Business Casual, formerly known as Quintessence, is a five-person mixed voice group out of the San Francisco Bay area. The group first formed in 2012 and Eyes on Me is their first EP.
Right off the bat, I’ll applaud Business Casual for the decision to go with an EP over a full album, and to limit it to just three tracks. It’s difficult for a new group to assemble a forty-five minutes or more of worthy music for their debut release and general audiences tend not to have patience for lengthy efforts by groups they aren’t already familiar with, so the decision to run with a streamlined collection like this was the right call..
Business Casual also did a nice job of assembling three songs that fit together and shaped their identity. The title Eyes On Me suggests a brash group that craves the spotlight, and the songs reinforced that image—each of them assertive, flashy, and, to the group’s credit, boasting the vocal quality to back up that attitude. “Shining Star” is all about establishing figurative star quality, and the transition to “Mirrors” is pretty brilliant if for no other reason than the opening lyrics, “Aren’t you something to admire? ‘Cause your shine is something like a mirror.” While Maroon 5’s “One More Night” fits a little less obviously in the shining motif, it very much fits with the group’s image of bold independence, combined with a twinge of sexuality.
A casual listener might question the inclusion of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Shining Star” alongside more contemporary song choices, the group does a fantastic job of both staying true to the original song and translating it to a fully contemporary vocal sound, so that there’s nothing obviously anachronistic about it.
Rookie producer and group member Danny Olefsky did an excellent job of recording and mixing a clean product for the album and Dave Sperandio’s signature work is evident in mastering the EP. Eyes on Me sounds professional from top to bottom, and you’d never guess it’s the group’s first professional recording endeavor.
At the end of the day, I think Business Casual’s greatest strengths and limitations as a unit are more or less the same. On the positive side, it’s a group chock full of star power. Each of the group’s vocalists gets opportunities to shine on this album and each of them more than hold their own. The solo work is excellent, the bass is understated and consistently very good, the harmonies are tight, and the group does a fine job of using dynamics to its advantage and having parts fall out to diversify their sound and build to dramatic climaxes.
With all of that said, ironically contrary to the brash identity I alluded to earlier, the group members come across as a little too selfless for much of this album, trading off solo duties or transitioning to a group choral sound too readily for any one vocalist to ever truly shine. It’s like a scholastic basketball team in which the coach insists that everyone touch the ball equally rather than letting the player with the hot hand go on a scoring flurry. Sure, sharing the ball is more equitable, but it’s also not the stuff legendary performances are made of. Each of these songs includes transitions between soloists and prolonged unisons—none of which are inherently bad, but in my estimation it’s those full songs of getting to know a soloist that best allow a listener to connect with a vocal and by extension a song. In essence, Business Casual settles for something like a condensed version of the old collegiate group “yearbook album” that takes time to give each individual group member a solo. It feels good to remember everyone’s contributions and give each group member a track to play for mom and dad back home, but I’d argue that groups with this level of ability need to ask themselves whether they care more about sharing or about releasing the best recordings possible.
All considered, Eyes On Me is a very good debut for Business Casual. The group takes its sound and its production seriously and this is the sort of energetic EP that can transcend a hardcore a cappella audience to appeal to casual listeners, too. Give this group a little more time to gel and a little more willingness to let its star soloists run with the ball, and they just might evolve into one of the top pro groups to listen for in the years ahead.