Best Scholastic Original: Apples and Oranges
Apples and oranges have more in common than these tracks. Literally. At least both of those things are generally the same shape. The only thing these songs have in common is that people in the groups performing them wrote them (with one exception).
I love this category. I’m so glad it exists. But without any kind of guideline or criteria as to what kinds of songs we’re examining, I’m left looking at the following questions:
-What sort of the song did the writer set out to write?
-How well does the finished song accomplish that goal?
It’s not a perfect system, but here we go!
Have You Ever (Aural Pleasure)
This one is basically a Pop tune, with some Country influence. The verses and choruses feel very straight forward, and unfortunately feature some pretty clichéd, general lyrics (“Have you ever dreamed of flying, Have you ever been scared of dying?”). What’s more, the way the lyrics are structured often forces short ideas to be stretched into long melismas, resulting in some awkward moments.
My favorite part is the bridge, partially because the lyrics become less general and start to focus into more of a clear narrative (“Did you think there was more, well I should say I felt the same.”) We get a clearer picture of whom the narrator is, and it makes the song more relatable.
What bothers me about the form of the song is that we have to wait for the bridge to get to that development. The verses feel overly philosophical to me; it sounds like things really zero in during the bridge, and I suddenly feel like this song is about something specific and interesting. That’s a lot more compelling, I think, than grand ideas about flying and dying stretched out over lots of melodic material.
Life of the Mind (Chris Rishel, Brianne Holland)
The song makes the conscious choice to leave some people at the curb, and I think that’s just fine. Life of the Mind has more in common with a Meatloaf-esque, mini-Rock Opera than it does with many of the other nominees. This style isn’t for everyone, but from a writing point of view, there’s a lot to appreciate.
The hook is catchy, but more viscerally so than aurally – distinctly not Pop in that regard. The harmonic choices are great – disconcerting enough to evoke the mood of the song, but still anchored enough to not sound completely disjointed. The repeated lyrics in the chorus give the listener something to anchor to as well.
The intent of this song seems to be to evoke a strong emotion. I’ll leave it to you to determine what exactly that is, but from a writing standpoint it makes bold choices in line with the boldness it seems to want to communicate. I’d call that a rousing success.
The One To Walk Away (Alex Ratner, Nimal Eames-Scott)
Here we have sort of a Pop form, but with some interesting choices in structure. The very beginning is presented almost like a recitative – a prologue to the verse. This aesthetic continues into the verse – the lyrics are presented more free-form than one might expect.
I like the “ship has sailed out to sea” extended metaphor. I also like the subtle shift to minor on the word “colder” in the chorus, which highlights the negative shift in the mood at that moment. This happens again in the bridge where the major moment highlights the “still a little blue” in the sky idea.
The narrative here is one of the more accessible ones of the nominees. The only thing that bugs me a little is that the unconventional, word-y verses are sometimes a little hard to follow, because the word stress gets a bit wacky with so much language happening. Overall though, I like this song a lot.
Ticking of the Clock (Robynn Yip)
The form of the tune is very simple: basically ABAB. The chorus has a nice melody, which creates a pleasant arc of setup and resolve. Indeed, “pleasant” is a good word to describe the overall feel.
To its credit, the song doesn’t overstay its welcome. It gets in, presents the material succinctly, and gets out. A very smart decision given the simplicity of the song. It would have been easy to add endless repeats of the chorus, or to try and shoehorn in a bridge where in fact one probably isn’t necessary.
This song does what it does well, but doesn’t leave as big an impression as many of the other nominees.
Mannequin (Micaela McCall, Chris Jobe)
I like the intro and outtro, and I love the riff in the main chorus hook. A perfect example of creating something unique by playing to the strengths of the lead!
My biggest issue with the tune is its length. I’d cut the second post-chorus in favor of getting to the bridge sooner. The second half of the chorus could vary more melodically as well. That development would help each chorus feel fresh.
There are some cool lyric ideas, and a nice juxtaposition of the male and female solo to help move the story along. It’s a strong song, that I just feel could have benefitted from a little bit of trimming!
Something in the Water (Brianne Holland, Markie Gray)
Cool, Carrie Underwood vibe. The use of a post-chorus section (I’d call it from “she more than you ever imagined”) allows the energy to extend out into the verses in a way that’s really effective.
The bridge draws heavily from the A form, which I think is neat. It kind of underscores the strong, singular point of the song.
The chorus falls where you might expect, but doesn’t follow conventional presentation of the hook. It presents the listener with multiple smaller hooks, as opposed to one main chorus hook. In fact, I’d say that the whole song is really a series of building, similar sections. A little homogenous, but I appreciate the purposefulness of the approach.
Trees (Thomas Daniels)
A choral composition – completely different from anything else nominated.
The harmonic language is mostly tonal and lush. There are many great moments of tension and release (ie, “breeze” at 1:25, where the sopranos move to create dissonance, and then continue to post their note while a new dissonance is created around them). Cool use of non-vocal effects, such as the wind sound, to shape the mood.
The “rules” of any kind of Pop writing go totally out the window on this one. All I can say is that I really enjoyed the composition. Great use of harmony and space, both in timing and melody!
Oh man! Do I have to?
Winner (tie): Life of the Mind (Chris Rishel, Brianne Holland), Trees (Thomas Daniels)
Runner Up: The One to Walk Away (Alex Ratner, Nimal Eames-Scott)
Trees and Life of the Mind couldn’t be more different, but they share common strengths in their sense of purpose and complexity of their writing. Of the nominees, they are the ones that impressed me most with what they tried to tackle, and the techniques they used along the way!
The One to Walk Away is just a cool song that uses some deceptively subtle, yet very appropriate writing techniques.