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Saturday, February 4, 2012

Spintunes #4 Round 1 Review: Heather Miller

Holy moly, I knew being a judge was going to be a challenge, but wow. Maybe I’ll just start with saying that as a previous contestant in SpinTunes I know what it’s like to be on that side of the table. I love the challenges forcing me out of my usual songwriting boxes, but depending on the challenge it can also be incredibly frustrating because I don’t get to lean on my strengths and the challenges can really expose my weaknesses. So if any of you are experiencing that frustration that, I feel you! But enough about me! Well, maybe a little more about how I am judging and things to keep in mind.

1) My focus will be on songwriting (lyrics especially) and performance over production. Though it all does count, for me the song itself comes first and then the rest.
2) I do like song bios, especially ones that help me understand your intention with the song. I’ve taken a lot of classes in the past few years that slant my bias toward songs that are more commercially viable, but I understand that a) that might not be your intention or preference and b) the challenges might make it harder for you to write that way even if it IS your preference.
3) Some of my favorite critiques have been ones where the reviewer said something opposite of what I was going for with the song, because their comment made me more clear and certain of what I DID want for the song. So I hope that at a minimum my feedback might give you that same kind of clarity and let you know that I truly listened and paid attention!

Side note: Interesting that there were so many non-traditional song structures, but that really fits the nightmare scenarios. Also interesting how many songs had reference to Fathers leaving or not being there.

Governing Dynamics - Fear Nothing

Love the dreamy guitars! Very atmospheric and appropriate. Love the layered voices and how you have lyrics come in while the last one is still fading off. Beautiful solo. Love the dream quest and the concept of bringing that bravery found in the dream out into waking life.

Possibilities: I wish there was a bit more distinction between the father voice and the son voice, and especially at the end where it’s the son singing about how he fears nothing. Also the line “You’re home and I’m still not sure how” kind of sticks out to me because it’s like “I believe in you, you can do it, keep going!” and then, “uh, I don’t know how you did that...” kind of deflates it. Something along the lines of “You’re home and I am so proud” would feel more right to me. It’s a little long for my taste, I think it has potential to be tightened up, maybe less set-up in the beginning? Or maybe cut the “I bend my ear....windowsills” part, because then you get to go right from the whispers to what they are saying - “fear nothing”.

FauX - Sleep

Love the burst into high-energy piano, as well as the warped descent at the end! Your rhyming is very natural, allowing the lyrics to be conversational but still clearly be a rhyming song, well done. Overall I think this is a very well constructed song, honest and real, well produced and definitely gets the nightmare across.

Dex01 - Let Me Out

Has a bit of a Beatles flavor sonically that I love. Great energy and very strong sensory imagery throughout that really makes the nightmare real! Love how the first bit with the choking is slow and the second bit with the chasing is high energy, musically that really supports what is going on lyrically in each part. You might want to take a look at your rhyming structure as it is pretty repetitive, each two lines rhyme throughout the whole entire song and it’s not bad, I just think there may have been a few times you squished the words to get the rhyme and there is opportunity for variety and a more conversational tone if you don’t lock yourself in with rhyming.

Hazen Nester - An Indelible Mark

Love the music box keys opening the song creating the lullaby effect and dissonance to the creepy, truly disturbing nightmare! Great job with the background noise of the local news and the gunshots.

The part about going sadly off to bed, and then feeling safe and warm and then the foreshadowing of the bad dreams to come kind of yanks me around. I think you are sad from having to stop your playtime, but I think the flow would be smoother if you took the word “sadly” out of it, or maybe use a word like “I’d trundle? trot? off to bed,” if you felt you needed a word there for the rhythm of it.

I’d check the whole song for tense to also increase clarity and flow. For example, “My dreams start off nice, and often they would stay that way, but sometimes that’s not the case. One nightmare I had affected me like nothing else and shook me from slumber’s embrace.” would flow a bit more consistently like this:
“My dreams started off nice, and often they would stay that way, but sometimes that wasn’t the case. One nightmare I had affected me like nothing else and shook me from slumber’s embrace.” I might also add the words “In it” right before “A woman’s in tears...” because that might ease the transition into present tense, which I think is really effective for the nightmare description.

Rebecca Angel - Monster’s Lullaby

Love the twist of it being a lullaby to a monster!! Vivid imagery that incorporates so many classic nightmare scenarios but somehow since it’s being sung to a little monster, and in such a sweet tone, they come off as soothing things. Just enough of minor tones and synthesizer to make it eerie. Rather Tim Burton-esque, perfect for the challenge.

David LeDuc - Nightmare

Love the energy in this and the different rhythmic sections. Yay tambourine and shaker rattlesnakes and handclaps! It’s not really a typical song structure (like many of songs this round) but I think that serves the random, disturbing structure of nightmares. Couple teeensy picky things - one word that stuck out to me is “resign”, especially since you do so great with all the other words and getting the emphasis on the right syllables. If you were speaking you’d say “reSIGN” not “REsign”. The other thing is “around me for miles around” - using the same word twice in the same line isn’t ideal, I bet you could tweak that to make it stronger.

Noah McLaughlin - Always Someone’s Monster

Wow. Obviously an important song for you personally, yet also quite easy to relate to the experience since so many of us have divorced parents. Way to work through the personal shadows and strive for honesty and healing in a current relationship. I like the allusion to “skeletons in the closet” by having the mother say the monsters abide in the closet. Great sonic choices for creating the nightmare feeling and also ending with hope that you’re going to work through this thing and come to a lighter place. The one part where I am a little bit confused is your first verse, for one thing, to me it makes it sound like both your mother and father left, and I’m also confused, if she did leave, what is she adamant about that made her leave? I’m totally for poetry and ambiguity, but the difference between the verse about your mother and your father is the mother one makes me go, “huh?” and the father one makes me go, “wow, cool imagery.”

Felix Frost - Rust People

Love the creepy dreamlike synthesizers. Another non-traditional song structure, and again, it lends very well to nightmares. Kind of like a little sci-fi episode. Great descriptive imagery. Great transitions between the sections, the song is so different at the end from how it starts but I don’t really notice that because the musical transitions really connect all the separate pieces into a flowing narrative. The one thing I would do is shorten the intro music. It’s almost a whole minute before we get to any lyrics, which makes me start to lose interest in that I think maybe it’s just going to be a cool instrumental song. Instrumentals aren’t bad, but the part of my brain that is getting ready to listen for lyrics starts to shut down and wander off. Another option for that besides cutting it down might be to add a line or two of lyric or spoken word somewhere to the beginning.

Jacob Haller - The Maze

Cool bluesy vibe, love it! Great creepy nightmare images. Really simple production but I think it totally suits the song. I can just see this performed in some hazy piano club! I love accordion but I think the solo could be a little bit tighter and also it was pretty loud compared to the rest of the song, I actually turned my volume down a little when it started and then back up again when the lyrics came back. It’s cool for it to be louder for contrast and dynamics, but I the listener shouldn’t be adjusting my volume back and forth through the song.

Common Lisp - Falling: A Nightmare In Three Acts

Wow, quite the epic journey! Another nightmare about divorce and the father leaving and it also feels like a lot of important processing happened through writing this. The sound effects and music are all very effective for creating the moody, heartbroken, unsettling atmosphere. A few potential lyric tweaks in Act 3: the line “Now you are gone, gone, gone” in 3b feels like it comes too soon in the story line. I think it would be smoother to flow, “When I was small, we did all these things that were fun, and then you were gone.” rather than “When I was small, we did all these things, now you’re gone, then we did some more things and now you are gone.” Also the part “Gone from your children, gone from your wife, gone from my brother, gone from our lives” kind of trips me up because I start thinking - isn’t your brother and his children the same thing?

Brian Gray - Just a Dream

This is great. I love how the nightmare part is of clearly grown-up things, but the choruses make it super clear that it’s a kid, combining all the things that a kid would want to be and do, and how he doesn’t really have a concept between how realistic it is to be an astronaut, Batman, and a guy who drives a tractor, and in fact he wants to be them all. I love also the blending of dreams as something that happens when you’re asleep, as well as having dreams for your future.

Edric Haleen - Sweet Dreams

Sheesh Edric. This is CREEPY. Which I think was your point. Great job on the music box beginning and the dissonant harmonies into the scream. Half barbershop quartet, half Gregorian Chant, all on acid, or something. Yikes. Well done, mission accomplished, well executed.

Rosalind - Where’s The Buzzing

Definitely an unsettling nightmare! Great lyrical imagery and you have a lovely voice. Somehow though, between the sort of random piano melody and the non-standard lyric structure, the whole thing is just a little too disjointed for me. There have been a lot of non-standard songs this round which fits with the nightmare theme, but this one doesn’t have enough of a through line or glue in either the lyric or sonically to make it seem purposeful to me, it comes off as more just choppy. Also there are a few times in your recording where it clips (too loud), so watch for that. I know not everyone has fancy recording equipment and everything is done on a time crunch, but making sure it doesn’t clip is both a simple yet important technical point everyone can handle.

Gold Lion - Lady In Blue

Beautiful song, eerie and mysterious with enough concrete details that I can easily imagine having this nightmare myself. Great vocals (love the layering parts) and melody. I would run through the songs and check for tense. In the first verses you’ve got past tense (creeped, held, could claw) and then you go to present tense (I am scared, running, save me, make your move). Actually “could” might work throughout, but still, in general, something to consider, making sure the tenses make sense.

Also, I’ll repeat what I said to Rosalind, there are a few times in your recording where it clips (too loud), so watch for that. I know not everyone has fancy recording equipment and everything is done on a time crunch, but making sure it doesn’t clip is both a simple yet important technical point everyone can handle.

Jess Scherer - Taken

Great job of taking some vivid imagery from a current nightmare and framing it through a child’s eyes by talking about mother, brother, and “little bed”, and referencing the childhood nighttime prayer in the chorus. The crash chord at the end jarred me, and then I thought, “well, maybe that works as the startling out of the sleep into waking.” Still, maybe you could still do it but let it hang on and ring out for a little longer, so you still get the shock value but it lingers much like a dream does.

Jim Holmquist - Old Dan Next Door

Lots of great creepy nightmare imagery and effective creepy vocals. It’s a good thing you put in the part about Dan having the dream since he was four because up till then I wasn’t so sure it was about a childhood nightmare! Love the concept of giving someone ammunition to face down their fears by being a good friend and whispering supportive thoughts they can hold on to or use. One of my pet peeves that you may have noticed before if you’re reading through these sequentially (but if you’re anything like me, you go read all of your reviews first and then go back and work through reading the others!) is when people sing with the emphasis on the wrong syllables. There are definitely examples of folks who do that who I love, Tori Amos, Alanis Morissette, so it’s not hard and fast, but most of the time it does grate at me. It usually happens when you’re trying to make a rhyme fit - examples in this song core/terROR, four/vicTOR. Also a line I just don’t quite understand is “My whispers gave him weapons to use within the seams.” I’m not sure if “seams” has a significant meaning or if it was just put in there to rhyme somehow?

Drei Viertel Drei - Lollipop Lady

Glad I read your bio to know that Lollipop Lady = crossing guard, it all makes so much more sense now, even though I mostly got it before! Knowing it also makes the chorus that much more effective. Great creepy music, with dissonance in both the plinking notes and stabbing chords. I also love how how we are taken on a ride, first it just seems that he’s maybe a paranoid kid blowing how much an old lady scares him out of proportion, to in the end it seems like maybe his worries were well-founded!

Emperor Gum - Posted

Another nightmare about losing, or at least potentially losing a dad, and another non-standard song format. Beautiful twinkling introduction and then there’s a little musical reference to “When you Wish Upon a Star” that I like, in the “make a wish and hold it dear...” line. Interesting concept that the child would rather have the horrors happen in the dream so that maybe they won’t be real when he wakes up. The lyrics are really what makes this a nightmare song to me, as opposed to the music, because I think with different words this could go in the direction of a sweet lullaby for the most part with the music box style piano.

The Orion Sound - Nazi Nightmare

I’m so confused about how I feel about this song! I’m half horrified by it and half think it’s hilarious. Great energy, great melody. The chorus is damn catchy but I’d be scared at people’s reactions if I accidentally sang along to it out loud on the bus. Pretty funny that the saviour is Rubarto. I like the military drums that come in on the final chorus, but I’m not quite sure if they are clipping, or just loud? In any case I might want them coming in (non clipping!) sooner in the song, maybe the second chorus?

Trader Jack - Big Brown Bear

Another one about dad dying/being gone! Just interesting that the theme keeps coming up in these songs! Lots of great concrete images with the camping, and there’s a sweet childlike determination in the plan to go back in and make the dream come out different this time. I’m a little confused by the part:

Go into my momma's room. Poppa's sitting up in bed.
But I won't be comforted, cause I know he's dead.
Show me sugar. I like spice.
Tell me, give me everything nice

You see him sitting up in bed but you know he’s dead? and what does the sugar and spice and everything nice have to do with any of it? This is where either a song bio would help to know if this is a particular reference, or if you just needed two more lines that rhymed and those ones fit the melody you had.

Kevin Savino-Riker - Thunder

Great concrete images! (Are we sensing a theme here? Heather likes imagery!) Great eerie/creepy chords and the rhythm and fingering really speaks to the constant running. I really missed a lot of the song though until I actually read both the mini song-bio on the Bandcamp page and also had the lyrics right in front of me. I thought it was a military dream, which in some ways is cool because that means it works on a variety of levels. But also your vocal delivery is a bit slurred sometimes to the point I can’t catch the lyrics until I’m reading them. It’s also a little long for my taste. Can’t figure out if I can get down with that because it works for how the dream must feel - neverending, or if I think you could tighten up some of this while still keeping the neverending feeling.

Robert Borden - Funny Guy

Once again, great imagery. Bizzare! So bizzare. But that works for nightmare, and it’s very concrete and specific, so it brings us right there with you. I think the ukulele works really well for bringing out that childhood, music box, lullaby aspect. Great vocals, the transitions to falsetto work well for me and provide a lot of dynamic range.

Menage A Tune - Haunting House

Yep, another missing father reference! Effective use of the music box style of piano and very eerie chords and vocals that make it unsettling. Great echoing sound effects, of birds, and shimmery, drums. Lots of great concrete images, and I love the repetition of the line, “There’s something wrong here.” It really builds that tension of, “I can’t quite put my finger on this and that is almost the worst part.” A few little picky lyric things - “Something broke or missing” I would think should be “broken”, but maybe that doesn’t fit syllable wise. In the second half you’ve got “splinters on the floor” and “glass shards on the floor” pretty close to each other, maybe you can find a different thing than “floor” to make it even stronger?

Marlon Barnes - Teeth

I think some dentists should hire you for their school programs! I love the humor in this mixed with what I think is a fairly common dream/nightmare image of losing teeth. I think verse 2 could be tightened up a little bit lyrically for clarity but I love the ideas there. The bridge is fantastic. The part that trips me up in the chorus is “get out real soon” - what are you getting out of? Bed? The dream? The house? Again, a little bit of tweaking for clarity could make it even stronger.

Caleb Hines - Footprints

Wow, this is very cinematic! Beautiful, beautiful piano. The music really supports the emotional atmosphere. Love the line “Escheresque distortions” and glad it’s near the beginning because it really cements the tone for me for the rest of the song, re-enforcing the images of the puzzling, confusing, elusive situation. The one line that sticks out to me is “Prints across the ceiling, And up the wall, Where I can't reach them, Without a fall” and specifically the part “without a fall” it feels like it was stuck in there for the rhyme. Not sure if it was but it just feels that way to me.

Chris Cogott - Alone

Some Beach Boys flavor to this that I love! This is very well constructed and well produced. Great screaming guitar solo. Somehow though when I really look at the lyric, it leaves me a little empty. It’s a little bit generic/vague for the most part, I don’t get enough imagery to hook me in visually or emotionally for the long term.

Chris Tallman - Fear The Reaper

I think your voice is cool! Pretty cool also you were able to do this even with a missing string, but you still may want to check the tuning on the remaining strings. It mostly worked to create an eerie feeling but there were a few spots that it really jumped out as clashing/out of tune. The song is pretty short and the message is pretty concise and morbid. You managed to create a lot of atmosphere with just your guitar, voice and lyrics.

Steve Durand - It Isn’t Cool

Both wonderfully comical and definitely a nightmare! Love how it starts out with a church-like organ. Love the horns and banjo! Love that he is so paranoid that even dream public nudity seems to be a sin. Great lyrics with a perfect balance of specific detail and yet universal enough that plenty of folks can relate, even if they haven’t been to Catholic school.

Luke Brekke, Esquire - Alone

And here’s another one about losing Dad! Paints a very vivid picture of a teenage/parent relationship, well done there. This is a little bit of a stretch for the challenge, is it a living nightmare or is the whole thing a dream? Watch out for clipping - I think it’s in your piano track. There’s a phone ringing before the last chorus, is that on purpose? Seems like it should come before the bridge if it’s meant to be in the song. I think you’ve got a case of squishing rhymes into place - both with putting emphasis on the wrong syllables, and using non-conversational language to make the rhymes fit. Look especially at the second half of verse 1. If you try reading it out loud as if from a book, not a song, it comes off as fairly awkward.

Wait What (The Band) - Toilet Demons

Oh geez. This falls in the category of The Orion Sound son this round, where I’m half laughing and half horrified. Very funny and energetic, some clever lines. Great sound effects, great musical sections that support each part. Also got my one of my pet peeves going with the deMONS, deMONs, deMOOONS, when if you speak the word demon, the emphasis is on the DEmon.

The Boffo Yux Dudes - Dancin’ To The Nightlight

Very fun and very catchy, especially the Party, Party, Party, Party part! It’s hard for me to sit still while typing (chair dance!), so I can see why it would be that way for the kid. This was another one where I was a little uncertain if it totally fit the challenge because the kid doesn’t ever seem to be asleep, but luckily we didn’t define nightmare as being actually asleep. The line “Soon I extinguish my bedside light the nightlight goes on, and soon begins my fright” nags at me because there’s a lot of “soon” and “light” in there in a way that feels sloppy or lazy rather than intentional. You made me look up “grue”. Nice. The end confuses me, the part that says “Billy, I told you to get to sleep” sounds like it’s in the child’s voice, and the “Sorry Dad” sounds like it’s in a dad voice, is it supposed to be like that?

Jon Eric - Images Without Light

Wow, interesting, most people seem to enjoy flying dreams, but I guess if you can’t get down or stop at all that would be scary! The guitar is effective for that rushing, pushing, never-ending feeling. Nice little harmonies on the chorus. On the final two lines I might try something like “Now I’m afraid to try to feel the floor” so you’re not having two “touch” words so close together, plus you’ve got added consonance on the F that way. And yes, I noticed you’ve got “aware” twice in the second line of the song but somehow that one works well for me. Go figure!

David Ritter - Beaster Bunny

Very creative legend reworking! The musical movements work well with each section. This is actually a song that I would like to see go on for a little longer (and not just with all that silence at the end.) You’ve got such a fresh, original idea, you really have the potential to build up a hook, something catchy that everyone will want to be humming or singing along to, waiting for that chorus to come around again.

Ross Durand - Why Can’t I

Great lyrics, great structure, great execution and delivery. Love when the percussion and the electric guitar comes in at the end of verse 1/start of verse 2. I’ve been pointing out to several people where they use the same word in a way that feels too often, too close together. I wanted to point out that you use the word “still” multiple times in your last verse, but in this case it really works for me because it’s providing very purposeful emphasis, rather than appearing to be lazy writing. So when I bring up little picky grammar things, it’s not just to follow some rules but that I really think that sort of thing makes the songs stronger. In this case, I think you’ve got it down.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Heather. Now I am glad I took the time to add the song Bio. Long live cultural peculiarities!

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