From the Attic by The Remnants

CD Reviews

The Remnants have released their first professionally recorded CD, entitled From The Attic. Matt Caruso of ACappellaPsych was responsible for recording, editing and production; Dave Sperandio of diovoce mixed and mastered the album.

From The Attic is a pretty interesting album, if for no other reason than the creative choices the group made. A cursory look at the track listing reveals songs like “Ain’t No Sunshine” that it seems just about every a cappella group has taken a swing at in the last decade (or more), to different, but oddly dated choices like N’Sync’s “I Drive Myself Crazy,” to newer if still pretty widely covered tracks like “The Cave” and “Good Life.”

These song selections may not inspire confidence an audience that listens to a great deal of a cappella. The first two tracks, “Listen to the Music” and “Take Me Home Tonight” are well-executed and sound slick, but do little defuse the sense that we’ve heard this CD before.

Then comes “Chicken Fried,” a Zac Brown track that catapults us into the modern era with a contemporary and offbeat selection. Better yet, this is the track when The Remnants start to show what makes them most unique—their percussion and how they use it. The final minute of “Chicken Fried” features a snare that really brings the track to life and sends the group marching into the last leg of the song with a new energy.

As I’ve already alluded, I was pretty skeptical when I observed the group had recorded “Ain’t No Sunshine,” but the group did a stellar job of breathing new life into the classic with a dubstep break down. Dubstep technique is quickly becoming an over-used device in a cappella, but this was a really good example of how a group can use it in a song where few would expect it, and time it in such a way to really punch up the drama of the song.

Not so different from “Chicken Fried” and “Ain’t No Sunshine,” the percussion comes to the rescue for “Hide and Seek” as well. In the last five years, all-female and co-ed groups have sung this song into the ground. While The Remnants’ male vocals and particularly the low end added a different texture to the song, and it was well-executed on the whole, the choice to key in with the percussion leading into the bridge made the piece move and made the fall out moment into the soft “ransom note” lyrics all the more dramatic and impactful. Really shrewd creative choice, recorded and mastered perfectly to amplify the effect.

I had mixed feelings on the other truly bold decisions on the album. “I Drive Myself Crazy” is all choral. The end effect is quite pretty, but seems to undermine the core meaning of the song, which is much more about the narrator feeling alone and obsessed; having a group of men sing the lyrics together seems counterintuitive. Of course, I realize I’m overanalyzing what the group probably intended as a comedy piece (because how could an N’Sync cover not be a little tongue in cheek in 2012?). But therein lies one of the issues with this track. In live performance, I’m sure we could tell right away if the guys were taking the piece seriously or not; on a recording, with no visuals to work from, there’s a lot more room for interpretation, and The Remnants never audibly tip their hands to let us in on the joke. All in all, it’s a pretty composition, well-sung, but a little too ambiguous to work as well as it should for me as a stand- alone track.

Though the “rin-din-din-din-din” syllables of “The Cave” felt a little tinny and light for the song, it’s the soloist who ultimately carried this one. I usually don’t care for soloists with a pronounced musical theater flair, but this was an example in which I thought just such a soloist really sold the narrative quality of the lyrics and helped differentiate this version of the song from all of the other groups covering Mumford and Sons right now. It worked for me.

Despite some prosaic song choices, From The Attic ultimately proves itself as a case study in how to make classics interesting again, and when the group does take its breaks from innovation (the opening tracks, “Forever,” “Beautiful Day”) it executes the songs in an aurally pleasing enough way to still make The Remnants enjoyable to hear. The album is certainly worth checking out.