Pop/Rock Song: When Genres Collide
The song categories are especially tricky. When it comes down to it, I think the only way to really evaluate something this general is a gut check. Which one just feels the best to me? In the absence of something more specific to analyze, this seems like as good an approach as any.
…except that I like many of these tracks for different reason. So which one feels best overall? Oy, I dunno.
Circus (Fermata Town) is a neat idea. It pulls some of its vibe from the Dirty Loops version, which all things considered seems like a solid direction to me! The rest is a combination of Jazz and Dubstep. All around, neat.
The bass line is a little simplified for the style. I wish it were a little more active! I don’t know if this group uses more than one bass live (it sounds like one guy on this recording), but perhaps it’s simplified for the necessity of multiple people singing it. Speculation, but regardless I wish there was more going on there to match the style.
I’m not a huge fan of the soloist. He’s good, but sounds a little shout-y up high. If anything, that’s the weak point of the track for me. It’s an impressive attempt, but I’d almost rather hear a kick-ass female solo just wail in the meat of her voice.
Speaking of kick-ass female vocals, let’s talk Evacuate The Dancefloor (Musae). This song is sleek, almost to a fault for the style. I love the energy in the backs, and I’m into the arrangement…but something about this track just doesn’t hit hard enough for my taste.
Perhaps it’s the bass. Next to the other tracks, it sounds a little thin. Don’t you haters even start with me about female bass – that ain’t it. No, the production on this particular track just seems to shy away from the low end, particularly the use of the octave. On a dance track, I miss the absence of that part of the frequency range, big time!
In a word, the approach to this track sounds “nimble” to me. It’s an aesthetic that works really well for the rest of the Musae album (more on that in another post), but in the context of this genre (and compared to the other nominees) I just want something a little more visceral. The closest this track gets to that kind of grit is the sizzling post chorus (1:20ish), where the “go-go” vocal hits sound just a bit dirtier.
Also coming in sleek is Lego House (Eclipse). I think this has my favorite overall production from any of the nominees. It’s full, lush, and warm. Everything sounds really well placed, and the tone is very engaging.
Why am I ok with a sleek sound for this track, and less OK with it for the Musae track? Even though they’re nominated in the same category, they are essentially different genres. “Dancefloor” is Dance/Pop, this is just straight Pop. I’m more on board with slickness over grit in this case.
Truthfully though, while “Lego House” offers up a cool aesthetic, it never really pulls me in beyond that. The arrangement and lead are both good, but they don’t evolve much, so the track feels like it stays more or less at the same intensity level throughout. Overall – nice sound, but the material could be more engaging.
Now then, to the first real Rock track nominated: Let Me Down (Next Level). This one has the best solo of the bunch, and also my favorite production moment of the nominees (the quiet chorus with the super cool, hollow vocals at 2:25). Seriously, that solo, wow. It’s powerful in a way that’s sorely lacking from most of the nominees in all categories – the emotional nuance is perfectly balanced with technical impressiveness. Love it.
Is that enough to score a win? I dunno. Sweet production moment aside, the overall production doesn’t quite have the polish evidenced by some of the other nominees. The backs get a little lost in the wash of sound, losing some of their impact in the process.
That solo though…
We turn back to Dance/Pop for the last three nominees: Lights (Peter Hollens), Party Rock Anthem/Sexy and I Know It (Blueprint), and Starships (Pentatonix). Each one sticks relatively close to the original, but so too is each imbued with a distinct sound from the group performing it. In Peter’s case, the group is…all him, so it’s an especially distinct sound!
Blueprint’s is the most technologically enhanced, and I think that was the right way to go for the song. The block vocals in the chorus are damn convincing as an electronic texture, and I like it. Peter and PTX on the other hand don’t try and hide their vocal-ness, but their arrangements both play to their raw vocal strengths, so it’s equally as effective.
I like the Rap by Eppic in “Lights,” but I wish the arrangement developed a little more, rather than just being a static bed for his verse. That’s very much a personal preference, and I could see an argument from an arranging perspective for staying out of his way, too.
The irony is that PTX has really already won this round. I mean, regardless of the CARA, this track has shown real chart success. I’m sure they’d be flattered to win the award, but the masses have already given this their stamp of approval.
Honestly, “Starships” was the track I had heard the most before sitting down to write about this category, so it wasn’t as new to me as the others. Attempting to hear it with a fresh ears, there is so much to love about the arrangement, the choices the group makes in their tone, and the full impact of the delivery. They have a unique group sound, and you have to respect that.
It’s close, but I’m going to go with:
Winner: Starships (Pentatonix)
Runner-Up: Let Me Down (Next Level)
My honorable mention (for the awesome production): Lego House (Eclipse)
I’ve been listening to PTX long enough for their sound to become familiar to me. I think if I were hearing it for the first time, I would be totally captivated. I’m always impressed at how this group can so authentically recreate the Pop/Dance style without using much in the way of studio effects.
As for “Let Me Down,” I hope it’s recognized for that solo alone. Damn.