Saturday, December 8, 2018

ST15R3 Reviews: Edric Haleen

Hello again, Participants!

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay -- moving on . . .


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

(Bold print represents shadows)

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


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

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