Posts Tagged ‘Rock Band’

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Review: Rock Band Blitz

September 16, 2012

Image from Harmonix, on whose site there are links to buy the game.

Summary: Harmonix independently publishes a digital download music game, ditches the instrument party for a solo controller setup, and reinvigorates Rock Band for the lean social age.

Ups
• I’m quite happy that Harmonix finally put out a Rock Band game that allowed the use of a controller. After I hit a plateau in Rock Band 3, it became less fun to pull instruments out of my living room closet. Blitz’s exclusive reliance on the controller makes it much more accessible to casual players.
• Despite its simple concept, the game gives you a lot to manage. You have to hit enough notes on 4-5 instruments, switch between them enough times so that the point disparity between them isn’t too great, watch for white notes (to build your overdrive meter for launching power-ups) and purple notes (to trigger other power-ups), and push your accuracy meter to enter Blitz mode (where the game speed seemingly doubles but you get more points for every note you hit.) I enjoyed the complexity.
• Part of the appeal of each new Rock Band game is its song list. For $15, you get 25 songs right out the (virtual) box. Before the game dropped I was looking forward to some of the songs, notably Tears For Fears’ “Shout,” Kool and the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie,” and Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing.” I thought those were fun to play, but I also had some surprisingly good times with Quiet Riot’s “Metal Health (Bang Your Head)” and Avenged Sevenfold’s “So Far Away,’ both songs I had never heard of before this game. Heck, after playing through Foster The People’s “Pumped Up Kicks” and Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You),” I no longer think of them as horrible clunkers. For a $15 digital title, there’s a decent mix of material right from the get-go.
• On top of that, any song that you have on your console’s hard drive gets integrated into Blitz’s gameplay system. If you were regularly buying DLC and/or exported the setlists of the other Rock Band games into Rock Band 3, then you’ll have a lot of fresh levels to play and leaderboards to climb. It’s a great nod to players who invested a lot of time and money into past games, as everything old is new again.
• Free export! When I bought other Rock Band games in the past, export was always an extra $5-$10 on top of the cost of the game. Even if you aren’t feeling the gameplay, Blitz is a mega-cheap track pack at $.60 a song. Enjoy duets of “One Week,” people.
• You can’t fail out! While there is an incentive to play the game well and not just wail on the buttons (though on the guitar solo parts I might as well have been), you can still do ok by mashing when buffered by the right power-ups (gotta love that shockwave!)

Downs
• Remember what I said about the game’s use of the standard controller making it more accessible to casual players? This is counterbalanced by the sheer speed and number of notes coming at you as you play. Each song’s charting in Blitz is based on its expert mode charting in regular Rock Band so if you’re unfamiliar with a song or your hand-eye coordination is a little slow, it can be easy to get discouraged. Toss in all the different stuff you have to be aware of while playing (see my second point in the Ups section) and things can get pretty overwhelming, especially if you’re not in the right mindset for this kind of thing.
• There’s nothing really connecting the levels of gameplay. There is no band onstage, no cutscenes between levels, and no changes in what the highway scenery looks like while playing the game. I liked Rock Band 3’s use of story in its Tour Mode as a means to get me emotionally invested in my band of avatars. Similarly, the acquiring of character customization options through completing goals kept me coming back after I had heard all the songs in the game. The game looks the same each time you play it and there are no human faces on which you can project yourself while you play. It feels a little cold.
• Instead, there’s a big focus on social networking with challenging friends and strangers to “Score Wars” and Facebook integration. While leaderboard rankings were present in Rock Band 3, they weren’t the big prize for playing well (see previous point.) I’ll admit that it was neat to see my run on Stevie Nicks’s “Stand Back” placed in that song’s top 10 (by the time you read this it’s probably ranked #310 or lower), but leaderboard rankings are fleeting and so is the satisfaction I get from placing on them. I also don’t buy into the Facebook integration thing because I’m not sure I want to share that part of me with distant relatives or work colleagues. I recognize that this may be a big thing for some people, but it isn’t for me.
• Sadly, there is no way to play Rock Band 3 songs in Blitz at this time. Frankly, this isn’t that big a deal to me. Kickass as that game’s tracklist was, I did get a little tired of hearing the same songs as I was trying to complete many of the game’s goals. I’d rather have Blitz’s more open-ended goal system that encourages playing of lots of different songs.
Blitz has a lot more value if you already have a bunch of songs on your console’s hard drive. That might be a little discouraging to newcomers who plow through the base 25 songs in a weekend and then want to do something new but might not want to pony up $2 a song.

Conclusion: As I type this the game has been out for almost a month and I still feel the urge to go back to it. It’s a testament to the game design prowess of Harmonix that they can make a game that’s cold and a little cynical and overcome those shortcomings through deceptively complex gameplay, solid musicality, casual-friendly level structure, and a soundtrack that’s fun at the start. Beyond that, I’m just happy this game exists and Harmonix hasn’t totally focused their energies into Dance Central. I’ll be honest, before this title launched I hadn’t played a Rock Band game since 2011, which would have come as a shock to me circa when I launched this site. Then again, the way I felt about Rock Band in 2010 was the same way I felt about Dance Dance Revolution in 2003 – that it would be around forever and that I would love it forever. Nothing lasts forever, and while both series are still alive (though DDR is questionable) my enthusiasm for both series has waned considerably in the wake of other titles and interests. It’s a little unsettling to consider this in an “ashes to ashes” sense. In the meantime I’m glad that there’s a new way to connect with Rock Band and enjoy this fabulous series for a little bit longer. Blitz on!

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Thoughts on The Voice: Battle Rounds Part 1

March 6, 2012

Image edited from the original by me’nthedogs at Flickr

I apologize for the delay in this post. Things have been a little rough at my job and when I get home I’m not always in the mood to recap. Accordingly, I DVRed yesterday’s episode and am recapping it today. So the auditions are finally done. Let’s have a battle!

Guest Mentors:
Team Adam: Alanis Morissette and Robin Thicke (Canadians in the house!)
Team Blake: Kelly Clarkson (American Idol? REALITY SHOW DEFECTAH!) and Miranda Lambert (Awww and Nashville Star? REALITY SHOW DEFECTAH!)
Teem Cee Lo: Babyface and Ne-Yo
Team Xtina: Jewel (Platinum Hit and Nashville Star? REALITY SHOW DEFECTAH!) and Lionel Richie

Note: I’m happy to see that the boxing ring set is back. I also like the WWE walk-ons. If only the contestants got to do poorly written banter beforehand. [“Do ya smell what the RaeLynn’s cookin’?!’]

Team Adam: Tony Lucca vs. Chris Cauley – “Beautiful Day”
From a pure story perspective, Tony will likely win this battle because of his ex-Mickey Mouse Club story. This U2 smash could be a challenge because of the understated quality of the verses and the big sustained, yet muted belting in the chorus. Who will be more messianic?
These two guys start out eerily alike until Tony compacts into itself like he’s desperately trying to stifle a yawn at church and Chris starts to foolishly emote like he’s singing alone in the car. You have to be open and cathartic with a song like this. I can relate to that. It turns out he can hit his notes a lot better than Tony. Tony flubbed his opening notes and belted quite abrasively, erasing what goodwill I had for him going into this episode.
Winner: Tony (Boo! Also: Called it!)

Team Blake: Adley Stump vs. RaeLynn – “Free Fallin’”
Based on past choices, I predict Blake will pick RaeLynn because of her upbeat personality and overall green quality (basically a twangy Xenia.) To me this Tom Petty classic seems to be more about evoking imagery in the singing than pure vocal prowess. Hopefully these contestants won’t overdo it on the chorus.
RaeLynn comes out the gate way too hard and ends up sounding off-key and forcibly twangy. By contrast, Adley does a quiet-loud thing that reminds me of Melissa Ethridge. Her approach sounds more like some saloon torch ballad, which works for me. I give both contestants props for not overdoing it on the chorus, but they harmonize like ass.
Winner: RaeLynn (Boo! Also: Called it!)

Team Xtina: Chris Mann vs. Monique Benabou – “The Power of Love”
I wish these contestants were singing Huey Lewis and the News, but nope, it’s Celine Dion. This has “recital” written all over it. Brace yourself for a lot of vocal pyrotechnics. This could be close. Supertechnical Chris could court the lite pop Josh Groban demographic whereas Monique has the better “a raw beginner can be a winner” story, which might be more palatable to a TV producer. The montage had them on equal talent footing.
I think Monique sounded a little buried in the mix. That or her naturally softer voice fit better into the backing music. Chris’s tenor cut more into the mix, which got my attention but felt somewhat annoying. Technically both singers were spot on and did a really good job harmonizing with one another. My only criticism outside of not liking the song was that for a song about the power and passion one feels with a lover, both singers seemed to be more about selling the song than conveying true heart-bursting emotion. Eh, if you’re gonna oversing, oversing to Celine.
Winner: Chris (Yay! Monique was good too. She would have gotten a yay as well.)

Team Cee Lo: Cheesa vs. Angie Johnson – “Total Eclipse of the Heart”
Cheesa and Angie each have the raw power, but Angie has the devil-may-care sense of fun that might better endear her to Cee Lo. While this song is also a schlockly ballad mess, it has the built-in theatricality that can win over curmudgeons like me (Kathy and I have this song in Rock Band.) It’s also written as a duet, so these contestants will really have to play their parts.
In the slow build into, Cheesa has the clear advantage with the lower key, but as the song builds in its intensity Angie gradually comes into her element. This was another even match as neither contestant seemed to really waver, be it on the harmonizing, the power belting, and the emotional low intro. It’s a fight to the end.
Winner: Cheesa (OK! Cheesa really brought her A-Game to the song and deserved to win, but honestly I was rooting for Angie.)

Team Blake: Jordis Unga vs. Brian Fuente – “Ironic”
So we’re seeing a lot of slower, quiet-loud songs today. “Ironic” is a good song, but come on, can’t we do some INXS? Oh wait, then Jordis might be a little too familiar with the material. Seriously, I would like to see something more uptempo in the battle rounds. At least this Alanis hit has a great singalong quality. Nail those lyrics, kids!
Jordis kicks things off faithfully, then one line in gets bored and starts doing vocal runs just to get in Brian’s head. When his verse comes up, he tries to match Jordis’s power belting, but his range is too limited. On the chorus, Jordis sings herself into a corner, but it’s an energetic corner of goodness. Brian has a little more contour in his singing, but he can only do so well. This was another song that called for domination and Jordis conquered!
Winner: Jordis (Yay! Brian got maybe 5 seconds in the audition episodes. He was cannon fodder from the start. Also, Jordis tried a lot harder.)

Team Xtina: Anthony Evans vs. Jesse Campbell – “If I Ain’t Got You”
I’m tired of this song, and that’s entirely because of its overexposure back in ’03 and for its status as Idol audition staple. This song is slow and has lots of emotional belty parts over sparse accompaniment. I predict a lot of hard charging. I predict a Jesse win because he got 4 turns in 4 seconds back in the audition rounds. It would be hard to turn that kind of in-demand singer down. Who will make the dogs howl?
How do they differentiate? Anthony goes for the playful approach, with lots of cute hand motions and understated singing. Jesse goes for the professional power approach, with effortless belting that slashes through the music like a katana. Vocally Jesse was tops, as his voice was naturally more commanding. However, you had a sense that Anthony was trying a lot harder. When he came forward on the second chorus, holding onto that note like it was a life preserver, I could feel the conviction and that really resonated with me.
Winner: Jesse (Boo! I mean, yeah, he sang better, but it was singing with natural effort. Anthony sang well too and he tried way, way harder.)

So this wasn’t the best start for this round of the show. There were too many ballads and I was ok with maybe half of the winners. Still, with 36 contestants still up in the air a lot can happen.

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Thoughts On American Idol: Top 13 Men

February 28, 2012

Image edited from original by Maks Karochkin on Flickr, used under Creative Commons

It’s time to get venomous and vindictive on a show I love to hate. This is American Idol!

Notes: We’re off to a good start – the judges aren’t dressed like shit! I have nothing mean to say about any of their looks.

Theme: Contestants can pick any song.

Here are the Top 13 male performers in order of appearance on the show.

1. Reed Grimm – “Moves Like Jagger” Reed opens with some generous eye fucking of the camera on this gratuitous lounge lizard rendition of a song made famous by the coaches on that other show. Reed’s performance had tons of cheese, scatting, bad dancing, and a drum solo on a stand-up kit like he’s in The Stray Cats. However, it was still kind of fun. His singing was totally in his range and he gave the performance a full commitment. Seriously there was zero irony there. Props for kicking things off with something different and sounding good, dude!

2. Adam Brock – “Think” OK, nobody can be Aretha, but Adam had a good run on this song. For the most part he stuck to his range and didn’t oversing too much. He stuck the big notes and seemed to really show a solid mix of self-assurance and empowerment, which you need for a song like this. It was a somewhat rough start for him, but I could see myself rooting for this guy in spite of his Steelers fandom. Please don’t be Danny Gokey Part 2.

3. Deandre Brackensick – “Reasons” …Aaaaannnnddd things grind to a halt on this EWF ballad. This actually could have been cool if Deandre had used his full range instead of staying flat in his falsetto. The high notes only work if there is successful mid and low-range singing. He sounded clunky for most of the song, and gained his composure for the big finish. If he stays after this week, he needs to work his vocal control, lest he blow his voice out on a Bee Gees song.

4. Colton Dixon – “Decode” This spot belonged to your sister, you freeloading chotch! It’s tearing your family apart. See if she gives you a kidney when you need it. Now to the song. Colton tries to go for the high power singing over the nu metal power chords, but he’s out of his league. There was no genuine emotion. Whether it was on the belting or the piano mount, he couldn’t touch a lesser alum like James Durbin, let alone a killer like Adam Lambert. That was painful to watch. And that haircut looks like shit. It makes the mullet look classy. Fuck off, you skunky charlatan!

5. Jeremy Rosado – “Gravity” This guy seemed like a nonentity in Hollywood and Las Vegas. Jeremy goes for restrained and understated, which is admirable on an intimate song like this. The orchestral arrangement kind of buried him in the mix, which is a shame since he seemed like he had a grasp of the emotional component of the material. Of course he had to have the big cathartic finish, which felt messy, but it’s one meh spot on an otherwise decent performance. Frankly I was a little bored with the song choice, but I respect what he did. Just don’t do it too much.

6. Aaron Marcellus – “Never Can Say Goodbye” Once again I’m not so ok with jumping to the Motown catalog so early in the show, but that aside this was pretty good. Aaron showed good vocal control throughout the performance and he was just upbeat enough to convey coolness without overdoing it. I love that cool professionalism, especially when there’s some boppin’ within. And that super high ending? I think Aaron just took Deandre to school.

7. Chase Likens – “Storm Warning” Unlike last year’s country boy who shall not be named, Chase displays his solid tenor with ease. Like Aaron, he showed good command of a stage and some personal investment in the song. Way to use those theater chops, dude! When he was smiling it conveyed fun, not playing around. He blew a lot of the big notes at the end, but he might tighten up if he sticks around. I don’t listen to country music much, but I’m not sad by this performance.

8. Creighton Fraker – “True Colors” It’s tough for me to root for this guy because I don’t like his face. He makes things worse by singing “True Colors.” Look dude, if the Glee cast couldn’t make this sappy claptrap interesting, you shouldn’t try. That performance felt empty and forced like so much inspiration bait. His singing was halfway decent, but it was quickly overshadowed by the rest of the bleaty shitshow. Get off my TV.

9. Phillip Phillips – “In The Air Tonight” A low-key white guy with an acoustic guitar? Ladies and gentleman, your season 11 American Idol winner! Demographic predictability aside, this was a good song for Phil to do. I give him props for doing an alternative take and he did a good job singing, but the arrangement just sucked. It was grungy and hoary, and the song is supposed to be quiet and resigned. The matter-of-fact dread and self-hatred in the piece comes from the emotion and the minimal instrumentation. There was a little too much naked anger and bad sax playing. Show me “haunting,” you demographic bait!

10. Eben Franckewitz – “Set Fire To The Rain” I should be down on this Lil’ Justin Bieber, but he seems too nice and self-deprecating for me to root against him on principle. However, I will root against him for this underwhelming karaoke car wreck of a performance. The song choice did him in. He’s singing notes he can’t yet hit for emotions he hasn’t felt yet. He’s a small child and there’s a good chance he’ll develop both vocally and emotionally. One day Eben’s power might rival Adele’s, but it is not this day. Sidenote: notice the judges trying their best not to sound critical of this probable chosen one. Remember when people made fun of Paula Abdul for being too nice to the bad contestants? Now it’s like that for all three judges most of the time. But I digress.

11. Heejun Han – “Angels” I’m disappointed that Heejun picked another slow ballad, since they seem like such a departure from his offstage persona. I’m not familiar with the Robbie Williams original, but Kathy says that Heejun’s version just wasn’t as good. He just couldn’t make those big vocal moments count. Ballads like this tend fraught with emotion and vocal acrobatics. I felt some of the emotion and conviction in Heejun’s delivery, but his vocals just didn’t match. Kathy played the original for me, and yeah, it’s better. Robbie Williams’s soaring highs on the chorus were damn impressive, so I can understand her disappointment with Heejun for failing to deliver the same.

12. Josh Ledet – “You Pulled Me Through” Josh is taking on Jennifer Hudson and he’s throwing everything but the kitchen sink at this song. It’s a good demonstration of his raw vocal power, but there were a lot of times where the big oversingy moments felt unearned at best and screechy at worst. He can’t handle the power yet. This plodding yet overindulgent performance style can lead me to only one conclusion: Josh Ledet is Jacob Lusk without the sibilant “s.” ZZZZZZZZZ………..

HERE COMES A NEW CHALLENGER!

13. Jermaine Jones – “Dance With My Father” Wow! They brought the talented bass singer back! I did not see that coming. I thought he came off as pretty good in the Las Vegas round. The producers actually made a good decision! This sentimental grinder made famous by Luther Vandross isn’t my favorite song, but Jermaine sure makes good work of it though! He had great conviction in his singing and in how he came across onstage. There was tender emotion and some fabulous low note holds. Way to do us low-voiced guys proud, Jermaine!

And what would I have sung? I’ll admit that I’m not a very good singer overall. My voice tends to be in the lower range and I love to perform slightly alternative, uptempo songs in karaoke and Rock Band. The focus in this fairly open round is to make a good impression on the audience, many of whom are turning in for the first time. I suppose I would kick things off with one of my karaoke staples – “Let’s Dance” by David Bowie. It’s one of his better-known songs and when I’m warmed up I can stay in my vocal comfort zone and still pull off some the song’s builds and held notes. If was lucky I’d come across like Taylor Hicks.

My Top 3 Performers
1. Aaron Marcellus
2. Jermaine Jones
3. Reed Grimm

My Bottom 3 Performers
1. Colton Dixon
2. Creighton Fraker
3. Eben Franckewitz

Tune in tomorrow when the women take the stage!

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Thoughts on The Voice: Audition Round 3

February 18, 2012

Image from Gwen Harlow on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

I apologize for the late posting. Thank heaven for Hulu. At the same time, I am itchy to start the real competition and get past this expanded audition round. It’s still less of a pain than Idol’s audition rounds, but the show would do well not to pad it out so much. Let’s lock this up!

Coaches’ Notes

-It’s interesting to see the coaches taking potshots at each other’s commercial success, track records on the show, and personal behaviors. I just like seeing these people in power come off their high horses and argue a little. It humanizes them. Props to Christina for telling Blake “fuck you.” By contrast, being an Idol judge seems like one of the cushiest in the world. All you need to succeed as a judge on that show is a catchphrase and a willingness to hit on underage contestants.

-Speaking of which, stop hitting on contestants, Cee Lo! It’s creepy when Steven Tyler does it and it’s icky when you do it as well. “You belong to me, don’t you agree?” What kind of pitch is that, Cee Lo?

Contestants’ Notes

-We open the show with no information on Sarah Golden. Her story is one of music industry conservatism – “we’ll sign you, but only if you completely change everything about yourself,” – and it’s one I can get behind (cry for The Muggs.) Unfortunately, she opens with a fairly anemic rendition of Lady Gaga’s “You and I.” She’s trying hard, but her voice is too thin and strained against the deceptively slow and rich backing track (the house band’s crummy rendition isn’t helping.) It’s a problem that can be fixed with voice coaching and better song choices, so it’s good that she gets turns from Cee Lo and Blake, who couldn’t be more different in terms of their appraoches to the show. She picks Cee Lo, who isn’t the best stylistic match for her, but is more likely to keep her past the favoritism-mined battle rounds than conservative ol’ Blake.

-Elley Duhe does well to sing Duffy’s “Mercy.” She sings kind of thinly with lots of yelping, which is actually a good match for the song. She has a good sense of the song’s space, knowing when to throw in the ad libs and when to try for vocal acrobatics. However she can’t quite execute yet, and her end product is unremarkable compared to some of the other auditioners, so she gets no turns. Eh, she’s 19. She has time to keep at it.

-“House of the Rising Sun” is one of those slow songs singers pick in order to show off vocal pyrotechnics. Mono-monikered Pip takes advantage of the sparse opener to show off a decent vibrato. His inner theater kid has the bluesy emotion in the song down pat, but it’s making him go off-key in the main part of the song. I don’t like rooting for the under-21 set, but I was impressed by his showmanship and willingness to really sell the performance (and lack of an instrument.) Too many reality competition singers are about control and technical execution. I just hope his theatrics won’t overshadow his singing a la Idol’s James Durbin. He gets four turns, and could do ok with Adam.

-There’s no argument that Erin Willett has the R&B blaster power. She does impressive runs all over “I Want You Back,” so much so that she forgets to sing some of the lyrics. However, if that’s her biggest problem, she’s going to be ok. I like the lively belters in the Frenchie Davis mold. I was surprised that she got only one turn, and from Blake no less. Also, Erin is from Gaithersburg, MD, and as a fellow Montgomery County resident I’m happy to see her represent.

-David Grace charges into red state rock territory with “Sweet Home Alabama,” which initially seems to be a good match for his swaggering twang, but is ultimately too dynamic for his held notes and ad libbed wailing. I hate to come across as too conservative, but I feel that if he dialed it back he might have earned a turn or two. It turned into one of those performances where the judges are trying to bait each other into turning their chairs, which is good for a little awkward comedy.

-Katrina Parker’s steady alto earns a turn from Adam early on, but he looks so ashamed when he does it, his head down in his arms like a high school student falling asleep in calculus class. Frankly Katrina’s performance failed to impress me. Her Joan Osborne song choice was a little interesting, but her singing style was a little too unpolished and green. She needed to turn up the fun.

-I dont like when competition show singers go to the Motown back catalog too early, but Geoff McBride is old enough that he could appreciate “Higher Ground” when it first came out. Geoff nails the song, doing what feels like a lower-key Stevie Wonder impression with holds and vibrato in all the right places. I also appreciated Geoff’s confidence – he sang with what seemed like an effortless perfection that comes with plying one’s craft. He sounded like a pro just doing his thing and having tons of fun with it. When a performance makes me want to go buy the song in Rock Band and play it myself, the singer did a damn good job! Hopefully Christina can channel his experience in the right direction.

-Erin Martin’s voice falls somewhere on the Macy Gray-Bjork spectrum of rasp. I give her points for staking out a relatively unique position among the other contestants and for trying something different. For “Hey There Delilah,” she’s fully aware of the emotion in the song and seems just enough in control to stay in key. My only problem was that she sang certain words with a weird accent or pronunciation that put me off. Ultimately her singing was engaging, but sloppy, another problem that coaching can fix. Cee Lo’s voice is kind of thin too, and he would do well to take her reedy voice to new heights. He just needs to keep things a little more professional and not view her as some prize he deserves. Not cool, dude!

-One hazard of doing more recent pop songs in shows like this is that the original versions rely on vocal processing to make their singers sound good. Drake’s “Find Your Love” is no exception. James Massone finds a way around the problem by singing so high in his tenor range he’s almost an alto. The house bands punchy rendition helps too. James starts out strongly enough to earn three turns before his emotion gets the better of him and he totally falls apart. If he’s to have a future on the show, he will have to learn to finish what he starts.

-Winter Rae sings Rihanna’s “Take A Bow,” which in my opinion is kind of a boring song to begin with. She hits all the right notes, but lacked a wow factor. I hate to say it, but in a sparse, plodding song like this she really needed to pull off the diva moves like an early-2000s Idol success. ZZZZZZZZZZZ….

-Chris Cauley kicks out a toned down bluesy rendition of Bruno Mars’s “Grenade.” He sounded pleasant and I give him props for taking a belty, violent song into a more restrained territory. Chris is competent at best, but I hope that he will continue to take done-to-death songs in different directions.

-Nathan Parrett’s clip goes by fast, and maybe that’s because they 5 seconds I heard sounded like Chris Isaak-lite: deep but a little scratchy, like the awkward teen on The Simpsons. It still earns him a pick from Adam.

-The same thing happens to Brian Fuente, who seemed to have enough raw rocker power in him to earn a turn from Blake. I can’t help but feeling that if the show focused less on some of the contestants’ backstories and more on singing, these guys would have come across better. I predict that they’ll end up as cannon fodder in the battle rounds.

-I was wondering when shows like this would seriously consider rappers as contestants. Christina picks Moses Stone, who does an off-beat, out of breath rendition of the Black Eyed Peas “Let’s Get It Started.” She makes a good point about his delivery, though, so maybe if he calms down a little he can combine delivery with flow to attack with Busta Rhymes-like precision. I give the show points for experimenting, but couldn’t they have found a better rapper?

-Jordis Unga does “Maybe I’m Amazed” and she sounds like she’s aiming for the cheap seats. I appreciate her enthusiasm, but I wish she would learn breath control. She came up short a little, but she pounded her way through another otherwise done-to-death song. She put some effort into the deal, and while she was bleaty I can hear her potential.

Let’s summarize today’s picks, in order of selection:
-Victim of conservatism and trying too hard
-A likeable theater kid?
-Another lively belter + MoCo represent!
-Not trying hard enough
-Soul power pro
-Reedy and raspy make a comeback
-Alto beats Autotune
-Originally bland
-Bass section cannon fodder
-Rock N Roll cannon fodder
-Finally, a rapper! or This is the best rapper they could come up with?
-So much Sound and Fury

Tune in next week for thoughts on…(looks at Voice site)…more auditions? Since each coach has picked only 6 or 7 contestants, we have a ways to go….

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Thoughts on The Voice: Audition Round 2

February 6, 2012

Image from technotheory at Flickr, used under Creative Commons

Voice Coaches – “Prince Medley”
Well, Blake’s credibility as a voice coach is suspect – he mumbled his way through “1999.” Cee Lo lacked the energy he usually provides to his live performances on “Little Red Corvette.” Adam nails the Prince falsetto but fails the diction. Christina gets the last note and shows why she’s the most powerful singer on that stage. As the show starts up, I feel like I’m getting psyched up for a game of NBA 2K12. “Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!

-Dammit Blake Shelton, don’t accuse Christina Aguilera of luring contestants with “flash and boobs,” lest you remind America that you were the asshole judge last season.

-I wonder how long Carson Daly’s enthusiasm will last. By the second voting episode last season, his professional courtesy gave way to subliminal contempt for the contestants, the guest performers, and the whole show in general.

-Oh goody, another vocal duo. At least The Line’s relationship is less lovey-dovey and more like that of The White Stripes – an ex-couple who kept on working together professionally. I still feel like using the duo dynamic to harmonize for a fuller sound is cheating. If either one of those singers went up alone, they would have been passed on like the Atlas Shrugged movie. To their credit, they seem more genuine than last year’s Elenowen or Tori and Taylor Thompson.

-Speaking of The White Stripes….Jamar Rodgers is the first contestant to successfully perform a song I like, injecting it with enough Cee Lo-esque wooooooaaaaahhhhs to make it unique. I’m not a fan of sob stories, but he quickly shot to the top of my list. Also props for namedropping Cee Lo’s Dungeon Family past with Goodie Mob. Nice run, dude!

-At first, Neal Middleton looks like another long-haired Bo Bice lookalike, but check out his top hat – it has gears! Does this guy do steampunk? He certainly does CCR, nailing their version of “Heard It Though The Grapevine” with growl and control. He wasn’t pitchy. He kept his vocal strength up. He was like a male Beverly McClellan, or at least a baby Nakia. Yet no chairs turn for him? Bad call, coaches!

-Gwen Sebastian goes the sparse route. Her voice is shaky as hell, but she pulls it together to get a few chair turns. She seems quite skilled at working the contour of her voice, but I just don’t care for the sound of it. If she goes far I hope she learns to enrich her delivery. I also hope that piano that played during her speech was added in after the fact. Cee Lo’s reaction to Gwen’s choice of Blake was pure “Well played, Mr. Bond, but let’s how confident you are when you meet my associate Mr. Jaws. Seize him, men!”

-Pamela Rose needs to enunciate. And sing in the right key. And pick a more fun song. Based on Adam and Cee Lo’s comments, photogenic contestants like her are the reason why we have the blind auditions. I’m happy sure she’s “Already Gone.” (Ba-dum-bish!)

-I wonder what kind of singing Kim Yarbrough did back in the day. Disco? Gospel? Genre aside, she’s talented enough to overcome a choking house band and some finicky coaches to show her potential as a blaster, which is right in Christina’s zone. So it’s a pity that she goes with Adam, since she would have made The Line look like a couple of tools in the battle rounds.

-The third fun song of the night comes from Air Force vet Angie Johnson. Pat Benatar’s “Heartbreaker” is one of Kathy and my favorite songs to play in Rock Band, and Angie destroyed it. Cee Lo’s pick was a lock, especially after his and Vicci Martinez’s Mad Max rendition of “Love Is A Battlefield” last season. This could be a good match. I’m getting excited.

-Dez Duron takes it back to the boy band era with his slick looks and performance of “I Want It That Way.” Too bad if he were to join the Backstreet Boys, he’d be second string for Howie at best. Was he sucking helium to take the edge off before he went onstage? You’re too damn nasal, bro! Another posterchild for the blind auditions!

-Lindsey Pavao seems to be going for the soft Dia Frampton tip, but she cannot sing quietly without devolving into Mush Mouth Syndrome. It’s a good thing she can belt. Props for doing a Trey Songz track in a way that I couldn’t immediately recognize.

-Poor Hoja Lopez. Her delivery just wasn’t there. She also picked “Teenage Dream,” which being from the house that Max Martin and Dr. Luke built, uses vocal processing to enhance otherwise mediocre vocals. Maybe if she picked a more natural-sounding song? It got really sad when it became clear that no one was going to turn and she started to pull away. Here’s hoping she gets more confidence to come back next season.

-I want Jermaine Paul to keep things bouncy and upbeat. Having come up under the wing of Alicia Keys, he certainly has the chops to bring down the house twice a week. One cool thing he did during the coach negotiations was ask who would keep him through the battle rounds. It was an empty gesture, but it still showed that he was thinking. Until he went with conservative ol’ Blake. I predict a battle round elimination.

-Cue the waterworks! Angel Taylor’s singing “Someone Like You.” While it’s not my favorite Adele song, Angel nails the tune note for note, which is pretty damn hard to do. If she picks more interesting or fun songs, she’ll go way up in my book.

And now a summary of tonight’s winners, in the order they were announced:
-Duos are cheating!
-Alternative soul do-gooder
-Shaky shaky country histrionics
-Master blaster
-Rock N Roll special ops
-Her knowledge exceeds her pipes
-Great execution, bad priorities
-Otherwise nondescript damn good Adele impersonator

My condolences to Steampunk Bo Bice. Here’s hoping the coaches are as picky as they were last season and he gets another shot.

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Internet Roundup

June 13, 2011

First off, congratulations to the Dallas Mavericks for winning the 2011 NBA Finals and defeating the Miami Heat to avenge their 2006 Finals loss! Crazy old Mark Cuban gets a trophy and crazy old Lebron James gets to brood for another year. My condolences to the rest of the Heat team and the Miami fans, but BAHAHAHAHAHA TOO BAD SO SAD LEBRON.

Since the PlayStation Network fucking finally came back online I’ve been catching up with the backlog of DLC for Rock Band, especially since I took the offline time to start learning Pro Keys. The new Lady Gaga DLC is a given, but I’m crazy excited for tomorrow’s release of Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping” and A-Ha’s “Take On Me” for the game. The former has a good mix of shout-along karaoke, big instrumentation, and a little politics. The latter has that hot keyboard line and that fabulous low-high singing. Too bad the song won’t come with a video filter that lets players import the band into “Take On Me’s” iconic video. Eh, a good party song is a good party song.

Meanwhile, Andrew Unterberger of Popdust has a takedown of Eminem’s recent dis on Lady Gaga. I won’t go too much into it, but the takedown reminded me of Sady Doyle’s awesome critique of Odd Future’s Tyler The Creator and his nasty sophomoric rape posturing on Tiger Beatdown. One defense that comes up of both Em andTyler’s offensive content is that “it’s provocative,” or “it’s funny.” What Unterberger hints at and what Doyle really lays out is that these half-assed attempts at “edgy” are tired, trite, and frankly make the tellers seem insecure. I used to be just like that, probably through my early 20s, and I was a dumbass.

Finally, due to some work commitments the next The Voice recap will not be up on Tuesday. I will be DVRing the show and will whip up a recap for Wednesday.

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Thoughts On The Voice: Sing-Off Part 3

May 25, 2011

We’re halfway through the battle rounds! Two singers enter, one singer leaves, and there is not much else to say that wasn’t said two weeks ago.

Team Xtina (guest coach Sia, who I forgot wrote 4 songs for Christina’s Bionic)

Raquel Castro vs. Julia Eason – “Only Girl In The World”

Seeing as how this song was probably written with so much vocal processing that not even Rihanna can sing it live, this will be a challenge. When I hear someone sing it live it just sounds weird, especially on the chorus. “Julia and Raquel have pitch problems,” says Christina, but that’s not entirely their fault. The challenge is making the best out of a bad situation.

Both women have very rough starts but pick things up by the chorus. Raquel uses her naturally fuller voice to barrel into the song head on. Julia takes a more cerebral approach by adding notes to the chorus’s flat progression to make it sound more natural. By the end of the song Raquel seems to still be having fun while Julia looks like someone is choking her.

Winner: Raquel (It kind of made sense. She sounded richer, though one could also make a case for Julia’s vocal acrobatics.)

 

Team Blake (guest coach Reba McEntire, who founded Starstruck Entertainment, which I think manages Blake Shelton)

Dia Frampton vs. Serabee – “You Can’t Hurry Love”

Blake is really on a Motown kick. He sets two of the more experienced singers against each other. Dia has a softer folksy style, whereas Serabee sounds like she aims for the cheap seats. I can’t call this one. It will depend on how their vocal styles overlap.

Except they don’t, not really. Dia sings the first half and her singing is like a muscle car that takes forever to reach top speed, but when it does it’s just cruisin’. Meanwhile Serabee goes full gospel, zipping all over the song like a Porsche 911 on a test course. When the song fades out Dia stays the course and sings straight on while Serabee does runs on top. They each play to their strengths, so victory will be a matter of which style Blake likes more.

Winner: Dia (She had to settle into the song, but once she found her groove she reduced Serabee’s runs and loud aesthetics to so much sound and fury.)

 

Team Adam (guest coach Adam Blackstone – seriously? A music director?)

Rebecca Loebe vs. Devon Barley – “Creep”

I never thought I’d hear a Radiohead song in an American singing competition. Adam is trying to pair the ominous song with shiny singers to see what results, though Rebecca might have an advantage given her Tori Amos-meets-Jewel performance style. Given how situations like this have worked out before on this show, pop-rocky Devon has a chance for a come-from-behind victory.

Early on it looks like the song is just too low for Devon, and he sounds flatter than Al Gore. Rebecca at least sounds on key, though her belting is like “what if Evanescence covered Radiohead?” By the song’s climax, it’s just an off-key mess. Devon was flat and Rebecca was oversinging.

Winner: Devon (Did I hear a different performance? That song would have mauled Devon’s ass in Rock Band. On Medium.)

 

Team Cee Lo (guest coach Monica, who I found out is married to pro basketball player and Michigan State alum Shannon Brown)

Kelsey Rey vs. Jonathan Taylor Thomas Tori and Taylor Thompson – “Unwritten”

Great. Now I’m flashing back to The Hills. Thanks Cee Lo! From the practice round it sounds like the danger might be in screaming this song during the loud parts, so control might come in handy. Despite her numbers disadvantage, Kelsey could still beat these cult siblings back like Jared beat the Elenowen couple last week.

Kelsey has trouble finding the key at the start of the song, but she settles into things nicely and she sings with control and style. She sounds like a pro. Meanwhile Tori and Taylor sing kind of flat when they solo and miss cues when they try to sing alternations. Together they still sing well, but will it be enough?

Winner: Tori and Taylor Thompson (This was a bad choice. Notice how when the judges were complementing them it was all on concept and “innocence” and not on singing ability. And what Cee Lo calls “innocence” I call “creepy.”)

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So tonight I agreed with half of the coaches’ picks. As with any reality competition, there are bound to be choices I disagree with. We’re still seeing a diversity of contestants come out of the battle rounds (and there’s still one more round to go), but the real test is who the audience votes for. Shit, Idol had a somewhat diverse field this past season and look how that turned out. I guess my thread of hope is that the viewership for this show will be younger and fresher; more open to new and exciting performers as opposed to Idol’s conservatism and blandness.