A cappella group performing on stage
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Retrocity Mixtape

CD Reviews

For a goodly portion of my mid-twenties, I was a huge fan of The Legwarmers.

Readers from the Mid-Atlantic may know the band of which I write. For those who don’t, The Legwarmers are a cover band based in the DC area that covers exclusively music from the 1980s. As someone born in the early 1980s, that decade’s music was not just what my parents listened to or the background sound my favorite movies as a kid. It was the soundtrack to my life, at a period when I was too young to have my only clearly defined favorites, and simply existed amongst a maelstrom of Madonna and Men at Work, Belinda Carlisle and Billy Idol, Pat Benatar and Prince.

When I lived in Baltimore, Maryland, I saw The Legwarmers recreate songs by each of the artists listed above and dozens more with striking authenticity of sound and energy. Indeed, there was no hint of irony in the music the band played, but rather a refreshing sense of sincerity and sheer loyalty to a specific time and specific set of sounds. I caught the band at Rams Head Live in Baltimore at least ten times. I traveled to Philadelphia to hear them. To different spots in and around Washington DC.

When I caught wind about Retrocity—a professional a cappella group devoted to eighties music—it’s an understatement to say that I was excited. Sure, I’ve heard my share of top eighties hits covered a cappella, but it’s more often than not with a wink and a nudge and a sample of something contemporary, or else it’s clear that the college students taking on the song are more groping for a sentiment from before their time than tapping into their emotional cores.

Mixtape, the group’s new album, offered my first opportunity to hear them in action, and the group offered a lot to admire. Particularly noteworthy, the group demonstrated a combination of tremendous care and ambition in their song selection, taking on some truly great, but rarely obvious song choices.

“Need You Tonight,” which the group shrewdly released as a single on YouTube prior to the album release shows up second on Mixtape, and denotes so much of what this group does well, from a strong lead, to an intricate arrangement that simulates the experience of listening to the original song without feeling too contrived. The track features deft, polished production and is an objectively infectious track, regardless of the nostalgia factor.

Indeed, the album on the whole thrives on strong solo work, more often than not featuring impeccable recreations of the original vocalist’s sound. Beyond “Need You Tonight,” the leads on “Father Figure” and Kate Bush mashup “Night Scented Stock/Cloudbusting” are particularly memorable.

The vocal percussion on Mixtape is also consistently praiseworthy, with particularly epic moments on “You’re the Voice” and “One Night in Bangkok.” Similarly, the production effects are typically spot on so that every part gets the opportunity to shine in just the right proportions and sound professional without getting too smoothed over to lose its vocal quality. The lone real misstep I identified on the album came on the instrumentation on the climax to “Never Surrender,” which unfortunately grows grating and repetitive rather than electric when the song most needs some extra mmph.

For me, the strongest track on the album is Murray Head’s “One Night In Bangkok.” Not dissimilar to “Need You Tonight,” the track features strong solo work and a terrific arrangement, enhanced immensely via a brilliant mixing. This is also Retrocity at its best for how faithful the group is to its source material. Oftentimes, I listen to a cappella with an ear toward innovation—how a group intends to create something new out of material someone else produced in order to reflect the group’s own identity and aesthetic. That is not Retrocity’s modus operandi. This is a group all about capturing and reproducing a very specific energy and sound from a period that our collective consciousness is starting to forget. As such, Mixtape is a tour de force of nostalgia, and a compelling introduction to this period of music for younger listeners who haven’t experienced it yet.

Learn more about Retrocity at their website. Mixtape drops on September 29.

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