Circle of Titles V

Discuss the many little competitions/projects that spring up amongst the Song Fight community.
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Re: Circle of Titles V

Post by fluffy » Tue Jul 21, 2015 10:22 am

Those look like iTunes volume normalization tags.
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Re: Circle of Titles V

Post by Generic » Tue Jul 21, 2015 12:02 pm

Maybe I'm just biased because it's "my" sidefight, but I always feel like we get especially good work from all the participants in the Circle of Titles. Hard to tell if it's because we don't have the pressure of writing to a title that dozens of other people are also writing for, or just because I usually don't stress about deadlines, so participants have effectively 3-4 weeks on one song if they need it. Anyway, I really liked everything here, and I want to say that up front in case it doesn't show in my reviews for some reason. I know I have a tendency to nitpick. Everyone here is doing excellent work they should be proud of. :-)

Now, on to some reviews!

Sockpuppet - "Bipolar Bear"
from the title suggested by Nick Soma
It's an interesting choice to never use the title in your lyrics. I really like the piano here (and not being the only piano guy in the fight for a change), but your vocals could use a lot more takes. Sounds like you're not comfortable with the melody yet. I like the slight swing on the tambourine, but I think it would be more effective if it were cut from the verses and left as a chorus-only element. The unexpected diminished chords in the ending were a really good touch. I like this a lot, but I must admit that I'm still struggling with the title after a few listens. Is the character in this song a metaphorical bear, who doesn't belong "in the big city" because he should be out in the woods? Or is it a bear, who doesn't feel like he fits in because he has body images issues? Maybe it's both. I feel like there's just slightly less than enough support in the lyrics for either interpretation.

Inflatable Vegetables - "Something Fishy"
from the title suggested by fluffy
I love the electric piano bed here, and you used some fun chords that resolve in a satisfying way in the chorus. At first I thought the girlfriend was secretly a mermaid or something, but the shark imagery becomes almost overwhelming by the end. "At times you're quite aquatic" is probably too clever by half. I really appreciate the background vocals over that last chorus, but they should probably be a little lower in the mix. The song is very catchy, and probably the one I'll have stuck in my head the most over the next few days.

Zack Facco - "Sunburned and Sticky"
from the title suggested by Inflatable Vegetables
This song runs 4:30, which is a little long, and the verses are pretty much just vamping until the guitar solo. So basically, the vocal section—the first minute-forty of this song—is just preamble to the solo. An excuse, if you will, for a guitar solo. I think the guitar work is great. The solo runs long, but it doesn't feel boring to me; it justifies its length. So I guess my feedback would be to make the vocal section even more perfunctory; shorten it to get to the guitar work sooner. That's where the real heart of the song is. And maybe work a little more on the melody in the verses; you don't have to be pitch-perfect every time, but it feels like you were "searching" for the melody, as though you hadn't even figured out the right notes yet.

Johnny Cashpoint - "Dark Night of the Soul"
from the title suggested by Zack Facco
Vocally, this is probably the best performance I've ever heard from you. I love the sneer in your voice, just dripping with acid that gets meaner as the song goes on, especially in the last few lines. Your backup vocals don't sound like they fit in with your chorus. Maybe they're mixed wrong, or have the wrong reverb on them or something, but they sound like they're interrupting the lead vocal. The bassline is very effectively 80s goth, which is effective for this song. I also really like the counterpoint between the lead vocal and the electric piano, and how the piano itself is kind of bright and bouncy, juxtaposed against the pitch-black lyrics. Love this.

Jan Krueger - "Enjoy it While it Lasts"
from the title suggested by Johnny Cashpoint
I love your a capella stuff, but the lead voice in this one sounds really badly strained, as though you're singing through gritted teeth, or you just stubbed your toe or something. The pacing of this song is pretty much perfect; I love the swell of voices at the last chorus. The lyrics hit me on a personal level, which might not surprise you given our recent conversation in the IRC channel. Seems like we're dealing with some similar personal issues. In your bridge section ("In the wastelands of confusion..."), there's a strange noise under the vocal, maybe one of the "backup singers" whispering something? The fact that I can't identify it is pretty distracting. Consider either making it more prominent so it can be identified in the mix, or cutting it out completely. I like this a lot, but I wish the lead voice had more of an open sound to it.

Schlimminy Cricket - "Worst Painting Ever"
from the title suggested by Jan Krueger
This was one of my favorite titles this year, so I'm glad you picked it. And you spun a fun Tom Waits-meets-Frank Zappa-ish fable out of it, which is even better. I'm not sure the story actually makes sense, or at least not the twist at the end; nevertheless I get the impression that making sense is not the point. I like that you used some unnecessarily large words, like "adjudicator," "perfunctory," and "existential." In most other songs, these word choices might come across as awkward, but here they establish tone. Meanwhile, that calliope-esque synth lends the whole things a vaguely carnival atmosphere. This is a great example of a song where almost every individual element somehow ties into the larger idea. Nice work.

Pigfarmer Jr. - "Dancing is for Happy People"
from the title suggested by Schlimminy Cricket
Sad songs and waltzes aren't selling this year. There's a moment at the 25-second mark where the rhythm switches from "ONE two three" to "one two THREE" and I can't tell if you intended that, or just fell out of sync with your click. It corrects around the chorus, and I don't think the problem comes back (Edit: oh yeah, I hear it again in the second verse. I guess you did it on purpose, but I'm still not sure why). The chorus vocals are double-tracked, but the two voices occasionally disagree about the words, which makes the song sound a little rough-draft (I know; easy for me to say when I took three times as long as you to finish). What does work really well is the guitar work here. Both the rhythm acoustic and the lead clean electric are really well performed and they gel with your mix. The rest can be expanded upon or revised as needed.

Jon Eric - "Come Around Again"
from the title suggested by Irwin
Well, I kind of already discussed the lyrics. I was having an absolutely awful time with work-life balance when I wrote this, so the writing was done in short sessions, maybe 10-20 minutes at a time, and the recording/mixing didn't get done until several weeks later, in two longer stretches of 4-5 hours each. I think the short writing sessions might explain why there are so many different sections in this song (depending on how you count, there are up to 7 distinct musical sections, some of which repeat), and it was a challenge getting all the pieces to fit together. I threw in the hooks from my first four Circle of Titles songs, partially to celebrate five years of this sidefight, but also because I didn't know how else to get from the first bridge to the third chorus. Transitions were a challenge with this song. There were moments when I felt like I was putting together a Frankenstein song and that it would never sound coherent, but in the end I think I got it to gel better than expected. I hope you all enjoy it!
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Re: Circle of Titles V

Post by jast » Tue Jul 21, 2015 12:41 pm

Jon Eric - Come Around Again

Okay. I know the appeal of making the composition conflict with the lyrics, of making a light song on heavy topics. In this case, I think you passed up an opportunity to make a song that comes across as authentic. It's a good song the way it is now, but the delivery is taking away from the sentiment. I'm not saying it needed to be all minor but you added a lot of up-tempo and energetic stuff... I think the song would have had much more of an impact if you had kept the melody and everything the same, but made it a little weightier (slower and less busy, most importantly).

This style would have worked wonderfully if it was a story with active self-deluding, no direct hint at insight, possibly eventually resolving into the character realizing things, reflected in a change in musical style. Instead, you're telling the story using "happy" music... in second person, granted, but clearly the narrator is talking about himself. If we go with the idea that the up-tempo, cheerful style symbolizes either delusion or some form of happiness, the message is that someone is, at the same time, realizing they're deluding themselves, and not exactly happy about it (which comes through in the more quiet sections) but, at the same time, all happy and ignorant of reality. Does not compute! Sending mixed messages becomes much more effective when they hint at different undercurrents that actually work together to tell the story of a conflicted person. This tries to tell that exact story after the conflict has already been resolved: the character has already come to see things quite differently, and the music tries to sell us conflict. Too late!

Now, on to more technical topics. One thing I liked quite a bit about the arrangement was the subtle harmonizing (very good doubling of the lead vocals in the chorus, by the way). I think technically there's more voice in you still, but you've done a pretty darn good job here covering a fair range of expression without losing the pitch (except on the last line, the first half of which is way off). Overall, the artificial drumming is a bit too perfect (and repetitive) to fit. Musically, quoting your previous CoT song is a bit of a stretch... but it still kind of works, so whatever.

I've said (or at least thought) this about other CoT5 songs and I'll say it again: this is a good song that has a great song hidden inside.
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Re: Circle of Titles V

Post by jast » Tue Jul 21, 2015 12:57 pm

Generic wrote:Jan Krueger - "Enjoy it While it Lasts"
from the title suggested by Johnny Cashpoint
I love your a capella stuff, but the lead voice in this one sounds really badly strained, as though you're singing through gritted teeth, or you just stubbed your toe or something. The pacing of this song is pretty much perfect; I love the swell of voices at the last chorus. The lyrics hit me on a personal level, which might not surprise you given our recent conversation in the IRC channel. Seems like we're dealing with some similar personal issues. In your bridge section ("In the wastelands of confusion..."), there's a strange noise under the vocal, maybe one of the "backup singers" whispering something? The fact that I can't identify it is pretty distracting. Consider either making it more prominent so it can be identified in the mix, or cutting it out completely. I like this a lot, but I wish the lead voice had more of an open sound to it.
Thanks for the feedback. I am, in principle, aware of vocal issues. I'm still figuring out vocal technique and most of the time I can only manage three ways of performing: weak, too open, or what you get in this recording (and, by the way, it's not actually functionally strained at all. I can keep going like that for hours). The strange noise is actually a form of whistling and if it confused you, it did its job. During monitoring it seemed to have the right level: enough to be noticeable as noise.

About the lyrics: Work/life balance isn't really an issue for me, but of course the writing is based on personal experience. The lyrics might try to make you believe that the song is an answer, but it's actually more of a question. Being in the present moment, enjoying things as they come, that's great... but if that's all you do, you're not really going to get anywhere. Having a clear sense of direction can fix that, but if you're out at sea without a compass, what do you do, other than enjoying the sea and the sun? Or the thunderstorm, I guess.
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Re: Circle of Titles V

Post by Generic » Tue Jul 21, 2015 1:25 pm

jast wrote:a long review, cut for space
Thank you for the review. It's well-thought out, and you focused on some issues that I hadn't even given the briefest consideration when I was working on the song, which is probably an indication that I needed to be told about them. Truth be told, while I was writing the lyrics, it hadn't occurred to me that the second-person-as-self thing was at play, but I suppose the interpretation is pretty obvious. There were a couple of points where I wanted to introduce an "I" into the narrative to make it clear that the singer was an outside observer, engaging in some schadenfreude, but all attempts just came across as shoehorned in. I've often done songs in this general mode (really upbeat with mean and/or cynical lyrics), but I hadn't thought about it in terms of undercutting the lyrics by making the music too slight.

I am aware of the "too precise" drums. Really not sure how to resolve that. This time I included a lot of hits that were just a little off the mark, but it didn't seem to fix the drum-machine sound. I'm open to suggestions on how to resolve this issue.

And, you know, musically, I didn't just quote my previous CoT song; I quote my previous CoT songs. Not sure if that's supposed to make it better or worse, but there it is.
jast wrote: Thanks for the feedback. I am, in principle, aware of vocal issues. I'm still figuring out vocal technique and most of the time I can only manage three ways of performing: weak, too open, or what you get in this recording (and, by the way, it's not actually functionally strained at all. I can keep going like that for hours). The strange noise is actually a form of whistling and if it confused you, it did its job. During monitoring it seemed to have the right level: enough to be noticeable as noise.
With regard to vocal tone... I know it's kind of a constant quest to perfect the voice. But I think you've attained much clearer and more pleasant tone in previous songs. I think that if you could somehow keep the exact same arrangement and lyrics, but utilize the vocal tone that you had for the lead in you "Somewhere I Don't Know" it would be pretty much perfect.
About the lyrics: Work/life balance isn't really an issue for me, but of course the writing is based on personal experience. The lyrics might try to make you believe that the song is an answer, but it's actually more of a question. Being in the present moment, enjoying things as they come, that's great... but if that's all you do, you're not really going to get anywhere. Having a clear sense of direction can fix that, but if you're out at sea without a compass, what do you do, other than enjoying the sea and the sun? Or the thunderstorm, I guess.
Yeah, man. Exactly. I don't really have anything to add; I just wanted to point out that you hit the nail on the head for me, both with the lyrics to the song, and this explanation of them.
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Re: Circle of Titles V

Post by fluffy » Tue Jul 21, 2015 1:43 pm

Generic wrote:Sockpuppet - "Bipolar Bear"
from the title suggested by Nick Soma
It's an interesting choice to never use the title in your lyrics. I really like the piano here (and not being the only piano guy in the fight for a change), but your vocals could use a lot more takes. Sounds like you're not comfortable with the melody yet. I like the slight swing on the tambourine, but I think it would be more effective if it were cut from the verses and left as a chorus-only element. The unexpected diminished chords in the ending were a really good touch. I like this a lot, but I must admit that I'm still struggling with the title after a few listens. Is the character in this song a metaphorical bear, who doesn't belong "in the big city" because he should be out in the woods? Or is it a bear, who doesn't feel like he fits in because he has body images issues? Maybe it's both. I feel like there's just slightly less than enough support in the lyrics for either interpretation.
I left the gay-bear vs. literal-bear interpretation vague on purpose (I don't even know and it doesn't even matter), but the main character of the song has bipolar disorder and the whole song is about him trying to cope with it even though it's wrecked his life. I absolutely refuse to make a punching-down joke about mental illness.

I took like 500 takes of the vocals and they never gelled so I gave up and just decided to get the song done after way too many setbacks.
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Re: Circle of Titles V

Post by jast » Tue Jul 21, 2015 2:46 pm

Generic wrote:I think you've attained much clearer and more pleasant tone in previous songs. I think that if you could somehow keep the exact same arrangement and lyrics, but utilize the vocal tone that you had for the lead in you "Somewhere I Don't Know" it would be pretty much perfect.
Too much of this here, too much of that there. What you're seeing is, hopefully, the onset of something like period-halving bifurcation. (Nerd mode off)
Staying firmly on one side of the divide, even if it sounds better, isn't going to get me past a certain point. Even if "Somewhere I Don't Know" may sound better in some ways, I have a lot less control over my voice when doing it that way. The plan is to explore all kinds of things and then stitch them all together in just the right mix. In the meantime there will be a lot of variation. :)
In this recording specifically, I was trying to prove (to myself, at least), that I can get the notes out without completely destroying them with a fairly low amount of effort (which is something I've been having a lot of trouble with). It worked!
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Re: Circle of Titles V

Post by noma » Tue Aug 04, 2015 3:20 am

Finally, my song is finished. Like I often tried not to sound like Billie Joe since people tend to find my voice's timbre or whatever similar to his, this time I deliberately tried to sound as much like a Green Day clone as possible.

Don't ask me why it took me that long. It's Complicated.
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Re: Circle of Titles V

Post by Generic » Tue Aug 04, 2015 2:51 pm

Yay, Nick came through! The Nur Ein champ didn't stiff, and I didn't get stiffed! It's a good day!

I've updated the site now. The only two outstanding are now Irwin/Suckweasel and Cookie Blue. Irwin has assured me that he'll get it done, though he doesn't know when. I reached out to Cookie and haven't heard anything at all. If Irwin pulls through, this will have the highest participation rate of any Circle of Titles yet, I think...

EDIT: Never mind, Circle 4 actually had 100% participation, though Caravan Ray was very late... Speaking of which, does anyone have a copy of Caravan Ray's "Occasional Song"? I remember that he eventually completed it, but I don't seem to have a copy on the site.
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Re: Circle of Titles V

Post by Pigfarmer Jr » Fri Aug 07, 2015 3:45 pm

Re: Occasional Song
I believe CR had to bow out. I completed one and sent it to you via email or download link or something or other. Maybe look for Pigfarmer or TC?
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