CD Review: SeaNote Vocal Static

Few cities are more important to contemporary music than Seattle. That said, it’s odd to consider just how little major representation the city has in a cappella.

SeaNote is out to change that.

The five-member group, composed of three men and two women came together from component pieces of two collegiate groups at the University of Washington. On their debut EP, Vocal Static, the group opens with a brief medley, capped by the proclamation, “You’re listening to Seattle’s Top 40 hits—SeaNote Radio.” That opening medley establishes two core pieces of the group’s identity, as one proud of ifs Pacific Northwest roots, and a group focused on contemporary pop music. Moreover, the crackling of synthesized radio static added a coherent theme to this first track, and immediately tied it to the clever name of the album.

The first thing that struck me about Vocal Static was how clean the sound was. Surely, that’s a credit to the talented vocalists who are a part of the group, but also a testament mixing work by The Vocal Company and mastering by Dave Sperandio, resulting in a smooth, professional presentation.

The group did an excellent job of capturing the spirit of its music—demonstrating great sass on “I Knew You Were Trouble,” joy on Pharrell Williams’s “Happy,” and a great verity of emotion on “All of Me.”

Some of the group’s best work came in detail work, particularly on the intros to songs. Adding vocal representations of wind, waves, and sea gulls added a sense of place to “All of Me” and a distinctive bit of Seattle scenery to the proceedings. I also loved the broken down intro to “Me and My Broken Heart,” as a representation of the core feeling underlying the song. Yes, it’s an upbeat pop song, but at its root, this is not a happy song, and the group found a nice balance of representing that emotion while staying true to the original track.

The group shrewdly opted not feel beholden to maintaining the genders of the original vocalist when selecting soloists. Amanda Tran, in particular, delivers dynamite leads—perfectly vulnerable on “All of Me,” positively infectious on “Happy.”

I liked this album best when the group innovated. The simultaneously ominous and swinging reimagining of “Scarsborough Fair” stood out for how it diverged from the Simon & Garfunkel original, and stood out from the rest of the album for the extent to which it showcased the group’s unique personality over tweaking and translating current radio hits to a cappella. Similarly, I appreciated the choice to insert a dubstep breakdown in “Happy”—it fit the party vibe of the song and helped differentiate this version of the song from the dozens of other renditions already released or sure to be on their way in the months ahead. Best of all, the group went pretty far afield for the album closer, a mashup of Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” and Eiffel 65’s “Blue” that was not only seamless but shrewdly woven together, and bound with an original rap in the middle of the song and a pounding, hot percussion keeping the piece in motion.

All in all, Vocal Static is an ambitious first recording. I’d love to hear what the group can do as it continues to innovate and make music their own, with a bit less reliance on straight covers of contemporary Top 40 hits. This EP suggests the group has all the potential in the world to thrive for years to come.

The Best I’ve Seen: 2014 ICCAs, plus an Important Note on the Future of The A Cappella Blog

Note: An important update about the future of The A Cappella Blog, and particularly coverage of Varsity Vocals events appears at the end of this article.

The Best I’ve Seen highlights the very best in a cappella, as seen in the admittedly biased and limited view of the author. In this special edition, ACB Content Manager Mike Chin reflects upon the best of what he had the chance to see in the 2014 ICCAs. Please note that selections are limited to the 67 ICCA sets that Mike saw in-person this season.

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella: Your First A Cappella Show

For the uninitiated, it can be difficult to understand why people love a cappella. Heck, even for those of us who do actively enjoy it, it can be difficult to put into words why we enjoy this art form so. While we’ll never have a truly comprehensive list of everything cool about a cappella, 200 Reasons to Love A Cappella is our best attempt at assembling a list of what makes it great.

Reason #57: Your First A Cappella Show

For Your Own Good: How To Thrive Under Poor Leadership

While there does exist a small handful of people who can legitimately say they’ve never had a bad boss, they’re few and far between. In the context of an a cappella group—and particularly a collegiate group—there’s a pretty good chance the people promoted to leadership roles have been so less based on actual leadership abilities than on their own musical talents and demonstrated commitment to the group.

Sometimes, that works. After all, dedication and musical know-how are a goodly portion of the battle when it comes to finding someone qualified to run an a cappella group. But what happens when the leaders fail as motivators or organizers? When poor leadership descends upon a group, that does not necessarily mean its time to abandon ship or phone it in until someone you like better has the director’s chair. Instead, think about how you can make the most of the situation from yourself.

Tuesday Tubin': Pompeii

Each Tuesday, The A Cappella Blog presents a link to a collegiate a cappella performance, or related material, that we recommend to you.

We welcome clip suggestions from anyone who would like to submit them.

This week, we present The Villanova University Supernovas performing Bastille’s “Pompeii.”