Vocal Line It’s Coming On Christmas

CD Reviews

With the holiday season upon us, I was so pleased to encounter It’s Coming on Christmas, the new album from Danish a cappella group, Vocal Line. The project is artfully plotted into chronological order, starting before the Christmas holiday, arriving at the day, and then exploring the aftermath. This narrative thread not only lends cohesion to the album, but also offers a key gateway to understanding for listeners like myself who are in no way fluent in Danish.

Vl Jule Cd 2016 Cover Digital

The title of the album pulls from Joni Mitchell’s “River,” the third track covered on the album, and offers fair warning that this collection is not all whimsical or joyous, but rather leans into the kind of melancholy and introspection familiar to many during the holiday season. Moreover, that title reference also alludes to the beauty of the album to follow. Particularly in the classic holiday songs that will be familiar to a US audience, Vocal Line achieves lovely harmonies and pristine mechanics that result in a smooth, easy listening experience that allow the listener to become immersed in each track.

The first two songs of the album “Skyerne Grane” and “En Rose Sa Jeg Skyde” offer a sound entry point, particularly in conversation with each other. The former offers a rich sound, anchored in its bass, and feels as though it captures the sound of communal singing in the holiday season. While the latter song is also handled chorally, it’s much softer, spotlighting its high harmonies. In each case, these songs hint at the warm beginnings of the holidays. Aurally, the transition from them to “River” is quite fluid, but the stark tonal shift takes us to a colder, less celebratory place. Vocal Line’s soft, careful rendering of the “Jingle Bells” sample at the end of the track is particularly haunting.

For the Christmas day leg of the album, “Mit Hjerte Altid Venker” is particularly successful for the pounding bass that adds a sense of danger to the track on the mounting crescendo, while “Hjerte Loft Don Glaedes Vinger” demonstrates a certain measured professionalism that is especially lovely on the closing—the sopranos soaring while the lower parts come in right beneath them for a full finish. All of this functions in perfect contrast to “O Holy Night,” arranged with tremendous skill and restraint by Morten Kjaer, for a stripped-down presentation that not only showcases the incredible vocal talent at hand, but makes expert use of dynamics so the group really pops on its crescendos.

The final leg of the album casts a spotlight on Vocal Line’s soloists--in particular Katrine Gregersen Dal on “Det Er Hvidt Herude,” with her wonderfully chilling winter tone. The warm, celebratory staccato instrumentation on “Sneflokke Koller Vrimlende” delights as well.

All in all, It’s Coming On Christmas is a musically pristine collection that boldly melds traditional international holiday favorites more unique to the Danish and Nordic tradition. It’s certainly worth a listen for anyone looking for something different this holiday season, and in encountering some of Denmark’s finest vocals. Credit for production goes to Jens Johansen and Herik Birk Aaboe with Line Groth, with mixing by Corona Music, Thorso and mastering by Emil Thomsen at ET Mastering.

You can learn more about Vocal Line at their website.

Should've Been Us

Tuesday Tubin'

This week, we present University of Rochester Vocal Point performing Tori Kelly’s “Should’ve Been Us.”

Wild Transitions Between Songs

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #123: Wild Transitions Between Songs

Contemporary a cappella groups rarely entrench themselves in single, solitary genres. Particularly at the scholastic level, most of today’s groups traverse a range of genres, artists, and time periods to represent musical interests as diverse as those represented in the group (if not the entire audience).

When groups diversify their repertoires, they not only provide something to appeal to everyone, but also allow for wild, and wildly entertaining, transitions between songs. Consider, for example, The University of Georgia Accidentals’ 2012 ICCA Finals set. They started a high energy, highly choreographed version of Justin Beiber’s “Never Say Never,” mellowed out to a sterling take on Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” then hit a modern groove on Parachute’s “Something to Believe In.” A set like this keeps audiences on their toes and accentuates the most powerful elements of each song based on how fundamentally <i>different</i> the sound and presentation was from the song that preceded it

I love it!

Show Me Love

Tuesday Tubin'

This week, we present University of Central Florida Gemini Blvd performing Sam Feldt’s “Show Me Love.”

5 All-Female Groups I’d Like To See in the International Championship of A Cappella Open

The 5s

Earlier this week, Varsity Vocals announced the launch of the International Championship of A Cappella Open—a competition that will culminate New York next fall, featuring (should they choose to compete) the ICCA and ICHSA champions, plus up to eight other groups that may come from the scholastic ranks, but also may be alumni groups reuniting, all-star groups converging, post-collegiate groups already performing together, or full-on professionals.

There are a lot of intriguing permutations out there. I’ll be the first to recognize that some of these groups coming together, much less entering this competition, is easier said than done, but for the sake of argument, in this edition of The 5s and I’m looking at five groups I’d love to hear in this unique competition. To narrow the scope a bit, I’m going to focus more precisely on five all-female groups (maybe I’ll come back later to touch on all-male or mixed ensembles as well).

1. The Loreleis, 1996

In 1996, an all-female group out of UNC Chapel Hill became the original ICCA Champions. Twenty-one years later, how about getting the band back together for another run at aca-glory, aiming to etch the group’s name in history for another important first? If nothing else, this group might add a sense of scope to the competition, reflecting a style from an earlier stage of competitive a cappella, and perhaps lending a sense of tradition to the show.

2. Divisi, 2005

In 2005, Divisi threatened to become the first all-female group since The Loreleis to win the ICCA tournament. They wound up in second, in a turn that many in attendance considered in an injustice. The upshot may have been all the more important, however, as the turn of events provided a cornerstone for Mickey Rapkin’s <i>Pitch Perfect</i> book, which loosely inspired the films to follow that helped a cappella explode into the mainstream, featuring the all-female Barden Bellas. I can think of no better way to honor that whole legacy than bringing Lisa Forkish and company back for one more shot at a championship victory on the big stage in New York.

3. Vocal Rush, 2012

For those following the ICHSA tournament over the last five years, it’s well-established that Vocal Rush is a high school a cappella franchise in a league of its own, winning three championships to go along with successes like thriving on <i>The Sing-Off</i> and win in the high-school/college inclusive Los Angeles A Cappella Festival scholastic competition. Vocal Rush is, typically, a co-ed group, but the version of the ensemble that traveled to New York to decisively win ICHSA Finals in 2012 was just seven young women who carried themselves like professionals, under the aforementioned Forkish’s direction, and driven by Sarah Vela’s virtuosic solo work. While I’d have no problem hearing any version of Vocal Rush from any year bring it to the Open, if a particular all-female unit were to bring it, this would be my pick.

4. The AcaBelles, 2012

From a resume perspective, this is the most outside-the-box pick out of these five—a group that did compete in ICCAs, but didn’t make the Finals, let alone place. So why do they make the cut?

I’ve been covering Varsity Vocals tournaments for ten years. Out of those ten years, The Florida State AcaBelles’ 2012 Semifinals offering stands out to me among my top five all-time favorites—a seamless emotional rollercoaster of a set that finished second in its region, third in the Wild Card though, in my estimation, it very arguably could have won Finals. I’d love to see this group come back together five years later, if for no other reason than that I’d love to hear this particular set or an updated take on it live one more time.

5. GQ

When this quartet first formed in 2011, its members were all students at Towson University outside Baltimore, MD. They never took their act to ICCAs, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t compete. Instead, they won the competition at SingStrong 2012 and their region in Harmony Sweepstakes (besides finishing second overall in that tournament). The foursome went on to thrive in Sweet Adeline competition, place music on a Sing! compilation and appear on A Prairie Home Companion.

Much of the buzz about the Open has surrounded groups from diverse eras competing, or group members from different years coming together into one unit. GQ represents another possibility—bringing their unique blend of barbershop training and contemporary sensibilities to a new audience and diversifying the style of the competition.

So, who's up for the challenge? And who would you like to see? Anything looks possible, and on this Thanksgiving day, we're very thankful for that.

Elastic Heart

Tuesday Tubin'

This week, we present Washington University Mosaic Whispers performing Sia’s “Elastic Heart.”

Next Page
Vocal Line It’s Coming On Christmas
Should've Been Us
Wild Transitions Between Songs
Show Me Love
5 All-Female Groups I’d Like To See in the International Championship of A Cappella Open
Elastic Heart
Meeting a Group After the Show
My Heart With You
Distinctive Syllables
One Group Inspiring Another
Shut Up and Dance
The Remix to Ignition
Kiss From a Rose
When Over the Top Costuming Works
Don't/No Diggity
Aca-Wedding Proposals
Dog Days Are Over
The Sound of a Pitch Pipe
I Will Wait
Hearing a Song Evolve
Come and Go With Me
Seeing a Second Group Sing the Same Song—And Do It Better
Beyonce medley
Ireland’s A Cappella Competition
The One Guy Who Wants It Badder Than Anyone Else
Hearing a Song You Thought No One Else Knew
Stop This Train