Before I do anything else, I need to say this: there were 43 registered contestants for this round, and the challenge was difficult enough that 10 of those contestants fell victim to the deadline. No matter what is said about any entries, no matter where they place, no matter whether the judges agree or not, no matter the criticism... these people all got the job done. For that, RESPECT.
In my rankings, the challenge isn't just a gateway to my personal preferences. In other words, I don't rank with a “you met the challenge, now let's ignore the challenge and sort these by what I like.” Rather, I'm ranking by how well I think you met the challenge. Frankly, how well you met the challenge drastically affects how much I like the song anyway. But this yields some interesting cases where songs I really like score lower than they would if there were no challenge to meet. I think that's as it should be. That said, my preferences ARE taken into account, and in many cases entries may be so close together in my rankings that in my view it seems unfair to even try to put them in some order. Nevertheless, it has to be done, and not being a contestant, I'm free to blame Spin.
There were three legs to this challenge. Childhood. Nightmare. Rubato. None of them are optional. If I didn't see all of those, then your song's rankings suffered. If I did see them, then I ranked according to how well I thought you delivered. Where things were close, then it's in order of what I like to hear.
Concerning rubato, I don't think we see any technical disqualifications this round. Even where it was pretty obvious that the concept was poorly understood (it's not accelerando or ritardando) you all still managed to get it in there... if only by virtue of discarding the drum loops and click tracks.
I've arranged these in order of my preference, most preferred first. Now, for the results...
Just a Dream
This gets better every time I hear it. Yeah, it's not a real nightmare. Then again, we never said it had to be. Then again, it is. Brian came up with an original story in which a child's nightmare is to grow up into a boring office worker. In waking up and realizing he still has time to pursue his aspirations, Brian gives us song of unique depth, all while managing to bullseye the challenge. I love it, especially the off-the-wall nature – and sheer number – of future career choices. I'll play this over and over. GREAT job, and worth a deconstruction.
Rebecca knocked this one out of the park! I get chills listening to it. If it were me, though, I'd consider shoving some of those piano notes back to where they want to be. Something this expressive and beautiful should flow. I know they're monsters; I just don't think the misplaced notes are necessary. You've got all you need in the vocal delivery.
Use of rubato: THIS IS HOW IT'S DONE.
Why Can't I
I LOVE Ross' take on this challenge! Monsters in the night, flight and helplessness. But it's the hook that gets me: “If you can fly – Why can't I?” I'd have never thought of that, but I wish I had. The technical challenge was met professionally.
There aren't many things more frightening to a child than being left alone, at the mall, or anywhere else for that matter. It's a great choice of nightmare topics, and superlative delivery! And damn! That instrumental bridge kicks ass! Once again Chris Cogott displays inhuman consistency in the excellence of his entries.
Edric doesn't think outside the box; he finds the deepest, darkest corner of the box and lodges himself there like the monster under the bed. This piece doesn't just talk about a nightmare; it is one. Edric nails the challenge while skating so close to the edge of legality as to cause the judges to have nightmares. Edric sings a short original piece over the counterpoint of “Rock-a-bye Baby", then twists the lullaby into something dark and menacing. The choral surges near the end remind me of György Ligeti's "Requiem" (it's the bit in 2001: a Space Odyssey where the Monolith is introduced... NOT to be confused with “Also Sprach Zarathustra”). Here he takes the earliest song one is likely to hear in childhood and
combines it with the primal fear of falling distilled into the pure
essence of a childhood nightmare. Like a number of Edric's songs, the
replay value here is limited, but that's not the point. This is jewelry
you wear on special occasions, to impress. And you say, “look at this
beautiful thing!” and you put it away for later. The tempo is varied to creepy effect along with liberal use of minor chords... for my money, the only “Night Terror” of the round.
It Isn't Cool
Always Someone's Monster
Noah, I think you've found your niche. Great job on these vocals. Take a coveted seat next to Ross in the Men Who Sound Like Men VIP lounge. And very nice guitar work! Has a sort of 70s folk feel to it which I dig very much. I especially like the chorus... "In the closet they abide... keep them there." Awesome. I keep searching for someone to compare this to, and keep coming up empty. That's a good thing. Keep it up.
This is a great start to the competition, Jess. I like the clear, clean vocals. To me, the simple piano arrangement works as well as if it had been produced with backing harmonies. The final two lines are chilling. Lose the final chord. I'm calling this the best use of rubato among the newcomers. This is clean and expressive, exactly the kind of thing what I was hoping to hear. It's neither hidden nor thrown in your face. To me it's a sign of maturity in the composition and tells me you're comfortable with the challenge.
Images Without Light
Love the guitar, love the vocals, love the song. Jon, the next time your piano breaks down on you, I don't want to hear any bitchin'.
For the first time I can remember (I have a poor memory) Governing Dynamics doesn't sound like Radiohead. This song sounds like Pink Floyd. And I love Pink Floyd. The song has a dreamy quality for sure, but we're looking for more than that... we're looking for a nightmare, and you SO could have gone there with this song. Also, the “childhood” element, while not neglected, is not terribly prominent. For Governing Dynamics, rubato is a given. Perhaps we should have challenged Travis to write a song without it.
Menage a Tune
I thought that this challenge might be be JoAnn's briar patch, and I was
right. A very solid entry that has Menage a Tune running with the big
dogs. JoAnn takes us directly into this disturbing dream. Based on a
real dream, this doesn't make logical sense, nor does it have to... this
is a mood piece, not a story. The instrumentation and arrangement is
excellent. Bravo. The vocals are a little shaky, but this song creeps me
out in a very good way.
An Indelible Mark
Definitely "about" a childhood nightmare, so there's no question about hitting the lyrical challenge. Like Brian Gray and Steve Durand, Hazen bucks the general trend by successfully bringing humor to this challenge. If you laugh at this song you are one. Sick. Puppy. If you don't laugh then you are a sad, sad shell of a human being. Lighten up, Francis. Very effective use of rubato here to show expression rather than just missing the beat to meet the challenge.
Listening to this I keep expecting the credits to read “Caleb Hines featuring Denise Hudson on piano”. It is exactly her style. Well done. Denise, the next time you need a stunt pianist you know where to go. Now that the rubato challenge has been met, you can turn your quantizer back on, Caleb. We don't want you suffering from DTs.
Kevin is one of the contenders that takes us into the dream. A solid entry. However, at nearly five minutes it feels long and a little rambly. It probably wouldn't feel as long if Kevin had managed to find a “grabbier” hook.
Is that your voice, Robert? Excellent. OK, I'm normally not grabbed by ukelele, but your verses manage to be melancholy and wryly humorous at the same time, which I strongly suspect is exactly what you were aiming for. The nightmare quality of the dream could be stronger, but hey... tickle monster. Good job on the rubato.
Lady in Blue
Mariah's voice is, as always, excellent. And so is the imagery in this piece. Here we're not looking to tell a story, just communicate a mood, and she does that nicely. Good to see Gold Lion putting her guitar, pen, and brain to good use! This is one of many entries with liberal use of accelerando. The rubato I'm actually interested in is the expressive liberties taken with tempo early in the song.
The arrangement and the electronica is very well done. An excellent
first submission. Though the whole thing is open-ended, I can easily
imagine a kid desperately trying not to sleep for fear of impending
nightmares... I remember nights when that was me. The childhood aspect
is something I had to interpret. Vocals are shaky. I had to interpret
the proper tune since quite a few notes were completely missed. It's
worth pointing out that since this is a songwriting competition, it's
perfectly acceptable to get a singer to perform a piece.
And now is the part of the contest where I make some folks go “huh?” Then “WTF?” Then grab their pitchforks. I really like this song, even though the performance is beyond horrendous. Every time I hear it, I hear more that can be done with it. Burn the uke, don't let Marlon anywhere near the microphone, put the song in the hands of an electric Blues band with a gravelly vocalist, and you'd have something very special. Garrgggalgaggaaggglllllllee. **Spit**. This one earns an unprecedented second deconstruction.
I've probably listened to this song more than any other on the playlist. There was a problem with the format, and I had to jump through just about every hoop imaginable to get it into a state that Bandcamp would accept. A note to all competitors... make sure your sample rate is 44.1K or better (CD quality). We must be able to load to Bandcamp, and we simply have too many competitors and not enough time to do it for you every time. If your software doesn't allow you to adjust it, then get Audacity. It's barebones, but it's flexible, does multitracking and effects, and it's completely free and open source, and I don't care what you use, it runs on your computer.
Boffo Yux Dudes
Dancin' to the Nightlight
A completely unique take on the challenge... while the kid cowers in terror, the monsters come out and party, party, party... Cute. The actual performance could have ben better. The BYD had a very short time to put this together, and it suffers a little from that. I'd like to hear some better transitions from scared kid to monster party, and what's with that ending? Cool song!
Drei Viertel Drie
First, for the benefit of Tommy G. at the next listening party... it's pronounced “Dry Fear-tell Dry” and means...a quarter to three? Why? I dunno. Mick! Katarina! Explain, please! As for the song... This is a great example of storytelling. Honestly I can't say I like the verses... then that prechorus starts and it's amazing, and engaging and there's drama and acting and I'm diggin' it and then you go back to the verses and I wish you didn't. Intellectually, I appreciate that it meets the entirety of the challenge (quite well!) and tells an engaging tale... yet I still can't bring myself to actively enjoy it. I'd blame Heather if she weren't so unfeelingly banished.
Falling: A Nightmare in Three Parts
I like the water sound effects. Hell, for this challenge I like sound effects in general. Good job putting us in the dream. Paul, as a singer, you're a formidable spoken-word performer. I sure wish you'd stick with the spoken word because you're AWESOME at it. So I bet you're not surprised that I like to imagine someone else singing here. There are parts where it's ok, notably in the beginning. But not Act 3. As far as the technical challenge goes, Common Lisp is wearing a belt and suspenders. The rubato is there, combined with accelerando and ritardo for good measure. I don't know if that was intentional or just covering all the bases. Either way, the bases are covered.
Thankfully, this song contains no toilet demons. “Acquit”... my friend Inigo Montoya passes on this observation: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
I can't believe I'm putting this song this high on the list. But despite the subject matter, it's oddly entertaining. Apparently someone told Wait What that this was an “elimination” round without explaining what that meant, hence the shitty lyrics. More seriously, the “unleashed” line would probably work better if you stuck to the lyrics that were written down. They scan better. And why are you afraid to sing? This is a high-energy song... your lyrics say “screaming”, but once again it's as if Grandma were asleep in the studio when you were trying to record. Challenge met.
Overall, good. But the “childhood” aspect of the challenge is largely ignored. It may very well be a childhood nightmare, but let us KNOW that. "Prehistoric rabid monkeys" is childish, but not really enough to say the challenge was squarely met. (to be perfectly honest, until I read your lyrics I thought it was "prehistoric rabbit-monkeys"). There's about 30 seconds of repetition at the end… hmmm… OK, but it seems a bit like you just didn't want to go for the distance and were trying to stretch it out.
Big Brown Bear
I'm having a hard time writing about this one. It's not terrible, but it's not outstanding, either. It's... an entry. Good use of rubato, though.
Fear the Reaper
I'm having the same trouble here as with “Big Brown Bear”. It's a little generic. Yup. We're afraid of death. I know it's based on a real dream, but personally I'd've liked a little more creativity. Personify Death... get descriptive. General unease meets the challenge, but doesn't fare well against other entries.
What a great voice! It works very well with the bluesy sound you've chosen for “The Maze”. However, here's another case where the “childhood” part of the challenge is largely ignored. I wish you'd've communicated some of what's in the bio through song. I didn't much like the instrumental solo. The accordion came in quite a too strong in the mix. A more fluid performance there would enhance, rather than detract from, the Blues sound. I'd just as soon hear a capable harmonica solo here. But damn that voice is nice.
Luke Brekke, Esquire
Great story, well told. However, here's a dilemma... you didn't exactly write about a nightmare. On the other hand, we didn't define nightmare, either, and it's easy to describe this as a “nightmare scenario”. Should you make it to the next round, make sure you nail the challenge without excessive ambiguity so you don't unintentionally earn a disqualification. Vocally, try not to be as timid. Don't be afraid to finish a word. Enunciate, and push some air out of your lungs. Musically, I think the choruses could use a little work. Don't rush them... make sure the audience has time to catch the irony. Lyrically... try to avoid tortured phrasings like “from where he's employed”. If you have to turn a sentence inside out to make a rhyme work, then discard the rhyme and find another one. The harder you are on your own writing, the better.
The intro is long, but really good. Unfortunately, you kind of lose me when you start singing and it's overwhelmed by the music, too loud in the mix. But it does have that sort of nightmarish lack of sense, so I sort of slog through it. Then you pick me up again in the third movement, then lose me again. There are several tempo changes (which are not rubato). Fortunately, there's good use of rubato in that excellent intro.
Let Me Out
Nicely captures the dream. However, this is another one of those cases where judges have to take your word for it. I'd personally love to just listen to a piece and be able to recognize it as a childhood dream. With this I can't, and that gets it placed lower than other songs that play up every aspect of the challenge. The lyrics are creepy as hell, but the music isn't as effective in communicating the feeling behind those words. The words should provide context, the music should provide depth. I see what you're going for, but it's just missing with me. As with a few entries, there seems to be a little confusion here between rubato and accelerando & ritardando. Fortunately, all three are represented. I'm not really thrilled with the rock ending. It sounds cacophonous, and really feels like it wants to be tight. I think the problem there is with the drum pattern. Something simpler perhaps...
I like the song... when just sung with more confidence it is quite good. Performance-wise, since this is written in the present tense, your vocals are working against you. This is one of the cases where the songwriter would benefit by enlisting a singer. This particular voice would sound good with either a female voice or a very young male voice.
Old Dan Next Door
The chorus is really catchy, and would be even more so with some
additional instrumentation and percussion to show off the rhythm. I had a
building sense of dissatisfaction as I heard the song. Instead of
addressing the challenge as stated, this started off singing about old
guys with old guy problems and fears and memories, and continues to do that right up
until the last verse where we're tossed the “since he was four” bone. I
felt that even consistently ambiguous entries met that part of the
challenge better since they didn't distract us with age.
The Orion Sound
Well.... you play the piano well. As for the rest, I considered invoking Godwin's Law here, but this has to be done and I see I'm going to have to do it myself, since Sammy Kablam swore off of Negative Reinforcement just when we need him most. To be respectful, I'll use your entire name: Emperor Robot Hitler Gandhi Jesus Walrii McPoshtwat, this song could be a poster child for the Trying Too Hard Foundation. Some people attacked this challenge head-on. That's extremely difficult, and those who were successful were very, very successful. It is also possible to successfully attack this challenge with humor: Hazen Nestor did it, as did Brian Gray and others. Humor – particularly shock humor – depends on an element of surprise. Unfortunately, I saw this one coming from miles away. I found myself wondering if you'd find a way out of the formula. I wish you had. Your audience will appreciate the humor more if they have to work a little to get it.
Rubato is represented, and by name, at that. But rubato is best used as a form of expression, to enhance your music. Instead you relocated it to a camp in the bridge, away from your lyrics. Perhaps this allowed you to work on the rubato with concentration, but I wouldn't consider it a final solution to the problem. (see what I did there?)
Where's the Buzzing?
The seemingly random dissonant piano arrangement does give us that otherworldly feel and perhaps the same sort of annoyance that the actual buzzing would. Unfortunately, the atonal piano also reminds me ever-so-slightly of a conversation with Mister Rogers' trolley. The unintentional comedy of that sort of undercuts what you were trying to do with the beat poetry, so it doesn't have a lot of replay value for me. However... we asked for a “childhood nightmare”. There's nothing in the song that communicates childhood or nightmare (you actually state "no sleep"... nothing to reference or imply a dream state). I read in the song bio that it's based on a fear of bees that resulted in childhood nightmares, but you didn't give that to us in the song. If we'd said “based on” or “inspired by” instead of “about” then I'd have been less disappointed. Good job on the rubato.