Round Zero Reviews!
I am a judge, but I'm not the only judge, so bear in mind that my opinion doesn't necessarily reflect on anyone else.
In theory, Round 0 has more than 25 entrants, and the purpose of this round is to narrow the field to 25. In practice, there are hardly ever that many entries, so Round 0 seldom has eliminations. For a lot of competitors, this is kind of a "warm-up" or "throat-clearing" round, and I get that sense from many of these songs. Some of them have sloppy mistakes that shouldn't make it to a final draft, like missed notes in the melody or harmony. Others experimented with genre, or just got "silly."
I'm looking forward to hearing what you all bring to the table when Round 1 begins, and actual eliminations are on the line. Now, without further ado, here are some reviews!
À Tous Les Monsieurs
Hearing Frankie's voice on this momentarily confused me (especially because he went so bombastic with his solo entry, so I thought he was just using this moniker to showcase his softer side), but once we settled that, I enjoyed this pretty much without reservation. Other reviews have pointed out that the lyrics are "too" poetic, but it's right up my alley, so maybe I just have a soft spot for purple poetry. I like the jazz groove on the guitar and the brushed drums. All the instruments are really well played, and your singer is one of the best I know of. I have no complaints about this. It was my #1 pick.
The uke is played really well, and this is a huge improvement from previous Adam Adamant entries. I was sorely tempted to give you a better score just based on improvement, but there were too many better songs. What kills this are the vocals - they're performed fine, from what I can tell, but they're mixed poorly to the point of inaudability. It's like the uke is right next to me, and the singer is in the next room—and the next room is a steel-walled cell. It's a tough break, because I wanted to like this, and that's more than I can usually say for Mr. Adamant. One other nitpick: for the solo at the end, I count three ukulele tracks. The solo works and it's performed well, but the different uke tracks aren't differentiated enough. Try using different microphones, or different EQ settings, or spacing them out with panning. One is flanged, which is a good start, but not quite enough.
I like the lyrics, but the structure-to-song ratio is too low. Too much monotony before and after the lyrics. Props for a seamless integration of band name with subject matter. A bit pounding with the synths and the stress on all four beats. That makes it a little monotonous, which happens to be one of my musical pet peeves. Once the song gets going, it's no problem, but it's also not so mind-blowing as to make up for the intro.
Boffo Yux Dudes
I know you're tired of hearing the complaint that you're not funny, but when you specifically brag about going for our funny bones in the lyrics, I think that re-opens that avenue for criticism. The closest thing to "funny" here is the increasingly strained rhymes - they're kind of silly, but it takes more than that to make a joke. You're musically tight, at least. More so than a lot of your previous work. It's kind of cheap Casio tones, but you make it work. If only the lyrics were any better.
Carlo Bruno Jr.
Self-awareness and swagger are your greatest assets here. I dig the psychadelic vibe! This had me smiling start-to-finish. I love the strings in the background, and the "Ooh Ahh"s in the instrumental breaks. Also, thank you for posting your lyrics, as your voice can be a little difficult to make out sometimes.
I like how you used the challenge to explain the origin/purpose of your name and use it as a mission statement for your music, too. I love philosophy in song lyrics, so Plato is a plus. The referencing other band names in the last verse was a little too
self-referential and bordered on silly. I really like the recursive lyrics "Standing on the edge of under/standing on the edge of…" etc. Unlike certain other judges, I really liked the "What's a shadow?" part. It serves as sort of a climax for the song, which unfortunately makes everything after that feel unnecessary. As a matter of fact, I think the guitar solo leading up to that bit also runs longer than it needs to. Overall it's still a very good song. I had it ranked second place at first, but repeated listens made the length feel a bit cumbersome.
It's only in his head... but with the power of IMAGINATION!! Sorry, I just found it a little corny. The vocoder doesn't sit well with me, but it hardly ever does (good luck to you in future rounds—I apologize that one of my music pet-peeves happens to be a staple of your personal sound). I do like the title being rooted in strong imagery, and the childhood theme is especially evocative.
DJ Ranger Den
This reminds me very much of Laurie Anderson. It seems like you had a couple of different seedlings of an idea, and instead of fleshing any one of them out, you strung them together and hung a lampshade on how ridiculous the result was. In the end, this is kind of a trifle, but it's at least an enjoyable trifle.
Not a bad song, but the vocals are pretty badly off key in a lot of spots. I feel bad for not being able to dig any deeper, but the vocals just absolutely kill this for me. I can't get past it. Sorry.
Frankie Big Face
I get the impression that you weren't a fan of this challenge? It's a weird genre shift for you, but to your credit, you sound comfortable in this mode (as in, if I didn't know Frankie Big Face already, I wouldn't be able to tell that you don't usually do psychadelic techno-influenced heavy-on-the-bravado songs like this). It gets a bit repetitive in the middle. Blending the two musical parts together livens it up for the ending, but it probably could have been shortened a bit. Overall this is fine, but I'm looking forward to hearing your more songwriterly side in the coming weeks.
It took several listens, but this eventually became one of my favorites this round. I love the melancholy in the lyrics, contrasting with the narrator's supposed happiness in the chorus. The opening verse, it seems, it about diving into a swimming hole, but the early lines describe it as menacing, and the act of falling from a height makes the whole thing seem melancholy - at first I thought it was a description of a suicide! This melancholy permeates the three happy vignettes that comprise your verses. I also like the guitar intro/interlude, though I do think it would have been savvier to write something different for a coda.
I like this implementation of the challenge. The lyrics overall are a bit melodramatic, but in retrospect this title and challenge combination sort of lend themselves to melodrama. The guitars chug with urgency and your performances are solid. Strong melody, too. I like that you repeated the use of your name as a structural element in the second verse, but then left it behind in the third. I'm a little disappointed at the vocal delivery in some places. It took me longer than I'd care to admit to realize that the second line of the chorus was "Coming out my corner and I'm ready to punch," and at the end of every chorus, you seem to swallow the word "flow." It's disappointing that a song so high in drama should be hampered by a lack of enthusiasm.
Are you doing fake handclaps in every song again? Oh boy. "Your confidence is on the table where you left your keys" is a great image, but the transition from the verses to the chorus is a little weak, and I'd prefer to hear stronger rhymes. There's that one pre-chorus line, and then the first line of the chorus rhymes with that pre-chorus line, and the second line of the chorus doesn't rhyme with anything. This would be a nice deep-cut for a theoretical Manhattan Glutton album, but the structure issue interferes with its memorability. It has excellent production values, as usual, and it engages with some of your favorite themes like being bored with modern life.
Michael J. Samuels
Welcome! We call this "guy and guitar" here, or GnG for short. Some people are biased against it, but I don't mind it. Your playing is assured, but your performance evokes a really strong sense of longing and sadness. In other words, you've got soul! I like how you incorporated the challenge, too, "Mike is too plain a name..." I suppose occasional frustration over one's name is a universal feeling. Funny coincidence that you followed another Mike in the list, alphabetically. One of the main things holding this song back in my esteem are some pitchy harmonies. I like how passionate your vocal performance is, but it's really important when you're using two voices that they're in sync with each other.
I feel like I owe all the judges and competitors an apology for making us all listen to this and whatever this joker farts out next week. I'm sorry. Bottom of the barrel for this week.
Unlike certain other judges, I really liked the "chlorinated brine" line. The song has a strong sense of purpose and groove, in spite of most of the instruments sounding obviously fake; you keep it compelling. (note: I hope when you said your "personal challenge" was to do the whole song with that Casio, you only meant for this song. I don't think I could take a whole competition of Nick Soma songs that sound this cheesey). The challenge feels half-baked, as though you wrote most of your lyrics before remembering you needed to use your name, so that last first-person pronoun just changed to "Mr. Soma" instead. That's the main thing keeping this entry out of top-tier for me.
Welcome! I love your band name. The song is well executed, dark and moody, though some of the individual synths get overwhelming at times. You're combining sounds in really interesting ways, so keep it up! I especially like the syncopated thing that joins the mix for the second verse. And please post your lyrics in the lyrics thread!
Paco del Stinko
This challenge played neatly to your strengths, as you've written effectively about dueling identities before. Using both the real name and the stage name was a very creative take on this. Moody, dark, and (unlike a lot of Paco songs) also pretty personal. Well done. I had you in third place.
This is my favorite Rabid Garfunkel song of all time. I love your guitar tone, the sleigh bells, the ambience, and I especially like the lyrics here: "Holiday, Funeral, say your prayers, you better run." Such concise language conveying a real sense of urgency and dread. I also like how "Rabid" coincidentally sounds like "Rabbit" in these lyrics, evoking (intentionally or otherwise) John Updike
. I'd like to hear more oomph in your vocal delivery, but I still had you in second place for this round.
Creative lyrics, laid-back folk vibe, nice use of the challenge ("Tell them Ross sent you"). Lyrically, this is kind of a "message" song, one that tries to impart some advice. With lyrics like that you always risk coming across as didactic, but I think the emotionally resonant lyrics (like "two sides of the bed like two sides of a line") keep it grounded. I don't have any complaints on this one.
Touched by "Touched by an Angel"
Man, I thought you were joking about changing your band name. Anyway, this is a really good song. Tight harmonies, and I like the melodica. The lyrics scan nicely, which is satisfying, and the repetition-based structure keeps the whole thing bouncy and catchy. As far as I'm concerned it wasn't until the bridge that the repetition went from being charming to "okay, let's cool it a bit." Too many "very"s. If this is the genre you're playing in this year, I can't wait to hear the rest of your entries!
I like the use of your name in the chorus. It's a pretty middle-of-the-road entry. I don't hear any big mistakes, and it doesn't hit on any of my musical pet peeves, but it's also not terribly impressive. I'd be interested in hearing you experiment with other genres. I know it's difficult when you don't have access to a full band, though.
I like the instrumentation, especially the bass line, and there's nothing really wrong with the arrangement or performance… But this song is just too dang long, and it doesn't have enough variation to justify the length. In fact, I can't think of any reason why this couldn't have been cut to literally half its current length. Other things I've noted: Really heavy stereo separation. All the guitars are in my right ear, all the drums in my left ear. Voice dead-center. This gives it a kind of early-stereo vibe, where everything was hard-panned. There are elements of an engaging and compelling song here. I'm just not in it for the whole ride.