Saturday, February 8, 2020

ST16R1 REVIEW - Dave Leigh

Congrats on being among the 27 entrants to get songs in on time. Eight entrants didn't do that, so no matter how the judging and ranking go, you've earned a solid achievement.

For people who are new to the contest, I'll take a moment in this first post to say a few words about how I judge, and then get right into the critiques. First, you should know that I write these introductions as soon as the challenge is chosen, so I know my own biases and you will, too. These are guidelines, not rules. I love it when my expectations are shattered in a good way.

This challenge was to write a song from a scene from a book or movie. I didn't shadow this round, because I've actually done it (for fellow judge Joe Lamb's book, "The God of All Small Boys"), and I chose this challenge specifically because I know that it can be tricky. And I'll be honest, movies are included simply because I know that a large number of people never touch a book after they graduate. For me, the toughest part of this challenge is finding that single scene that encapsulates the feel of the larger work. This is closely followed by capturing that feel in the lyrics and musical composition. I'm not going to judge you on the scene you chose, but if I'm familiar with the work it's based on and I think you did well there, I'll give you props. If I think it was questionable, I might say a word or two there as well. But I am going to pay attention to the overall feel of the piece. If it's from a movie, I HOPE that you've tried to capture the tone that the director was going for. In either case, you'll get extra props if listening to your song makes me want to search out the book or movie and experience it for myself. I feel that this is a songwriting competition first; so I'm judging it based on technical criteria of lyricism and composition. If I think you nailed the songwriting aspect, I'll overlook quite a lot when it comes to production, mixing, instrumentation, and vocal quality. A lot of you don't have access to professional equipment and training, and I feel that this is a fair balance. That said, production counts: it can give the work an emotional edge that might not otherwise shine through. You may not be a lyricist, and if you're workin' those instruments and choosing the right emotional strings to pull, I also feel it's fair to recognize that.

I lean heavily on emotional content, be it positive or negative. "Art" is exactly that: the deliberate communication of emotion from the artist to others using words, music, dance, images, delivery... whatever. That's my definition, and I like it. It works for any medium, and helps us understand the difference between Art and Craft. Good entries will be artistic or craftsmanlike. Great entries will be both.

There is no time constraint on the entries for this challenge. If you think you can make it work in whatever time you used... well, you're the artists. I'll just let you know if I think it needed more, or dragged on a bit past its welcome.

Let's get to it.



Jocko Homomorphism - John Goodman's Crowbar
based on the crowbar scene from "The Big Lebowski"
I think you captured the energy of that swinging crowbar. And it's a funny scene, so a funny song is appropriate. I don't think this is going to be my first choice... others rise above... but I can't put my finger on anything wrong with it. On second thought... I never thought I'd hear a song that I think would be better as Metal. This should be Metal.
The Quantifiers - Dining in Dictionopolis 
based on the banquet scene in "The Phantom Tollbooth" by Norman Juster
This is a weird choice from a weird book. That makes this an unavoidably weird song. I think you know that, and that's why you did it. I was a little more focused on the weird than on the song, and when I tried to work past that, the weird kept dragging me back. There's a really entertaining song in there. I think that, without changing a note of the tune, something a little more sprightly would have captured the humor of the scene better, and made for a more captivating listen.
Ominous Ride - Running 
based on the final scene from the film "Five Easy Pieces,"
The final scene of this movie is a great choice: it gives you the opportunity to comment on the film as a whole. And I love the fact that you put yourself in the place of Nicholson's character (Dupea) and explored his inner turmoil. I think you've challenged the idea that Dupea "isn't running from anything or to anything". The song adds a new dimension to the character, and to the film. Your 70s prog-rock feel married to this movie is an example of professional matchmaking. The spacey sound and internal dialog mesh perfectly. There's a reason I'm a big Ominous Ride fan, and this is it.
Caravan Ray - A Soul as Light as a Feather 
based on an except from Chapter 5 of "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" by Mr Mark Twain.
You made me go back and re-read the chapter. Well done there. One reason I did it was because I was completely surprised by your choice of Electric Blues/Rock genre applied to Huckleberry Finn. It's not always necessary to stick to type, and I've even seen Heavy Metal applied to medieval fantasy, so it can work. Does it work here? Well, yeah... it kinda does. And if it weren't for the challenge and my knowing that it's Huck Finn I'd just sit back and enjoy it. Hell... I think I'll just do that.
Steve Stearns - The Doctor Has No Time To See You Now
based on a scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark
First, it's a clever choice of scene. More than just being funny, you use it to explore why Jones is facing off with this guy, and why it's important to get through the encounter as quickly as possible. As such, you get to throw in some nice references to other iconic moments not in the scene, always grounding the song to the present moment with the chorus. That piano riff's a little familiar, but it works here. I think the instrumentation works here, too. You're not going for that full John William's sound (this is, after all, a humorous take on a humorous scene), but you do include just a touch of the hero's motif with that self-effacing melodion. Plus... the title. Come ON... that's good. The bulk of this film has nothing to do with soul-wrenching emotions; it's just good, fun adventure, which is sometimes harder to capture than the serious stuff. This song does it.
It was at this point in receiving submissions that I realized I was going to get a lot of songs based on movies and few on books. Strapping in...

OutLyer - Take Me Away 
based on the opening of the second movie in the Peter Pan series
You do an awful lot with this musically and in your performance, and not so much with it lyrically. I actually like the genre... you're unique among our contestants in offering rap... but the "break the chain" trope kind of took me out of the moment. I'm not sure it's a tight fit here. The problem with genre tropes is that it may not be included "because that's what rappers say"; but as the listener, the thought fleetingly crossed my mind, which is something you don't want to have happen. A lot of words for one lyric, I know... but the music, arrangement, and production is just primo IMHO, so this is what stands out.
Jordan Carroll - WALL-E Meets Eva 
based on a scene from the movie WALL-E
I'll say it again: Dafuq? We need lyrics in SpinTunes. LYRICS, Jordan! It's right there in the rules. The rules I wrote. But these two proper names are actually what's said by the characters in the movie, and they don't say anything else, so... this qualifies, in an "I AM GROOT" sort of way. And there's actual content of some sort. You can even feel the characters' attraction to each other. And it's enjoyable. And it's cute. And YOU, Mr. Last-Minute-Songwriter, are pissing me off, because I can't hate it, and I can't DQ it, I can't even not like it, and it perfectly describes the bloody scene. You cork-sucking ice-hole. This is what I mean when I say I like pleasant surprises. Don't let it get to your head... there's only so much credit I'll give to a Hail Mary pass. I'm not even going to tell you how good I think the music is if you ignore the 8-bit instrumentation and look at the notes themselves.
Temnere - Amplified 
based on the ending scene of the short story 'Flies' by Robert Silverberg
YES! SOMEONE READ A BOOK! Considering the subject matter, it's maybe odd that I've always thought this story as futuristic, but not really otherworldly. The Earth depicted is surprisingly familiar. The action takes place in and around Cassiday, but I think it interesting that you keyed on the aliens and the rectification of their "oh shit!" moment. Musically, with your subdued opening, I think you set the proper futuristic tone without being otherworldly, and your amplified style is later well used. Thankfully you don't let it run away with you. I'm not even a Metal fan, but those shreds are worth listening to over and over. And the vocals...? NAILING the notes.
The Brewhouse Sessions - The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of It All
based on the final scene at Sad Hill Cemetery from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
Mike & Steve, my first question is which of you wrote this, or is it a writing collaboration? You say it's your first complete song, and it's a good one. Let's start with the music. The guitars work well with the Western theme, and you're keeping the drums nice and subdued. You've got some really nice little background percussion touches that gives it that spaghetti western feel. Constructive criticism: Mike, you're hitting the notes, but you're sounding strained. Just relax and put some more air behind it. You've got plenty of well-placed pauses for deep breaths, so don't be afraid to take them in and get rid of them as you sing. Your speaking voice is a lot lower than this, so honestly, without changing a note, you could drop the vocal down to your natural register and it would sound fantastic. Try it out and see if it doesn't work.
"BucketHat" Bobby Matheson - This Aggression Will Not Stand
based on the shakedown scene from The Big Lebowski
Who knew this was such a popular movie? Love the rapid-fire rhymes. Rhyming a word with itself is usually a no-no, but rhyming it with itself three or four times is a choice, not a lack of options. And doing it in every damned verse is a stylistic statement. And how the hell is it that you can put "fuck" and "piss" in a song and still sound like some clean-cut college-aged folk-singer? Nobody else gets away with that. Although this take on the movie is very different from the one Jocko took, I like it a lot. Let's face it... The Dude is about as laid-back as they get, and so is this style.
Boffo Yux Dudes - Logan's Run
based on the movie/novelization. Logan 5 is sent to find Sanctuary.
Damned near every sci-fi film from the 70s used cheesy synths. Glad you found a use for yours. The verses are short, but you've packed a lot into them, shorthand. And of course you wrench every bit of use out of three words. I'm impressed that you kept it to a single scene, where the Controller cheats Logan out of the remaining years on his lifeclock. The toms really does give it an energy driving it forward.
(geek quibble: it's "procedure 033-03")
Rob from Amersfoort - How to Stay Afloat
based on a scene from Leave Her to Heaven (1945) where Ellen (Gene Tierney) let her husband's disabled brother drown on purpose
It's a good choice of scene which I think might work better if it were told in first-person from either Danny or Ellen's viewpoint. I know that if it's a Rob from Amersfoort song I'm going to get chords on the quarter-notes, but you've got a lot of variety in this one as well.
On another listen, maybe the second-person is right for this, if we're imagining Ellen's thoughts as she's calmly looking at Danny as he struggles. It's an added twist of cruelty that the narrator (like Ellen) is just looking on, but not helping. I'm going to have to think about this...  
Vowl Sounds - Squid Linguistics
based on a scene from Arrival
I read your liner notes and tried to decide whether you kept this to a song based on "a scene" or the whole movie. Then I played the song and heard those vocals and decided I didn't care. It's really soothing ambient music, but it doesn't pull me in. That's not always bad... sometimes it's nice to put on something pleasant and not "needy". I'm going to have to mark it down a bit, I think, for it being an ambiguous response to the challenge, but it's going to remain one of my favorite listens.
Faster Jackelope - Scotch and Soda
based on the uninvited guest at dinner scene in Rushmore
I'll be honest... I ranked this at one place initially, then I saw the scene from the movie and came back and moved this up several places. This really nails the challenge. Your rhyme scheme keeps changing... BUT... the character is drunk. I'm in.
Mike Lamb - Falling Down
based on the "traffic" scene from the movie Falling Down
If this is the scene I think it is, I'm having a hard time seeing this song depicting it. I was expecting tension, foreboding, maybe a panic attack. I didn't feel that way here, but not in a "here's something better" way. 
Timothy Patrick Hinkle - Sorcerer's Son
based on The Raven (1963 movie)
I can't help but think that you went a little beyond the challenge and gave us a summary rather than a scene. But I do like that what you were shooting for was as much mood as narrative. Solid musicianship.
Governing Dynamics - Chiba City Blues
based on Neuromancer, by William Gibson
There are narrative songs and there are mood songs. This one's for mood. They lyrics are less important than the feel, and I think this has got Neuromancer written all over it. That said, it's kind of rambly and vague. So much so that it could be applied to just almost any scene from the book, so I'm giving it a borderline on the challenge response. It's definitely the book, but the scene...?
Nick Work - All Kinds 
based on the 1973 film, Badlands
A number of these entries, I think this one included, just ignore the word "scene" in the challenge and go for a more general "song about the book or movie". And that's not the whole of the challenge. As songs go, this one is solid. Musically, it fits the time period, and sounds a bit like the sort of Springsteen and Mellencamp tunes that were stuck on my own radio. Looking at just the lyrics, I don't think the hook necessarily follows from the verses: it sort of sounds stuck-on. Sure, it takes all kinds... but that doesn't seem to be what you're talking about.
Jeb and Iwa - Memory Thief 
based on the train station scene from the movie Amélie:
I don't quite know what to say about this one. I've heard Amélie described as fanciful, quirky, charming, delightful, "feel-good", etc. I'm having a hard time relating the dark and vaguely dangerous mood of this song to the scene I watched. On the other hand, I  like it as an art-house composition.
Good Guy Sôjàbé - Into the Maze
based on Labyrinth
Well, of course this going to be a Bowie homage, as it pretty much has to be with this source material. The vocals are a bit muddy here, and should be a bit more precise. Compare to Bowie's delivery, where you can understand every drawling syllable. As for the challenge... well, I'm assuming she's meeting the Goblin King, honestly you could fit this in a few places.
Ross Durand - Back to the Beginning (The Ballad of Inigo Montoya)
based on the fencing scene from The Princess Bride
Some songs are mood, some are narrative. This is narrative, in a very good way. I like that you're just telling the story here... after all, this is (we're told) a book, a fairy story; and this song is just barely over-the-top in exactly the same way as the movie. Love it.
Lichen Throat - Clear Sky and Cool Water
based on the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Like a few other songs here, this is less a "scene" and more descriptive of the book as a whole. "Based on" gives lots of wiggle room, so nobody's getting a disqualification this round, but I'm still preferring those that kept it close to what was written. This one wouldn't be in danger of a DQ in any case; but I'd have ranked it higher if I could point to a scene and say, "This! This is that song!" Musically, it doesn't evoke a sense of river rafting in the 1880s. I'm not sure how to fix it.
Menage a Tune - Peter and... 
based on a scene from the book "Peter Pan and Wendy"
Thanks for the song bio on your Livejournal. Anybody else reading this should know that those bios can make the difference between understanding what the song is about and just guessing through it (sometimes wrong). In this case, you're basing it on a specific scene in the book (not a movie!). Equating what's happening with Peter's memories and Alzheimers' is just marvelous. Musically it feels just barely too hesitant. If you find you've suffered score-wise for that, try this: Remember that the family of such a patient get a "new normal". Use a bit of rubato to sound a bit more relaxed. Do not reach for that high note at the end. This isn't a story that has a high note. Peter doesn't even know he's suffering, and Wendy can't admit it, except to herself... save that for the end.
Glen Raphael - Right As Rain 
based on the Oracle scene from The Matrix
You're like a little human jukebox, ain'tcha, Glen? I don't think there's any doubt that you're going into the next round with this one. Just as the Oracle isn't what you'd expect, this song isn't what you'd expect... for the Matrix. It IS, however, exactly what I'd expect from Glen Raphael, and I think I know you know this. As wonderful and marvelous as this effortless example is, I'm holding out a really good ranking for an effort-filled one. Is that fair? Not on your life. With great talent comes getting graded on the curve.
Mandibles - Rock Beats Paper 
Based on the final paragraphs of Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery"
This is rather epic! Songwriting-wise, it's all good apart from an awkward lyric or two. (It sounds like you got part-way through "And my life won’t even be the last" when you realized the end was coming a lot faster than you thought.) I don't talk much about recordings unless there's nothing else I can kvetch about. To me, there seems to be a bit too much compression here. "That moment" about 53 seconds in (you know the one) should hit me like a ton of bricks, and it really can't. I'm perfectly OK with compression where it's needed, but dynamic range is one of those things that's so under-exploited these days I wouldn't be surprised if you saw it as a mandatory component of a future challenge.
PigFarmer Jr - They're Here 
based on the "They're Here" scene from Poltergeist
I could say "too much intro", but the intro is the part I liked. Once you've spent 84 seconds getting to the song, the problem with it is that it doesn't match. You expended a lot of effort setting a mood, and then for the better part of a minute, just discard it. 
Jerkatorium - In the Future 
based on the opening narration of Plan 9 from Outer Space
You magnificent over-achievers. While everyone else is struggling to get out a scratch safety track, you produce this AND edit the movie to produce a lip-synched music video. This is a blatant attempt at mass-media marketing that is.... actually working pretty well on me. I mean, c'mon... it's Plan 9. You've got that sort of Munster's vibe going on here, which totally works, but doesn't sound derivative. And though Ed Wood probably deserves a co-writing credit, your cut-and-paste job of lyrics née dialog is pretty damned good. You'd win the round if it were up to me... and if one other guy hadn't submitted a damned earworm that's been stuck in my head all week.
P.S. I read Joe's review. FWIW, I think that pause does work twice, and even three times. It ain't the same pause. Trying to predict it (and failing) is part of the fun.



Micah Sommersmith - Chariot Ride (Shadow) 
based on the Iliad by Homer
Everyone's thinking it, so I'll just get this over with: "Stool-consuming grin". **snort** I suspect this will never be on a Top-40 list, but that's not what this song is for. And if it seems just a tetch too long... so does The Illiad. Brilliant job!
Brian Gray - A New Story (Shadow) 
based on a whole fricking genre, 'cause limits are for losers.
You be you, my man! Take wing and fly through your shadowy world, free from the fetters and confines of challenges posed and met! Even as you judge not, you shall not be judged. We will simply enjoy and remain fans.
Just Ducky - Under the Big W (Shadow) 
based on the Hardware Store scene with Sid Caesar in the movie 'It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World'
This would have ranked pretty highly with me. Lemme see... where did I put that beaver coat, megaphone, and pennant?  



1Steve Stearns
3Ominous Ride
6Ross Durand
7Timothy Patrick Hinkle
8Faster Jackelope
9Vowl Sounds
10Good Guy Sojabe
11Jordan Carroll
12Caravan Ray
13“BucketHat” Bobby Matheson
14Glen Raphael
15Menage a Tune
16Governing Dynamics
18The Brewhouse Sessions
19Rob from Amersfoort
20Jeb and Iwa
21Mike Lamb
22Boffo Yux Dudes
23Jocko Homomorphism
24PigFarmer, Jr
25Nick Work
26The Quantifiers
27Lichen Throat

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the review Dave! We are working on a simpler version which I can play on my harp, since I don't have as many strings on mine as his does. Probably going to shorten it a bit for a single voice as well.