OK, reviews! If anyone is curious how I ended up judging these, I basically assembled them by order of preference and then went back through and added / docked points when people did a particularly good or bad job of the challenge. We thought "include a contradiction in your lyrics" was pretty cut-and-dried but some of these songs dropped the ball, IMO - as this is round zero we basically gave people the benefit of the doubt (i.e. no disqualifications, although if we all agreed you did a bad job then you may be cut regardless) but please bear in mind for future rounds that the challenge is important!
Reviews written on my fourth listen through, ranking may still shift slightly, but in roughly descending order...
Glow Worm - ooh, HELLO! I was a little wary at first because that opening chord sequence feels a little clichéd, but as soon as the vocals come in I didn't care. Your voice is amazing, and I love the way the synths swell in the chorus, great dynamics. What I can pick up from the lyrics is very good too (please post them to the forum if at all possible!), and the challenge is clearly met. The bit that really sends this song into the stratosphere is the bridge, with that emotional, distorted vocal break. This is wonderful stuff and gives me goosebumps. Extremely excited to hear more from you!
The Lowest Bitter - love the way this builds, the weary-sounding opening line initially concerned me but as the vocal layers start building up this gets better and better. I love the twinkly piano / synth in the (pre-)chorus section and the orchestral section makes this really stand out from the pack. There are a lot of songs with similar lyrical themes in this round, but this is one of the best for me - so many relatable little details, and a clearly signposted contradiction rather than just relying on "here are a bunch of things that are not fine. p.s. this is fine".
Grumpy Mike - OK so this one DOES get me on board from the first second, those guitars sound amazing. The interesting shifts in the rhythm section work really well and the chorus is huge and anthemic with those trademark whoah-oh vocals. I'm not hugely a fan of the lyric on the page but it works perfectly in context, and there are no problems meeting the challenge. Slight mix critique - the doubled vocals are a bit overdone when listening on headphones, particularly in the second verse. But that's a minor quibble, this is one of the best Grumpy Mike songs I've heard.
Rain - good to see you back! I really enjoy the electronic drums / bass + fuzz guitars arrangement, and the way you contrast the solid beat with your shifting guitar rhythms. The chorus is a great triple threat: catchy melody (with a lovely shift into falsetto at the end), interesting take on the title, clever take on the challenge. Really nice subtle vocal harmonies too.
Inflatable Vegetables - another strong take on the "everything is awful: this is fine!" angle. These lyrics are full of wonderful couplets, and your incongruous use of "baby" made me grin. Out of toilet paper, baby! Really catchy chorus, and a load of good instrumental hooks - I particularly like the surfy guitar on the bridge. Mix is a little muddier than some of the other high-ranking songs but I'm happy to ignore that if the song is otherwise good, and this one is very good.
Nick Soma - I wasn't crazy about this on my first rotation through this round but it really grew on me with repeat listens. I think the lyric is a smart take on the challenge (I really like that the contradiction is split between the two verses) and there's a ton of stuff to enjoy melodically; the chorus is very catchy and there's some lovely rhythmic interplay between the bass and guitar tracks in the verses. The section in the chorus that cuts the drums is also unusual and effective. The whole thing feels well thought-out.
Third Cat - this is at the extremely smooth, chilled out end of the Third Cat spectrum. I really enjoyed the spacious mix, the gorgeous acoustic guitar sound, the vocal layers and the strong melody. Lyrics clearly embrace the challenge and there's a lovely sense of melancholy to them. Some of your best work, I think.
Cavedwellers - I only have one slight gripe with this one and it's the electric guitar sound, that chorus (?) effect through the whole song doesn't do it for me personally. The song itself is good enough to put that aside though, I love the bouncy bass in the verse, the change-up into the catchy pre-chorus and the lift into the chorus is very effective. Really strong vocal(s) from Truth and the lyrics are solid (although I think maybe they peak early with the clever opening lines).
Helen Robertson - really loving the synthpop sound of this one, and this is easily the catchiest chorus of the round. Solid take on the challenge and a very enjoyable song. Would love to hear a punchier mix as it does struggle a little compared to most of the others, but I'm not deducting points for that. Vocals feel slightly strained on the "silently screaming" part but I appreciate the dynamic change there, just want to hear you cut loose a bit more I think!
Lucky Spoon - beautiful, heartfelt and moving, and you've nailed the spacious, simple mix. My only problem with this one is that there is no contradiction in the lyrics; you have pointed out that the lyrics contradict the backstory but that doesn't technically meet the challenge IMO. So I'm ranking this lower than I would otherwise as a result. I absolutely love the song, though - well done.
Lichen Throat - this one has a few issues but I've bumped it up my ranking a few places because I love the lyric and take on the challenge. Your sideways look at the title / challenge really worked for me. I also love the reverby verses, so atmospheric and strange (weirdly I'm reminded of early REM in places although I'm not entirely sure why). That same reverb contributes to the chorus feeling somewhat chaotic, however - rolling back on the ambience for those sections might have been a smart move. Definite points for originality though, this is by far the best song I've ever heard about rocks and sand.
Micah Sommersmith - this is an extremely Micah Sommersmith song. Some of the wordy, dense lyrics really work for me - the multi-syllable rhyme in the chorus is great, the bridge crosses a line into "you will only get anything out of this if you read all of these citations", which I'm not doing because I don't think a song should really need that much additional info to stand up (plus I have 42 other songs to get through). It's not a dealbreaker though, just going through my thoughts! The song is very enjoyable despite that criticism, the jumpy rhythms on the verse are infectious and the chorus is catchy.
Rob from Amersfoort - the lyrics tackle the challenge head-on, and in every other way this is just a fine example of the Rob from Amersfoort sound, which I generally enjoy. Excellent layers of quirky keyboard sounds and I like the big reverberating drum sound.
Evan Alexander Moore - this is one of my favourite songs of the round. I really like the lyrics and the general antifolk kinda style. But I don't hear a genuine attempt to engage with the challenge OR title here which has led me to dock points (if the lyrics get posted before rankings are submitted and I have missed something vital then I will adjust accordingly). I think it's fine not to include the phrase "this is fine" if the song feels like it earns that title, but this feels like it would be far better suited to other titles (Sequoia Trees, Locked into Hysteria etc). I'm also not crazy about the odd sound-FX verse. But I hope we get to hear a song for the next round that takes the challenge more head-on, because I like your writing a lot.
Moss Palace - another song that would have ranked in my top tier if I felt like it did a decent job of meeting the challenge, but I can't find the contradiction here so points have been docked accordingly. It's a pretty song with a lovely vocal though, and I like the subtle addition of electric piano on the chorus.
Max Bombast - starting to repeat myself at this point but aaaaaargh where's your contradiction? I'm assuming the whole "I can get more stuff done in less time" thing is supposed to qualify but that's contradiction-adjacent at best. It is, however, extremely relatable and well written, and a much better take on the title than the challenge. The song is very catchy and enjoyable, with a strong chorus. So it's a success on nearly every level, but points absolutely docked for the challenge!
Mandibles - those huge guitars in the chorus make me very happy, especially after the solo when everything comes crashing back in like a tidal wave. There are a bunch of other little things I like about this one, the echoing "this is fine" is very cool, lyrics are solid. It doesn't all completely work for me when all those ingredients are put together though, the timing of the vocals sometimes feels a little stilted, things feel a little bit like they needed a little more work to get the huge bombastic elements to fully flow together. It ends up as a good song with great elements, for me.
Temnere - the intro with the harmonised guitars is hard to resist, although it does feel very familiar. Very well executed, high-energy rock - classic Temnere, in other words. Couple of things kept me from ranking it higher - lyrics aren't one of my favourite takes on the challenge (it's another "everything is bad, this is 'fine'" but not one of the smarter takes, IMO) and the backing vocals on the chorus feel like they overwhelm the main vocal and become a little fatiguing.
Jules Iolyn - you have a really strong voice, and I like the kinda lo-fi but warm sounding guitar. I don't think your lyrics are a great take on the challenge, I'm assuming the last two lines are supposed to contradict the previous two but since they're phrased as a question it weakens the effect, IMO.
The Serviettes - solid head-on take on the challenge, good vocal, and I really love the backing vocals that come in at the end. I really wish you'd gone for a more fleshed-out arrangement though, the kick drum pulse gets old fast and I'm not a big fan of the scratchy guitar sound, which would be less of an issue if it wasn't carrying so much of the song. Possibly being a little harsh because I've heard a lot of your other songs and I don't think this is your best work, but it's still pretty good.
Nuke Skyblaster Reporting For DUTY!! - I like the punk energy and the overlapping vocals. This has a real classic-era punk feel to it - I was going to critique the mix for being a bit sloppy but it actually kinda fits the style perfectly so I'm mentioning it but not as a positive or negative, haha. It's a good take on the challenge and a fun song, albeit not one of the most memorable songs from the round.
Hot Pink Halo - this is one of the best vocals I've heard from you (which I think directly contradicts what you said about it yourself, but hey that's the theme of the round!) and the general sonic palette of the song is extremely pleasing to my ears - the organ / keyboard sounds are lovely. I found it kinda rhythmically unsatisfying though, the shift between sections could have used more of a dynamic shift or something to really help the song flow. The take on the title is interesting, but the take on the challenge feels a little weak to me, not sure if I'm missing something more contradictory than "you are the beginning and the end"?
Goodbye Bandita - I have issues with this one that are largely production related - there are some awkward transitions between sections, some of the vocals feel a little tinny and others get lost in the mix. The actual song is really interesting though and a particularly strong take on the challenge so I'm trying to reflect both sides of that in my ranking. I really like the synth solo, the call-and-response lyrics and obviously the omnichord, I'm only human.
Pigfarmer Jr. - I really like your main riff, and the keyboards add an interesting layer to the sound. Lyrics feel a little weak, including the take on the challenge. Otherwise this is a solid song that I enjoy in the moment but doesn't hugely stick with me.
DJ RangerDen - pretty piano sound, and you get a lot of emotion across in your vocal. There are some satisfyingly dramatic, unusual (to my ear, possibly not for the genre) chord sequences and melodic shifts. I didn't read your full liner notes but there seemed to be a lot in there that I didn't really get from the song itself, which may or may not be an issue depending on how you want your song to work, I guess. I enjoyed this but it didn't hugely move me.
Balance Lost - somebody didn't expect there to be 41 entries, am I right? You know I'm a fan but this feels phoned in, it's still very pretty but I can't rank it too high because it feels like less effort went into it than a lot of the other songs in this round, and it shows - especially in that meta second verse. I do quite like the household ambience and the spacious, sparse sound, but the lyrics are very weak.
8th Grade Team - this has good ingredients, the electronic production is done well, vocal is good (although doesn't sit in the mix too well), challenge and title well met. I don't find the end result very interesting though, the chorus melody feels a little weak and the tempo plods a little. Repeat listens dropped this down my ranking bit by bit.
Jon Eric - another "here is something that isn't fine: this is fine" song, and not in a way I found particularly interesting from a challenge point of view. It's a pleasant song though with a nice chorus melody.
see-man-ski - a bit of a weak take on the challenge lyrically, I feel like your contradictions don't really contradict. Good riffage and strong, energetic performance though. I really like the crunchy extra chords that come in and lift the chorus, and the layered vocals towards the end. End is a little abrupt, I'm a fan of the over-and-out in two minutes approach but that last note feels a bit unfinished rather than a solid BANG, DONE.
Brown Word and the Big Whine - I always seem to love parts of your songs, and in this case the bouncy bassline in the chorus is a total delight. The rest of the song is decent but that really stands out as a killer touch. Feels like the lyric is written about something that you consider to be a contradiction rather than actually including a solid contradiction in the lyrics, which I think I'm mostly OK with.
Frankie Big Face - well, you've already confessed that you messed up the challenge, haha. I have to drop you down the rankings for that. But the truth is that this is a song I was struggling with a little anyway - it's well composed and your vocal is undeniably impressive but something about it feels... I dunno, like it's more of a pastiche of a style than something honest.
Boffo Yux Dudes - full of manic energy and there's no doubt that you nailed the challenge. I found myself longing for a more memorable hook or some kind of change-up / room to breathe, though. The combination of non-stop lyrics and the ravey detuned synth grated on me.
Fisher & Diaz - this is pretty witty and I like the way you play off each other. But it's a song that gets less enjoyable with repeat listens, and the contradiction you helpfully indicated in the lyrics thread isn't... much of a contradiction. You had the unsinkable ship that sank right there, open goal!
Cloverdance - a pleasant G&G song that kinda got lost in the pack for me, although the lyrics are a nicely composed take on the current situation that smartly integrate the challenge, so good work on that.
Berkeley Social Scene - this is musically very pretty but the lyrics really bugged me. Points for some lovely slide guitar and twinkling electric piano, no points for "she’s so fine, but she’s not fine, this is fine" which is just... horrible. That's an absolutely song-ruiner of a chorus.
Ken Mahru - I like the pretty guitars and warm organ, vocal performance is strong, good mix. All the technical stuff is fine. But this song and lyric really failed to capture my attention - it's a very simple song and the lyric neither appealed to me nor felt like a particularly interesting way to take on the challenge.
TerriEllen - another well performed song, nice fingerpicking and you have a nice tone to your voice. But it's a simple, repetitive lyric that never grabbed me and that's a major problem in a song this stripped-down.
Starfinger - if you're going to double all your vocals then you need to get the timing right, because this felt really messy in places and that made it hard to listen to for me. There are some production / arrangement bits that I liked, the odd rhythmical breakdowns and retro breakbeaty stuff on the chorus is cool. But I found the vocals abrasive and the lyrics are yet another "here's a load of bad stuff. this is fine!" take, so this ended up being one I didn't look forward to revisiting.
Jon Berger - clever take on the challenge and title, but the execution lets it down. For every clever line there are a few really clunky ones, and the vocals and instrumental don't really gel. I admire your creativity but I didn't enjoy listening to this one which is hard to get past.
Geech Sorenson - this is solidly in "hmm I've heard a lot better from Geech but this is OK" territory until the vocal harmonies come in, and they are... not good. Serious tuning issues. That totally sank the song for me.
The Kraken Lives - I feel bad that I'm sticking the youngest (?) contributor at the bottom of the pack but this was borderline unlistenable for me. Really muddy mix, unpleasant guitar tone, clunky autotune on the chorus and no real contradiction.
BMac (Shadow) - shame you got in late, but glad I got to hear it anyway. It's a nicely jangling acoustic number, lyrics seem kinda interesting from what I can make out. The main percussion / metronome beat got on my nerves a bit and some of the timing is a little loose but I enjoyed it.
Vom Vorton (Shadow) - I wrote this in a key I'm not very comfortable singing, which I thought I'd grown out of, but apparently not. Think I just about got away with it though, and it's not like anyone's going to dock me points for it. Anyway I think this is a fun song. Hoping to keep shadowing unless the judging totally breaks my spirit and leaves me a quivering wreck of a man.