This is an NGADM Round 5 review.
Mixing needs work? Yeah. Abrupt transitions? Some here and there. Premature ending? Yup. But damn it all, I absolutely adore this approach a lot more than I thought I would. This is in the same light as an NGADM 2012 track by BlazingDragon, Alpine - http://goo.gl/pZaqCh, but at the same time, despite stylistic similarities, it really is entirely different. BlazingDragon's felt more serious and sophisticated, whereas this had a more laid-back mood with positive, warm vibes (plus it is kind of twice as long). Both are solid approaches though, that both showcase the expressive and diverse nature of this genre. Anyhow, enough chit-chat - time to delve into the meat of the track.
You know I first saw your submission on my mobile while at university and obviously didn't dare to listen to it through tinny, mono sound from my mobile speakers. I still read the author's comments, and was elated to see that you said "I love the melodies" because I think you have a really great sense of melody (or at least one that mirrors my tastes haha), so I knew instantly that when I'd hear it 10 hours later at home, I'd really enjoy the composition (plus, it's a really good sign that a musician enjoys the melodies he composes). And I sure as hell did enjoy it. Wonderful, memorable and upbeat melodies with a very appreciable amount of variety.
One thing I feel like noting is that you didn't take the route that's often tempting in this kind of music, and just keep a whole line of directionless, probably improvised melodies going on from beginning to end, but you actually gave this a really strong flow and well-built structure, formed heavily on melodies that lead naturally onto the next and melodic phrases answering each other. Some of your melodies remind me of melodies by Reasoner here on Newgrounds. Don't know if you've heard his stuff before but I'd highly recommend it. I just love how intricate your melodies are over here. This is exactly what I was hoping for after hearing your track in the previous round. The harmonies and interplay of different instruments is just magnificent. Your control over all of these different elements is masterful and showcases your compositional skill wonderfully. Just yes.
In terms of actual sound, I presume you used the same piano sample you used in the previous round, didn't you? Whether you did or not (can't tell because I'm audio noob), the piano here sounds great. I think it could've done with a touch more reverb, but the melodies are already pretty muddy as they are (more on that later) so that might not be the best of ideas unless you make the reverb tail quite thin (I find high-end reverb does a great job of wettening an instrument while not interfering with the mix much). Still, overall you've created a really unique and flavourful soundscape, that shines very much at parts like 1:19, where your piano, bass, and synth ambience combine to create this astoundingly warm and gorgeous texture. Also, the drums are really nice, if a bit interfering at times. Also, watch out, they get quite repetitive. The secret behind making a flowing drum line, I find, is to add a tonne of subtle hits, variations and fills here and there, which isn't quite what you did, opting to repeat the same drum pattern over and over again.
Mixing... well, you're aware of most of this I'm sure. I still think your piano could have a bit more reverb (it sounds kinda bare and dry at 3:19 especially) and I also think your bass could have a deeper low end (although it's still clean as hell, because it's made by johnfn). More significant is the fact that the mix can get undefined at times, especially the piano. I'm not too bothered about this in certain parts because you've made a much clearer effort to humanise the piano and give it irregular timings and all that, which in turn made for some notes that were a bit buried in the mix - no biggie in the expressive, slow section. However, during the climactic sections I felt like the piano's melody could have been tighter and more defined.
The synth you use at the beginning was a sweet idea that landed you points for creativity and sounded nice for the most part, but at parts like 2:12 its raw nature, I felt, clashed with the deeper sound of the piano. Also, the hats from 2:58 onwards are too upfront in the mix, just like the tambourine in your Round 3 track. Leading from my point about the undefined piano melody, in the climactic sections the mix does unfortunately get a little bit cluttered, undoubtedly due to your admirable ambition of having a zillion beautiful melodies going on at once, on top of such heavy and quick drums. However, the clutter is much less prominent than I expected, especially given the little time you had to mix this.
In terms of intro, outro and transitions... at first I thought the way you just dove right into the track without much progression was a bit too hasty, but nah screw that. I love the intro - it just sets the mood effortlessly, and then when you introduce the synth subtly later on it came together very well (but that's just my opinion). The outro was definitely premature. I felt like 4:14 came in a bit too early and didn't quite have a suitable, well-thought-out approach. That said, I love how the track dies down for the ending, even if I wish that it was a bit more gradual. Oh and... as much as I'd like to enjoy the transition to the fast section, because you clearly put effort into making it smooth, I can't help but think that it still felt like it came out of nowhere.
When it comes to the semi-finals and finals, I become really indecisive about my scores. However, I think I'm going to settle with ranking you as 2nd place in my scores. This track has a hefty amount of flaws, and etherealwinds' track is damn good, but there's such depth in the composition and thoughtfulness throughout that I'm going to have to give you a marginally higher score. You're becoming one of my favourite artists on Newgrounds. Keep it up!