The Sing Off Season 4, Episode 1 Recap

At long last, nearly 2 years after we last saw Ben Folds, Shawn Stockman, and Nick Lachey telling us about a cappella (with varying degrees of insight, coherence, and puns), The Sing Off returned last night for another truncated holiday season.

The Sing Off inspired this blog, inspired me as it inspired countless others around the world. Its return was, particularly in light of the Pitch Perfect phenomenon, triumphant.

I had intended to write a lot about this subject last week, intended to post a new AcaVids on this very subject, but sometimes life (or politics) throws you a major obstacle. Since our office learned early last week that we had less than 2 weeks to relocate 60 attorneys, tens of thousands of files, and hundreds of individual items of furniture, things have been overwhelmingly hectic for me.

In fact, all the chaos dampened my enthusiasm for the show last night, but then I turned on the television at 9 pm, and within 5 minutes I had let all that aggravation evaporate and I settled in to watch (and tweet about) my old friend, The Sing Off.

In light of the aforementioned personal circumstances, my recaps are going to be a bit shorter than usual, but I will maintain the mostly positive, matter-of-fact approach which I used back during Season 3. I will not attack any groups, nor will I sugar-coat my opinions. I will call it like I see it, and as always, I welcome your comments or feedback.

Let’s jump right in!

Opener

Uh-oh. A Fun. medley. 2 of these songs are among the most covered repertoire in the a cappella world over the past 18 months. It’s ok. Serenity now, serenity now. It’s still fun, it’s a better arrangement than nearly every other version I’ve heard, plus I know the (non-aca) public will love it.  Hell, much of the a cappella viewership will probably still like it. I’m tainted from RARB, CARA nominations, Voices Only nominations, etc.

Listen, the openers have never been my favorite part of the show; they are a little fake (more than half of those microphones are not being used), but the arrangements are great and it’s still fun to see everyone interacting at the same time.

Complaint about the opening credits? Can we please see Ed Boyer at the console and Deke Sharon directing people instead of generic actors?

Intro/Banter

I’m just kidding. I have nothing to say about this. Let’s hope Jewel is as good as Sara Bareilles, or at least better than Nicole Scherzinger.

OSA Vocal Rush

I was excited to learn about their inclusion on the show. They are one of the few competing groups with an established track record, and it’s a good one. I’ve featured their videos on the blog before, and they won ICHSA and the scholastic competition at Los Angeles A Cappella Fest last year. Director Lisa Forkish knows what she’s doing. I was anxious to see them in action.

They did not disappoint. Vocal Rush started the competition with a grooving, stomping version of “Bottom of the River.” Energy, dynamics, a notable lack of pitch problems, they managed to prompt a stank face (IN A GOOD WAY) from Shawn Stockman and what I can only assume is a nerd’s version of a stank face from Ben Folds. Great start, these kids are so full of talent and promise. I think they’re headed deep into the competition. The judges were correct- a lot of soul, particularly from such young singers.

“Bilabial plosives”- I love Ben Folds. He is the judge we all want. But seriously, Nick, most people don’t learn about plosives or fricatives in college.

Jewel report: not so bad. I’d prefer Sara Bareilles, but Jewel doesn’t say things like “It’s amazing you guys do so much without music.” Thanks, Nicole.

I must interject that if you are watching this show and you enjoy snark (occasionally vulgar) on Twitter, check out some of my retweets and favorites.

Home Free

Here’s another group with an established track record. They’ve been around for awhile, just check out their RARB reviews here. Granted, they were not always a “country vocal band” as promoted here, but…they’re not necessarily now either. I mean, the bass solo? The dude wearing a scarf? Scratching on the VP? I’m intrigued. The important thing is that they can sing, in tune,

You can tell from Ben’s reaction that this IS his jam. Or maybe it was just the #BassInTheButt. I still don’t like when he says something “sounds like a record,” but I’ll let it slide because…he’s Ben Folds.

Jewel report: she’s listening closely! She understands bluegrass. Twitter has introduced her new character for the show, #JewelsBreasts or #JewelsJewels (It wasn’t me!).

These guys have experience, they have talent, they’re savvy about expectations, I think they’re headed deep in the competition as well.  I particularly liked their comment on Twitter after The Filharmonic’s performance, where the Home Free Guys said “Yeah, but can they sit down on stools?” A sense of humor, particularly about themselves, will help these guys out in the PR department.

Princeton Footnotes

Uh-oh, guys claiming they are not what they so obviously are… “we are not a stuffy group that fits some ivy-league mold.”  I sense foreshadowing. And bow-ties. And whiteness. I’m more interested in the House Jacks bumper music leading into the segment, but I’ll reserve judgment for now.

Oh, blazers with the bow-ties. Well, at least there’s some…pandering (“We Love You Ben”). And a muddled, awkward dubstep breakdown. Is it just me, or do they kinda look like jumping spiders? Lots of flailing arms and legs.

It wasn’t all bad, there were a few decent moments, but I don’t see them going too far in this competition.

Jewel report: Um, the bass is not always the tonic, but I feel what you were going for- the basses were shaky and it all reverberated up from there.

Calle Sol

Alright, another Latino group whose name Nick can mangle! The package shows them performing a cover of Enrique Iglesias’s “Bailamos,” so…I’m skeptical about their taste in song selection.

The ladies are very attractive. The dancing is nice. The rhythm section breakdown is…awkward. The arrangement is…a little empty. They bring some energy, a nice visual component, I don’t know what to think. They won’t be winning it all if they perform like that each week, but it’s just one short performance so I will reserve judgment for now.

Jewel report: dancing plus singing is fun and entertaining!

Street Corner Renaissance

Easy, Nick, just because they are older doesn’t mean their voices can’t crack.

Obviously these guys fit the Jerry Lawson/North Shore mold of adorable, charming older guys who can sing doo wop really well and will try to force modern music into their style. As with the prior token groups, they’ll probably go a week or two longer than they really deserve but people will love them.

Listen, I love doo wop. I think every a cappella group should learn some of the staples of the genre in building repertoire. I enjoyed these guys. I know who they are designed to impress/appeal to, and they will succeed as long as they’re on the show. But they aren’t winning it all.

Hour 1 elimination

Obviously the Footnotes deserved to face elimination from this grouping.

Ten

Here we have another group created just for the show, comprising some background singers for well-known artists. Didn’t we have a similar concept with Kinfolk 9 or The Collective?

I like the energy, but the sound is kind of a hot mess. I don’t doubt that these folks can sing individually, maybe even in unison as backing singers, but the harmonies are muddled here. The end locked things in a bit, but they need a lot of work. I hope they get a chance to do it, because I’d love to hear a gospel, soul, type competitor hang around for awhile.

Element

The token female group, with a few familiar faces from the a cappella community in the rhythm section (Johanna Vinson, of Musae, Delilah, and Overboard, and Rachel Chaloub of Executive Board and Inside A Cappella). In fact, the strongest part of the performance is that rhythm section, especially Vinson grooving on the bassline.

Just as Delilah struggled a little bit with finding their collective voice in the arranging room, I feel like Element needs some more time together to hit their stride. They can obviously sing, and it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t amazing either. I think there’s a legitimate contender somewhere in Element, and I hope they find it fast.

VoicePlay

If you didn’t realize it, 5/6 of this group used to be 4:2:Five, who did this and things like this. They are experienced, smart, and they can really sing. Enter Honey Larochelle. Obviously adding a female voice after all these years together is going to change the dynamics and feel for a group, and I think they need a little time to do so. The performance was ok, they showed off some PTX tricks, but I doubt they really blew anybody away.

I love their videos, their social media personality, I think it would be good for the show if they were to win it all, and I still think they’ll go deep into the competition, but not the strongest debut. I expect they’ll figure things out fast.

The Filharmonic

NBC is surely pleased to add to the ethnic diversity of the show, but there’s not a whole lot of background info about these guys in the interwebs. What is immediately clear, however, is that they will be crowd favorites. They’re young, energetic, and objectively “cute.” Also, they sing well, with reasonably predictable but tight harmonies. I’m not sold on the VP yet, I think the rhythm section was a little shaky and that spread to the other backs, but it wasn’t a disaster. Not sure yet what the ceiling is for this group, but there’s no question they had a very solid performance tonight.

AcoUstiKats

As my friend and former roommate proved to me, UK basketball fans really are insanely dedicated. Apparently, the a cappella fans at UK are not quite so devoted. These guys are, I believe, supposed to ooze southern charm and goofball in equal part.

I have sang with numerous male a cappella groups, and I will always pull a little more for these groups because of that experience. However, I can honestly say that these guys are not the Beelzebubs, On the Rocks, or even the Dartmouth Aires.  I think everyone likes the charming, silly, fun guy groups and as a result these guys might go a little farther than they deserve based strictly on performance. Their cover of “Blurred Lines” was all over the place, a little chaotic both musically and in presentation, but I think it’s probably too early for them to head home. They were clearly better than the Footnotes.

Hour 2 Elimination

As a whole, these 5 groups were better than hour 1. I’d probably say the bottom two groups, strictly based on performance, are Ten or the ‘Kats (no way I’m writing that full name again and again), but I don’t think either deserves to go home yet.

WOW. I know VoicePlay was a little shaky, but I flat out disagree with them being the bottom group from this hour.

“Ultimate Sing Off”

The new gimmick, in action! I’m curious to see how realistic they make this.

Twitter has reliably informed me that VoicePlay already knew “Bye Bye Bye” from their predecessor incarnation, and I”m not surprised- they’ve been around for awhile. The showdown makes it that much clearer that the Footnotes deserve to go home, and maybe the low finish convinces VoicePlay to sharpen things before the next round.

Overall

Well, we’re all very glad the show has returned. I think a few things are obvious after just one show:

1) There is no PTX this year. Frankly, it would have been remarkable to find another group that naturally talented, smart, and capable. I don’t think we’ve seen a performance yet that can rank with any of the PTX performances from Season 3.

2) Jewel is gonna be fine. She doesn’t have the a cappella experience of Sara B., whom we all miss, but she doesn’t have the ridiculous, bubbly comments of Nicole.

3) No beatboxing geniuses this season, at least thus far. Season 3 was lucky with Kevin (PTX) and Tony (Urban Method), among others.

4) The “battle” is intriguing…here’s how they did it: http://www.casa.org/buildingultimatesingoff

5) If ratings are good enough, there’s a legitimate shot at a Season 5 in the holiday format. Mark Burnett, the new producer (of Survivor, Apprentice, The Voice, etc. fame) has the juice and Pitch Perfect 2 is in production (or will be soon).

What did you all think?

What do you think?