2015- The Year in A Cappella

By: Dave Bernstein,  Tara Marie Ahn, and Christopher Hoffman

 

Unless you were unplugged from society in 2015, we shouldn’t have to tell you that it was another HUGE year for a cappella.

It all begins and ends with Pentatonix and Pitch Perfect 2, with a whole lot of great albums, videos, and news in the middle.

Before we begin, we just want to note that we have revived the monthly news posts at Acatribe so pay attention at the beginning of each month for all the relevant news from the previous month. In light of preparations for this post, we are skipping a formal December post but you may find some December news scattered in here. We will also include some of the big news from the September, October, and November news posts but you can read the rest on the summary post for each individual month. As always, if you have big news you’d like to share, feel free to email us at news@acatribe.com.

Finally, if you can think of some noteworthy a cappella news we omitted (and we’re sure there is plenty), please feel free to comment below or email us and we will update the post accordingly.

Also, though she is credited as a co-author, we have to note that our own Tara Marie Ahn did a ton of the work here and is very deserving of most of the credit. Show her some love on Twitter!

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So, let’s dive right in with the box office and music charts success of Pitch Perfect 2 and Pentatonix, respectively.

Pitch Perfect 2 was…a little bigger than expected. As in it grossed nearly $70 million in its first weekend and found up at $184 million domestic at the box office, and another $103 million elsewhere, for a total worldwide gross of nearly $287 million. So, yeah. A cappella is even more mainstream than you might have thought. The movie did fine critically, for what it is, garnering a 66% at Rotten Tomatoes and getting decent reviews at Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, and the Los Angeles Times, among others.

The movie also won the Top Soundtrack and Anna Kendrick thanked Deke Sharon and Ed Boyer in her acceptance speech.

Pentatonix did more in 2015 than we can fairly recount here. A few of their notable highlights, however, were:

Obviously there is plenty more Pentatonix news from 2015, but again- we can’t possibly get to it all. Feel free to add or share in the comments below! Continue reading…

Postyr’s Paper Tiger

Postyr began as a project. Literally. The group initially called itself “Postyr Project,” and it sought to explore the human voice in new and exciting ways. The group’s efforts to put together new album “Paper Tiger” (currently available only in Denmark, with worldwide distribution coming soon) over the past two years has tested its resolve, but also made it stronger. So much stronger, in fact, that it has rediscovered its identity and dropped the “Project” moniker altogether.

I recently spoke with Postyr’s Tine Fris, who is as patient, gracious, and kind a person as I have had the pleasure of meeting in the a cappella community. She described the process from conception to release of Paper Tiger as a “bumpy ride,” beginning the day before a scheduled rehearsal week in August, 2014. At that point, tenor Andreas Bech told Postyr he was leaving the group.  One of the things which makes Postyr special is the members’ shared roots in the Danish a cappella choir Vocal Line and shared interests in musical experimentation and music education. The group has been singing together for years, and losing Andreas more than just a monumental shift in the group’s foundation, it was also in some ways the loss of a friend. As Fris pointed out, the group members are extremely dependent upon one another, professionally, financially, and personally.  Unsurprisingly, this development has brought remaining members Fris, Line Groh, Kristoffer Thorning, and Anders Hornshoj closer together. Perhaps more importantly, it has forced the group to confront challenges and explore its collective purpose and identity. The result is “Paper Tiger,” an album which is more intricate, personal, and emotional than its predecessor, “My Future Self.”   Continue reading…

October 2015 A cappella News

October was a huge month for Pentatonix, and a big month for other a cappella news as well. In light of the massive accomplishments for PTX, they get their own section in the lead here, and then we jump to the other news in the a cappella community.

Pentatonix

So, remember that time PTX released an album and it became the first a cappella album ever to hit number 1 on the Billboard 200 chart?

How about when they were on The Tonight Show, The Today Show, PBS News Hour, and more?

They were also written about in or interviewed by Time magazine, ABC NewsThe New York Times, USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, People magazine, US magazine, Billboard magazine (x2), and more.  The group was all over social media as well, even taking over the YouTube twitter handle for awhile.

Continue reading…

Retrocity Loves Those 80’s Greaties

Retrocity is an eight member a cappella group devoted to 80’s music which formed in 1998.  The group has since expanded its repertoire to cover jazz, soul and funk, yet their heart still belongs to the 1980s. They previously released their debut album ‘Totally 80s A Cappella’ in 2006 and recently released their second full-length recording ‘Mixtape’. The group also offers professional vocal workshops and performances at venues and festivals around the world, including Panamania at the 2015 PanAm Games and the 2015 Beaches International Jazz Festival in Toronto.

retrocity

I recently interviewed group members (and very accomplished performers, arrangers, etc.) Aaron Jensen and Dylan Bell via email about the group and its latest release. Continue reading…

The House Jacks: Pollinating the Aca-universe

Last night, The House Jacks announced that founding member Deke Sharon is leaving the group, as is bass Elliott Robinson. Deke formed the group in 1991 and has shepherded it through many iterations while consistently pushingdeke the boundaries of recorded and live a cappella music.

The House Jacks are an iconic group, but not the kind that rests on its laurels and cruises along playing the greatest hits. The band has many exciting plans in store for the future, which will include two “new” yet-to-be announced members. This is why we have decided to go all in on a series of features and interviews, our very own “House Jacks” week here at Acatribe and in conjunction with Acafanbase.

This first piece has been in the works for many months.  When The House Jacks released their album Pollen last fall, I was blown away. A compilation album with some of the best groups from across the globe is exciting, but one where a pillar of the community like The House Jacks collaborates with those groups to write new songs is even better. I sat down with John Pointer in December to discuss the creation of the album, and then decided to go one step further. I reached out to members of all 10 collaborating groups featured on the album. The reason this piece has not gone up sooner is simple: it’s difficult to get in touch with people scattered across five continents. If not for the band’s announcement last night, I might have waited longer to hear back from the four remaining groups.  Instead, I am pushing on to offer you a look inside the making of the first international collaborative album of original a cappella music.

 

pollen.jpg.500

For more than twenty years, The House Jacks have been ahead of the curve. If you listen to their recording of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir today, it sounds pretty cool. If you listened to it in 1997, when it was released on their second album Funkwich, it was mind-blowing.  Layered textures, big booming Bonham-esque drums, and fuzzy distortion are commonplace in recorded a cappella now. In 1997 they were from another galaxy.  

“Studio tricks,” you might say, “big deal- they’ve worked with a brilliant engineer (Bill Hare) for most of their albums.” My response would be this, this, this, and this.  See you in about 30 minutes, or far longer if you search “House Jacks requests” in YouTube.  The group has been performing its patented request improvisation medley for years, and it is fun (though far from perfect) every single time. It’s a bold move from a group of musicians confident enough in their skill and showmanship to allow themselves to be vulnerable onstage.  I have never seen another group even try it.

There’s your proof that the House Jacks have been innovating for quite a while. Last fall, they released Pollen, an album which features 10 songs performed, recorded, and essentially co-written with 10 groups from 5 different continents. This struck me as a brilliant extension of the group’s quest to not only push the boundaries of recorded a cappella music, but also to take a cappella into the future. Online collaborations are not brand-new (Peter Hollens, for example, has been putting out collaborative videos for years) but the idea of a premier band creating music with some of the best international groups is truly revolutionary.

I reached out to John Pointer, baritone/tenor/beatboxer extraordinaire, and he agreed to sit down and discuss the process. What followed was a 2.5-hour discussion about the group’s history, the process of recording Pollen, and some possibilities for the future.

 

I then followed up by emailing each of the collaborating groups, eventually hearing back from members of Cadence, The Idea of North, BR6, Postyr, Maybebop, and MICappella with their thoughts on the process and the album. Continue reading…