as a quarter note. Maybe follow it with an orchestra hit.

Menage a Tune

I'm not sure what to write for you. After seeing your output from SpinTunes 15 onward, I think that most of my criticisms lie in areas that you are not interested in doing differently. I am impressed with how much "Wild Karen" deviates from the typical Menage a Tune sound. I think it would be improved by leaning more into the playground-chant aspect. Have some more people slapping knees, play the spoons, multitrack the Karen interjections and pan them around. The full singing doesn't really fit the tone of this piece. How about half-singing, half-spoken? Or get a bunch of kids to do those parts.

Jealous Brother

Ah, a round four spite tune. Spite can be a muse. I once got so fed up about  rhyme scheme critique, I wrote a song with no rhymes. Welcome to the club! I think you've succeeded at making an inoffensive and bland song. Congratulations? I don't really have any recommendations for how you could have written this song better without making it a different song. Concept-wise, I'd have buried the meaning so deep as to be impenetrable, and really put my money where my mouth is about the value of ambiguity. I get that this is supposed to be aggressively boring, but it's just regular boring.

========

Cheers,
Jocko

ST17.4 Reviews and Rankings - Denise Hudson

 FINALS


My rank if it matters for round 4 is
Also in Blue
Sober
See-Man-Ski
Cavedwellers



Spintunas

This was an impossible choice and some fun shadows. You are all first place in my heart even though this is cheeseball talk. But it was like saying to choose favorites between beloved bands or something. So even more grain of salt-y here. Same drill about how you’re all winners. Well done everyone. 


Also In Blue - FORGOTTEN CITIES
Vocal is pristine and achingly beautiful - a ghostly backing vocals on a gorgeously stretched out phrase. Your orchestration is textbook beautiful evocation with every layer coming in just so well. I love the layered voices with the flute in the middle—followed by judicious silence. You are really good at bringing the listener into an emotional environment and then delivering a message on both a lyrical and a body-feel sonic level. Your treatment of the subject matter is respectful, tasteful, and you have seemed to spin an emotional visual that really tracks. This is perfectly well done. 

Sober - JUDGMENT WILL COME FOR YOU

You are just as effective with your dazzling-but-passionate instrumentals in this belt-y, blues-y setting I see. Subject matter a perfect choice for a call and response. Makes one feel like they are being taken to school, or maybe to church. Very strong drums, but in a way it made me feel like I was in a dance hall or revival setting; and I loved how they began with the chains slowly becoming a sort of high hat or tambourine. Exposed choir and solo parts were fanciful and also mindfully laid. This is neat work instrumentally—but the vocal performance made me believe. And my goodness that vocal note at the end!

See-Man-Ski - SOMETIMES I FORGET MYSELF
Love the mixture of electronic beat and acoustic as a bed of introduction. Stellar use of silences, and as usual a lovely build. I love the not-rhyming, because it makes it seem important. Really fresh sounding wind patch against that crunchy guitar and a beautiful end vocally to this nicely chosen subject matter. I really like this a lot, particularly the end with the belted out repeated line ending on a quiet “you know it is….” Your vocal is gorgeous and passionate. I am made to feel something. 

Cavedwellers - WHAT YOU DO

Your use of suspension/resolutions and majors/minors pulls listener into the song in an epic way, although not sure what it’s going to be emotionally with the vocal. You’re using major motion picture chord progressions—and they make this sound dramatic and cool against this rock band setting with churny and rainy effects and ethereal echoes. The hooks are solid and catchy and as usual, your wordplay is clever and story-oriented- with a perfectly serviceable pop vocal dancing around those fun chords. I like how the guitar solo plays a good match game with the lead vocal feell a bit. Dead on!


SHADOWS in no ORDER

Some of the Robots -ALL OF THE ROBOTS
Well this is an adorable mess of fun! It’s catchy and short-two of my favorite things. Caught up in a whirlwind of an introduction. Love “we’ve got” rhyme with “robot.” (Nice job on your Dave cover, btw as well). 

Jocko Homorphism - DIAGONAL ZEAL
Opening fabulous. Tempo frightened me, but in a really cute way. And loved the piano and synth flourishes. Just hangs together fun and absolutely requires the lyrics for me follow along to—but they’re jammed in there real clever like a car racing video game. 

The Dutch Widows - BEEN A BLAST

This is The Dutch Widows on a cruise ship with a disco ball. Echoey and boppy like a bit much punch and looking at the ceiling spinny. I love you guys so much.

Governing Dynamics - DON’T BREAK ME
I love this beginning—feels like coffee on a road trip. You really set a scene. It’s a bit sad, but that is not at all suprising--and your vocal is really really nice. Another jewel in your case. 

Hot Pink Halo - YOU’RE MY TYPE
I love this wormy sound of all the instrumentation against your vocal. Well chosen dissonances and expertly placed jazz tones. I like your vocal so much I want even more of it clearer up in the mix. The organ is so SELECT!

All the Robots - HELICOPTER ON MARS
I love this. I laughed the entire time. I feel like you’re really getting the whole point of music for me—which is that it is fun and it is a Toy meant for our amusement. I hear they put a helicopter on Mars. 

Menage a Tune - WILD KAREN
This was very annoying, but I think this was your grand plan—so well done here. If you develop this into a Memes of 2021 musical, put horns and drums and dancing Karens and that hook that pulls people off the stage for the end. Maybe a clown to pull the Karen off the stage?

Jealous Brother - DEAR JUDGE
Dear Jealous Brother—
I for one, feel I was not a very good judge, but you were a very nice contestant. I love your deadpan delivery here and your guitar noodles and solos are juicy—but it all sort of belies your point that you didn’t put thought or effort into it all. ;) I think your sonic-letter is clever  and your band-sound is a ton of fun. This is a nice ear sit—and I still maintain that the thing I remember most from this contest is gonna be “JELLLLLous BROTHER!”” from round one. That’s just how ears work when they are attached to my head I guess!

With that, I will say that including this offering from Jealous Brother, I got everything I wanted and more from all the contestants—every song is fulfilling and thoughtful. So no JB, I am not in agreement with your premise. You all surely brought songs above and beyond what challenge demanded!

Love love love
Denise H / Ranger Denni!

ST17.4 Reviews and Rankings - Cybronica

Cybronica's rankings:

1. Also in Blue
2. Cavedwellers
3. Sober
4. See-man-ski

Icosapentalogia:


In the spirit of the challenge, I tried to write my reviews (or at least the shadow reviews) in 25 words or fewer. This attempt was aided by the fact that y’all wrote such excellent songs. Still, I failed for the most part.


And this is a quote from my Also in Blue review, but it applies to everyone who participated this year: Thank you for making such amazing music for us to enjoy! 

It has been a delight listening and reviewing your songs. Nows the part where I say judging was not fun cause you all were so good! Well, yall did all write amazing songs the last two months, but I admit judging is also fun. ;)     


All the Robots: Some - great bookend to your first entry. But written for round 1! Disqualified (think ive disqualified most of your shadows haha). Great guitars! Short! Great backing vocal voice leading!


All the Robots: Helicopter - Jolly, Love the BVs panning on the hook. Clean up the ends of your words. Great back and forth with the guitar on second chorus.


Also in Blue: ….Holy shit. Like the love child of the Firefly opening theme and a full fledged requiem. What I love about your song is [everything, but also] that I wouldn’t know this is only 25 words had I not known the challenge. You do a brilliant job with the 25 words you’ve chosen, by moving them around, mix and matching them so they aren’t mostly the same line repeated over. And then, even though you were repeating the first verse as the 2nd, you brilliantly layered the lines to create a fugue/bridge out of what should have been A prime. It is superbly done, truly a magical moment, and that second verse might have been enough to stick you at the top of my list, but then BLAMMO you hit us with that second chorus, with the cellos again (btw- brilliant holding off on bass inst for the verses to make it that much more effective on Empty Skies), but now with that incredible back up choir of layering of voices that you do oh so well. ~~Chills~~ And back on the bass, I love how you drop it on the post chorus; And that flute! You choose your synths well. They sound real enough so as not to take me out of the song. All of this does an excellent job of handling a heavy topic. Its respectful, evocative, holding in balance both the beauty of the ruins and the pathos of the situation. I have exactly zero faults with this song. It is a masterpiece and you should be proud. (I dunno if this counts as a flaw, but we can hear the autotune on your voice on the first line. But its such a key part of your sound, I’m not sure its not supposed to be there). You were the first artist I listened to in round one, and the one I rank at the top in the final round (though my vote is just a tie breaker). Thank you for making such amazing music for us to enjoy! 


Cavedwellers: Let’s get the obvious out of the way: 26 words! Two and To are not one, it is true. T-T Since my rankings are just for tiebreaking, I’m not too (two to) concerned about it. I love how you incorporated the ‘do do do’s from of your words into the fabric of the song, made it pretty sweet, reminiscent of a bygone era. They have great contrapuntal voice leading. You even mix the lower lines of them into the instrumental interludes, which is a subtle touch, nicely. I even hear the low echoes of “DUH do” in the mix. I am really truly impressed with how you incorporated non verbal vocals into the fabric of the song. Your vocal is really very good, but there are a couple points where, due to the pointalistic nature of the vocal line, the voice is exposed and we hear how you don’t quite land square on the note because it ends before the right note is really established. This isn’t because you did a bad job, but because singing short, quick notes like that is notoriously hard. This line is basically Queen of the Night. It’s especially difficult because you have multiple vocal takes, and they make it like you're holding a magnifying glass to when they don’t line up. I am 100% certain that given more than a week to write, learn, and record, you would have gotten it. As always, really tight instrumental ensemble. Ive touched on it above, but the entire song is really masterfully put together. I love how in the guitar solo, you stick on it another line in harmony, mirroring the contrapuntal do-do’s. Also, that slide on the bass into the second verse is fab. One of the most magical aspects of this song is the chord progressions and the way you orchestrate them. The words are almost too vague, but I feel like they mean something, so I suppose that counts for something?


Dutch Widows: Catchy, love the hook, I like this song. At some point, Id like to hear your voice without the filter/distortion on it. Great bass/vocal harmonies. Drum machine is a pleasing sound. LOVELOVELOVE that playout with the echoey vocals - MORE OF THAT PLEASE! And thanks for your songs. I’ve really enjoyed them. :)


Governing Dynamics: Love that your 25 words are mix and matched to make different sentences, and not just the same line over and over again. Play this at my coffee house, please. Sweetest, bitter break up song. 


Hot Pink Halo: Jazz organ! Brass! Puns! And I learned something from the bio. Love your vocal on this; probably the strongest and most ‘you’ takes I’ve heard you do. More please!


Jealous Brother: Dear Band, this is exactly what I wanted. You put much thought into it, and fulfilled each demand. But seriously, great job making lots of sentences out of just 25 words. One of the best lyrical takes on this lyrical challenge. Also my favorite song from y’all. I’m bummed that you aren’t an actual entry this round. Peppy sound, great vocals, fun music. 


Jocko Homomorphism: Synths! That bass synth is soooo tasty. Bonus words! Clever how you did that. I tried to understand your bio, but the last math class I took was calculus in college over a decade ago. Let’s talk music matrices sometime, tho. Fun song!


Menage a Tune: Heeheeheeheeheeheeheehee… The hand perc sounds like you're insistantly tapping on someones shoulder. I like how youre incorporating atmosphere sounds in your last couple songs. The sung bits are catchy! Like a old folk song - needs more voices singing in harmonies. That is to say, I was singing along….


See-man-ski: This song sounds… predatory. In a good way. I really like how you have that huge orchestration build up throughout the song and then it all drops out at the end on ‘you noticed,’ almost like the song is a metaphor for your kid’s excitement as they get closer and closer to the thing you promised to do with them, and then the whole thing deflates into disappointment when…  you noticed. I liked this song before reading the bio, but reading the bio gave it another layer of meaning that really hits me in the gut. I’m not a huge fan of incessant lyrical repetition, but I suppose it could be an allegory to how you keep repeating the mistake of getting lost in your projects. Love the mellotron sound. In fact, worry not, you did a great job on the orchestration. This song is pretty awesome. Now go play with your daughter before Nur Ein starts! ;P


Sober: Well let me tell you, because its true… judgement has come for you! The best thing about this song is that second chord that comes in on ‘young’/’true’ - its a magical, unexpected deception, and really lifts up the whole song. You have really given us a quintessential sober song here; would I have liked some more variety from you? Actually, I think not a huge amount. Your voice is so iconic I have a hard time imagining it in another genre (yes, you should take that as a challenge for you to prove me wrong). The a capella with found perc break on the third verse is the second best part of this song. It’s a really fabulous moment, and symbolic of what you do well - this song is saved because you keep the orchestration interesting throughout. Otherwise, it would be too repetitive for the context of this contest. (side note: I’d love to hear you team up with another singer and sing this in harmonies). Vocal is very impressive as always. Love the ornamentation on the last line. Having the ‘chains’ as a part of the percussion, but not all the percussion was a good choice. It’s subtle, but after reading your bio, I notice and appreciate it. While I think having repetitive lyrics is a cop out for this challenge, I don't mind it here because it is idiomatic of the genre.


ST17.4 Reviews - Micah Sommersmith

I need to preface my reviews by thanking everyone for participating in SpinTunes 17. For my first time running the contest, I have been thrilled with the participation and blown away by the quality of the entries. Counting both official entries and shadows, this contest has resulted in 98 original songs that would not have existed otherwise. What a gift. Thank you all and I hope to see you again next time.


Now the reviews, in album order, since I ain’t gotta judge nothin.


See-Man-Ski - Sometimes I Forget Myself

The incessant repetition, along with the gradually developing instrumentation and the emotion in the vocals, makes this song feel like an extended exercise in self-flagellation. This is not inherently a bad thing, but it took me more listens to get into this song than the other finalists’.

The line “I can’t work out” struck me as odd every time - I expect something like “I can’t work it out” or “I can’t work out why” but to me the phrase “work out” on its own refers only to physical exercise, which I’m quite sure is not the intent here. Is this a case of trans-Atlantic dialect difference perhaps?


Cavedwellers - What You Do

The opening guitar riff instantly reminded me of “That Thing You Do!”, though it took me an embarrassingly long time to make the connection with the title of your song and realize that the reference was deliberate.

The production, guitar work, and vocals are impeccable as always, though especially in this round it all feels a bit clinical. While your competitors used the repetition required by the challenge to dig into some pretty heavy emotions, this song is more interested in being clever than it is in actually feeling anything. Maybe this bothers me more than it would because a lot of the lines feel stiff and unnatural - “I really heard you” comes off weird, and lines like “What you done” feel very out of place, given that there are no other indications that this construction is idiomatic to how this narrator talks.

But of course, what bothers me the most is that you craft this song that so self-evidently elevates cleverness over emotion, and you don’t even manage to add correctly.


Also in Blue - Forgotten Cities

This is absolutely masterful. I don’t know how exactly you’ve pulled off sounding stripped-down and also full and lush - this sounds cinematic in the best way, like this would be what you would hear in a movie when a character is playing guitar and singing on an empty stage, and the film composer has added just enough sweetener to tip your emotional response over the edge. (Remember, people, emotional manipulation via music is actually a good thing. It’s kind of the whole point.)

If I’m looking for things to critique: The downbeat at 2:56 (“empty sky”) doesn’t have quite the impact I want it to - your voice is powerful but all that’s underneath it on the downbeat is a single note on the low guitar string. It doesn’t have the same impact as the corresponding entrance at 1:03.


Sober - Judgment Is Gonna Come

I don’t know if you’re familiar with the folk hymnal the Sacred Harp, or the associated singing tradition, but many of the songs are in neighboring sound-worlds to the one you’re inhabiting here. In minor-key Sacred Harp songs, there’s always varying schools of thought on how to treat the 6th scale degree - keeping it flat as in natural minor, or raising it to put the song in the dorian mode. It’s contentious enough that when I write hymns in the style I tend to omit the 6th scale degree entirely. I’ve internalized this very specific harmonic choice to the point that hearing that Dm - Bb progression very early in the song was actually shocking to me. I’m sure there’s very little for you to do with this information, other than to know that I experienced this song both as familiar and surprising, which I think all good art should be.

The interplay between the banjo and dobro is fantastic. Many of the banjo licks feel very familiar to me from hearing other music in this style, though perhaps that’s not fair to complain about: every style has some conventions that are so strongly baked in that they’re not even cliche anymore - I suspect it’s like listening to a rock song and thinking, “Snare on 2 and 4? I’ve heard that before!”. 

Regardless, this song is extremely satisfying to listen to. Your vocal tone, the instrumentation, lyrics, melody, and harmonic language all work together to form a unified, cohesive sound and a great tune.


SHADOWS:


All the Robots - Some of the Robots

Ryan came up with this song idea for Round 1, and while we didn’t end up running with it, his demo for the chorus was fully-produced and polished enough that we thought, why not bring it back for this round. It’s a catchy and fun tune. I don’t think my lead vocal quite did justice to the song, but I had fun for 30 seconds.


Jocko Homomorphism - Diagonal Zeal

This is a serious earworm. The vocal melody is instantly catchy, and the little synth flourishes are expertly placed. I can’t claim to understand matrix algebra any better after hearing it, but I can spell “diagonalizable” with much less hesitation.


The Dutch Widows - Been a Blast

A chill, unambitious song that nonetheless does some interesting things with the challenge by shuffling the lyrics of the A section into a new and satisfyingly contrasting B section.

The guitars that open the song before the vocals come in are really cool - the guitars throughout are cool in fact. The echo-y, spring reverb-y guitars that end the song along with the otherwise a cappella vocals remind me of some of the deeper cuts from the album Laid by the band James, a comparison that might not mean anything to anyone, but there it is.


Governing Dynamics - Don’t Break Me

This tune manages not to feel the weight of the challenge too heavily; the paucity of words is never noticed as a weakness. Nice job there.

The opening guitar riff feels familiar but it’s certainly engaging, and there are plenty of tasty riffs throughout. Your tendency to layer guitar upon guitar usually gives good results but there are times when the tuning and/or rhythm just don’t line up the way they should. There’s a section starting at 0:47 that has a few particularly twitchy moments.

Similarly, your trademark breathy vocals (which I’ve heard enough varied songs from you to know is an aesthetic choice rather than a limitation) tend to be unsupported which lead to frequent pitch issues. They also lead to some heavily aspirated consonants - at times I heard “Zon’t break me” in the chorus.


Hot Pink Halo - You’re My Type

The energy here is infectious and matches the playful lyrics very well. Love the drums and the groovy synths. A little brass goes a long way, and you’ve got… a lot of brass. I’d suggest more staccato stabs and fewer long sustained notes, as the long notes tend to stomp all over everything else going on. The final seconds of this song hint at a completely different sound-world, which I’m intrigued by.


All the Robots - Helicopter on Mars

I actually came up with the main hook instantly when I first heard several weeks ago that there was a helicopter on Mars; it came back to me when the helicopter actually took off for the first time, which luckily was during this round. It was just the kind of actual good news in the world that seemed worthy of celebrating, even in a dumb song like this. For this round I also wrote most of another song, which felt clever at the time but in hindsight was just pretentiously nonsensical. Ryan jumped on this idea and it came together quickly over the weekend before the deadline. This tune was an unwelcome guest in my wife’s head for several days, much to her annoyance, which I took as a good sign. 


Menage a Tune - Wild Karen

Very different environmental sound sample from last round, but just as effective! This is a fun little piece that wisely doesn’t overstay its welcome. The body percussion is charming, though I wonder what it would be like with some more instrumentation, a piano or guitar or even just a bass to give things a little more structure.


Jealous Brother - Dear Judge

This is delightful. When you first submitted this without written lyrics, I wasn’t sure that the twist would be coming, but I’m glad it did and you crafted it brilliantly. The shift in tone in the middle section, while using the same individual words, suggests that this is the seething internal monologue, while the opening and closing verses are the cheery external presentation given to the world. This is supported by your musical choices, as the outer sections feature a simple, cheery, I-IV-I-V progression, while the inner section follows a much more complex, serpentine chord progression. You do this while maintaining a cohesive sound throughout, so that the transition feels like a welcome development rather than a lurch into unwelcome territory. It’s great. Someone might complain that this is “too meta” - that person, whoever they are, can step on a Lego in the dark.