Attention

Tuesday Tubin'

Per tradition, in this final edition of Tuesday Tubin' for our 2017-2018 publication season, we present the reigning ICCA Champions. It's the University of Southern California SoCal VoCals performing Charie Puth's "Attention."

On The Rocks, Sunset Blush

CD Reviews

There are all-male collegiate a cappella groups, and then there’s the all-male collegiate a cappella group. I don’t mean to put the University of Oregon’s On The Rocks on too high of a pedestal, nor do I mean to diminish the accomplishments of the many great all-male collegiate a cappella groups doing amazing things out there in the world. However, if you’re looking for an archetype of what this specific type of group is like, or perhaps should aspire to be like in 2018, I think we’ve got our platonic ideal right here.

On The Rocks Sunset Blush Front Extended

Some context. On the Rocks made one of the definitive viral videos of a cappella in 2008, with their cover of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.” They owned their identity as a prime example of what men’s college group looks like in representing their community on The Sing-Off in 2010. If these steps weren’t enough, 2012 saw the release of Pitch Perfect. It would be easy enough to think the great aca-movie of our time utterly unrelated to On the Rocks, except for the Barden Bellas being loosely based upon Oregon’s Divisi, which would make The Treblemakers a lot like Divisi’s all-male campus counterparts, On the Rocks (to be fair, The Treblemakers are probably more fairly assessed as an amalgam of On The Rocks, The Beelzebubs, and The Hullabahoos who were featured in the source book, but these identities are intertwined in party-hard, competition-winning, aca-institution).

Thus have On The Rocks shaped the world’s understanding of all-male collegiate a cappella, and thus can we understand their new album, Sunset Blush as the group’s honors thesis, both encapsulating and pushing a quintessential sub-genre of the a cappella form through keen song selection, sound, and multiple original song tracks.

On The Rocks benefits from a ton of raw vocal talent, arrangements from no lesser luminaries than Tom Anderson and Ben Bram, and mixing by veritable legends in the field Ed Boyer and Bill Hare. In short, the group has a ton of tools at its disposal and capitalizes nicely.

But let’s talk what makes Sunset Blush such a definitive album. There are the opening tracks to start—Justin Timberlake’s “Senorita,” followed by his “That Girl” and “Pusher Love Girl.” Like Timberlake himself, the guys ooze sensuality and charm, doing a brilliant job of translating live a cappella charisma and showmanship into a purely audio, studio format.

From there, it’s off to the races with Bruno Mars’s “Gorilla.” This is exactly the kind of song choice you’d expect college guys to go for, if only for the refrain of “you and me baby, making love like gorillas.” The group does one better, though with lush flourishes of sound that keep the track from being dismissed as comedy, not to mention the swank production effects to refresh the sound constantly and hook listeners over and over again.

While I could do without yet another a cappella cover of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good,” the guys offer up a sterling rendition of it, and the song choice does fit my suggestion of this album encapsulating the what groups are singing these days. Moreover, “Feeling Good” offers a fine transition to a pair of tracks written and with solos by music director Jasper Freedom—“You Lift Me Up” and “ Crown Royal”—each with a purity of sound and old school vibe that nicely encapsulate a classy, mature style .

“You Lift Me Up” and “Like I’m Gonna Lose You” each capture a key quality of today’s scholastic a cappella, too, for On The Rocks not silo-ing itself off from its campus community, but rather indulging in collaboration, first with University of Oregon Gospel Singers, then with sibling a cappella group Divisi for a particularly rich sound and fine spotlight on soloists Jordyn Brown from Divisi, and Clay Attig.

Speaking of Attig, he shines for offering both solo work and vocal percussion on a number of tracks, most notably his own original, “Embers.”

On The Rocks doesn’t shy away from in vogue tracks like “Colder Weather” and “Love on Top,” as well as a classic like Earth, Wind &Fire’s “September,” and comes across the better for straightforward, polished takes, without huge frills or surprises. Beyonce’s “Love On Top,” in particular, underscores why the On The Rocks franchise made such a smash covering Lady Gaga in the first place in 08. Sure, there were the bells and whistles of the guys going all in on comedy and dramatic interpretation, but all the more so, the group took the music seriously and demonstrated polish on an unconventional song choice for dudes. The song choice itself is the easy part; doing it legitimate justice is what distinguishes a group like this one.

I appreciated the group’s nod to Eugene, OR in the lead-in to its first track, and cover of Matt Kearney’s “Coming Home (Oregon)” for the acknowledgment of who the group is via where they’re from. It’s easy for a group of national standing to eschew these more personalized choices, but embracing them to, instead, explore the unique creative opportunities they afford is a fine choice for a group of this stature, and a step back toward more traditional collegiate style I’d love to hear more groups return to.

So it is that Sunset Blush arrives as far more than a flavor of boxed wine, but a stunning rendering of something equal parts nostalgic and forward looking—something unmistakably beautiful as it captures the present in moment in a cappella.

The Great Escape

Tuesday Tubin'

This week, we present the Claremont Colleges' After School Specials, performing P!nk's "The Great Escape."

Front Row Seats

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #151: Front Row Seats

In the preceding edition of 200 Reasons To Love A Cappella, I referenced the pleasure of sitting in balcony seats to take in a the full picture of a performance. Little less appealing are seats in the opposite extreme—up close to the stage, or even so far as the front row.

Sitting up close at an a cappella performance affords an audience member the chance to take in every part of the performance in detail. For un-mic’ed performances, it gives the listener a chance to hear everything directly without the sound being diluted by the chatter of onlookers. And even for performances on a more formal stage, it allows a spectator to get a keener look at how the group operates—who’s giving the cues, how is the group configuring itself. Without being in the group, a spectator can’t know exactly what it’s like to be performing with them, but sitting up close offers one of the closest vicarious experiences a fan get, seeing and hearing every aspect of the performance from close proximity, and sitting close enough to really feel the energy of the performance.

I love it!

R&B Medley

Tuesday Tubin'

This week, we present James Madison University Note-oriety performing their R&B Medley.

Balcony Seats

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #150: Balcony Seats

Conventional wisdom suggests that front row seats to a show are the best seats in the house. Others may seek out the acoustic sweet spot, often closer to the middle of the auditorium. But, particularly for a collegiate a cappella show, I’ve often found that nothing beats a good balcony seat.

As a cappella sound engineers continue to refine their craft and more groups move toward individual mic-ing, taking a balcony seat doesn’t necessarily mean sacrificing sound quality. Moreover, from a visual perspective, I’ve tended to observe that a bird’s eye view affords an audience member the greatest potential to see everything that’s going on with a groups staging and choreography, which is increasingly on par with groups’ aural accomplishments. As such, good balcony seat can be one of the surest tickets to appreciating the bigger picture of an a cappella performance.

Naz

I love it!

Next Page
Attention
On The Rocks, Sunset Blush
The Great Escape
Front Row Seats
R&B Medley
Balcony Seats
Elastic Heart
Humor
Zero to Hero
Transitions on Your Playlist
I Miss You
Law School Groups
I Don't Think About You
Incorporating Foreign Languages
Evolution of Hollywood
Originals
Adele Medley
Transitions
Technicolour Beat
Raw Solos
Boy Problems
Connecting With a Song
Latch
BOSS
There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back
A Well-Executed Choral Arrangement
To Build a Home
Attire
Glitter in the Air
Update On A Cappella Blog Event Reviews