The Sing Off Season 4 Episode 4 Recap

Before we get into Episode 4, let me point out a few things. First, as I mentioned, I have a lot going on at work and at home, which is why my posts are shorter than usual. Second, there are a bunch of good other recaps out there which you should check out, including

Warren Bloom at 5th Judge: http://www.5thjudge.com/

Mike Chin over at the AcappellaBlog: http://acappellablog.com/tv

Jodi Walker at Entertainment Weekly at Popwatch: http://popwatch.ew.com/

Brian Mangan: http://thereadzone.com/tag/brian-mangan/

Many/most of these are more detailed or perhaps just less harried than my own recaps, so I encourage you to check them all out.  Now- on with the show!

The theme of this show is “My Generation,” and I’m excited because the competitors include 3 groups that I perceive to be very competitive (VoicePlay, Home Free, Vocal Rush).

The intro is immediately better than the last group number, a much fuller sound and I particularly like the guitar flange in “We Will Rock You” and the expanding backs there right before it transitions into “It’s Time.,” which has some nice layering as well. I think that was one of the best opening numbers, in terms of effective transitions between songs and also within the individual songs. Bravo to Messrs. Sharon, Bram, Dietz, and Girard.

Home Free kicks things off with “Ring of Fire,” a good tune but hardly one that I would consider to be pivotal to a particular generation. The group continues to keep their intro packages entertaining and funny, which is smart and helps set the table for the listener.  The slow intro is fine, the chords are pretty stark and simple, the lead almost sags but he gets some air into it and pulls it together. The bass (Tim) is really solid on those low notes, and then the perc kicks in and the shuffle loses me a little bit. Nice job giving the bass the solo on this one, it’s a good vehicle for his voice and it makes sense considering Johnny Cash’s baritone voice.

LOVE that “high” on the crunchy chord, one of the best moments this season, and then the bass ends on a ridiculously low note (low G? somewhere around there?). A fun, professional performance.

Next up is another professional, fun group- VoicePlay. The package is another example of them talking about how they are trying something different, which makes me nervous. I think the winner’s gotta be a group that doesn’t view things that way, just goes out and does its thing, regardless of the song’s relationship to the group’s comfort zone. The intro perc is reminiscent (derivative? Rip-off?) of Rockapella’s version of Ellie My Love, but 99% of the audience won’t know or care. I don’t really care either. The drum beat is totally different once it actually comes in, and it’s got a nice groove to it. Incidentally, I hear this song approximately 6.3 million times on the radio and MTV in my teenage years and I still dig it. The arrangement has a couple of interesting wrinkles (“who we are”) and I particularly like Eli’s solo run. It’s a solid cover, has a nice groove, I think a few of the harmonies were a hair off but it’s still really, really good. 

So, now it’s time for Element, who I like but I have my concerns about their safety. Frankly, I think they are the weakest of the 4 groups tonight, so they’re gonna have to really impress to avoid elimination. (nice bumper/bed of The House Jacks’ “Red Dress” under the Element package- love that song). The intro of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” is nice, but once the beat kicks in, things are just not settling in right. The group is rushing a bit, and the tonal center is just moving around too much for me to feel comfortable with the sound. The modulation works, the perc is nice right there, but then things sag (pitchwise) afterwards. I maintain that there’s unrealized potential with this group, but I don’t see how they survive unless Vocal Rush really cllapses.

Vocal Rush has been assigned an ’80’s tune, “Holding Out For a Hero,” and I like their focus on high hair- my memory banks are overloading right now. Frankly, I think the group is too smart to be thrown off just because a song was released before they were born. I just don’t see it being an issue.

They start nice and sultry, which worked for them in Episode 1. I love the fullness of their sound throughout the verse, but things thin out too much at the chorus. Of course they have tons of energy and are fun to watch, the rap works just fine, they lose things a little bit at the second chorus also. I think it’s a solid performance, very much consistent with their prior ones, I just didn’t love the texture of the arrangement at the choruses. I think they might be bottom two, but doubt they’re leaving tonight.

Ok, bottom two are Element and Vocal Rush, which sounds about right to me. Curious to see how the battle works out with a song (Destiny’s Child) that might favor the ladies of Element.

Nope, I was wrong. As with Episode 3, you just hear a big difference in texture when the groups trade off. Element still haven’t figured out how to get a full and rich sound, even though they only have 2 less guys than Vocal Rush. Once again, I have to admit that I really enjoy these battles and am very impressed with how much the groups much have rehearsed these farewell songs in order for them to do this somewhat seamless battle with interchanging parts.

Vocal Rush (I keep typing “kids” and then decide they deserve the respect to avoid such a moniker; but they are adorable and I have to admit I really love what they’re doing on the show). I do like the percussion from Element on this battle, nice job Rachel Chaloub with the buzzy beat, but the overall effect from Vocal Rush is just on a different level. Honestly, if they weren’t a group of high school kids, I would think they have a legitimate chance to win it all. Energy, charisma, talent, and musical intelligence- they have the full package.

We shall see. So long to Element, who may well go on to do other great things if they can stay together after this experience.

What did you all think? Looking forward to another full 2-hr show for episode 5.

The Sing Off Season 4 Episode 3 Recap

Tonight’s episode is called “#1 Hits,” and it only features half of the remaining groups. The opening number is “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel, covered probably hundreds of times over the years, beginning in the early nineties. My group performed the song in the mid-90’s, and then again in the late ’90’s, and now they just whip it out whenever they need another song to fill time. It’s ubiquitous.

The half-cast performance is good, I particularly like the huge gospel-y “Your Eyes” towards the end, but otherwise I don’t find anything particularly unique or exciting about this arrangement. It’s not bad (far from it), but I’ve literally heard a hundred versions of the song and I don’t think this one will stand out in any way except for the bridge which I never heard before. As Warren Bloom pointed out in his recap here, this is an alternate extended version of the song which I did not know exists.

First up is “Ten,” performing “Chain of Fools.”  It starts off nice and sultry, with a thick groove in the bass and drums. I like that little guitar riff, but the rest of the backs are a little off the mark in the first 30 or so seconds, but then it settles in nicely. When the backing singers drop out, the naked exposure works and then they come back in with some power. The speed up is a little disconcerting to me, and it feels like the train is starting to derail but at the same time it is exhilarating. They finish strong, and prove they can do this a cappella thing.  Shawn obviously loved it, and I agree with him that the song could have used another minute just to achieve a complete thing, but obviously the groups are working with the time constraints. Ben’s right- they’re dangerous.

The AcousiKats are here to perform “Amazed,” to which Shawn responds that his group was offered it but declined because they had “too many hit records.” Wow.

When they start singing, I think “Ok, it’s been awhile since we had an all-male group do the ballad thing on the show. I’m in.”

Unfortunately, I was quickly “out” on it. I just found it a little boring; it’s not bad, I just think the bar for male group ballads is really high, and they didn’t sound any different from a dozen groups singing similar songs that I’ve heard over the years. Of course, none of the judges (except maybe Ben) has heard the same volume of me, so maybe the power of the guy ballad was just overwhelming to them. Frankly, when Ben says they distinguished themselves from the hundreds of other male groups, I’m skeptical. The solo was strong, the group was relatively in tune, but it wasn’t really moving or exciting for me.

The proposal- my wife called it as soon as he called her out of the audience. She would- I proposed to her that way. I give Mike props though for speaking truth through humor- basses (except Home Free) don’t get to sing lyrics and sadly, are rarely actually listening to the solo at all. I know it’s a cliche, but it does represent something that plenty of a cappella guys do, or at least think about doing, and so it does represent our community in a certain way. I’m not embarrassed, and Mike shouldn’t be either.  Plus, I think he probably bought them another week with that stunt. 😉

Which brings us to Street Corner Renaissance…I think they’re the other candidate for the bottom two and the most likely group to leave. Their singing of “Forget You” in the background is already out of tune, so I’m worried. I like these guys, I have no problem with them staying as long as there are similarly one-dimensional groups left, but I’m not sure there are at this point. The ‘Kats showed their flexibility, regardless of my thoughts about the performance of the ballad. Element might qualify as one-dimensional, but they’re not on tonight and I’m not sure yet. Ten may be one-dimensional, but they can wail and provoke some response in the listener, which brings us back to SCR. I like these guys, I like doo wop, but it doesn’t really provoke much in people who came after the baby boomer generation.  The harmonies are pure and simple, but rarely raw or emotional.

They sang the song well, adapted it well, it had some personality, but again…not exceptional or raw in any way.

Last up, we have a far more dynamic group to this point- The Filharmonic.

I like these guys, they tackle modern music with interesting perspective. I really like the guy commenting about ear worms/hooks because… this is a big thing with me (see here). They are charming and funny in the package, and I still think they’re a legit contender both in terms of musicality and personality.

Shawn’s idea is for them to get more aggressive/edgy with staccato- I’m curious to see how they take/execute that.

I like the beginning, the drums are a bit close to losing control with that crazy double-kick thing, but it still sounds kinda cool. I like the space they’re leaving but they have to be careful. Nice bass fill into the chorus, which is punchy and full. The bridge loses it a little towards the end, but they just barely pull off the modulation, and then they end strong. I dig it, I think this was another solid performance from them.

I think Ben and Jewel are a little harsh on these guys, which they acknowledge, but I don’t think that means they were in the bottom 2. Then again, I didn’t think VoicePlay should have been in the bottom two on episode 1, and they were. Perhaps the judges use this as a motivating factor, because VoicePlay came back way stronger in episode 2. If so, maybe they’ll scare The Filharmonic to knock them up a notch. If they’re playing it straight, the bottom two groups are clearly Street Corner Renaissance and the AcoustiKats.

And, I was once again partly right. I think the judges are just trying to scare The Filharmonic into pushing themselves. Or trying to taunt/bate the audience. Because there’s no way The Filharmonic were worse than the ‘Kats.

Let me just note, I love male groups, often prefer them to other configurations, and I would have been happy with the Bubs winning season one (and loved On the Rocks and even the Aires). I just am not overly impressed with the ‘Kats yet. I guess they’ll get another performance to perhaps win me over.

This is the weakest song for The Ultimate Sing Off so far, and of course it is right in the wheelhouse of SCR, perhaps for further dramatic effect. The Filharmonic have only one more singer than SCR, but it feels like they have a dozen more voices. That is the power of effective (and modern) arranging. Check out how Warren Bloom describes it here: it’s like having an “A/B” button going between the late ’50’s and the present. Could not have said it better myself.

So, the time has come for SCR to go. It makes sense, and the remaining 7 groups are fairly strong, so let’s see how it shakes out from here.

By the way, if you want to learn more about how things work behind the scenes at the show, including how well the groups get along and how difficult it is for them to learn/re-learn songs based on licensing rights and other factors (which really has me thinking twice about how critical to be of any groups on the show), check out this great interview with Johanna Vinson (from Element and previously Delilah) over at CASA.

What did you all think? Agree? Disagree?

The Sing Off Season 4 Episode 2 recap

Having kids is fun…except when you want to live-tweet The Sing Off.  No worries, I am sitting down to write this about a half hour in and catching up from the beginning on the DVR.

Before I begin, I want to direct you to Randi Stanley’s excellent cold-water realizations about The Sing Off right here.

The most important point is that we need to remember that a record label/television studio is picking the winner, and the winner has to be able to tour and generate money. So, high school and college groups are never going to win. I know I pushed Vocal Rush in the first post, and I think they can go pretty far, but they will not win.

Ok, so tonight’s theme is party anthems (“BYO Pitchpipes”), and the evening begins with a medley of applicable music, including the staple “Let’s Get it Started,” “Like We’re Gonna Die Young,” and “Don’t Stop the Music.” Another nice, high energy opener, nice solos from Honey (VoicePlay), the dude from Filharmonic, and Emoni from Ten. Fun medley, the parts were (as usual) assigned with care and precision.

Vocal Rush started the season off strong; let’s see how they handle the song “Gonna Make You Sweat,” bringing me way back to my elementary school days with C&C Music Factory. Holy cow I’m old. These kids weren’t around back then. It’s good that they identify the importance of the contrast from the darker, more mature “Bottom of the River” on episode 1.

As expected, they start with a lot of energy. I don’t feel like they are as polished musically this time. The moves are fine, Sarah Vela can really wail, the VP is pretty good, but the group is rushing. Correction- they’re pushing and pulling; the rhythm is most definitely taking control, but not in a good way. The breakdown is pretty cool, almost redeeming them, but then it becomes a jumble again. At times, it almost feels like the bass is headed off into a different style with the line, maybe a Latin style, and that’s not good.

Ben was totally right, though, that they have the potential to get the backbeat working and also that they have a nice spread considering the instrumentation (lots of female singers, only 2 guys, one of whom is on bass).

Here comes Home Free, who promise to “stand up in their boots and really give it to” us.  Interesting. “My hips lie, they don’t tell the truth”- love it. They acknowledge the movement is a weakness, but make light of it. Have we heard “Life is a Highway” on the show before?

Nice groove from the rhythm section, good energy in the sound even more so than the visuals; not a big fan of the bass solo in every song, so I hope that stops at some point. Transitions were good, it got a little weird close to the end, but I still think they are quite good. The bass, on the actual basslines, is smooth and fairly precise. I liked the way they started bare (bass/VP/solo) and built the sound. I’m still buying stock on Home Free.

VoicePlay is back, and I’m looking to see if they learned from episode one and have figured out how to arrange for the new configuration or just make things lock better with it. They’re off to a nice start with the heads and the rhythm from the backs on “Play That Funky Music White Boy.” THIS is what I was looking for from these guys. They are rushing it a tad, but damn can they sing, especially Honey.  The breakdown is a direct ripoff from PTX, but it doesn’t bother me. The biggest thing is that their sound is really full, particularly coming after the quintet. Ben calls it a “mean” performance, and I agree.  As I said in the first post, I think they have a real shot at winning this thing and tonight was a good comeback.

Next up, the producers (via Nick) make an appeal to the boomer (and older) generation by reminding us that “age is just a number.” Street Corner Renaissance is here to keep that demographic interested, and just like Jerry Lawson and North Shore, they are quite good at their style. It’s cute having the Vocal Rush VP working with one of them, but really just unnecessary. SCR does their thing well, and they should just own it. They were fine, I don’t really have much to say except I think they’re probably gone either this episode or the next.

The ladies of Element are performing “Raise Your Glass,” and they have some energy in the sound, though it’s a little empty at times in the backs. The bass is great yet again, but the perc is rushing just a bit. The breakdown is fun. The dual solo is a little perplexing, I wouldn’t have gone that route, particularly where it didn’t feel entirely comfortable in their ranges. The blend is settling in, as Ben said, and I think they improved from episode 1.

The ‘Kats have the male group energy thing down with high kicks and so on, but I can say this from my own experience in one of my college groups- it’s dangerous having a lead with a lot of classical training and a tendency to turn on the vibrato. The guys are rushing a bit, the solo is pushing out of the pop realm, but the modulation hits fairly well. Ron recovers towards the end, so I don’t think they’re going home yet. Overall, it was solid but I don’t see that level taking them all the way through the competition.

Calle Sol starts off strong with a slow intro to “Livin’ La Vida Loca” that I really like, but then once they kick into the rhythmic section things start to fall apart, there are some holes in the sound (arrangement?) and the tempo is all over the place. I don’t think the problem is the singing and dancing together (as Shawn said), I think the sound was just empty.

Ten is gonna cover “Hot in Herre,” which is a fun tune and I’m really hoping they kick things into another gear. There’s definitely some nice color chords in the backs, the horn parts are funky, I don’t particularly love the breakdown but it’s a stylistic choice more than anything. I do particularly love the guitar parts about a minute into the song, and they end strong. It’s interesting, they’re all professional background singers but I don’t feel like they are comfortable singing as a backing “band” (like Ben calls them) quite yet. I maintain they have a ton of potential, and the soloist (Emoni) is great. It was much better than last episode, and I’m just hoping they continue to build on it.

Filharmonic is closing things out with “This is How We Do It,” an oft-covered song since I was in college. They clearly have a ton of energy, but things are a little empty and then they start a cascade and things pick up in the backs. These guys are tight, they are smart, and when they aim for the fences, they knock it out of the park. The solo didn’t really bother me (pitchwise) as much as it apparently bothered Shawn, but I stand by my prediction that they are headed deep into this competition.

I would probably say Calle Sol and either Street Corner Renaissance or the ‘Kats are in the bottom two, but it could be Element. Then again, I thought VoicePlay was safe last time…

And, I was partly correct. Calle Sol is battling for their lives, and so are the ‘Kats. I think I like this “Ultimate Sing Off” thing.

For Nick’s sake, I hope Calle Sol goes because he really struggles with the Hispanic group names. (that’s a joke, but not really).

For my sake, I think Calle Sol is probably the weaker group and I really don’t see the last male college group going yet- that genre has always gone deep because of the broad appeal.

When the ‘Kats get their turn in the battle, they make it clear that they’ve still got something to contribute and a deeper, bigger sound (obviously). Look a small group is almost always gonna be at a disadvantage against a big group in a situation like this, unless the smaller group has such smart, effective arranging that they make you forget about size with their power or unique harmonies. Calle Sol just didn’t do it here, so I think the ‘Kats move on.

Well, it’s always too bad when a group has to go, but I think Calle Sol (like the Footnotes in episode 1) were the weakest group tonight (except perhaps SCR). So far, I’m surprised that the show has been fairly accurate in removing the weakest group.

There seemed to be some good progress with a few groups, most notably VoicePlay, Ten, and Element, and I think Vocal Rush and Home Free continued to prove their worth.

What did you all think?

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?

Vocaldoings: March, 2013

It’s been a busy few months since we talked about all of the exciting things coming in 2013.  It’s time for a few updates and some news we couldn’t have predicted back in January.

NEWS

On February 1, Inside A Cappella began offering weekly, 5-6 minute shows on its YouTube channel. The show, produced by Deke Sharon and Dave Longo, is hosted by Rachel Chaloub and offers some quick news, editorial/analysis, a few video clips, and more. In the 5th episode, released on March 12, the show broke the news that The Sing Off will be returning for a 4th season. When I say it “broke the news,” I mean it really broke the news. This renewal had not been reported yet on any other entertainment website, though some followed a week later.  You can find out more about the audition dates for the abbreviated Season 4 of the show here. Also, the producers of the upcoming Boston Sings festival announced that groups can mock audition for Deke Sharon and Sing Off executive producer Sam Weisman at this year’s festival.

In other mainstream entertainment news, DreamWorks has apparently picked up the rights for a movie about Straight No Chaser. You can read more about this from the Hollywood Reporter (!) here.

Sled Dog Studios and The Vocal Company announced in early January that they will be joining forces to create a new business offering all of their separate services and more. You can find out more about the merger and the new services in my recent interview with Chief Executive Officer of the new entity, Dave Longo, which is available here.

Speaking of a cappella production companies, Clear Harmonies Productions revamped their website, showed off a new logo, and released info about a new concert series they are producing in Arlington, VA, which will feature remaining performances by groups such as Breath of Soul, Musae, Blue Jupiter, The Executive Board, and Six Appeal.

Craig Martek, founder of The Pow Arrangers, is working on two great new websites, one tracking a cappella groups by location (here), the other tracking upcoming a cappella events (here). The latter was also related to a lengthy discussion on CASA’s Facebook page about how much we would all enjoy a website tracking concerts of part-time and full-time a cappella groups here in the U.S. by location. The discussion has turned to maintenance, and the group is currently seeking volunteers (I already signed up) to track 10 groups per year and update the administrator each month with all upcoming gigs for those groups. If you’re interested, send an email to: brian@casa.org.

The Contemporary A Cappella Recording Award nominees have been announced. You can find the list here, and don’t forget the winners will be announced at BOSS in 2 weeks, so get your tickets here (also, if you go to the festival, you’ll get to see The House Jacks, Postyr Project, Five O’Clock Shadow, and a number of collegiate groups perform, get a chance to mock audition for producers of The Sing Off, and get to see a whole lot of terrific workshops). Also, if you want some insight and analysis regarding the nominees, check out Rob Dietz’s blog for his “Call the CARAs” take on some of the major categories.

ICCA results are coming in, with all of the quarterfinals completed and three semifinals completed as well. Congratulations to all of the groups, and especially to the NU Nor’easters, Michigan G-Men, and FSU Reverb for punching their tickets to the Finals in NYC on April 20 at 8 pm.

Liquid 5th Productions has, as usual, been busy. First, engineers Carl Taylor and Chris Juengel have been alternating running live sound for some group called “Pentatonix”? If you missed it, my review of just how amazing the new PTX tour sounds/looks can be found here.  Liquid 5th has also joined forces with the UK University A Cappella Blog as they increase their reach across the pond (as they say). Here’s more info.

RARB (Recorded A Cappella Review Board) has been reviewing a cappella albums for twenty years. As tends to happen over time, much has changed in what is required and expected of the organization, and RARB has decided that it would be in its best interests to (finally) register as a non-profit organization. The organization is looking for opinions on the best way to raise money to achieve this goal, and we would very much appreciate it if you could take the time to complete our survey, which you can access here.

LIVE MUSIC

As I mentioned previously, Pentatonix has been on tour for much of the past 2 months. If you are able to catch them on any of the remaining dates, I highly recommend you do so.

The Exchange have been quite busy touring Australia and Hong Kong for much of the past 2 months. They have reportedly been working on some new recorded tracks with Tat Tong while on the road, so here’s hoping there’s a new EP coming later this year.

Overboard has been busy touring as well, with their recent “#monkeyponytour” taking them all over the map, including stops in Texas and the United Kingdom. You can find out more about upcoming gigs here.

Sing Strong Chicago just wrapped up this past weekend, with performances from Nota, the Swingle Singers, Traces, Blue Jupiter, Ball in the House, and others. Stay tuned for some videos on this week’s AcaVids coming tomorrow.

RECORDINGS

Since we last updated you all, the Exchange released their full-length debut album, “Get Ready.” You can check it out here (and I highly recommend you do).

Sweet Honey in the Rock have been around for nearly forty years with their very unique blend of folk, blues, jazz, gospel, and ethnic music.  They recently released a new album, a live 2-CD set from Lincoln Center, which is available now on CD and on Amazon, iTunes, etc. The press release for the album is available here.

Five O’Clock Shadow are getting ready to release their first recorded music in almost 13 years! Rumor has it the 5-song EP will be released before or during the upcoming BOSS festival, so stay tuned to the group on Twitter or Facebook for the breaking news.

MO5AIC are getting ready to release their new EP, RE5ET. You can preview it on their website right here.

Rockapella’s “Motown and More” album is now available on iTunes and Amazon.

VIDEOS 

Pentatonix has a powerful new collaboration with Lindsey Stirling which is now up on YouTube here.

Straight No Chaser released a new video collaboration with Sara Bareilles which stirred up some controversy among the die-hard “Chasers.” That video is available here.

Jewish a cappella groups Six13 and the Maccabeats each produced a new, hilarious, and terrific-sounding video for the upcoming Passover holiday. Here is Six13 with Pesach Shop and The Maccabeats with Les Miserables- Passover.

FUNDRAISING

Finally, we all know there is always some good old a cappella fundraising going on at Kickstarter or Indiegogo. Here are a few noteworthy campaigns.

The lovely and talented Boxettes have an ongoing campaign on Pledgemusic for their new EP, “No Strings.” Check it out right here.

North Carolina State University’s Wolfgang has a campaign to fund their new album right here.

The Vocaholics from NYU have an Indiegogo campaign to complete their new album here. (another group from NYU, my own Mass Transit, completed a successful campaign on that same site in just 9 days- go MT!)

New Hampshire’s Not Too Sharp also has a current Indiegogo campaign for their new album, to be recorded with Sled Dog Studios, right here.

The Eldred Key Elements, a high school group run by Justin Glodich, reached their goal but are still hoping for a little extra money to help raise the level of their upcoming album.

Sadly, both Committed and Traces of Blue (aka Afro Blue) recently failed in their efforts to fund new albums, though Traces of Blue is able to use the funds actually raised towards that effort. Here’s to hoping Committed gives it another shot with more success in the near future.

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That’s all the vocaldoings I have time to catalog for now. If you know of some noteworthy a cappella news, don’t hesitate to share it with others by commenting below or email me at dave@acatribe.com