--NGUAC ‘20 Judge Review--
Gosh, there’s so much about this song to like, from the clean mixing to the wonderful soloing to what I can only assume is live instrument playing on multiple fronts. It’s impressive work, and shows a ton of musical skill on your part, and you totally nailed the vibe of a funky jam session with a bunch of mates improvising over a funky tune together!
Compositionally speaking, there’s so much going on in this song (mostly super smooth and funky solos). You had some great melodic lines (1:57 and 3:01 stood out to me in particular) and I really enjoyed your silence-into-double time transitions at 2:25 and 4:15. In my opinion, your raw musical skill is the best part of the track, and the subsection that I awarded the most points to in your breakdown. I won’t critique your soloing skill (not that there’s much to critique), but I will say the one thing that the song seemed to be most in want of was a catchy motif! A lot of funky jammy songs like this one will have a good root melody and use that as a basis for improvisation as well as structural development, but I couldn’t really identify anything performing that function in this song that didn’t seem more like a harmonic texture than an actual motif (like those noodly synth arps in the beginning and ending). There was that melody at 2:29 that came back at 4:18, but that felt like a borderline arp-esque texture given how uniform it was rhythmically and how little variation there was upon it in its different appearances. To grab those few extra composition points, I’d recommend working on a good motif and using that to develop your solos, which would create a richer musical experience than just basing it off of the chord progressions. That said, your skill is still very evident here, and nothing I’ve mentioned here detracted from the fact that it was a pleasant listen.
The production of the song was also rather well-done. I’m very impressed with how clean the drums are, as well as how clean the guitars and synths are—it sounds like you paid a lot of attention to making sure they all got their own distinct space in the mix. I did think you had some of the most interestingly-produced drums of your bracket, though, since it sounds to me like you either played the drums live or you have an incredibly intricate method for adjusting the note velocities on some pretty high-quality drum samples. In either case, while the drums occupy a good space in the mix, I’d recommend going into each drum track and tweaking the leveling/compression/limiting some more (which should be easy to do if they’re samples; if they’re recorded live, it sounds like you had a separate mic for each drum anyway so that shouldn’t be too hard either way). I found that there was often a bit too much variance in the volume and force behind the drum samples (particularly the kick), both comparing note-to-note and comparing across the whole song. In fact, toward the end, it sounded like even though the backing track was receding, the flat volume of the drums was rising, which was a bit of a weird sound. I know this sounds a bit nitpicky, but as a drummer myself, this stood out quite a bit to me, and hit me harder upon listening than other small production nitpicks I could make, like the fact that the bass is a bit hard to hear when not doubled with that clav-y sound or the clashing synths in the 2:51 section. All in all, though, your production was very clean, and I feel like a bit more work toward a more uniform master would rocket this up to the top.
In the end, though, I felt like the biggest area for improvement for this as a standalone NGUAC track was that while it had the spirit and the energy of an improvised jam session, it also had the looseness and lack of focus of one. Despite having a ton of different sections to the song, there was only one that repeated, making the overall point of the song a bit hard to follow and making the melodic content feel underdeveloped. There isn’t really any specific part of the song I could point to and say “change this to make it a perfect track”, but I feel like putting in a bit more thought from the get-go into how to make a cohesive structure would do wonders for a track like this. There’s no one specific way to do that, but as an example, if you were to adjust that 2:30 melody into a stronger motif, introduce it at the beginning of the song, and use your solos to build upon it, that could potentially be a way to adapt this song into a more coherent one.
I do hope I’ve justified my score here to you, since it was so different from Everratic’s, and I understand that not everybody shares this opinion! My pop-flavored sensibilities might be shining through here, and admittedly, all judges have their biases. You are certainly a talented composer and producer, and I’m sorry that the stars aligned just out of favor for you—you were certainly very close, and I have no doubt that you would’ve written a song for finals that would’ve been just at home among the others. It’s a real shame, but it was a very competitive All-Stars bracket this year. All I can say for now is that I hope you keep writing music and that we can have the privilege to see you in next year’s NGUAC!
Composition - 26/30
Production - 24/30
Structure - 6/10
GSM - 24/30
Overall - 80/100, normalized to 8.0/10 (M=8.0)