A cappella group performing on stage
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Seanote Transitions

CD Reviews

Seanote is a five-member post-collegiate group based out of Seattle, that spun out of University of Washington groups Furmata and Awaaz. After a promising debut album, Vocal Static, the group is back with its new release, Transitions.

Right off the bat, the album demonstrated the group’s attention to detail and consideration of how an album as a whole comes across. The choice to kick things off with Ariana Grande’s “Focus” was really shrewd for its grabbing, offbeat intro that compels the listener to—well, focus. In an era when so many of us listen to music absently while multi-tasking, “Focus” compels the listener to zero in on the music. A jazzy instrumentation at the end of the track further commands our attention for a strong opening to the album.

Sea Note Transitions Album Cover

I really enjoyed the transition to Zar Larsson’s “Carry You Home,” a track with featured excellent vocal percussion that eased the song into a groove and some really fine solo work. I was a bit worried when I saw the next track “Ordinary People” on the track listing—a song that’s already been covered extensively and that’s refrain of “This time we’ll take it slow” I’ve had bore me to tears in more than one live performance. Fortunately, Seanote was up to the challenge in this case, pushing the tempo at key moments, and having two soloists interact over the track to keep the song fresh, interesting, and moving. “This Is What You Came For,” originally performed by Calvin Harris, featuring Rihanna, represented similar creative strengths for a nicely subdued intro, into a more complex, up-tempo sound. I really liked the production choices on that track, too, to infuse just the right level of an electronic sound to fit the song, while not compromising the more purist a cappella sound the group leaned into for the full album.

The “Interlude” on track five of the album proved to be one of my favorite choices on the recording. While it doesn’t hold up as a stand-alone track, it was a nice palate cleanser and transition between sections of the album. Too often, a cappella albums sound as though groups just threw together a bunch of songs they’d been singing recently, but a track like this demonstrates wonderful care in thinking about the overarching listening experience, and inviting an audience to listen to an album as one holistic piece. The interlude was particularly effective on the transition to Shawn Mendes’s “Stitches” with a wonderfully creepy, static-y whispered intro, a nice handling of the rap interlude, and really cool sound on the outro, with a soprano overlaying the group sound.

While the tracks to follow, “Let It Go,” originally by James Bay and A-Tran’s “Fatal Disease” were handled nicely, they were relatively straightforward takes on popular songs that left me wanting a bit more to make the songs distinctively Seanote’s. A cover of “I Choose You” by Sara Bareilles risked falling into a similar trap, but I appreciated the choice to insert a male soloist on the bridge to mix up the sound and lend a metaphorical sense of two halves a whole relationship coming together on it. My only knock on that track was that the rhythm section felt a bit too present on it, threatening to overwhelm the sweet song.

In the latter stages of the album, Shaeer Aftab’s “Take It For Granted” came at just the right time for the rap to really mix up the sound and I appreciated the stripped down nature of the track. Unfortunately, Fall Out Boy’s “Centuries” felt like a bit of a letdown after that. While the group’s handling of the song was certainly competent, it’s a song choice we’ve all heard so many times in a cappella at this point. In principle, the choice to do a softer, slower take on the song seems interesting, but I felt the choice ultimately robbed the song of some of the fire power it could have used to justify its placement on the album.

Seanote ultimately saved some of its best work for last though, with a mashup of Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song” and Katy Perry’s “Roar.” At first, I was a little underwhelmed with the choice for this one to start so slow as well, but Seanote knew exactly what it was doing in executing this fine arrangement by Lucy Liu and Michael Kibbe, as the soft slow beginnings offered plenty of room to grow, and a particularly electric moment as things picked up on the “my power’s turned on” lyric from “Fight Song.” While I’d argue that this one could have popped a bit sooner, the payoff was nonetheless impressive, and the track finished in truly excellent fashion as the two songs came together.

To nitpick, I think this album may well have been stronger were the group to have weeded out one-to-three of the of its less memorable tracks. Nonetheless, I really appreciated the overall architecture of the album from its well thought out beginning, to the shrewdly applied interlude, to mixing the tempo and style at just the right times en route to an excellent finish. Transitions is available now.

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