Proof of Purchase is a co-ed group out of the Rochester Institute of Technology, and they recently released their latest EP, titled Quintessential. I suspect the album title pulled double duty for both naming an album that boils down the group’s identity and, as the quint-prefix suggests, features five tracks. The album was produced by the good folks at A Cappella Productions who did an excellent job of assembling a CD that sounds clean and lets the vocals shine on their own merits.
One of the most noticeable qualities of Quintessential is the absence of breaks between songs. Indeed, seamless structure has grown increasingly popular in both recordings and competition sets, lending a sense of continuity and cohesion to a number of projects in recent years. I’d contend that this album takes fluid transitions to the next level with some of the most lovely movements between songs that I have heard in a cappella, lining up closing chords and textures perfectly to glide from one piece to the next.
Proof of Purchase started out really nicely with Walk the Moon’s “Anna Sun.” This was a captivating opener for which the beat pulsed forward in the early stages, despite a very soft sound from the group, leaving soloist Kevin Tesch plenty of room to steer the ship in the early going. This song really grabbed my attention for that unique combination of approaches in the early going, establishing the group’s personality as simultaneously warm and energetic.
I was a bit less enamored with the group’s cover of Mumford and Sons’ “Below My Feet.” On the one hand, soloist Lauren Comes has a positively beautiful voice and the group’s mechanics were on point for the duration of the song. On the other hand, Mumford is so over-exposed at this point that if a group is going to cover them I’m hoping for a really creative or distinctive approach to the music. To be fair, applying a female soloist and taking a more consistently upbeat approach to this song than the original did help to distinguish this interpretation. Just the same, I feel as though this particular song is appealing because of its grit and the sense of redemption that the singer achieves by the end of it. This rendition felt more hopeful and celebratory from the beginning which didn’t quite jive with me.
On a somewhat similar note, I felt that Proof of Purchase would have been better served to have recorded something other than “Sound of Silence” for its third track. Again, this isn’t a knock on the group’s musicality because their singing on the track—particularly that bass!—was very good and the leads did a really nice job of blending and sharing the spotlight. Just the same, this is such a—wait for it—quintessential a cappella song that I feel a group really needs to do something dazzlingly different to justify its inclusion on an album in the year 2015, and Proof of Purchase never quite got there.
The transition from Sound of Silence to the mashup of two Lana Del Rey songs, “Summertime Sadness” and “Young and Beautiful” was positively breath-taking, and I felt Proof of Purchase really hit its stride on this track. Soloists Lauren Comes and Rebecca Jereza turned in lovely, textured, emotionally rich solo work, and Comes’s arrangement wove the two songs together so that they were not only seamless but really felt like one larger musical piece and narrative. I especially appreciated the decision to keep the tempo moving on “Young and Beautiful,” as a track especially susceptible to sounding monotonous in other a cappella treatments I’ve heard. Simply superb work here.
The group achieved another stunning transition to their closer, Delta Rae’s “Morning Comes.” The group was at its best on the big, open chords that this song was built on and Chris Jones delivered an excellent, earnest solo. I really dug everything about this rendition of the song and thought it was a really good choice to close the album on this uplifting note. (Bonus: though I don’t think that they were necessarily intended to line up exactly, the closing major chord of this song actually fits really nicely with the opening of “Anna Sun” if you’re listening to this album on repeat, not to mention the “Morning”-“Sun” connection.)
Proof of Purchase did a really nice job of developing a simple, clean identity through these five songs and offering listeners insight into a group on the rise, emerging out of the vibrant a cappella community brewing in Rochester, New York at this time. Quintessential is definitely worth checking out.