Pop/Rock Album: The Best of the Best

Posted on April 1, 2013 at 3:42 am by Robert Comments Off on Pop/Rock Album: The Best of the Best

I could write complete essays about each of the albums nominated in this category.  Instead, I’m going to do the exact opposite.  To mix things up a bit, I’m just going to share with you the notes that I took on each one after about 2-3 listens (edited for readability, of course!).  If you thought any of my previous posts were a little lengthy (and I wouldn’t blame you) – this one’s for you!  If you want to hear more, complain below or on Facebook, and I’ll oblige!

Hold That Thought (Fermata Town)

Interesting, creative arranging (Jazz-influenced, as I noted in my post for CAL Album).  Well sung, but I don’t love the sound created by group tracking of backs (as opposed to single voices on parts).  Makes it sound less like a professional album and more like a collegiate one.  The album also has a very collegiate-type vibe, and a younger energy than many of the other nominees.

Key Track

Circus (Interesting jazz influence in arrangement, without becoming distracting )

Covers, Vol. 2 (Peter Hollens)

Peter has a rich, textured solo voice, which I tend to prefer when he’s covering more theatrical genres (Classical, Arena Rock, Musical Theatre).  Good arrangements, with a sense of fun.  Songs are sometimes too angular (“Some Nights”), rushing the backbeat (rough editing?).  Peter’s layered voice is often treated very naturally, such that it stacks up vocal quirks, which over the course of a full album makes the music sound somewhat homogenous.   My favorite tracks feature richer choral singing (which I think plays best to his tone), heavier processing (which alleviates some of the homogeneity of a single stacked voice), and/or guests (also helping the homogeneity issue).

Key Track

Turn Up The Music (Love the processed treatment of the backs. Killer guest solo from Scott Hoying)

Just Listen (Ommm)

Rougher edged sound – lots of rawness in vocals.  Built on rhythm section, though I think the rhythm section could have more impact in mix.  Arranging is a bit thinner, but plays well to the power of the leads.  Cool mixture of bare, human sound (ie, the overtone singing in “Harmonix”) and interesting electronic textures.  The uptempo tracks are a little subdued at times – could be more energized.

Key Track

Milao (Beautiful atmosphere. The guest choir sounds incredible.)

Patchwork Life (Janice Whaley)

Very original, both in sound and repertoire (all original music).  The album features a fascinating mixture of voice-as-vocal and voice-as-texture sound.  Drums are awesome.  Inventive blend of vocal and occasional instrumental sound.  Both the most inventive and the least accessible album of the seven nominees (lengthy songs, not a lot of hooks, lots of repetition).  More so than any of the other nominees, this album is more of an experience as a whole than a collection of singles.

Key Track

Megalodon (One of the cooler hooks)

(There Is No Easy Way) From The Earth to the Stars (Musae)

Very good singing, covers lots of styles with soul and feeling.  Some of my favorite production of any of the albums nominated.  It’s sleek, soulful, and rich in mid-lower alto range.  Very listenable album – poppy, and charming.  There’s not a lot of stylistic re-interpretation, but there is an ownership of style, and as a result an emerging signature sound.

Key Track

The Writer (Great solo, treatment of solo in mix.  Epitomizes both strength and beauty of backs)

PTX Vol. 1 (Pentatonix)

Trio sound is killer.  Arrangements and production both stay largely true to the raw vocal.  On the one hand this allows the abundant raw talent of the group to shine.  On the other hand it sometimes prevents the album from having as large a sound as its competitors.  The two original songs are great.  Energy is off the charts.

Key Track

Aha! (Fantastically engaging arrangement – showcases each group members’ strengths to full effect. Tour de force lead.)

German Verboten (Maybebop)

Tight, electric production.  A very odd mix of humor and genuine, beautiful singing.  Really, I don’t know what to make of the large gap between songs like “Life Ain’t Wiping Your Ass” and “Air.”  It’s very difficult to get a lock on this group’s identity.  At the same time, the singing is all very good and the songs, while occasionally demented, are also often witty.   “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is a really interesting arrangement.

Key Track

Smells Like Teen Spirit (A very cool new take on the song.  Probably the most universally accessible track on the album.)

The Verdict

It may surprise you.

Winner – Patchwork Life (Janice Whaley)

Runner Up – PTX Vol. 1 (Pentatonix)

Honorable Mention – Musae (for (There is No Easy Way) From the Earth to the Stars)

To one degree or another, each album nominated stays within the mold of what Contemporary A Cappella has been before.  Except for Patchwork Life. It’s something different from most anything I’ve heard – eschewing any “rules” about what a cappella is expected to be, and just going for broke.  Heck, it even uses instruments every now and then (though the processing is such that it’s sometimes hard to tell).  Purists beware.  At the same time, if you can’t appreciate the craft of the songwriting, and the quality of the vocals/arrangements that Ms. Whaley puts forth, well then I just don’t know what to tell you!

PTX Volume 1 is a much easier listen, and still very original in its own right.  The talent of each member shines, and their skills working as a unit are showcased to full effect.  It’s just a lot of fun!

There is No Easy Way) From the Earth to the Stars is noteworthy for the high quality of the raw vocals, and for the fact the album demonstrates a quickly developing, unique group sound that is both appealing and powerful.      

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