So how is this a "songwriting" challenge? Easy... here we're forcing you to think about instrumentation in new ways. If you're writing for an orchestra, you need effectively utilize your various sections and even the individuals within them. Same thing if you're writing for a jug band, or a 4-piece rock group. You have to work within your bounds. We simply tightened up those normal constraints an abnormal amount. So if you thought it wasn't a songwriting challenge, then you really missed the point.
In these final rounds, I personally don't want what you "normally" do. I want you to stretch. I also don't expect everyone to be able to complete a fourth-round challenge. So if you looked at this challenge and said, "What the hell were they thinking! I have no interest in that!" then you wouldn't have made it anyway. Only an Iron Chef of songwriting should walk away with the trophy.
Fortunately, of our four finalists, all of you proved you have the chops, A few shadowers did, too!
Your former competitors are ranking your efforts, and the judges don't matter this round. Nevertheless, I have to review you, so I approach it in much the same way: how well did you meet the challenge. Since we said you could write any song at all, I don't care much about lyrical content this time. Something akin to "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" would've been fine if it were original. This challenge is about musicality. Did you exploit the instruments you had fully? Did you use them in interesting ways? Did you give us a tune?
Since my rankings mean nothing this round, these reviews are presented in the order the songs currently appear on the album.
This defies categorization. Part is rap, part is song, and most of it is beat poetry. As poetry, it ain't bad; it has the most introspective and frankly interesting lyrics of the lot. I like the rubbing of the forearms. More than one person told me that it was "creepy", and they couldn't listen to the whole thing. That's a shame, because a song named "Fear" should make you feel that way. I think that making somebody shudder and reach for the "stop" button is an artistic victory, Pyrrhic as it may be. Rather than searching for musicality in the instrumentation, it seems to me you've allowed the lack of musicality of the instrumetation to drain the music from the rest of the piece. It's a creative choice, but one that makes me feel that the challenge is somewhat shunted aside.
Lyrics? We don't need no stinking lyrics! And actually... we don't. This chant in African style communicated triumph and elation without the audience even needing to know what it's about. I have no idea what language it is, but if it were real and I had to guess, my guess would place it in the Congo or Uganda... Central Africa. The instruments? The instrumentation appears to be entirely handclaps, but with variety and various levels of reverb and audio "distances" that keep the listener engaged. With all that "looking upward" to the tenor voices and staccato claps, it seems to me to require a little more on the low-end for support and grounding. Some foot-stomps or bass chest-thumps might have been suitable substitutes for log drums.
A Beautiful Voice
I knew the moment I saw the title that this was going to be very special. No song by Steve Durand entitled "A Beautiful Voice" could be anything less. And Wow! This one has everything! TUNED percussion! Rhythm! Lyrics! AND AN HONEST-TO-GOODNESS TUNE! Why is it that you're the only one of the four finalists to use whistling? This song is infectious. It's not meta, it's biographical, it's endearing, and it's great. IF I were ranking, it would be Steve Durand by a mile, and a close race for second.
For the entirety of my 50 years, I myself have been notoriously unable to whistle. The very Tuesday morning I'm writing this, I discovered what I was doing wrong. A suggestion from my son Michael, suddenly I produced a clear, clean, piercing tone. I still can't control it very well... I whistle somewhat worse than you sing, Steve.... but for about 5 glorious minutes on my way to work I could manage a controlled tune. And I whistled this song.
You absolutely belong in the finals, Jess. This is solid work. It's got a nice, honest feel about it that rings true. I like the parallel drawn, where being stripped of your instruments leaves you vulnerable, with this song being an allegory for that as well as having its own overt meaning. Musically, you provide the "bottom" in your rhythm that I wished of Edric's entry. It's also very close to an a capella response to the challenge. I think it's possible to have discovered more varied sounds to work with.
What Do We Need?
I love the concept here... Sort of a stone soup of music. I like the variety of sounds you explored here, including the whistling. The execution could be tightened up... you seem to drift from the key a bit (which might be avoided by singing to an instrumental reference track, then removing it), but not bad at all for a shadow.
Drei Viertel Drei
I really expected to hear a lot more processed audio in this challenge. We did leave a rather huge loophole for that. This is a really neat idea, making body parts the subject of a song recorded using body parts. I don't know if the semi-random percussion is on purpose... it sets my teeth on edge, which might be the intent.
Before You Go
Brian, you've made my day! I'm the only judge who voted to put you through to the final round, and now I can point to this shadow entry and shout, "YEAH! Take THAT, BEEYATCHES! Uh-HUH..." Seriously, this is freakin' EXCELLENT. You've got the whole boy band thing going with the full drum kit, and I know it took a lot of work to get the sounds just right. The humor is spot on. If this had been an official entry we would have had a very close race for first place on my list. Oh, and Mrs. Dr. Lindyke is now an official member of the Brian Gray fan club, so lock your door... she'll love you to death.
Menage A Tune
Don't Miss the Rainbow
This has been a surprisingly good round... not a bad concept in the bunch. Glad you've continued the trend. This has a nice message... it would have been a very respectable official final round entry, though I don't think it would have unseated Steve. The whistled raindrops give this a level of musicality missing from several entries. It's got sort of a 1960s movie soundtrack feel. I'm also very happy to hear Ted's backing vocals, and hope to hear more of him in future work.