Mass Effect 3 “ending” (Spoilers abound!)

Without getting in to a long, Conspiracy Theory – esque ranty post, I think that the “ending”, starting right after Shepard gets hit with the Reaper’s beam, is a dream sequence/battle-in-the-center-of-the-mind in which represents Shepard focusing his willpower to get the hell back up and finish the fight, or possibly fighting through Reaper indoctrination (that’s the popular theory).

As much as I love Bioware, and I do, they sometimes have writing that doesn’t make any damn sense, but this ending has so many WTF elements it’s hard to ignore.

1) It appears that when Shepard wakes up after being hit by the beam, the armor that he’s wearing, although obviously heavily damaged, doesn’t necessarily correlate to what armor you had equipped.  Bioware would not have missed this detail.  

2) Where is Shepard’s team after he wakes up?  It seems DISTINCTLY odd that they would be nowhere, especially since there are dead marines around.

3) Shepard’s pistol has unlimited ammo.  Dramatic effect? Maybe.  But it’s another thing that points towards dream logic — things that should be true are not.  That or Bioware forgot this sequence was in ME3 and not ME1.

4) How did Anderson get into the control room, completely unscathed?  It just doesn’t make sense he not only “followed Shepard up” (when he was nowhere in evidence when Shepard regained consciousness) but didn’t have a scratch on him.  Of course, the biggest badass of the series is undoubtedly Anderson; he was making Shepard look like a total n00b during the intro sequence… but still.  Aside from THAT, there was exactly one entrance to the control room, and he was there.  

5) The Catalyst.  It’s possible it had scanned Shepard’s memory (sort of like the Protheans apparently did) and assumed a form that Shepard would be comfortable with… but notice that once again, Shepard doesn’t remark on this or even seem to notice it.  This is, again, a pretty standard indication of a dream state — things are seriously wrong or coincidental and the dreamer just accepts it.

6) Pointing to indoctrination theory – note the “blue” ending is pretty clearly renegade and the “red” ending is closer to paragon (if you discount the matter of the Geth, anyway).  Points toward Reaper indoctrination of Shepard…. or Bioware indoctrination of their fans… :p

7) Last of all – The “red” ending, as far as I know, is the only one in which you get the cutscene afterward where Shepard takes a breath.  Because he’s lying in the rubble of London after the beam hit, and choosing to destroy the Reapers means that his will is intact.  

 

My theory is that there’s going to be a DLC… quite possibly a free one, if you have a registered game key, or paid (probably 15 to 20 dollars) if you don’t… that has the post dream sequence ending (which is to say, the real one).

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Go To Sleep (Spintunes 4 Round 3)

Once, some time ago, a friend of mine that I was very close to had to move away.  They knew it was happening a month or so before and only brought it up because I noticed they were… you know this pronoun game is sort of goofy. She. It was a girl.  This is another song about a girl.

Anyway SHE didn’t really talk much about it (even when I brought it up) and I wondered, briefly (and quite idiotically) if we were not as close as I thought we where.  In one of those “duh Travis”, wildly obvious sort of situations, it was actually because she was upset too, but getting upset about it wasn’t going to help either of us.

Anyway, I hopped in a time machine and had Confused and Slightly Angry Travis write this song to that one of those very special “head up my own orifice” feelings that we all experience from time to time.  Then I punched him in the face.

(NOTE: This was written for a challenge where every word has to start with one of seven letters.  The letters I chose were G, A, E, S, T, F, Y.  If anybody spots any words that fail that criteria below, I am much, much obliged if you would let me know.)

GO TO SLEEP

Go to sleep
And forget this town
Everything so silent
Another skin to shed

Seriously
All you ever seem to see:
Tomorrow and anything
Further ahead

Superfluous feelings fail
Another ship gently setting sail

Go to sleep
And gather all your sighs
You’re trying to forget
To sever all the ties

Eloquent and fearless things to say
Are sirens fading futher away

All these all-encompassing
Things are all so frightening
Good enough to say you found
Frail things suitably enlightening
Still there’s something at your feet
That you feel slowly tightening..

Go to sleep and forget
eliminate, tie and arrest

Go to sleep
And forget this town
Everything suggests
You’re already asleep

Fear Nothing (draft lyrics)

feel like i’m falling
through a monster’s scream
no parachute
no pair of wings

air rushing out of my lungs
no sign of anyone

is someone calling
some voice I know
whispers carry on the wind
a hundred dark echoes

I bend my ear
to break my doubt
turn my head
to my way out

I’m falling faster still
past towers, windowsills

fear nothing
fear nothing, son
I’m right behind you, you’re not alone
fear nothing
fear nothing, son
follow my voice all the way home

there is no slowing
don’t know what lies
so far below me
are those fires or eyes?

now touching down
shadows of swaying trees
sword on my back
forged in belief

i feel a crushing stare
ink and ashes in the air

fear nothing
fear nothing, son
strike sure and true, put the dragon down
fear nothing
fear nothing, son
keep fighting, you’re almost here now

silence breaks
air aflame
all it takes
is to be brave

i fear nothing
fear nothing now
the light ahead is surely home
i fear nothing
if i can hear you you
i can feel you and i am not alone

Flooded (Spintunes 3 round 4 shadow)

Flooded

Flooded

would I believe you, should you say
I used to be so pretty
I used to send the sunglight back
And blind the gathered crowd

I was so smooth and spotless
And no one was so thoughtless
no cold, uncaring complaints
or applause for who was loudest

if I’m so easy to discard
well then I’m glad the hard part’s over
these shadows shake and grow so large
stretch across the grass and clover

it’s just like they always said
the love you felt, it’s in your head
they’ll find something else to care about
this bitter nectar I was fed
a grave, displayed is where it lead
gutted by whispers and doubt
just rusted and flooded out

would you believe me if I said
that I deserve better
god knows that I’m not perfect
but I shouldn’t be dismissed

you were so sure and steady
I guess I wasn’t ready
for such callousness, indifference
to be proven to exist

so it seems that in some spotlights
though I was blinded, you lost sight
of the benefit of doubt
of just a bit of empathy

it’s just like they always said
the love you felt, it’s in your head
they’ll find something else to care about
this bitter nectar I was fed
a grave displayed is where it lead
gutted by whispers and doubt
just rusted and flooded out

I lose
a coat of paint and means to begin
I lose
my voice cracks just like paper crumbling
I lose
a coat of paint, my lights slowly dim
I lose
I’ll never move from this spot again

if I’m so easily abandoned
at least I cease to be your fixture
with any luck, this ugly scene
turns out to make a pretty picture

it’s just like they always said
the love you felt, it’s in your head
they’ll find something else to care about
this bitter nectar I was fed
a grave, displayed is where it lead
gutted by whispers and doubt

just like you, avoiding blame
responsibility or shame
I need something else to care about
these wheels will never turn again
life disappeared around the bend
but until I can work that out
I’m just rusted, and flooded out

First Blood (non-optional challenge: “educational”)

distal, proximal, metacarpal
sesamoid, phalanx and bone
just the pieces of your fingers
that guide your hands when they’re told
i might feel a little stiffness
when i get cold, or because I’m old
i don’t know

jupiter, saturn, apollo, mercury
different names, if less scientific
why do we call things we use for touch
after men who don’t exist
and all of the planets too
sometimes it’s tempting to insist
that we don’t know

so many things I fed young minds
but I never got out to see
like the square root of negative one
theoretically real, practically imaginary
to learn something of value
a fine-tuned mind is not enough

[chorus-esque]
because first you’re going to need
some blood

there was a time that I believed
there was much I could teach a class
but like any entity at war
sometimes my reach exceeds my grasp
just like the speed of light
some barriers can not be passed

[bridge]
the world might yet have use of me
but young blood’s not what it used to be
like odin strapped up to his tree
to loose some sight to better see
if it’s the truth you truly seek
you won’t just sweat, you’ll have to bleed
eventually

[final verse]
so listen close if you think it’ll get you somewhere
i used to be so sure now I don’t dare
gathering facts is easy
it’s believing that is tough

[chorusout]
because first you’re going to need
some blood

yeah, you’d better believe
you’ll need some blood

First World Problems (Perspective)

“….the most hilarious/depressing/personal/pathetic/triumphant song I have ever written.”

Lyrics:

So 27 years
I guess it could be worse
Never married yet
But I could be twice divorced

Paying alimony
To some bitch who bleeds me dry
Wondering how we’ll raise our kids
When we can’t control our own lives….

It could be worse…

(chorus)
Yeah, I’ve got problems
Problems other people would kill for
Somehow that doesn’t solve a thing
All these problems…
Just the prices that we pay in the first world
So I should stop complaining, but…

My bank account is dwindling, my
Apartment’s not the best place I’ve lived
But the homeless I pass in my car
They put things in perspective, I’ve got…

Central air and video games
And drugs if the doc thinks I’m slightly insane
A job of fake smiles, but at least they’re smiling
A bunch of guitars and aluminum siding

Yeah, I know…

(chorus)
We’ve all got problems, and most are
Problems other people would kill for
And it’s all we’re ever noticing
All these problems
Problems other people would kill for
Let them take over everything…

No one calls me famous
Hell, not many know my name
But it sure beats being in rehab
Overdosed on early fame

A great meal for the tabloids
Judges slapping at my wrists
Poster child for a million teens
Who don’t really think I exist

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful
Everyone will need to forgive me
But do we ever stop merely surviving
And actually start living…

Start living.

(chorus)
I’ve got problems
Problems other people would kill for
And nobody’s gonna solve them for me
All these problems
Make it easy for bigger ones to be ignored
And we never solve a goddamn thing

Start living…
Or start dying…
Start quitting…
Or start trying.

One Four One (Roach)

My Character: Gary “Roach” Sanderson from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

As predicted last night, the phrasing I had mostly didn’t work with the music, so he here Draft One of Iteration Two, or something.

*UBER SPOILER WARNINGS for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. If you’re planning on playing the single player and care about the story do not read these lyrics.*

watch your step, i feel i’m falling, is someone screaming? gasoline?

some white noise and then…

blue dots on what amounts to a seer’s window
i’ll put them out and leave blood on the snow
into the white, where no unaided eye can see
we’re compromised, and going to plan B

everyone in one four one, we love plan B

threw a snowball into moscow, rio was a lion’s den
we got most of what we came for, lost three good men

black ops seem need new names
they always turn out smoke-gray
(brothers in arms taken away)
I’m with my team in this recurring dream
and it always ends in flames
(everything goes down in flames)

up from black water. tinted with crimon. more than we bargained. prisoner six two seven.

i think that Captain Price has lost it
Soap says it’s nice to see him still alive
we’ll follow orders, get him to the submarine
with deadly black arrows inside

the world we know may not survive

we went all in, and lit a second sun
just to put out a fire with a bigger one

black ops seem to need new names
they always turn to smoke-gray
(space station disintegrated)
I’m with my team in this recurring dream
and it always ends in flames
(no lights in DC but flames)

you’d think a Shepherd would be one who protects
you’d think we’d earned a better grave than a ditch
you’d hope a Ghost wouldn’t be killed by mere bullets
we should have seen it coming, that two faced son of a bitch

can’t find my feet. know i’m falling. my best friend screaming. i smell gasoline.

black ops seem to need new names
they always turn to smoke-gray
(like right and wrong and night and day)
I’m with my team in this recurring dream
and it always ends in flames
(we are alone and drown in flames)

we are alone and drown in flames
discarded pawns in a madman’s game
we are alone and drown in flames
with the last two voices who know our names

Los Alamos lyrics (tightening the screws)

Made a few revisions to the original (and Spintunes submitted) lyrics to add clarity and correct a rather awkward third verse. In a crazy hypothetical land this will be the “album version”.

LOS ALAMOS
—————
the sun it rises in the east
i never thought I’d hear a prophecy in that
when i settled down, in this desert town
the future rang no doorbells

but to provide a frame of reference
nobody here really takes note of my face
it’s like a backstage pass, this name badge
the junior lab assistant has the run of the place

yet sometimes i feel like a ghost
in the shadow of a sleeping god

i feel a little sicker everyday
but i really need this job
everyone here is so smart and really quiet
but i guess for scientists, that’s not odd

the proper care and handling of the team
might not be the task I signed on for
one of them just said he has become death
i wonder what they’ll do for an encore

to turn so many people to shadows
and dust clouds that flow like a flood
i guess when you wake a sleeping giant
it’s no surprise that it looks for a club

should i suspect i aid and abet
the greatest crime in human history
i don’t really wanna know, because tell me
who doesn’t love a good mystery?
who doesn’t love a little mystery?

and i wash my hands
as i piece things together
can’t even say how careful i need to be
i wash my hands
you can’t take a chance
when this world can be so dirtying

i feel a little sicker everyday
but i really need this job
everyone here is so smart and really quiet
but i guess for scientists that’s not odd
should i begin to suspect i aid and abet
the biggest crime in human history
i don’t really wanna know, because tell me
who doesn’t love a good mystery?
who doesn’t love a little mystery?
i can stand to leave a little mystery.

i wash my hands
and wash my hands
i wash them while i look the other way

Unnecessarily Explaining My Art: Melt In The Sun (So Many Pretty Ways)

And so we come to Round 2 of Spintunes. And that’s all I’ve got for an intro, sorry.

THE CHALLENGE

The challenge this time (The Musician Strikes Back) was to write a sequel to a song that charted at some point on Billboard in the top 20.

This challenge was frankly mortifying to me when I first heard it, because I thought that it was only the Hot 100 charts we were allowed to draw from. That probably would have led to either quitting out right or recording a sequel so full of sarcasm and vitriol (and not in a fun, Inverse T. Clown sort of way) that everybody had wished I quit, so it’s good that it turns out we could use any Billboard chart (Alternative, Country, etc. etc.).

I still wasn’t really a big fan of the challenge. I expressed displeasure when it was first announced and I think people assumed it was the Hot 100 thing. That was definitely part of it, as I don’t listen to music I hate and probably wouldn’t do so well writing a sequel to such a song either.

The other reason, though, has to do with “intellectual property”. Fair use!, you cry. Nobody really cares!, you say. True and true. This is something that usually happens when I mention IP – everybody starts assuring me that (insert whatever it is I’m doing, like this sequel) is totally protected by law, etc. What is hard to communicate in many cases is that my objection isn’t “I’ll get sued”, it is actually “I’m screwing around with someone else’s art without permission from them and regardless of the legality that FEELS wrong to me.” Both because.. well, IP is near sacred to me (I’m a weirdo) and because I would hate to build the art out into some direction that was never, ever intended by the artist that they might fervently disagree with.
I also admit that I told another competitor that this challenge could have been “Disingenuous By Nature” because of one other problem I had… how easily can you really make a genuine expression of art when you’re doing something like this? Luckily, Brian Gray completely destroyed this concern and I feel silly for worrying about it now. (By the way, I can hardly believe he got cut. Shadow, Brian! You’ve got fans!)

That same unidentified competitor pointed out (subtly, but it came across) that since there was no legal reason not to complete the challenge, if I didn’t turn something in I would be, in effect.. a Quitter. Maybe I had moral/ethical high ground and maybe I didn’t, but I would still have Quit.

Well, dammit, I wasn’t going to be a quitter so I finished the song. I’m glad I did.

LYRICS

The lyrics actually came together very, very quickly. Night of the challenge, in fact, with minimal tweaking afterwards. I was able to find “Fake Plastic Trees” by Radiohead, that timeless anthem about a young man admiring a woman trapped in a soulless relationship from afar, had been number 11 on the alternative charts in 1995. I did a quick lyric check and determined I could write a fairly good sequel for it, and got to work.
Fair warning: I’m well aware that the original song has a pretty ambiguous plot/meaning – the listener has to interpret for themselves. My intent was to write a song that will hopefully work with WHATEVER interpretation you had of the original… this was honestly easier than that sounds. I have a somewhat similar lyrical style to Radiohead (the difference is, basically, they’re better), so I just did what felt natural. I’m hesitant to reveal my own interpretation of the song since everybody might disagree and it might RUIN EVERYTHING FOREVER, but what the hell, I’m feeling bold.

I read the original Fake Plastic Trees as being about a woman locked in a soulless relationship (probably a marriage just to make it all more suburban-tragic) with a wealthy doctor who is able to provide for her but doesn’t seem to have any real interest in her. Looking at all the synthetic items (ie. The fake plastic trees/house plants) that they own and then generally shallow nature of their own relationship, the woman feels emptied and alone. Reflecting on the fact that his work as a plastic surgeon is nothing more than a stalling tactic, the doctor reaches similar conclusions. They both have the anxiety you’d expect from this.. it “wears (her/him) out”.

The singer is a third party, watching the woman from afar. He can tell, easily, that he wants none of this situation but is still drawn to the woman (“she looks like the real thing, she tastes like the real thing”).
As “Melt In The Sun” opens, the woman has left the doctor and is moving into a new apartment. Whether it’s the same one as the singer or just nearby is kind of irrelevant.

I’m going to go more or less line by line with my explanation of my lyrics, so it might get long, sorry.

“I couldn’t be what you wanted, but what you want is always subject to such change”

I thought it fitting that the first line of the sequel should directly reference the last line of the original – there is a brief pause of sorts and a change of mood, but essentially this is a conversation from a long time ago picking up right where it original left off. (The last line of the original was “If I could be what you wanted.. all the time..” with a sort of implied “I would be”) Here, the singer has given up on being what his significant other wants because he can’t keep up. Oh, and it should be “who” you wanted. My bad.

“I know that you’re so tired, cos you’ve got a new apartment to decorate. You left the man to keep your pride…”

This explains what has happened since the end of Fake Plastic Trees.. the woman no longer lives with the doctor (“the broken man”) and is in a new place.

“…synthetic plants and earth, but once you were outside, they all just melted in the sun.”

Synthetic plants and earth are of course direct references to the first verse of the original. I intentionally avoided using “Fake” or “Plastic” for reasons I’ll explain later. The idea of “melting in the sun” is basically that after leaving the “broken man”, rather than things improving they only got worse… things feel even less substantial for the Woman since she left the relationship.

“give me a sign when the heat is rising, and I will shelter you from ultraviolet rays. Give me a moment to collect myself, we fall apart in so many pretty ways”

The singer, despite the obvious downhill nature of things, is trying to keep it together, trying to nurture and save this new relationship. It’s not going so well. “We fall apart” is just an acknowledgement of the fact, with some desire to keep trying.

“I guess I can’t judge by sight or taste, but smell and sound are saying you’re real as anything… if we don’t touch again I might explode, ever upward defying gravity”

This is also a direct reference to lyrics from the original: “she looks like the real thing, she tastes like the real thing” and “I can’t help but feeling, I could blow through the ceiling if I just turn and run”. Again.. the singer is avoiding evidence that things are wrong and that he should get out of this situation because it’s doing no one any good.

“and you’re melting through my fingers again, I try to sculpt you back together”

This is pretty much the same as the chorus (NO BAD TRAVIS REDUNDANT LYRICS) but I really like the turn of phrase. It also shows that the situation is decaying even faster.

“you’d think I should have learned my lesson back when, we won’t stand up to extreme weather. Dead of exposure, should have known better”

Singer is starting to come around here and realize what he should have realized back in the first song…
And then there is a resurgence of hope and energy and such (ie. A guitar solo which has been pretty much universally well received, which is nice) and we launch back into the chorus. This might seem at odds with where the plot seems to be going… and it kind of is, except structurally we needed another chorus! So I decided that this was the singer being somewhat optimistic, but it doesn’t take him long to realize things are still wrong:

“give me a sign, a shout or whisper, I can no longer see through the haze…”

And finally:

“Turns out I’m plastic too. Yeah, I’m just as fake as you.”

This is as close to a “big reveal” as I’ve probably gotten, except the listener has probably realized the problem with the relationship by now. This is just the singer doing the same. I thought it had a nice “closing the circle” element with the original song. And making sure this line had impact was why I intentionally avoided “fake” and “plastic” for the rest of the song. Sadly, none of the judges really remarked upon it. I guess I just don’t always execute my ideas? Sigh. Well. Anyway. Them’s the lyrics.

THE RECORDING

I decided to go with big guitars (not that I have many other options) although for most of the time it was only two. A hollowbody, jangly-clean rhythm part plays throughout most of the song (often mostly inaudibly—providing backbone for the main electric), strumming and arpeggiating chords. The second guitar might be the single biggest element of the Radiohead homage – it is played on a Strat (closest thing I have to the Telecaster that Johnny Greenwood favors) and is running through a custom made patch that includes (Guitar Geekery ahead..)

ProCo RAT Distortion > subtle octave down effect > Solid State Amp > Space Echo delay

This is as close to the type of setup that Greenwood used for his distorted sound in the Bends era as I was able to get with my equipment.

Although I can’t point at a specific Radiohead solo that resembles the one in Melt, the “dreamy + experimental + just a touch of edge” is something that sounds right at home in the Radiohead style.
The bass has a bit of drive on it this time. Didn’t really make much difference either way. Although you can’t really pick out the bass part very well, it is there, doing what it’s supposed to do.

The initial recording was done by the evening after the challenge was issued and vocals were recorded.
Now, one of the most consistent criticisms of Stars Over Avalon was the weak/pitchy/whatever vocals and Dave Leigh had noted that if I was to team up with a good vocalist … well. It would be a good idea. So I sent out the call on Twitter, not actually expecting any responses. I let it sit for awhile and then listened to the song again. I don’t have the original mixes anymore, deleted them (quite on accident, believe it or not), but suffice to say there were also weak. My range normally breaks right around F#4-G4 and Melt unfortunately goes about a step higher than that. (I thought about rerecording everything a step lower and then hit myself in the face until my nose bled)

Well, over listening to the song a few more times I came up with some alternate melodies. They didn’t really soar like the originals, but, ya know, at least I could sing them. Having heard nothing yet from SingerSearch I rerecorded these vocals.

It was much better.. but there was a problem. Everything was a little bit too much in the same register for such an energetic song and as a result it was getting a bit difficult to distinguish choruses and verses…… ie ANOTHER problem I had from reviewers last round. In the end, I decided that caution would be better in this case, so I grumbled a bit and decided to submit….

….and then I got a DM from Joe saying he was working on it. At that point I had decided to just man up and take a chance, and told Joe so. Fortunately, he did not receive the reply until after he’d taken a run at it. So I had him send it to me.

Basically he had sang the original melody I wrote (the one I couldn’t reach) and done a much better job than I had (there was some debate about this from the judges but, for whatever it’s worth, coming from the guy who wrote the song, I thought it sounded rather good). There were problems – I had completely changed the first verse melody and liked it better – it had a more subtle, mood setting characteristic whereas the original was much more RAWK (and honestly less attention grabbing). I thought a harmony would sound good in the second verse. And so on, and so on. Basically I chopped up Joe’s sent vocal, recorded my own bits, and mixed them together. Apparently the vocals are Too Fucking Loud but, well, I like them, and I think that having Joe to reach for those high notes for me and add a second voice to harmonize with was a great asset to the song.

Re: Second verse: Joe sang it just as well, if not better, than I did, so I gave it to him.

Re: Bridge/final line: These were suspiciously absent from the track Joe sent me. We hadn’t talked about it at all, and I took it as him saying, essentially, “You’ve got that.” (Especially since those are easily the places my vocals sound best)

THE MUSIC

I had somewhat decided ahead of time I wanted to write something slightly uptempo from last round if it was at all stylistically appropriate. Fake Plastic Trees is of course the ‘90s version of a power ballad which I sort of already did. Aside from the fact I was already predisposed to something a bit faster, I did not want to repeat the style exactly because, well, frankly, that’s boring. I decided instead I wanted to write something that would sound at home as a B-side or “lost track” from the album that Fake Plastic Trees appeared on (The Bends, which, incidentally, is easily in my top 5 albums ever).

“Fake Plastic Trees” is in the key of A – “Melt” is in the relative minor of F#m. There are some other purely “Theory-etical” nods to the original (for instance, both choruses start on a B minor, a somewhat unusual choice for the key) but luckily (or unluckily?) my end product doesn’t sound much like the original. People do seem to agree that it sounds like Radiohead. This is one of those “gambles” I’ve been talking about on the Twitterz and the artifictionz.

Anyways. Chords.

Verses:

F#m A E
D A E

Prechorus:

Bm6 D5(b5) A E
D A E
D A E

Chorus:
Bm D E
Bm A D
Bm D E
Bm A D
E….

Bridge:
D A
D A E (sort of ambiguous as there is not much actually going on instrumentally.. sort of just outlining things)

JUDGE/REVIEWER RESPONSE
Coming (or not) just as soon as I see the reaction to doing the responses last round…

Unnecessarily Explaining My Art: Stars Over Avalon

Spintunes is under way once again (or rather, has been for a month as I write this) and I decided to sign up and try my luck and/or skill again. A quick word before I get going – there is immense talent in the field this time, and everybody really seems to be bringing their best to the table. Once nice thing about this iteration is that when I lose (and I do fully expect to) there will be absolutely no shame in it. Well done, everyone. I’m proud to be competing/comparing notes/listening to new songs with you.

That warm and fuzzy bit of personal anecdote out of the way, let’s talk about my song from the first round…

THE CHALLENGE

The challenge this time around was to “Write a song about YOUR hometown”. The name of the town had to be used at least once. A few qualifications – it did not necessarily have to be the town where you grew up, any town where you had demonstratable “roots” was acceptable.

This basically gave me three choices:

1. Avalon, MO. My real, actual hometown where I lived up until college. This is what I decided to go with so I’ll hold off on further description for now.

2. Chadron, NE. This is where I went to college and lived for four years (other than the summers). It’s a town in northwest Nebraska, home to around 6,000 permanent and residents and 3,000 students attending Chadron State College. This was doable, I suppose, but college went buy in quite a blur and in a lot of ways Chadron is just a series of dim impressions. I definitely learned a lot about music there and made some good friends but my attachment to the town itself is pretty slim – I have no real interest in going back there (granted that might have something to do with the 14 hour drive involved). Aside from all that, I already wrote a song called Nebraska Sky. While it doesn’t reference Chadron by name that is pretty much my Chadron song and I haven’t felt much need to write another.

3. Greater Kansas City Area, MO (Gladstone andIndependence). I’ve been living here since 2007. I feel very little emotional attachment to it, partly because I’m such a hermit (video games, music, work, sleep… I have yet to go to a single bar or “Mom n Pop” restaurant/shop, although like most urban areas there isn’t much of that left). In all honestly, I don’t think I could satisfy the requirement of having roots in KC even if I wanted to write a song about it, which I really don’t anyway, so it works out!

So I chose Avalon. At first I was sort of (for want of better term) “meh” about the challenge. Nothing much happens in Avalon. It has very little connection to the outside world. …and with those two thoughts I knew more or less where I was heading.

THE LYRICS

When I started writing the lyrics, I….
….
Hey, have you heard of Dr. Lindyke? The songwriting partnership between Dave Leigh and William Hoover, and also Dave’s internet handle? Check out this post on his blog. I’ll wait.

http://music.cratchit.org/2010/10/deconstructing-stars-over-avalon.html

Read that? Excellent. Okay. He’s right about everything.

(Well, that was easy..)

The only other thing I really have to add is that several people mentioned how lucky I was for the purposes of this challenge to live in a town called “Avalon”. I have to agree… somewhat. It’s a beautiful name and has all kinds of meaning that people will bring to it on their own (which I like). I did, however, struggle with finding a good rhyme for it that would 1) stand up to repetition and 2) didn’t seem forced, and as a result I only used the town’s name in the song the minimum required one time. If I was going to repeat it, I wanted it to be in the form of a hook. Since I didn’t end up writing what you would call a traditional chorus I settled for a more “emotional hook” at the end of the bridge instead.

RECORDING


(This might more logically be after the “THE MUSIC” section but I am saving theory related stuff for the end.)
Despite Dave being right about everything as far as what I was trying to say with the lyrics, it took me quite some time to get the lyrics written and get everything in a coherent whole. This is partly because I was busy the week the challenge was issued and partly because of writer’s block.

The recordings were due at 11pm (my time) on a Sunday… Unfortunately, I was working 4pm-midnight that day. I had also worked 4pm-midnight the day before and hadn’t really finished the lyrics until that time. So the entire song, music, vocals and all, was recorded on one night/morning between about 1am (when I arrived home) and 9am (just before I went to sleep to wake up at 3pm).

There were a couple of unfortunate consequences of this. The first was, due to not having lyrics, I had been pretty much unable to finalize music, so I was “learning” the song as I recorded it. The performance is actually pretty good (on the guitar end of things anyway) but I ended up recording it about 82bpm. It’s just drags a bit… slightly, and not even noticeable for some, but it was noted by several judges (and also a couple of the non-official reviews submitted this time around mentioned it). If/when I re-record Stars Over Avalon it’s going to be that critical 4-6bpm faster. It’s a pretty good rule of thumb for most of my songs that I need to speed them up that much from where I first feel comfortable.

The sound during the intro (also at the very beginning of the second verse) is a double-tracked semi-hollow guitar, playing a harmonized line with aid of the near-magical Ebow. I wanted a sound that was synth-like while still being fairly organic and this worked well. There are little Ebow fills through the song providing color and atmosphere, and the spooky little riff after the “secrets buried” line in verse 2 uses the same trick.
For the other guitars, one is a Strat type guitar on which I’m playing a “subtle nod to Jimi”-type rhythm part (nobody mentioned it, but that’s hardly surprising given the overall “modern” feel of the tune). The other rhythm guitar is playing sustained power chords during the verse, working with the bass to provide the bedrock of the song, and then switching to 8th notes during the chorus for a slight increase in intensity/difference in feel.

The solo is my usual combo plate of ProCo RAT-type distortion and delay. (Incidentally it’s being played on the cheapest guitar I own. I love me some good-sounding cheap guitars)
I think the bass line could stand to be a bit louder, especially since it is the main driving force on the verses, but I had some technical difficulties with it (my usual technical difficulty with both bass and vocals: turning it up to the correct level of audibility ends up leading to clipping).

I was somewhat baffled by the overall reaction to the vocals – I felt they were pretty good, at least by Governing Dynamics standards. Granted, by the time I recorded I was pretty tired but even now when I listen I don’t hear TOO many problems. It’s probably worth noting that a few of my favorite bands (and singers from said bands) have been/are: Counting Crows, Modest Mouse, Radiohead, Bright Eyes…. In other words I place more value on communicated emotion and expression than being 100 percent on pitch all the time. Also, asthma. Also, let’s be honest, I’m just not a singer. Or rather, I’m a baritone and I tend to write songs that need a tenor. I don’t know, whatever. Sadly I’m afraid I’m going to be fundamentally incompatible with several of the judges (and one alternate judge) on this point, and it will probably be the driving force behind my eventual elimination. Very sad, but life goes on.

THE MUSIC

I’m feeling kind of basic today, so here are the chords:

Verses:
Am Em F Dm
C G Dm (this part is repeated the second time through the progression)

Chorus:
F G/B Cmaj7 C/E
F Gsus4 G/B Am9 Em7
F G

Bridge:
Eb Bb/D Bb Ab(add9) (4x)
Cm (held for a second and the modulated back to Am for the solo)

Solo: Same as verse.

JUDGE/REVIEWER RESPONSE

Just for the fun/hell of it I’m going to respond to the official judges and any other reviews of the round that I found (for this round at least, we’ll see how the reaction goes and.. if poorly, I probably won’t continue to do this).  Some of these are written as direct responses and some not, because I wrote them at two different times.  If you’re a judge and want to tell me (for the second time in most cases) that I’m wrong please reply, I’m interested in The Dialogue.

Dr. Lindyke: Well, he gave me first place and wrote the lyrical deconstruction of the song for me, so I’m going to say Dave gets the song. Not much to respond to. Although this was the first mention of my lacking vocals (although in a way that made me shrug and say, “Eh, okay” rather than mildly infuriating me). I’ve got a great deal of respect for Dave as a writer and performer, so it’s a nice feeling to write something he seems to like quite a lot.

Glen Phillips: I quite enjoy singing, actually, but I was getting a little tired by the time I did the take I used. This was a combination of trying for subtlety, trying not to make my mic clip, blah blah blah, I could explain it for awhile and I think I’ve got at least one other judge who didn’t like my vocals to address so I’ll save it. The only place I really agree that the vocals should be more “intense” is during the bridge. Couldn’t really reach that Ab in full voice (couldn’t really reach it at all, apparently) so I did have to lay back a little. Glad you like the solo, I am admittedly a guitarist first, songwriter second, bassist third and singer a distant fourth, so solos are kind of the “potatoes” to my rhythm guitar’s “meat”.

Kevin Savino-Riker: I’m glad you like the music… I am fully aware that’s where most of my strength lies (or does that overconfident of me, hmmm). I have thought about it and I think I mostly disagree that the song really needs a “hook” exactly. There is one, it’s just kind of short. Basically any line that mentions stars/Avalon (ie. The last line of the chorus, or B section if you like). I am a little disappointed (not in you, or in me, but in general) that the verses and choruses weren’t more distinguishable. Paul Potts also had a similar complaint if I remember correctly and if I’m hearing it from two people whose ears I trust, I’m willing to believe it’s probably at least somewhat true.
But, they don’t have anything like similar chords, there is a change in the rhythm figure for both guitars, there is a signature riff (although it may not be terribly audible) for the B section.. and so on. It’s a little frustrating that this was the main complaint and it apparently got me deep into Elimination territory in your vote… simply because I don’t know what to do about it other than add another repeated section to a song already nearing the four and a half minute mark. As for the vocals, like I said above to Mr. Phillips, I was going for “subtle” and guess I came off as “does not want to be singing this song right now”. Oh well. If I had to guess between the two options you would gave me, I would guess it’s partly reservation (as I said, I was unfortunately learning the song as I recorded it) but a lot more just my timbre/style/etc.

Jeff MacDougall: Sorry it didn’t work for you. As for the challenge – I didn’t feel that the song could be about anywhere other than Avalon and I think it’s fairly obviously my hometown from the lyrics. Unfortunately not being London or New York or Lansing or some other town that people might be at least mildly familiar with, saying/repeating the name of the song wouldn’t help the problem much, I don’t think. I can tell you “we are in Avalon” as many times as I like, but nobody’s ever heard of Avalon (MO), so there is no real information communicated by doing so. I attempted to show rather than tell, but that’s always a gamble I suppose. I disagree that the guitar solo should replace the bridge. I think it would feel either a little lazy or “out of left field” – the guitar solo was more specifically designed to make the modulation/transition from Eb back to C (Cm to Am? Whatever..) smoother (also because any song about my hometown and my relationship to it needs a guitar solo). If I took out the bridge I’d probably just go to the second chorus and finish the song. I think that would be boring (verse-chorus-verse-chorus-out? Meh); although I guess I didn’t do good enough job of making the bridge feel like a separate part of the song, either.

Zack Scott: I can’t tell you how relieved I was to read the line “Causes feelings of nostalgia in me despite never being to Avalon.” That was PRECISELY what I was trying to do and over the course of Glen/Kevin/Jeff’s review I was starting to worry I’d failed completely (Dave’s review didn’t say this outright, but his later deconstruction did—of course a first place review was not going to bother me much regardless, haha). It is nice to have my intent understood. Thank you.

Spintown (Travis Langworthy): This review is a good example of why I’m frequently frustrated by your reviews. :p I have no idea what I did differently in this song, lyrically, that caused you to like them (apparently) more than (chosen for no particular reason) Eleyna Dreams or.. almost any of my songs other than Broken Boy. :p Actually you can apply the same thing the vocals. :p I don’t know, maybe I’ve just got (audio) blinders on but I can’t find as much to hate about my vocals this round as everyone else did. I might take another run at them and maybe this can finally supplant Broken Boy as my best song ever.

Paul R. Potts: Well, you paid me two big compliments – playing live and Sonic Youth. A TMA Concert would be pretty damn awesome, wouldn’t it? Now we all need to be millionaires who can take several days off work and make that happen… ahem, anyway. Something you’ll learn (or probably have already figured out since Challenge 2 is out) is that my lyrics tend towards the abstract… in any event, I don’t necessarily disagree that the lyrics could be better. They ALWAYS could be better. But as they stand they’re very genuine and I don’t know if I could change them at this point. I can agree that in one respect it doesn’t tell you much about the town itself – that’s because there’s very little to tell (especially if I want to back up any claims I make with evidence, haha. I looked – there are VERY FEW records relating to the town anywhere, and what there are contradict each other at some points). I guess it would be fair to say that my song is more about how the people in the town feel about living (and dying) there… but what is a town without it’s people?

Niveous: Well, since I’m responding to you last you unfortunately get the copy pasted reviews from three others:  1) Glad you enjoyed the solo.  2) I disagree about the need for the chorus, see Kevin’s response if you need more.  3) Sorry the overall song didn’t work for you.   That said, I don’t mean to sound ungrateful–I very much appreciate your perspective and hope that the Backlash from your round 1 review hasn’t put you off writing further Spintunes reviews.

And one more I forgot originally:

Graham Porter: I am glad you liked the intro, I am quite proud of it for a number of reasons (mood setter, successfully made guitars sound more or less like synth, harmonized, etc. etc.). We’ve already discussed the lyric repeating elsewhere, I think, but the part I think you had the most trouble with was really just a vocal adlib… mostly trying to keep it from sounding like the guitarist killed the vocalist and started playing a solo. Not that that makes any sense in the context of my band. Unfortunately I’m not sure I can agree that this isn’t a pop market… it’s not a “Hot 100, On A Boat” type of market, certainly, but the degree to which production and, for want of better term, “catchiness” seem to be weighted in the judging it’s a little close to “pop” than I would have assumed originally.

IN CONCLUSION…


Pretty good round, overall. I ended up about where I expected to: mid-pack and out of elimination range. However I expected to be more evenly in the (say) 10-14 slot across all reviews so the bell curve voting pattern was a little surprising. Although my Dad did warn me people were either going to love Stars Over Avalon or hate it. I guess the moral of the story is, listen to your Dad… er… wait…
But anyway, I felt this was a good challenge, that allowed me to finally write a song that I should have written long ago (and quite possibly needed to write).
On to round 2….

-Travis