Saturday, July 27, 2013

SpinTunes #7 Round 2 Review: Felix Frost

Can I just say I LOVED this round. This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who knows me. I'm a diehard fan of through composed songs. So much so that I've never written a song that wasn't through composed. But this isn't about me. I just wish more songs would be as freaking awesome as all of the ones submitted this round. They're ambitious, they're moving, they're creative—they're all just fantastic and every one of you nailed it this round. That said, I did find a way to rank the songs and the ranking is as follows:
  1. TurboShandy
  2. Blimp Exhaust
  3. Edric Haleen
  4. Steve Durand
  5. Boffo Yux Dudes
  6. Menage a Tune
  7. Ominous Ride
  8. RC
  9. Emperor Gum
  10. Riker's Island
  11. Mariah Mercedes
  12. Sid Brown
  13. Governing Dynamics
Okay now for the reviews. I'm not proofreading this because I'm almost out of time to submit it. So if there are blatant typos and stuff that makes no sense, I apologize in advance.
This song is beyond outstanding. No contest: the best song on the album and one of the best through composed songs I've heard in a long time or ever. Seriously. You guys were holding back in round one. Where did this brilliance come from!?
This song moves from punk to a kind of swing rock to metal to folk all in three minutes. This is what song mastery sounds like. I wish every song had this structure and this energy and this level of complexity. Honestly, this song blew me away. I'm convinced everyone performing on this song is a professional. And I just read your bio that says it's a one man project!? Sheesh. Mad props.
The transitions in this song are flawless. They're seamless, they're surprising (which they should be because repetition is a stupid convention where we feel comfortable in the predictability of a constantly showing-up chorus), and they're exciting. At every turn of this song I get goosebumps like I found a new piece of candy to enjoy that I haven't had yet before in my life. And I haven't even gotten to how excellent the melodies and instrumentation are on this song. I don't know how you nailed the heavy metal part so well, especially, but you nailed it.
If I don't see this song at the top of the album at the end of this round it's criminal. I can't imagine any other judges disagreeing with me on any of this, but you never know. I'd buy this song. For reals. Okay, I'm done gushing. Keep up the good work, Turbo. Masterpiece.
Oh and keep writing through-composed songs. Seriously. Music (in general) needs more songs like this. DESPERATELY. 
Ominous Ride
If you haven't heard Olivia Tremor Control before, listen to them. Because it's blowing my mind how similar you sound to them. And again, that's a big compliment. This song is beautiful and mysterious. The lyrics are chilling and artistic.
I love the intro and the filter you put it through (or whatever effect it was). The contrast of that high treble tinny intro to the heavy ferocity of the second half is just amazing. This is probably one of the more skillfully crafted through-composed songs on the album. You move through the song like you weren't even trying to have distinct un-repetitive sections. The song just moved from one part to the next naturally. Excellent.
And the heaviness of the drum and guitar in the second half is very satisfying. My only regret is that the intro feels lo-fi compared to the second part. I know I just said I liked the intro and the contrast, and I do, but it sort of makes you wish you could get a higher quality version of the intro on second listens. Like, okay, I've heard the tinny effect, now I want to hear it with a rich, deep bass sound. But it was an excellent artistic choice.
Mariah Mercedes
Another great submission. This song also moves from section to section very organically. The song seems to go through moods. The music shifts along with the tone of the lyrics and it really represents a journey. This is the beauty of through-composed music. The song becomes an experience rather than just a short chunk of pleasant music.
This is sort of a forgettable track compared to the others just because it's so low-key, toned down and quiet. The other epic, upbeat suites on the album sort of upstage quiet, tender pieces like this. Which is unfortunate—but it could have benefited with some more energy at times.
Blimp Exhaust
You didn't slack off in round two, and that's great. I love the sections in these songs. Particularly the part that starts around 1:30 sounds like the progressive rock mastery of a musical genius. It's hard to make such wandering melodies and such bold chord changes sound as good as this. I also really admire that you messed with the tempo a lot. Some parts had strong, pulsing drums, and others (like near the end) were slowed down and emotional. That's how you write a good song. Change up the pace, leave the listener wanting to start the track over to hear that one part again that he or she liked so much. You even mixed up the time signatures. Fantastic. You earned another safe place at the top of my list.
Edric Haleen
I knew you were talented before, but I didn't know you were THIS talented. I watched your video submission before I listened to any other songs and I couldn't believe you did the whole thing in one take AND submitted THAT recording as your actual audio file. How long did it take you to write this!? I get (and love) that the recording was made to look like you were coming up with the song on the spot, but you have me pretty convinced that you actually did improvise it on the spot. Please tell me if you did. Because if so, I give up on music entirely. Hahaha.
Okay, but seriously. Aside from the incredible piano and vocal talent, the song is excellent. It's lively, catchy and funny and inventive. And I love the Weird Al reference. I love Trapped in the Drive Thru. I've listened to it far too many times for a song that's, like, twelve minutes long.
But anyway, my only criticism is that the theme of the song is a little lacking. I don't think you should be docked any points for writing about writing about a song about going through something, but it does walk the line a bit in terms of the challenge. You could say the song is about going through the process of writing the song, which I'm sure you probably intended, so it's in the clear. But still, I would have preferred an actual solid narrative of going through any one of those things you mentioned. That added with the piano excellence and vocal strength would have made for an amazing song. But it's amazing as it is, so no regrets!
Airport Rag
The horn arrangements on this song are very intimidating. I can't believe somebody would put so much effort into composing complex instrumentation for a ten day song writing challenge. Do you write out the notes and then play them after the fact? Or is it all sort of done spontaneously? I used to play trumpet so I know how much work can go into polishing a good horn arrangement and then a good performance and then a good recording! And that's only one instrument.
But we already knew Steve Durand was good at this so I won't marvel too much at the technical skill. The song itself is fantastic. It doesn't even have the distinct movements that other through-composed songs have. The arrangement just moves onward and upward without repeating, no hard edged sections to be found. I actually like big shifts in style and tempo, but there's something to be said about a musician who can write through-composed music that doesn't sound through-composed. Sometimes I think you write on a much higher level than the rest of us—or at least higher than me.
Again the recording is a little weak and muffled, and the vocals can be clumsy at times. But that doesn't bring down the quality of the song enough to make a difference.
Sid Brown
A good song with a strong beat and tasty guitar, but it barely qualifies as through-composed. The second half is different from the first I guess, but it's dangerously similar. The tempo and drum part are close to identical and much of the vocal melody is the same. The notes and everything might technically not be a loop of the beginning, but the whole song very much feels like the same musical thread.
But I'm not going to disqualify you or anything. It's still a great rock song, and one of the better recorded tracks on this album. Going through a wormhole was a great idea and you dealt with it in a way that wasn't stupid or corny. I think you ended up with a fantastic stand alone track that you won't forever need to clarify as a “song written for a song writing contest.”
Emperor Gum
I love the story of this song. This is the kind of narrative I love to sink my teeth into, particularly with a through-composed song. This type of music really lends itself to epic sagas and multiple characters. You guys handled those shifts with ease, and having guest singers was an excellent choice.
I really like when the tempo picks up around 1:40. Denise does a great job at this point taking on the motion of the song. All the vocals before that point, Niveous included, were a little aimless and out of tune at times. I guess it helps to have a steady beat underneath the music to keep all the parts fastened together.
Again, the background instrumentation is surprisingly complex—like Guardian was—and it leaves me wondering how you put it together. I'm imagining an all-purpose keyboard with orchestral parts and all. You mix and integrate all the parts so well. Arrangements like this beg for stronger vocal parts and more polished production quality. The background music needs to be louder I think and come in more clearly, to make for a really powerful orchestral suite. I think with some minor tweaking, your songs could blow some minds.
Menage a Tune
Whoever's on piano on this track is amazing. That shift at “Don't go away” is chillingly good. I can't think of a more perfect way to guide the listener to the next section. It was both unpredictable and totally natural at the same time. The two vocalists complimented each other very well, but the female vocal in the fourth section is mixed much louder than the other three parts—which is a quick fix.
This is a really ambitious piece that feels like it could be in an Andrew Lloyd Weber musical. It has that grand, classical feel with a beautiful story that features two characters meeting up at the end to sing in unison—it's perfect. There's something about this track that still feels forced an awkward but I'm not sure what. It might just be the weird variation in vocal volume. I also think some of the backing instruments could be louder. Especially the more complicated arrangements, like the piano and the synthesized orchestra. That would be putting your best food forward, as it were.
You did not slack off on this track whatsoever. Seven parts is more than I ever would have asked for. But you can't have too many, that's what I say. If the song doesn't repeat, I don't care if it goes on for twenty minutes. Who would? You're getting new material every minute or so, so you never get bored!
And that's true of this track. It never leaves you bored. There's so much to enjoy here. The music never stays in one place for too long, and every single section could be fleshed out into its own catchy, memorable song. But you played the win all the way and stitched them all together into a masterwork. And that's all with only a guitar, am I right? Or at least mostly guitars. And while I do think you managed to keep the song fresh again and again while keeping the same basic sound, I also think that could be a criticism of this song. By the sixth and seventh section of the song you're sort of tired of that same rambly guitar sound. If things are getting changed up I'd like some drums and organs or something else to please my senses with a surprise or two. I wouldn't say this if you hadn't included other instruments in past tracks. But I guess you only had a little over a week to put together a super complicated composition, so I shouldn't be expecting anything more out of you. I don't think any other submissions had as many “movements,” as it were, as you did. So extra points for going for gold!
Governing Dynamics
This is a great song but I was just dying to hear it pick up. I was craving for it to turn into something mean and thumping like your last submission. But after three whole minutes nothing really happened. It stayed a sleepy ballad-esque piece, which is fine I guess. But with through-composed songs, you just want things to be changed up. You kind of expect that if one part bores you, the next part will make you want to dance. I said this about Sid Brown's song—it may have technically been through-composed but it left me disappointed because the whole track felt like much of the same thing. Other judges like Dr. Lindyke may say that's what makes a good song, because it has a unified sound—but I disagree. This is my favorite song structure and I strongly submit that there should be surprises and sharp left turns.
Even so, this is a terrific track and I only ranked it so low because so many of the others were so exciting and colorful.
Boffo Yux Dudes
I think you guys have found your niche. Through-composed songs should be your specialty. This song is absolutely amazing. Some of your past submissions have maybe been guilty of overplaying the same concept or musical sound until the listener is tired of it. But this one just keeps changing it up, and each section is more interesting than the last.
I feel like this should have taken months to put together, but you did it in only a few days. That opening guitar riff does a great job of setting a dark and almost western mood. I'm kind of sad that it drops out after only a few bars. But so many other vivid sounds come in later in that I don't miss it for long. The drum hits in the second section starting with “It hits my bloodstream” are amazing. I love that you didn't just put snare hits on every quarter note. Very old-time They Might Be Giants.
And then the shift to a quicker tempo at the middle is another delicious moment. It leaves me wanting more—but I don't get it again until I start the track over. That's what a song should do, leave you wanting to hear it again and again. And that final section, the slowed down tender folk part—a brilliant way to end a song. This is now my favorite Yux Dudes track—trumping the Bubble Plastic Man. Oh, and was that a self-reference in the middle section of this song? Clear melon plastic man? Well played. 
Riker's Island
This sounds very little like your last submission, which surprised me a bit—but in a good way. I guess it has that same stripped down, earthy feel to it that made the last track work so well. But it's definitely its own color.
I feel like you should have stuck with that acoustic feel, because when the drums and electric guitar come in, things get a lot clunkier. Electric guitars either need to be really loud and noisy or not there at all. The sound this one contributes is this sort of faint, groany fuzz that only provides for irritating background noise. Whatever it was playing could probably be better translated as acoustic, because that really worked for the first half. That's kind of contradictory to what I told RC, because I realize you wanted to change up the songs sound and feel at the halfway point—and you succeeded—but I just don't know that the second half's instrumentation worked very well.
Great vocal performance and melody, though. I can tell everything here is played by a talented musician. Did I say that to you last time? If I did I apologize, but it's always the first thing I think of when I hear your songs.