Saturday, April 14, 2018

ST14R1 Reviews - Jerkatorium

UPDATE: Jerkatorium have done a podcast of their judging, and it's great, so listen up!


They've given me timestamps if you want to go straight to your own review. You'll find them at the bottom of this post.



Howdy! I'm Chumpy, and one half of the band Jerkatorium. I've spent the last couple days at work with your music in my headphones, and I think it's safe to say I've listened to all of these songs ten times or more. When thinking about ranking these songs, I tried to consider things like production, lyrics, originality, and how much effort was put into it, but ultimately it came down to how these songs made me feel when they came up on the playlist. Was I happy to hear it again when it came up, or was I dreading it? How strong was the urge to skip the track? Obviously much of this comes down to personal taste, which I admit, sucks.

In our reviews we're going to try to sandwich our random stream of consciousness thoughts about your song between some comments on what we thought the song did well, and where we thought it could be improved. This isn't as easy as it sounds. Some of these songs are really great, and we struggled to think of ways they could be improved, and there were some songs where it was the other way round.

We (The Jerk and I) are working on producing a podcast where we give our thoughts about these songs in some detail, but for various reasons it's not quite finished yet. I know how frustrating it is when the judges' reviews are late or non-existent (I'm looking at you Dave Cheetham) so without further ado, here are our rankings and reviews in written form.

Boy on the Wall - Amelia, What Are You Thinking?
This song both figuratively and literally moves me. It makes me happy every time I listen to it, and it causes my head bob, and my heels and butt to bounce around in my chair.  I looked forward to hearing it every time it came up on the playlist. This song is hooky and memorable. I woke up one morning after having spent the day at work with these songs in my headphones and the chorus was kicking around in my head. 
This was one of the songs where we struggled to come up with something negative to say, but Boy, would it have killed you to give us a blistering guitar solo?! The synth solo was nice, but c'mon, give us a guitar solo!

Governing Dynamics - *boop*
I didn't think much of this song the first few times I first heard it. To my ears it sounded like a generic piano driven 80s ballad, which having lived through the 80s isn't exactly to my taste. This song really grew on me with repeat listens as the lyrics began to sink in. That line about his pet "patrolling through the house protecting us from evil / so long as it's not an evil mouse" is especially good and memorable. He delivers the line perfectly, and then as a side comment adds "(those freak her out)" followed by some lovely "ooohs". The contrast between the serious ballad style and the fun and somewhat goofy lyrics really works for me. This is another song where I was happy when it came up on the playlist, and for most of it I've got a stupid grin plastered on my face. 
The only criticism we managed to come up with for this song, is that it's not particularly catchy. If you asked me to hum a few bars of it without having listened to it recently I don't think I'd be able to do it. That's not a scathing criticism, as this comment could apply to most of the songs in this round.

Edric Haleen - Bitch
The first thing that struck me about this song, is boy, Edric can really sing. He's got that strong, pure tone with a smooth vibrato that lets him convey a range of emotion. His lyrics are quite clever, and the song is thoughtfully composed and follows a distinct arc. He does a great job of making it ambiguous if his roommate is dog or a person, with lines like "You've got your license, but you never ever drive" and "It's always me who pays the money for your pills". Parts of the melody are reminiscent of the song "Makin' Whoopee" from the 1928 musical "Whoopee!", but it's different enough that it doesn't feel like a rehash of that song.
In terms of things we thought could be improved, the ending could have been stronger, as it just sort of trails off about vacuuming up hair. I'm not sure what would have been better, but it seems anticlimactic. Also, this song is very much in Edric's wheelhouse, and while I'm not one to complain about people playing to their strengths, I feel this song could have benefited from a more lavish instrumentation. One singer and one instrument (which some refer to as 1+1) is often not as potent musically as music that features interplay between a number of instruments.

Micah Sommersmith - Our Arrangement
Micah's song really stands out lyrically -- it's a blistering onslaught of puns, clever lyrics, and dense rhymes. We're also big fans of his accordion playing on this track. Besides holding down some chords as part of the rhythm section, he also uses it to punctuate the music with great little riffs and fills, and the solo at the end is great. In terms of subject matter, we got a lot of songs about dogs and cats in this round, so it was refreshing and original for him to have chosen a chicken.
On the negative side, this song is so packed full of fun and funny stuff it risks being thrown into the category of "Novelty Music", which after the novelty of the song wears there isn't much of a reason to go back for repeated listens. Now don't get me wrong, I like Weird Al and other purveyors of "Novelty Music", but that music seldom if ever moves me in a profound way.
When I asked Mr. Jerkatorium to think critically about this song, he smirked and sang "You're pitchy!", which is part of a line from the song "Old Friends" that we collaborated with Micah on, where we good-naturedly roast each other. I guess this is my way of disclosing that we're friends with Micah and have worked with him a number of times in the past.

Rob from Amersfoort -- You're So Fab
We really enjoyed the unique production of this song. That fuzz guitar juxtaposed against the clean piano sound, mixed with the slightly muffled drum sound made for a unique and interesting sounding song. I really like those vocal 'aaahs' that swell and then crescendo at various points. Lyrically this song grew on me too, that line "Playing silly games with your filthy mouth" is really well delivered and stuck with me. The song is just a little bit creepy too, in a good way.
Thinking critically, the lead vocal performance sounds a bit restrained, like he was worried about bothering his neighbors while recording them.

Bubba and the No Longer Amiable Kraken - Floating By
When I asked Mr. Jerkatorium what he thought about this song, he said: "It's got that good melody and a drive that you might get from a non-hit Alan Parsons song -- which I don't want that to sound like a back-handed compliment, it's a good song, and the Alan Parsons Project is a good band, and this reminds of that in the best way possible." Having never listened to the Alan Parsons Project, my thoughts were that I really liked the chorus harmony vocals, and the 'aaaaahhhhhhh' backing vocals were really sweet and well executed. I also thought the choice of a goldfish for the pet was a good one.
On the negative side of the sandwich, that flange guitar mixed with the warbling synth evokes a certain 'hippie dippie' character that rubs me the wrong way. To my ears the mix sounds somewhat unbalanced on the high end and is a bit treble heavy.

Glen Raphael - Lazy Sunday
Right off the bat you can tell that some mastering tools were used on this track. It's loud, and maintains a level of around -0.1 db on my level meter throughout, making it sound clear, and for the most part pretty great. Having said that there is a distinct pitch warble you can hear on the guitar. I like how pretty this song is. Everything sounds lush and clean, and well recorded and performed. It reminds of one of those great singer songwriter songs from the 70s written by the likes of Gordon Lightfoot or Simon and Garfunkel. It's got great vocal harmonies and gorgeous guitar finger picking.
On the negative side, I find that pitch warble pretty distracting, since it’s really at odds with how clean and well recorded the rest of the song is, so it stands out. The bass also could use some more bottom as it gets pretty lost in the mix. Like a number of other songs this round Glen is coy about revealing what kind of the animal the pet is, like where the line might rhyme with 'cat' but then he doesn't say it. He had no way of knowing that a number of other bands were going to do this, but to me his attempt comes off as one of the more ham-handed executions of this.

Jordan Carroll - Unloved
I really liked Jordan's effective and subtle use of instrumentation and dynamics to keep things fresh, in a song that does’t otherwise have a lot of contrasting parts. I like how he introduces bowed strings into the 'B' section of the song to add drama, and then when the 'A' section returns he brings in plucked strings to give your ear something new to grab onto.
On the negative side, I was annoyed by that popping percussive sound that you hear through much of the track, and in general the song is a bit of a downer. It’s sad, but not in the sadly beautiful way that actually makes me happy to listen to, like an Elliott Smith or Nick Drake song.

Temnere - Domesticity
This song is quite well done and executed, and really nails the genre it's aiming for. I have to give them credit for doing a great job technically. The vocals are strong, the harmonized guitar work is excellent, and everything really comes together like it should.
The danger in targeting a narrow genre though is that you can fall victim to genre bias, which is what I think happened in this case. While I was impressed with this song technically, it just so perfectly fits into a genre that I do not like. I probably should have listened to the songs on shuffle rather than the order they were presented in Bandcamp, as it was a jarring transition from what came before it chronologically.

Heather Zink - When She's Gone
Heather's voice is the best part of this song. I love her bluesy delivery and of course her amazing vibrato. Her use of the vocal rounds at the end of song really works and adds a nice dimension to the sound.
Putting on our critical listening hats, the sparse instrumentation is a bit lackluster. In particular the way the piano repeatedly hammers those eighth notes right on the beat was pretty boring.

Ominous Ride - Marco Polo
Strong performance and great song structure. I'm a sucker for vocal harmonies and there are some really nice ones here. I also really dug the organ solo. Mr. Jerkatorium was pretty critical of the way the vocals were layered with heavy reverb, which made them sound muddy -- almost like they were trying to cover something up.

Megalodon - Dignified Leisure
We liked that this song was about a turtle -- another original choice. We also enjoyed the laid-back, groovy feel of the song. The slide guitar playing is extraordinary, and is a stand-out part of the track.
Thinking critically, the vocals were are a bit pitchy in places. With all the work that went into this song in terms of instrumentation and production it seems odd that some gentle pitch correction wasn't applied to the vocals.

Riker’s Island - Amy
We appreciated some of the diverse instruments on this song, in particular the melodica, and the bowed and plucked strings. The strings also sounded really authentic, like they were played and recorded for the strong rather than coming from a sample library. We also liked how the lyrics were straight-forward and didn't try to do anything cute with hiding the species of animal the song was about.
My complaints about the song are mostly in the recording and mix. Some elements (like melodica and strings) are overpoweringly loud in places, and incidental sounds like guitar string scrapes and the sound of a button or something striking the guitar body are distractingly prominent. Mr. Jerkatorium's main criticism was "it's pretty hippie-dippie". There's a reason we refer to him as "the jerk".

Shy Fox - My Homie
This is a fun lo-fi tune with a lot of charm. The vocal recording is pretty muffled and distorted, which is our main criticism. Listening to this makes me feel like I'm at a house party, and somebody's pulled out a four track and everyone is taking turns shouting a verse into the microphone. This is good-natured fun. The breakdown in the middle adds some nice variation. I like at the way they laugh at their own jokes.

Ménage A Tune - Who Needs an Alarm
Fun lyrics, happy song. I like the way they used that dreamy synth part to illustrate that the singer is dreaming -- and then that 'bark bark' sound comes in to wake her up. We also appreciated the intricate song structure. Having said that we have a problem with the vocals. I think this song is pitched too low for the lead singer. She struggles to hit some of the lower pitched notes, and I think it would sound a lot better sung in a higher register. Parts of higher pitched singing sound great, like on 'sleep all night', but the lower parts that are delivered in a sort of nursery rhyme cadence make this a difficult listen for me.

Buckethat Bobby Matheson - You Don't Do Anything But Drink
At first we thought the song may have been about one of those bobbing drinking bird things that dips down and comes back up. Then we thought it was a plant of some kind, but it turns out it was about Chia Pet, which is a great choice! Solid songwriting and chord progression, and we're fans of Bobby's voice. The thing that really hurt this song though is the herky-jerky percussion. No percussion is better than off-time percussion -- it's like nails on a blackboard.

Josh Just Josh - Best Friend
On the positive side, this is an infectiously happy song, that you can feel. It's hard to pile on to this song, because it would be like criticizing someone's smile. Congrats Josh, you've written, performed, and recorded a complete song -- which not a lot a folks can say they've done.
Having said that, Josh is facing some pretty stiff headwinds here. He’s going for that whole “manic pixie dream person cute ukulele song”, which to me is a genre that by this point has been more than thoroughly explored. One way these types of songs make up for flaws like a slightly off-kilter timing, or an uncertain meandering melody is by having lots of lyrical charm. Unfortunately these lyrics seem a bit like a first draft. Our advice to Josh (knowing that he's handy with software) is to fully exploit the tools at his disposal for creating music. Your DAW can snap notes and chords to the grid, help you visualize and correct the pitches you're singing (or not singing), and allow you to iterate on your song until it sounds like you want it to.



PODCAST DETAILS

https://twojerksonevote.com   <-- minimal website
https://twojerksonevote.com/ST14R1_TJ1V.mp3   <--- direct link to mp3
http://twojerksonevote.com/feeds/podcast.xml    <-- xml feed for iTunes or other podcast listening software

You may be able to find it on your podcast app by entering "jerks vote" into the search field.

The "minimal website" link includes a list of timepoints for people who want to skip ahead to the reviews of their own songs:

00:00  Intro song 
01:00  Introductory comments
- REVIEWS -
03:35  Jordan Carroll - Unloved
07:50  Glen Raphael - Lazy Sunday
14:26  Micah Sommersmith - Our Arrangement
19:44  Edric Haleen - Bitch
26:56  Josh Just Josh - Best Friend
33:53  Podcast comments
35:12  Bubba and the No Longer Amiable Kraken - Floating By
38:41  Menage A Tune - Who Needs An Alarm Clock?
41:24  Buckethat Bobby Matheson - You Don't Do Anything But Drink
45:00  Rob from Amersfoort - You're So Fab
47:11  Boy on the Wall - Amelia, What Are You Thinking
48:29  Governing Dynamics - boop
50:45  Temnere - Domesticity
53:07  Riker's Island - Amy
54:48  Heather Sink - When She's Gone
56:10  Megalodon - Dignified Leisure
59:12  Shy Fox - My Homie
01:02:26  Ominous Ride - Marco Polo
01:04:00  Matchy Matchy - One Of These Days
01:05:37  Pigfarmer Jr - Lazy Bitch
01:07:32  Final comments