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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Infuriatingly Balanced Review

INITIAL DISCLAIMER: I'm not sure exactly what possessed me to volunteer for this review, seeing how I'm in Song Fu 6 myself. Turnabout is fair play, so any Song Fu contestants who feel that I'm completely missing the point of your song, making asinine comments, saying I didn't like your guitar tone when there wasn't even an effing guitar on the track, etc...

Please, feel free to take me to task in the comments. Review my track and parody the review I did for yours! Seriously. I can take it.

And don't forget to bookmark Spintown and check it every day! (tm)

Anyway… Here, in no particular order, are my thoughts, complaints, suggestions and musings on round 1 of Song Fu 6.

Mike Lombardo - "Sit And Watch The Rain"

THE SONG:
The "narrator" looks back at several periods of time with his father. The lyrics are effective in conveying both emotion and a narrative without ever being hokey or too simplistic. Anybody lucky enough to have a reasonably decent relationship with a parent can relate to the lyrics.

Favorite lyrical element:
It's about a parental figure and it's actually positive.

THE RECORDING:
If there's one thing I've come to expect from Mike Lombardo (other than piano) it's an understanding of how important groove is to hooking the listener and there are no disappointments here. Drums and bass are locked in from the first beat, which allows Mike to do his thing on the keys. The arrangement is rock solid--everything finds the correct sonic space including Mike's voice, which highlights the impressive vocal.

Favorite musical element:
GROOVE.

THE CHALLENGE:
Rain obviously is pretty important to the central narrative. I don't think "sit and watch the traffic" or "sit and watch Friends" would get the same impact. As far as the instrumental/vocal element representing rain, I believe that the guitar harmonics that emerge at several points during the song fulfill the requirement.

THE BOTTOM LINE:
In a world that has way too many songs about how parents screw up and do their children wrong, "Sit and Watch the Rain" is a breath of fresh (and groovy) air. (Voted)

Edric Haleen - "In The Rain"

THE SONG:
The lyrics convey a simple but fun logic puzzle--you're at a bus stop in your car. There's a rain storm going on, and the girl of your dreams, a good buddy, and a plot twist are there. Oh, and there’s only one seat available. Who do you take with you?

Favorite lyrical element:

"...somebody help! I think he's dying..."
Everybody loves a good plot twist...

THE RECORDING:
Everything Edric writes sounds like it would be right at home in a musical, and usually a big budget one at that. The problem is I don't like many musicals. That said, Edric's songs have a tendency to grow on me, although usually after voting.

The piano playing is, as per usual, practically flawless--metronomic ally stable and full of subtle nuance without getting so technical as to lose the listener. The vocals are also strong, if occasionally more dramatic than some listeners will like. Something about the way Edric delivers the line "No, Dude!" makes me chuckle every time. And of course there is “The Note” which is already a minor legend among other Song Fu contestants. No Autotune here, folks.

Favorite musical element:
Definitely "The Note".

THE CHALLENGE:
The whole plot of the song takes place during a rainstorm and the piano figure that represents rain is audible through most of the song. The piano figure is easily identifiable as the element representing rain without any prompting to the listener.

THE BOTTOM LINE:
Another solid entry in the hopefully forthcoming "Song Fu: The Musical" from Mr. Haleen.

Godz Poodlz - "Rain Is Pouring Down"

THE SONG:
Godz Poodlz have been one of my favorites since Song Fu 4, but their songs have generally leaned in the direction of light hearted or, dare I say it, novelty (not an insult! I love Flight of the Conchords... um... anyway). So, can they do an intense, brooding break up song, complete with apocalyptic biblical references? Hell yes, they can. And here it is.

Favorite lyrical element:
"The Biblical disaster only lasted 40 days...”
The entire lyric has a subtle undertone of impending doom, or destruction, or some kind of reckoning. It grants the entire song a "high concept" feeling.

THE RECORDING:
The production on this tune feels quite simply huge, and the tasteful use of horns/strings (are they fake horns/strings? I can't tell) and good use of reverb are the main things that make this possible. Although I'm starting to hate this word to describe music, I'm going to go ahead and say it sounds "epic". Or maybe "anthemic". Yeah, anthemic. Much better... The only real problem I have is that the lead vocal occasionally gets bit quiet or otherwise lost in the mix. The harmonies are Poodlz-standard.

Favorite musical element:
The staccato string figure.

THE CHALLENGE:
The song uses pouring rain as a metaphor for the steady and persistent emotional distress of separation anxiety. (Although I did refer to the song as a "breakup song" that certainly isn't the only interpretation; it could also be about a sudden/unexpected death or being separated by distance.) There is a brief smattering of thunder and rainfall towards the end of the track.

THE BOTTOM LINE:
To write this review I've now heard every SF6 song at least 4 times and if I was voting now, it would get a vote. One more reason to join the Poodlz Nation of Fanz.

Spencer Sokol - "Reservations"

THE SONG:
The lyrics are simple and evocative, if somewhat abstract (luckily I like abstract, since it affords the listener their own interpretation...), and seem to be about one long, awkward silence during a drive through a persistent rainstorm. Suitably enough, "Reservations" would make an excellent soundtrack in such a situation.

Favorite lyrics element:
"a backwater, beat down, podunk town in Mississippi"
It flows surprisingly well and is completely unpredictable.

THE RECORDING:
The production is intimate but very sparse--mostly just voice and guitar. The ragged, rock n roll delivery of the "too damn old" sections followed by the subtle but effective vocal harmonies in "I'm ready to go" give the intensity of the tune a nice ebb and flow.

Favorite musical element:
The overdubbed guitar "solo" gives the song a sudden extra dimension. Spencer's voice also is quite expressive throughout without ever quite reaching the point of the dreaded "emo".

THE BOTTOM LINE:
I'm partial to personal, emotive, acoustic-driven indie/college songs to start with, and the somewhat abstract lyrics and solid vocals drove this one over the top for a vote.

Zer0guy - "Thundercade"

THE SONG:
Well, it's an electronic instrumental. NEEDS WORDS. Seriously, guys. Let's do it--words. This probably would have been one of my favorite entries this round if so. (Let's ignore the fact I entered an instrumental in SF 5 Round 1...)

Favorite lyrical element:
Ummm...

THE RECORDING:
Okay, more to talk about here. I'm a big fan of various electronica tunes (U2 in their Zooroopa/Achtung Baby period, The Postal Service, etc. etc.) and Thundercade is a fine example of the genre. The production is clean and razor sharp. The musical ideas on display are interesting to me. But I always get the impression that there is an A section, a B section, and a C section, and then the song is over, as if it wasn't really arranged yet and this is just a demo of musical ideas.

Favorite musical element:
Most of it, really. The drums occasionally get a little cheesy, but again, who the hell am I to complain about that?

THE CHALLENGE:
Well, the tune doesn't have a "narrative" so...misses there. As far as the instrumental element representing rain, I can hear plenty of things that would probably meet the criteria, but I'm not sure which of them (if any) is the intended one. I'm going to say it's the delayed guitar towards the end, because it's what I would have used.

THE BOTTOM LINE:
Zer0guy, I'm sure you guys are sick of hearing it by now. But seriously. Words. Vocals. You would be a shoe-in for my votes in a songwriting contest if you were submitting -songs-.

Taryn Miller - "Crowded & Clouded"

THE SONG:
Taryn's is one of the few songs that is actually -about- rain, rather than the rain as a backdrop to something else, or rain as an extended metaphor, or whatever. Which means the perspective of the song is somewhat abstract and mysterious. Is Taryn singing from the perspective of.. an ecosystem? Hard to say. Anyway, this is exactly the kind of weirdness I personally love.

Favorite lyrical element:
"why don't you make a visit, quit cheating with the wetlands, their gauges are overflowing"
THE RECORDING:
Okay, so, yes; obvious thing out of the way first. The vocals are.. not good, by any standard measurement. The very first note of the song sounds like a really bad Autotune pitch bend. That said... once my ear adjusted to the dissonance I found the song overall to be very comforting. But, however the vocals were recorded (whatever effects, etc.), I feel confident saying it was the wrong way. It's a shame because Taryn's voice on her MySpace recordings is quite pleasing, and the lyrics to "C & C" are clever and quirky, and the phrasing of the melody/lyrics has an intriguing way of starting a thought in one line and finishing it in the next. In short, Taryn's got a pretty voice, some good-to-excellent lyrical chops and some nice musical ideas and as far as I can tell, she doesn't want anyone to know at first listen.

All that out of the way... I do like this song and I think it has a lot of potential in a re-record. I've already said how much I like the voice-and-acoustic-guitar thing so I'll not reiterate, other than to say the guitar tends to waver when vocals are going on. There is a lot more confidence in the playing during the first chorus and the little interlude immediately following it. If that could extend to the rest of the song I think it would strengthen the overall track a lot.

Favorite musical element:
The shaker during the chorus was an obvious but nonetheless excellent choice, gives the song a nice sense of forward motion.

THE CHALLENGE:
As discussed, this song is definitely about rain. The rain element sounds like it might have been recorded in a shower.

THE BOTTOM LINE:
So, despite all the negativity I just spewed out, I really like this song; I voted for it, it's in general population on my iPod. I wouldn't go so far as paying money for it without a re-record.

Boffo Yux Dudes - "Reign of the King"

THE SONG:
A film noir gangster story about a man named Johnny who follows his heart. And gets shot in the face. Oops, spoilers..

Favorite lyrical element:
The first two lines grab the attention pretty well and do an excellent job of setting up the rest of the story.

THE RECORDING:
I can't decide whether the Elvis parody/pastiche was the route I would have taken or not, but it works well enough for the tune. As a result, though, the song becomes one of the few of the round that I would classify as "funny" or "novel", which I think ended up working against BYD in the voting. It was like a Weird Al track showing up in the Song of the Year category in the AMAs (hmm, that would be awesome). The general style of the track reminds me of something from a Quentin Tarantino flick. I think a big finish (crescendo, more instruments and/or percussion) at the end would have been cool.

Favorite musical element:
Subtle vocal vibrato on the chorus and the harmonies/ "Ahhhhs" in the background.

THE CHALLENGE:
This is probably the song with the loosest connection to rain, aside from "tears falling down like rain" and the play on words in the title, there's not much precipitation going on here. As far as the vocal/instrumental element the somewhat plinky piano solo is a serviceable enough imitation of rain.

THE BOTTOM LINE:
In the end it just seems like the song needs something more. There's nothing wrong with it (so long as your onboard with an Elvis pastiche), really, and it's fairly amusing. It just doesn't leave much of a lasting impression.

Ian "Two Shades" Johnson - "Downpour"

THE SONG:
Like his sometimes-collaborator Taryn Miller, Ian's song is more literally about rain than a lot of the other entries. Where in many other cases the rain is a metaphor or a backdrop for what the song is -really- about, Ian's tune is about rain as a force of cleansing and renewal. Yep, it is the somewhat rare optimistic and uplifting indie/college/lofi rock tune.

Favorite lyrical element:
"My socks are cold and damp, but the grass is green and bright/
The sun is breaking through the clouds and it’s a beautiful sight"
...is a good example of the imagery that winds throughout the song.

THE RECORDING:
The recording is definitely what you would classify as "lofi" but still pretty clean, not any of the crackles or buzzes that you might normally associate with the word. Aside from the doubled vocals and the rain element you could almost be fooled into thinking this was done live (a positive in this case). The acoustic guitar in particular sounds great--warm and clearly audible but never too big (the fact that it is mostly doubling the vocal melody during the verses helps).

If Ian were to ever add anything to the recording the only thing I'd suggest is getting another vocalist to do the doubling/harmony part. There's really nothing wrong with it as is, but I've never been a fan of the whole "harmonizing with myself" thing. Even Tori Amos can't get away with it indefinitely. File under "extremely minor nitpick".

Favorite musical element:
The bridge is a perfect example of what a bridge is supposed to do--the storytelling is altered slightly and the dynamic of the song shifts. The vocal/guitar/"thunder" crescendo is fantastic.

THE CHALLENGE:
As stated, the song could be taken to be quite literally about rain (works as a metaphor too). Ian also had my favorite method of meeting the rain challenge, with creative use of blowing into the mic, tapping the guitar, shifting objects around, etc. etc. It's present pretty much throughout the song but never gets in the way.

THE BOTTOM LINE:
After the multiple listens required writing this review, Ian's is probably now my favorite track.

Bobby "BucketHat" Matheson - "Forget About The Rain”

THE SONG:
A transcript of a "conversation" between a guy who doesn't want to fix some tiling and his wife/girlfriend/roommate. I imagine it's quite relatable to almost anyone whose shared a house with a significant other (alas, I haven't). Bobby has an enviable ability to write songs that are fun (and funny) but don't go so far as being goofy or completely novel because of a firm root in reality ("Working Man's Noose" from Song Fu 4 Round 1 would be another) and "Forget About the Rain" is a fine example.

Favorite lyrical element:
"I said I'd fix the goddamn tiling.."
Rarely have I heard a more memorable and scene-setting first line.

THE RECORDING:
Acoustic guitar and voice. The acoustic part is favorably comparable to "Tom Cruise Crazy" by Jonathan Coulton. Bobby's vocal might be the most clearly audible and understandable of this round, and is fittingly conversational. The "drip-track" serves as sort of ad hoc percussion but isn't perfectly in time so it never sounds like it's just a metronome.

Favorite musical element:
Bobby's vocal delivery communicates the frustration of the situation but still keeps things light. They stylistic choices he makes are all the correct ones.

THE CHALLENGE:
Bobby has maybe one of the more roundabout methods of connecting the song to rain--really it's about something broken that can't be fixed. Oh, but it can't because of the rain. Ah, I see what you did there, Mr. Matheson. Never mind.... The drip track is really just water dripping though.... oh, water that was probably rain a few minutes prior. You know what, full marks for challenge.

THE BOTTOM LINE:
A song about getting nagged by your girlfriend maybe doesn't encourage the strongest emotional attachment, but, what the hell, I like it anyway. Bobby is quickly climbing the ranks of my favorite Fu'ers, and this was one of the nearest misses for a vote from me this round.

Kylie Petto - "Robby"

THE SONG:
"Robby" is one of the most personal songs I can recall coming from Song Fu. Instead of trying to explain it, here's what Kylie
said on her YouTube video:
"After countless days of thinking out my lyrics (there were so many directions to go) I decided to write my song about my older brother, Robby. Robby had an aneurysm when he was very young and is now severely special needs."
I didn't originally have the background information on this song and I admit I thought it was somewhere in the vein of an overdramatic Evanescence-style breakup song. Occasionally, I'm really happy to be so completely and utterly wrong about something.

Minus one layer of the bitter, cynical shell I've been growing since my junior year of high school I was able to relate rather strongly to these lyrics or at least form my own interpretation that may or may not be what Kylie was intending.

I have a nephew who is special needs and when I'm with him I often feel a sense of complete frustration (if not sadness) that there is a completely different person under his exterior who basically just isn't able to make himself known. It comes out in small ways... well, anyway, that's a different blog post. Point is, it is almost exactly like the feelings Kylie describes in this song. Hats off, Ms. Petto.

Favorite lyrical element:
"This won't be the first time I've seen the edge / So close to taking a step / And falling into you"
See above.

THE RECORDING:
I could be (and probably am) wrong but this sounds a bit like some of it was recorded on an analog 4-track. There is a hiss/"air" noise at the beginning of the recording that reminds me of the good 'old days of magnetic tape. This isn't actually a gripe as I think it gives the whole recording a sort of space, not dissimilar to reverbing the whole track.

There is some really quite impressive/technical guitar playing on this track--I like the musical ideas being presented but I'm not completely sold on the tone at times--occasionally it gets a little too "solid state and/or 80s metal" for me. But I'm an all-tube-all-the-time snob which is probably obstructively elitist in this day and age (the Age of Line 6).

Last but not least are the vocals and they are quite impressive. Kylie's got some pipes, no two ways about that. Unfortunately they are a little low in the mix at times making it necessary to strain a bit to make out all lyrics. Not much else to say really, although I could definitely hear some harmonies in this one. The recording sounds nice and full as is but a few well-placed harmonies or countermelodies could make it huge.

Favorite musical element:
Not to steal any thunder from Kylie's singing, the guitars really are rather expertly layered, and the lead guitar interludes throughout the tune really making things rock (always impressive when there isn't bass or drums). It just needs a tube amp next time. (Kidding. Mostly.)

THE CHALLENGE:
Like Boffo Yux Dudes' tune this one does have a pretty tenuous link to rain. Rain is mentioned plenty of times but always as a metaphor, although the song's "setting" (in as much as a song can have one) does seem to be in an oncoming storm. And it's not like Song Fu challenges aren't open ended in this regard. Does "about rain" mean "can't be a metaphor"? Well, before I get into a very meta discussion about Song Fu "rules" I think I'll move on to the rain element. There is definitely thunder, represented by distorted/delayed/reverbed electric guitar, which is very nice. What is representing actual rain is debatable, but I like the steady 8th note figure played on (I think?) clean electric that runs throughout most of the song.

THE BOTTOM LINE:
The subject matter struck a chord (see what I did there) with me and I think Kylie's voice could carry the tune even without the impressive guitar work. I’d still like to hear it with a full band sometime.

Caleb Hines - "The Water Cycle"

THE SONG:
Caleb's entry this time around is one big extended metaphor relating the ups and downs of life to the water cycle.

Favorite lyrical element:
I found the lyrics to be clever and serviceable to the narrative of the song throughout, although the extended extended metaphor is starting to stretch a bit by the end. In the 2nd verse the following appears:
"You are euphoric, and you’re floating in the clouds and in the sun,
You’re proud of all the things that you have done.
But then it seems you’re up against a wall,
And soon you feel yourself begin to fall,"
For whatever reason this amused me in relation to the old "pride comes before a fall" adage.

THE RECORDING:
Caleb's vocals are suffering from some production woes on this track (new microphone) which makes his lisp more noticeable, which in turn distracts from the well-written lyrics (there is a re-recording of the vocals on Caleb's bandcamp (HERE) where these issues have been at least partially addressed). The instruments and the arrangement are well done, and Caleb probably has the most eclectic mix of instruments in this round, including bass, recorder, piano, ukulele, and probably a couple of things I'm missing, and at no point does anything step on the vocal. For any gripes I might have about the lead vocal, the background vocals during the chorus are very well done and support the melody well.

Favorite musical element:
Never thought I'd be saying "I really like the recorder!" (I didn't even like it when Led Zeppelin did it) but it effectively glues all the other elements of the song together.

THE CHALLENGE:
Disregarding the "metaphor" thing that I've already harped on enough, the song quite definitely doesn't work if you remove rain from the equation. To represent rain Caleb uses an upper register piano figure.

THE BOTTOM LINE:
Ultimately this tune was a little too sweet to find its way on to my iPod, but Mr. Hines has a talent for bringing something unique to the Fu table and I look forward to future entries.

Denise Hudson - "Rain"

THE SONG:
Composed at the last minute (okay, well, last three hours) from a number of disparate elements, Denise brings us another vaguely menacing piano ballad with a healthy injection of Southern soul. I'm not really sure what it's about; (and honestly if you're the type of listener who demands your songs be delivered in the form of a linear story Denise Hudson is probably not for you. Another reviewer described her as "weird" [okay], they also presented this as negative [I disagreed]) but I'll say it's about a person who continuously tries to "reach out" in an extroverted fashion only to retreat within themselves again.

Favorite lyrical element:
It's pretty abstract from go, which, as mentioned, I like, but my favorite line is probably:
"There's water everywhere / are we gonna drink it? / Gulp it down like we mean it / I don't believe you can't see it clearly"
THE RECORDING:
Vocals and piano for this one, and both are as expressive as you like. Some of Denise's recordings have taken some flack for being basically "excessively dynamic"; There is definitely a lot of quietLOUDquiet in this track but it never gets so dramatic as to be jarring (which was a common complaint I heard for "Queen Christina" from SF 4). This is another tune I could easily hear in a movie soundtrack (probably something film noir, if anybody's still making those). My esteemed editor referenced Denise's voice on this track as "hot" and I'm inclined to agree. I might even go so far as "smoky". Enjoyable, in any event.

Favorite musical element:
The piano playing, particularly around the "there's water everywhere" sections.

THE BOTTOM LINE:
Denise is probably the Song Fu contestant who I would say is the closest to truly "experimental" both in terms of music and lyrics. I think this experiment was a success and definitely a front runner for my "sixth vote" this round.

Gorbzilla - "Freezing Rain"

THE SONG:
This guy is having a bad day, again and again (and again, yeah...), and the lady he was trying to woo left him for a weather man. Also, he seems to be stuck in the "Groundhog Day Scenario" and there is some freezing rain happening in the vicinity.

Favorite lyrical element:
"...man, I hate that weatherman..."
THE RECORDING:
Gorbzilla uses a classic "power trio" type setup for "Freezing Rain". The vocals are fine as far as pitch and audibility, and the background vocals during the "Everyday" part offer some much needed dynamic variation. As far as the bass, guitar, and drum, they sound like they might be looped (chorus section, verse section), or at least there is very little variation across the tune.

I'm not crazy about the guitar tone, maybe it's just a little too low in the mix but I can't really make out clear notes very well.

I REALLY shouldn't be one to complain about song length, but, meh, here I go: the track goes on around a minute longer than seems necessary, even allowing for a couple of extra choruses to highlight the persistent nature of the narrator's predicament.

THE CHALLENGE:
The song is about a guy standing in a freezing rain storm (apparently waiting for a phone call for at least part of the song). I believe the somewhat heavy cymbals are intended to represent the rain.

BOTTOM LINE:
Gorbzilla is usually one of my favorite Fu competitors ("March of the Geeks" might be my favorite non-serious, non-Master Song Fu track, actually) but, as you might have guessed from my sparse review, there just wasn't much in this entry that got my attention, good or bad.

Jutze Schult - "Kingdom of Rain"

THE SONG:
Jutze spins a fable/fairy tale about the line of succession for the titular Kingdom. With a surprise ending! There might also be a moral in there somewhere...

Favorite lyrical element:
Well, maybe I'm reading Jutze's intent completely wrong here, but if there IS a moral it seems to be this: often times the best person for a particular job doesn't want to touch said job with a standard issue ten foot pole.

While the three sons are doing their best to impress Dad, the princess decides that the only sensible thing to do is to get out of the country, thus proving she's probably got the most sense and determination of all of them. Then again maybe it's just a story and there wasn't necessarily a point. Whatever, I guess the point is the lyrics made me think, which I enjoy.

THE RECORDING:
This is another voice-and-guitar number. The acoustic guitar sounds quite nice and is played with confidence which gives the track a more driving feeling than you might expect from something that fits under the rough stylistic heading of "folk".
There is also some occasional synth "ear candy" which I'm not sure if I like or not. It's like somebody go sci-fi in my fantasy, or something. Well, anyway.

Favorite musical element:
The modulation to a major chord for the last note. I thought it was a clever ending.

THE CHALLENGE:
Other than a brief mention of rain in the first verse and in relation to one of the sons, there's really not much connecting rain to the central narrative. Sure, it's the name of the Kingdom, but it could have as easily been the Kingdome of Maine, or Spain or On the Plain. I'm also not sure what is supposed to represent rain in the vocal/instrumental maybe the shaker? All of that said it doesn't really effect my enjoyment of the song, in fact if I didn't have a section marked "THE CHALLENGE" in these reviews I wouldn't have noticed.

BOTTOM LINE:
Another solid one from the man who I believe has been in more rounds of Song Fu than anyone (and is also crazy enough to write reviews almost every round). It didn't grab me quite enough for a vote initially, but it has grown on me with repeated listens.

Leigh & Hoover - "Summer Rain"

THE SONG:
I'm borrowing the description from Leigh & Hoover's web site for this one:
"We had hoped for some form of Valentine's Day challenge. So when we heard that our challenge was to write a song about rain, we decided to make it a romantic encounter... two lovers meet for the first time as they take shelter from a storm at the beach."
Favorite lyrical element:
"Perhaps a bit of kismet / Blessed are the powers that be /In that ever magic moment / That captured you and me"
-- Kismet! Not a word that just everybody manages to work into their songs. I appreciate a good vocabulary.

THE RECORDING:
The arrangement and recording is done in the style of a smash hit piano ballad from the 1970s (think Elton John.. I would also say to think of certain piano-driven Eagles tunes, but I have been assured my multiple people that I'm wrong about this, so I won’t). Anyway, if "smash hit piano ballad from the '70s" sounds good to you, you are most likely going to love this song. Personally it's not really the kind of style I get into. Both the piano and the vocals are delivered with musicality and feeling. The only other instrument I can identify is hi-hat, which provides a sense of forward motion and time. To complete the association with 70s pop, the song ends via fading out during the chorus.

Favorite musical element:
Dave's vocals (lead and background) sell the song well, and his piano playing is also impressive.

THE CHALLENGE:
"Summer Rain" is one of the best examples of rain being "central to the narrative". The rain element is well integrated into the song and managed to sound "cozy" in as much as sampled rain and thunder can.

THE BOTTOM LINE:
It's probably just my knuckleheaded rock guitarist self talking but I've never been the biggest fan of piano pop. The whole presentation, somewhat like Caleb's tune, is well done but ultimately just a little too pretty for me. That said, this is an impressive first Fu entry from Leigh & Hoover and suggests a lot of great things to come.

COMMON LISP - "Polly Loves The Rain"

THE SONG:
Paul R. Potts (with a little help from SF5 master Joe "Covenant" Lamb) spins us a yarn about a proton who has been a lot of places and seen a lot of things. (Amusingly enough, Caleb Hines' song could be about Polly! Neat coincidences...)

Favorite lyrical element:
Pretty much all the lyrics to this one are highly creative, but the "Yeah... the one we live on." part makes me smile every time. "Suck on that, Al Gore" is a close second.

THE RECORDING:
Common Lisp brings some of the most elaborate, interesting, and clean production to the table this round, which lends even more to the "sci-fi" feel of the track. The percussion and bass keep the spoken-word verses moving and grooving. The synth melody in the chorus is nice. Honestly I could do without the second vocal part in the chorus until the "rain/plain/Spain" part, the harmonies there are very nice. I like the big, ringing guitar chords and harmonics.

Favorite musical element:
Recruiting Mr. Lamb was a good (if unfair--just kidding) move. Two voices will pretty much always be better than one voice harmonizing with itself and this track serves as proof.

THE CHALLENGE:
The song really isn't about rain; but it is about an anthropomorphic proton who very much enjoys rain and the water cycle. The instrumental element representing rain is big guitar harmonics (which also happen during the "rain" part of the chorus, which was a nice touch).

THE BOTTOM LINE:
I'm usually not too big on spoken word songs, which is probably the final reason I didn't quite have a vote left for "Polly", but I have a feeling this one is going to be on my iPod longer than a lot of the other songs from this round, for one simple reason: it's -fun-.

Glen Raphael - "Can't See the Sky"

THE SONG:
Glen's lyrics remind me a bit of Godz Poodlz's entry; rain as a sort of companion to misery in the absence of a loved one. The B section of the song, likewise, reminds me of Ian Johnson's entry with rain as a positive, renewing force. Multiple perspectives: a good thing!

Favorite lyrical element:
The bridge (or B section, I guess, you'd have to ask Glen which he'd prefer). The line about drops joining together like "you were joined to me" is clever and adds some optimism to what could be a somewhat bleak lyric.

THE RECORDING:
Probably the quirkiest production this round... the recording is based around acoustic guitar and lead vocal with some darn excellent backing harmonies, but a number of other instruments show up for a measure (or even a few beats) at several different times during the song never to appear again (distorted electric, mandolin, something during the second bridge I can't identify.. might be vocals.. anyway). The dual guitars and mandolin are often out of sync with each other which makes me think that some kind of percussion (a shaker would have been fine) or a bass part would have helped to build the foundation of the song. Luckily the instruments are really just there to support the vocals and the vocals are quite good throughout. The vocal intro, while being one of the more clever ways of fulfilling the rain requirement, might strike a listener as a kind of bizarre way to start the track out. It's not in any particular key or time until the second "pitter patter" when the harmonies swoop in and it's a somewhat disorienting way to start the song. Anyway, a minor nitpick, after the first listen it didn't bother me at all because I was expecting it. Glen also does a good job of saying everything he needs to say and ending the song, it clocks in at exactly two minutes but doesn't feel too short or incomplete.

Favorite musical element:
Definitely the harmonies. There isn't a single bad or weak one that I could hear.

THE CHALLENGE:
The rain element is represented in the vocal at the beginning (I believe Glen was the only contestant to go the vocal route) and some sound effect type rain at different points in the song.

THE BOTTOM LINE:
It was a good round for first time contestants and Glen was no exception. I'd like to hear the instrumentation a little structured next time, but otherwise no complaints.

Inverse T. Clown - "Sexy in the Rain"

THE SONG:
Inverse brings us a remarkably tame love song that involves the inherent aesthetic appeal of a lady in the rain. I'll admit, being familiar with some of Inverse's repertoire, I was surprised there wasn't a plot twist in which he revealed one or all of the following: a) that her sister is way hotter, b) he actually thinks she's a whore, c) he's about to kill her for insurance money etc. etc. but this didn't actually detract from my enjoyment of the track.

Favorite lyrical element:
The chorus. The lyrical hook is simple and memorable.

THE RECORDING:
Well, I’ve already went into fairly length conversations with Inverse himself on how I feel about fully MIDI recordings so I’ll just say anything completely synthetic that isn’t consciously “electronic” music (such as Zer0guy’s entry) is probably going to have an uphill battle getting a vote out of me. Occasionally it does work pretty well. The bridge reminds me, in a positive way, of some pop songs from the early ‘80s.

Moving past that, Inverse’s vocals are solid, but restrained (it’s likely he was recording this very late at night and volume was a concern). It works well enough for the song but a little more variation (or maybe some harmonies/countermelodies) would have been welcome.

Favorite musical element:
In a couple of verses there is a piano (at least, I think it’s piano) part that sneaks its way into the mix and plays a simple little melody.

THE CHALLENGE:
“Sexy on the train” might have worked, but it wouldn’t have been as pretty. There is a brief rain sample at the end and the piano part I mentioned above (or several other instrumental parts) could easily satisfy the vocal/instrumental rain element.

THE BOTTOM LINE:
Like my esteemed editor, in the end it just seems like the song is missing something. Maybe an extended bridge would have done it, or some more variation in the vocal department. Inverse is a gifted songwriter, and I would like to challenge the internet at large to find him a band. (Probably would be a good idea for them to be able to read music.)

Jeff MacDougall – “Beautiful Day”

THE SONG:
“Beautiful Day” is a simple but fun song written to Jeff’s wife, Jackie (everybody say “Awww…”), that suggests going out to play in the rain is a better idea than traditionally thought.

Favorite lyrical element:
“When it’s falling down / From the sky / Makes me high..”
THE RECORDING:
Some of the best production this round came from this short-but-sweet, happy little tune. The drums are probably tied for the best of the round with Mike Lombardo. The bass is rock solid, and the guitar is suitably jangly. The synth (?) solo breaks up the tune nicely. The whole thing emanates fun and cheerfulness really (“ooh la la” background vocals? Check), so, unless you’re one those weird people who doesn't like fun…

Favorite musical element:
The strong drum beat during the “Happy… Jackie..” sections is exactly the kind of thing I would have in my own songs if I had a real drummer.

THE CHALLENGE:
At least one whole verse would make no sense whatsoever without rain, and it’s a short song so one verse is a lot. Using the synth for the rain element was fun, but if the “and the rain goes:” lyric was omitted I probably wouldn’t realize it was supposed to be the rain.

THE BOTTOM LINE:
We haven’t seen Jeff in Song Fu since SF3, close to a year ago, and it’s good to have him back.

Whew. Okay, still here? Good. First, I wanted to apologize that this review took so long to get out to you. I’m going to try to avoid writing any more reviews that are completely irrelevant by the time they come out, like reading a review for Avatar in 2012.

Second, please let me know what you liked and didn’t like about this review in the comments section, or on twitter (@travisnorris), or email (travis DOT norris AT gmail DOT com), or the TMA chat room (I go by Governing Dynamics) or anywhere else on the Series of Tubes that you may find me. If anyone finds it helpful, entertaining, or otherwise a force for good in the universe I’d like to know. If –nobody- finds it helpful, entertaining, or otherwise a force for good in the universe, I’m probably not going to bother writing another. ;)

-Travis Norris

Editors Note:
As with Sammy's reviews, this review does not represent the opinions of myself. I am grateful to have people like Sammy & Travis do these reviews. So do me a favor, and leave feedback below. It only takes a second to post a comment, and Travis put a lot of work into this. Thank you.

5 comments:

  1. Wow! Thanks for the time and attention you paid to all of the songs. These are the kinds of comments that I enjoy the most (and they're not always readily forthcoming). With insight into how our songs were received, we learn.

    Having said that -- let me also saw that we do temper the comments as we see fit. They are, after all, just one person's opinion. Just as people have a tendency to temper Sammy's opinions, as well. But putting together one person's opinion and another person's opinion and another person's opinion across several songs, we get a more rounded perspective on our songs and our craft than we would have in a vacuum. Thanks so much!

    :-)

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  2. Sorry Joe. I'm guessing Travis was just pressed for time & was trying to get finished.

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  3. Governing Dynambics-Travis: Thanks for this review. It's possitive, insightful and constructive. I've tried to do this in the past and know that it takes a lot of time, listening and relistening.

    Thanks for "getting" the Godz Poodlz song, "Rain is Pouring Down." We were a little worried about how folks might take this direction when we have been pretty light hearted in our songs in the past.

    Spintown-Travis: Thanks for keeping Spintown THE place for music and dance on YouTube and the web. Thanks for your continued interest and coverage of Song Fight and Masters of Song Fu.

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