OK, sorry, but now everyone gets one brief, half-assed, extra-crabby paragraph because as I mentioned, my reviews file got corrupted and I lost hours of work on this round’s reviews
At least it wasn’t last round, though, I would have cried. 25 songs seems so manageable now…
Common themes: be nice but not too nice, that’s boring. Show, don’t tell. What’s the part of your song people will remember? Is there a reason for every part of your song to be there? Would this same song work just as well if you cut it to half its length? I felt like almost every song was too long this time around, which I think was probably a consequence of people hearing “handbook” and thinking “yessss, I'll put in a long laundry list of details.”
Speaking of a laundry list of details, here are the reviews, and I managed a few notes about the shadows too (though they didn’t get as much attention as the songs in competition, sorry--I may have more time as the list of songs gets shorter each week):
8th Grade Team
- I’m glad to see a total change in direction from last week’s song--shows some range--but this week’s entry wasn’t up my alley either. That hi-hat is way too loud, I really don’t really understand what you were going for musically and aesthetically, and the repeated use of “vomit” in the chorus is unpleasant. But nice vocal, aside from a pitchy moment or two, clearly defined melody, and it sounded original.
- This is fun! I didn’t entirely follow the story as I was listening, but I’m on board with alien adventures, and you sold it with the energy of the music and your delivery, the ridiculous neutron star break, and I really liked some of those rhythms (2nd half of the “Jupiter” verse). I would have liked more of a change-up as far as the constant RATM guitars, or maybe this song could have been a bit shorter, but the lyrics were interesting enough to keep me listening. This was not one of my very favorites of the round, but I enjoyed it.
Berkeley Social Scene
- I like the chorus melody a lot, and the super-spy lyrics are fun. Didn’t really like that main riff that first pops up in the intro--it feels jittery and awkward to me. The half-time/major key bridge sounds nice but really loses the spy feel for me. Nice performances, nice mix--nothing to complain about from that front, just wasn’t top tier for me this round.
- The first part of the chorus melody is a dead ringer for the “love dares you to care for…” part at the end of “Under Pressure,” but better that than the Meow Mix jingle. I liked this one a lot; excellent breezy but melancholy feel, pretty guitars and vocals, and striking, morbid lyrics. My favorite parts are the prechorus where the galloping acoustic guitar comes in; the energy picks up nicely there.
Frankie Big Face
- This grabs your attention right away with that big harmonized guitar intro and those high-energy synths, and the chorus feels nostalgic and full of wild yearning, and I like the “blood manifesto and dogeared mind” line in particular. I really like the ascending guitar against the separately ascending synth arpeggios around 01:12.
- Gorgeous intro, I want to live inside that sound--it’s like a distant radio playing on a hot night. I have to admit that every single time I hear “feet cold,” though, I hear “fecal” and it really takes me out of it. I was personally a little cold on some more “modern pop” aspects of the production from an aesthetic point of view--mainly the drum sounds and vocal processing--but that’s a personal taste thing, this is undeniably lovely and catchy and clean, and I think you got exactly what you were going for. I loved the double meaning in the “I can never make it right” line.
- I like all the weird lo-fi sounds in this production, although the mix is pretty muffled, and the vocals are so much better than last week’s. The call and response vocals are great, it’s a catchy chorus, and I like your lyrical concept. You know from last year’s Nur Ein that I’m a fan of murder in songs, but that whole weird Doing a Murder bridge in the middle was pretty unlistenable, and I think overall this song dragged on a lot longer than it needed to.
- Love the sound of this song, it’s very Fountains of Wayne, and hits that power pop genre sweet spot for me. Great chorus. It’s all extremely catchy and pleasant musically. There are still some weird emphasis issues in your phrasing, like on “problem solving powers,” and in general, I found the lyrics super unlikable--the narrator’s central conflict seems to be “on the one hand, I don’t want to waste my time HELPING anyone, but on the other hand, how else will I show off and let my unrecognized genius be known? Hmm, perhaps there is a hidden benefit for ME, the most important person! But there would be no other reason for me to help my coworkers.” Which just makes me want to turn it off once I start paying attention to the words. If you’d written this about something other than bitter, passive-aggressive office politics, it probably would have scored higher for me.
- For me, the songwriting here lacks the charm and catchiness of last week’s entry, and while I like the lo-fi bubbly synths, the mix feels so rough, it’s sort of hard to listen to, especially that bridge that sounds like a Skype call gone wrong. Too repetitive, although it has good advice and is unfortunately pretty relatable for me.
- This is an extremely Mountain Goats song in so many ways. It reminds me a lot of “Up the Wolves,” maybe a bit of “Magpie” in the phrasing. And, well, I like the Mountain Goats, but this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I like the angle you had on the challenge in your lyrics, and verse 2 was particularly vivid. I thought your vocals were better than last week’s, although the jumps into and out of verse 3 seemed jarring, as your timbre is super different there. The mix isn’t great, as the other judges so far have pointed out--it’s hard to figure out what’s going on in it aside from the very loud guitar, and it detracts from showcasing your songwriting.
- I have essentially the same notes as last time--fantastic vocals, but if someone else was covering this, I’d probably lose interest immediately. The melody meandered a bit, and the lyrics, while I can’t complain about the messages, came across sort of like empty platitudes, so I found it hard to engage with lyrically as well. I also didn’t like the sound of the guitar quite as much as last week’s song. Still a pleasure to listen to on the strength of your performance, though.
The Lowest Bitter
- This was my favorite song this week; I love that the lyrics felt both very specific and personal, and universal and relatable, and they were both moving and kind of cheeky and funny. I particularly liked the verse about the need to come out again and again. The music was instantly appealing for me as well, with the lively piano lines and that “get fucked” chorus.
- I felt sort of guilty not really liking this, but this felt like the musical equivalent of a “Live, Laugh, Love” poster, to me. Aggressively saccharine and positive, and the cheesy, anthemic music works for it, I guess, but doesn’t quite get me on board either. I had this complaint about a lot of songs this week, I guess--I agree with the content, but the way it’s delivered just makes it hard for me to get into. It’s sweet, though, I’m sure your wife loves it.
- I really like the uke/banjo stuff and wish it wasn’t so drowned out by the layers of vocals later--I think it would be cool if this sounded more live and stripped-back, like you were all performing this together on a porch. A bit folkier, less operatic. The steps go on too long for me--I think you could have gotten this done in about ⅔ of the actual length of the song--but I really liked some of your lyrics, in particular the “wander out into the sea” verses, which I think are wonderful at getting that overwhelming grief across, more so than steps 4-6. Beautiful melody on “I just try to survive.” The harmonies are sometimes just beautiful (“and grieve”) and sometimes something sounds distractingly flat (step six, some of those aaaahs, particularly towards the end).
- I know your artist name is “Max Bombast,” but self-aggrandizing lyrics like this are a real turnoff, even if they’re intended to be tongue-in-cheek or ironic. However, this is a really catchy song, so I couldn’t help but like it despite the narcissism. I like the little stabs of high funky guitar. This is maybe overcompressed or something, I kept jumping when it came on right after Mandibles’ song, and I feel like every time you sing a “p” it’s a brief assault on my ears, particularly when you sing “people.” Nice harmonies, nice melodies.
- Your accordion playing is always impressive, and I liked the bounciness the bass added here, but this song felt super long and samey and just kind of preachy to me, and I couldn’t get into it. I think it is actually full of wisdom as far as content goes, but there’s a whole lot of telling and not a lot of showing, or wordplay, or humor--it makes it hard to go through seven steps’ worth of advice plus intro and outro.
- This is just so cool and lovely, fantastic vocals, and the slide guitar really makes it. The lyrics didn’t stand out to me one way or another, but I think they were well done and worked nicely for the mood of the song, and I did like the lines at the start of verse 2 in particular. I don’t really have that much to say about this, but it’s excellent.
- Ye olde Renaissance Faire melodie doesn’t sound like every other Song Fight/Nur Ein song, so I’ll give it that. Also, I was laughing my ass off over old Jethro Tull videos on Youtube the night before the songs were posted, so I was in a good mood for hearing this type of song. I feel like I’ve said this about half the songs already, but I guess “the handbook” makes people want to write a lot of long, detailed instructions… this could have been done in half the length and kept the same ideas, it’s not an actual instructional guide, so you don’t need to put in every single lyrical detail you’ve included here, and the music isn’t changing enough to justify it. I liked the sound of the guitar a lot, and sort of wish you hadn’t used that nice musical backing on making what is essentially a Halloween novelty song. Theremin-ish synth is nice, the creepy child vocals are very nicely done--thanks for explaining that, I was wondering how you had access to a bunch of ghost-children. Enjoyable but not something I would probably revisit.
Nuke Skyblaster Reporting For DUTY!!
- I was conflicted about where to put this in my rankings. On the one hand, I enjoyed it a lot musically and thought you had a good groove (haha) and a nice ebb and flow to to the music, and a creative approach to the use of your sample, but in the end I had a hard time ranking it as high as songs where people had to write, perform, and mix in actual vocals. Fortunately for you, I don’t think the other judges felt the same way. Is that a bit of woodblock in the background?
- Glenn mentioned the Meow Mix thing, but this is a generic enough melodic run that it didn’t bother me even after he pointed it out and I went “oh yeah I can see that.” I liked the chorus! I thought it was catchy. This is OK, but not a standout song for me in any way, and it ended up dropping down my rankings because I didn’t feel like you had fulfilled the challenge and everyone else managed to check that checkbox. There are things that happen in sequence, and the word “handbook,” but no actual instructional steps. Was this comfortable to sing? It struck me that your voice might sound better in a somewhat lower range than where you’ve put it here; this register sounded a bit pinched.
- This song is good enough--it’s competently performed and arranged, catchy and fun--but on the whole, it felt like just kind of generic pop-punk, and to me is not quite in that tier of standout songwriting, unlike most of the other songs I’ve heard from you in the past. Griping about emphasis issues again, I didn’t really like “understand, look” as a rhyme for “handbook”... it’s sort of clever but the phrasing doesn’t match, so for me, that “look” feels awkward. The slowed-down bridge/dropout/ramp-back-up is a nice choice to shift the dynamics.
Rob from Amersfoort
- I still feel like I’m being transported to another dimension with this, but the dimension is a bit more boring than last week’s. The energy level never seems to change, it all just kind of chugs along, and this just feels a bit monotonous to me… and then it just abruptly stops. The mellotron or whatever that is reminds me of the circus. I like the typewriter sounds. The lyrics seem pretty tossed-off, and I’m just not entirely sure in general what you’re trying to get across with the message and mood of this song. I appreciate the uniqueness of your sound, but it didn’t work so well for me in this song.
- Nice work getting reinstated and surviving to fight on! I don’t find the music for this song terribly interesting for me personally, but it’s well performed and a good groove, and the lyrics are much more interesting than last week’s. The first few lines really grab you and I love that you’re leaning into that emotional space. The phrase “I’ll feed in time my ticker” struck me as really awkward, though, and the “take steps…” stuff fulfills the challenge but kind of feels shoehorned in there content-wise.
- I like this kind of cheesy, lo-fi synth, I like handclaps, and I like the quirky lyrics. So from a genre bias point of view, you landed on my good side despite the rather low production values of the mix. It just doesn’t feel very complete--as Glenn noted, it feels more like a demo than a completed song. I really like the lyric “step one--write a list that starts with step one,” but it feels like you’re trying to cram too many syllables into that line and they don’t quite fit. The vocals get really pitchy at points. Some nice melodic bits, but overall this just didn’t feel done yet.
- I didn’t find this song terribly memorable, I couldn’t sing any melodic hook back to you or quote back any lyrics, but I enjoy hearing that intro kick in every time it comes up on the playlist. It just sounds really nice and there are all kinds of little production details to pay attention to as you listen--I love the warm washes of harmonies, the guitar jangles and chucka chuck strums, and the various reverse delay type sounds. The hippy dippy acid trip lyrics work for the general mood and style of the song. Still, I’d love to hear a song next time that’s a bit hookier and catchier.
Brown Word and the Big Whine
- I like the lyrical concept. Parents, amirite? I didn’t find this very enjoyable to listen to, though--felt kind of droning; I think for this kind of bluesy vocal delivery I would have liked more of a sexy swing and swagger to the music, and probably would have liked the lyrics to be cut down a lot; it’s really wordy for the style--not necessarily overall length, but phrasing within each line.
Hot Pink Halo
- Melodically and rhythmically, this reminds me a lot of your “Right Town, Wrong Address.” I mentioned at some point to the other judges that I kind of expected you to make a song about bookbinding based on this title, and I wasn’t disappointed. “The algorithm blues” is a great phrase. The chorus is catchy enough, but like I mentioned in Nick Soma’s review, I really don’t think it’s necessary to put quite so much detail into the lyrics. These are some of the best vocals I’ve heard from you, I think. Having the fake orchestral backing stuff drop out in more places would go a long ways towards making the arrangement feel more dynamic--there are a lot of held notes constantly and not a lot of rhythmic shifts.
- These vocals are still really pitchy, but I think this is much better than last week’s entry as far as vocal rhythm. And it has a chorus hook! You know, though, despite the vivid imagery, I don’t like these old timey literature lyrics as much as your more personal, modern day storytelling ones, and this feels more like “19th-century poem set to music” than “lyrics meant to be sung.” I have heard better instrumentals from you in the past for sure--this is back in the zone of “a bunch of fast MIDI notes with no dynamics or syncopation.” The ultra-fake church bells were kind of funny to me, I liked their ultra-fakeness. I would still like to hear what you would do with a spoken word song or a dark post-punk kind of tune where you lean into robotic rhythms for the music.
- This is really fun and high-energy--I like the chorus hook, and the gang backing vocals give it some excellent energy. Those high falsetto “terms” could definitely have used a few more takes or tuning, but the slightly dodgy vocals work with the style.