Nur Ein 6 (2011)
Heart Shaker (5/23/11)
Heart Shaker was the end of the line for me in Nur Ein 6. I kind of expected it as there are problems with this song, most notably the vocal performance and recording in the second verse. (It's one of the few things in my entire catalog that I plan to fix one day.) There's lots of clipping. The song was almost universally panned by the judges. I came in last place.
Now....I may be deluded by my own hubris but I think this is a great song. I was going for a Faith No More-covers-the-Commodores vibe or maybe a Beck-circa-Midnite Vultures thing and frankly, I think I got it just right with the exception of the the aforementioned vocal problems. The electric piano layer and wah guitar make me so happy. And when the chorus opens up with those fake strings and backing vocals....it's nearly perfect. The chord progression is really complex and took me a lot of time to work out. The augmented chord that ends each verse with its rising whole-tone scale creates just the right amount of tension. Usually, when I'm away from a song for a year, I can tell if it's crap or not. This is a really good song and I'm proud of it. Except that second verse; I'm gonna fix that.
frank caravella - vocals, piano, keyboards, guitar, bass, programming.
Patient Number Seven (5/16/11)
During the recording of Patient Number Seven, my audio interfaced expired. As in kaput. Just died. Close to throwing in the towel, I dug out a USB microphone (the Blue Snowball) and a guitar interface and put together a pretty decent recording in a couple of hours even while learning this equipment I almost never use. It was a banner moment in this competition and I was rewarded with a first place finish for the week. :)
More important, I think it's a fun little song. "List songs" are generally pooh-poohed by internet songwriting snobs and this song probably falls into that category, but I enjoyed the challenge of telling this macabre story with a finite number of steps and even worked in a little twist at the end. The weekly challenge was cacophony, which afforded me the fortunate opportunity to devise a solo section consisting of tone clusters and piano strings strummed with a guitar pick (try doing that on a synthesizer!). Now to fix that guitar track in the second verse... :-
frank caravella - vocal, piano, keyboard, guitar, bass, programming
Unholy Alliance (5/9/11)
In Nur Ein 4, I scored big with a novelty duet called Schadenfreude, an unusual love story between two men who never quite get in sync with one another. In Nur Ein 6, I attempted to take this to an all-new high (or low, depending on your perspective) by incorporating Old Testament religions. Once again paired with John Benjamin of the John Benjamin Band, Unholy Alliance tells the tale of a Muslim and an Orthodox Jew who face a moral dilemma while trying to reconcile their respective religions with their love for one another. This track is campier than the previous and exploits stereotypes a bit more than I would have liked, but I think the laugh tracks and audience applause signal playful admiration as opposed to cynical derision. The whole thing unfolds like a vaudeville duet and ends with a universal love-conquers-all sentiment.
I included all kinds of inside jokes, ranging from the subtle (the Wal-mart in Detroit) to the obscure (Umm Kalthum!) to the hilarious (that Mindy Cohn joke is money). Writing comedy like this is fun yet complex and the musical composition has to be well-structured and tightly woven into the lyric. I worked really hard on all of the little faux accordion counter-melodies that pepper the verses and I'm particularly fond of the bouncy synth that comes in on the third verse. John added some really great backing vocals ("we're in love!")—he has a gift for this kind of thing. I only wish the ending was a little tighter but, as with many Nur Ein songs, time was of the essence. This song still makes me laugh out loud and I know when all the jokes are coming so that's pretty good, right?
frank caravella - vocals, keyboards, programming
john nolt - vocals
Blame it on Ginger (5/2/11)
By far, the worst title/challenge combination I have dealt with came during Round Two of Nur Ein 6: write a song called Blame it on Ginger and, oh by the way, it has to be autobiographical. Either of these tasks on its own is fine, but what are the chances any one of us has had an experience with a person named Ginger or the root called ginger that warrants blame. Certainly not me. So I did the best I could, composing one of the most difficult and bitter songs I've ever written, and drudging up some of my ugliest memories in the process. I took some liberties in the same way television and movies are "based on real events" and put a disclaimer in the bridge which resulted in all kinds of scrutiny from the judges. Whatever.
The result is a pretty decent, if not a bit plodding, track. I'm happy with the florid piano performance and I think I successfully bathed my cello playing in enough reverb to make it passable. I guess I kind of based the mood and pace of the composition on Beethoven's "Moonlight" Sonata. It's a pretty dour song and you have to be in the right mood for it, but if you are, I think it works pretty well.
frank caravella - vocal, piano, cello, programming
Ah, the chorus vs. refrain debate. In Round One of Nur Ein 6, the challenge was "no chorus." In the tradition of songs like Blowin' in the Wind and Bridge Over Troubled Water, I used a catchy refrain to end each verse and this seemed to confuse everyone, resulting in the posting of dictionary definitions, hints at disqualification—it was quite the scandal. But frankly, I didn't care much then and care even less now. This was the best song I had written in over a year and I was pretty happy to be back in the songwriting business.
I'm pretty fond of taking a broad concept like "colors" and building a song from a number of phrases related to that concept. This is yet another breakup song but the incorporation of all these "colorful" phrases allowed me to build something of interest relatively quickly. I just started making a list from the very obvious ("feeling blue," "green with envy") to the more obscure ("golden years," "in the red," "white as a sheet") and then assembled them into a song that has some fairly vicious overtones before leveling out. I wish the chorus—oops, refrain—were as clever as the verses but I think it works okay. The guitar riff that opens the tune got a lot of positive attention and I was successful at remotely recording drums (i.e. with a laptop at someone else's house) for the first time so some nice things came out of this track.
frank caravella - vocals, guitars, bass
austin wagner - drums
First Blood (4/18/11)
I was relegated to judging the year following my Nur Ein victory and recorded no songs during 2010. (I was writing, but those songs haven't been recorded yet.) By the time Nur Ein 6 rolled around, I was separated from my wife and had moved out of my house, leaving me sequestered from my studio and most of my instruments. But I was determined to record and brought together as many bits and pieces as I could to the house where I was staying. There, I also found some interesting instruments, including the pump organ I used for this track. (The out-of-time clicking you hear is me operating the foot pedals—I thought it was interesting but many people find it annoying.)
My initial goal was to record all of my Nur Ein 6 entries entirely on an iPad but, after one track, I realized it didn't allow me the flexibility I needed in terms of multi-tracking so I abandoned the idea. Although I'm sure my inexperience with the platform has something to do with it, to me this song sounds lifeless and dull. I tried remastering it in GarageBand, but I just couldn't get it to have any vibrancy. The canned drums sound terrible and even slightly out of time. So yeah, this is not a great track but, at the time, it felt like a minor miracle just to make a song so I considered it a small victory in those terms. But the track is still a downer.
frank caravella - vocals, pump organ, keyboards, programming
Recorded on an iPad!