CD Review: MIX Edifice

I first heard MIX, a compact, co-ed group out of the University of Colorado Denver, at 2012 SoJam college competition. I was expecting great things from that show—what with competitors including the eventual ICCA champion Nor’easters, and southern stars The Melodores.

But then there was MIX.

MIX electrified the crowd with a Latin beat just as easily as they brought it to tears with their original song, “Water.” They started a party and they broke it all down. In a single night, on one of a cappella’s biggest stages, they made a statement that they belonged among the world’s elite.

It’s with this background that I came to Edifice, the new album from MIX. And I’m pleased to say that they more than lived up to my memories.

The album opened with “Come On-A My House,” a track that cleverly starts with a slow jam sample of Ray Charles’s “I Got a Woman” (more familiar to contemporary fans as the hook of Kanye West’s “Gold Digger”) before easing into its groove, shifting to a female lead for the main track, spiced with what I believe was an original rap. It’s a track that intrinsically sounds like what I had come to expect from MIX, and as such a brilliant bridge between the group’s previous work and this new album.

The rhythm section is good on the opening track, but comes to full realization on the following number, “Barton Hollow.” While I won’t deny that this song has been done too death on the collegiate circle the last two years, I nonetheless appreciated MIX’s take on it and the shrewd infusion of train sounds, rooted in the breathy perc to establish a wonderfully intense opening, then revisited more overtly on the on the outro. The song is an excellent set up for Delta Rae’s “Bottom of the River.” This song is a bit over-exposed, too, but fit with “Barton Hollow” nicely for a down-home segment of the album the group’s slick vocals distinctive approach to perc went a long way toward making the songs distinctively MIX’s own.

Indeed, I feel this disc is strongest when the group sounds it’s most distinctive—the aforementioned tracks for sure, a cool high-pitched vocal effect on “Ramalama (Bang Bang),” a buzzing electric undercurrent to “Daddy,” the brilliant simulation of a gospel choir on “’Til the End of the Time.” These are the moments when a smart group with a lot of talent, collaborators with a masterful production team (in this case, Ted Trembinski and Bri Holland from the Vocal Company) to achieve some thing that is not only magic, but genuinely unique in a recording.

But then there’s the point at which Mix ascended to a whole new level on this album for me. Smart groups find ways sampling other songs or cutting to resolve repetitive patches of songs or long instrumental breaks. Truly phenomenal groups find ways to reinvent the music. On Sam Smith’s “Latch,” Mix introduced an original spoken word sample (written and performed by Michelle Rocquet), delivered with brilliant intensity, but also crafted to up the stakes of this song from a cool love song to one of obsession and need. It was followed by a very well-done original rap courtesy of Chris Kimmel. Simply sensational stuff.

The flaws in the album were few, but my one nitpicky comment would for MIX, like many scholastic groups, would be to steer clear of moments that call attention themselves. There were two particular moments like that that stood out to me here. First, the repeated use of “pomegranate apricot” syllables late in “Come On-A My House, which, while executed, felt contrived in my ear. Then the “ooh wee” from Renee Davis singing the Melanie Fiona part. I actually loved Davis’s vocal on this part, and the way its more classical sound turned the hip hop sound on its ear in this case, but the “ooh wee,” which matches the original lyrics, felt forced from her, and I felt subbing in a guttural growl or moan could have gone a long way toward synergizing her sound with the vibe of the sound and making it the group’s own. There are moments when the original lyrics, dynamics, rhythm or whatnot doesn’t quite click with a group’s natural talent and it’s incumbent on the group to make creative choices to make the most of the music for themselves. As may have guessed from my focus on a total of about six seconds off a 33-minute album, I don’t have many complaints, though. There’s always room for a bit more polish, but this is, all around, a pretty sterling effort.

Mix called this album Edifice. The album cover, picturing white boards and a red door suggest the meaning of the word that is simply a building. Given the range of musical styles and influences brought together on this album, though, under the unifying umbrella of the Mix sound, I get more of a sensation of the edifice that is a scheme of beliefs and principles that form a greater whole.

Regardless of your interpretation, the bottom line remains that Edifice is a distinctive and compelling listening experience—brief, vital, and stirring. You don’t want to miss out on this.

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.”