Few cities are more important to contemporary music than Seattle. That said, it’s odd to consider just how little major representation the city has in a cappella.
SeaNote is out to change that.
The five-member group, composed of three men and two women came together from component pieces of two collegiate groups at the University of Washington. On their debut EP, Vocal Static, the group opens with a brief medley, capped by the proclamation, “You’re listening to Seattle’s Top 40 hits—SeaNote Radio.” That opening medley establishes two core pieces of the group’s identity, as one proud of ifs Pacific Northwest roots, and a group focused on contemporary pop music. Moreover, the crackling of synthesized radio static added a coherent theme to this first track, and immediately tied it to the clever name of the album.
The first thing that struck me about Vocal Static was how clean the sound was. Surely, that’s a credit to the talented vocalists who are a part of the group, but also a testament mixing work by The Vocal Company and mastering by Dave Sperandio, resulting in a smooth, professional presentation.
The group did an excellent job of capturing the spirit of its music—demonstrating great sass on “I Knew You Were Trouble,” joy on Pharrell Williams’s “Happy,” and a great verity of emotion on “All of Me.”
Some of the group’s best work came in detail work, particularly on the intros to songs. Adding vocal representations of wind, waves, and sea gulls added a sense of place to “All of Me” and a distinctive bit of Seattle scenery to the proceedings. I also loved the broken down intro to “Me and My Broken Heart,” as a representation of the core feeling underlying the song. Yes, it’s an upbeat pop song, but at its root, this is not a happy song, and the group found a nice balance of representing that emotion while staying true to the original track.
The group shrewdly opted not feel beholden to maintaining the genders of the original vocalist when selecting soloists. Amanda Tran, in particular, delivers dynamite leads—perfectly vulnerable on “All of Me,” positively infectious on “Happy.”
I liked this album best when the group innovated. The simultaneously ominous and swinging reimagining of “Scarsborough Fair” stood out for how it diverged from the Simon & Garfunkel original, and stood out from the rest of the album for the extent to which it showcased the group’s unique personality over tweaking and translating current radio hits to a cappella. Similarly, I appreciated the choice to insert a dubstep breakdown in “Happy”—it fit the party vibe of the song and helped differentiate this version of the song from the dozens of other renditions already released or sure to be on their way in the months ahead. Best of all, the group went pretty far afield for the album closer, a mashup of Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” and Eiffel 65’s “Blue” that was not only seamless but shrewdly woven together, and bound with an original rap in the middle of the song and a pounding, hot percussion keeping the piece in motion.
All in all, Vocal Static is an ambitious first recording. I’d love to hear what the group can do as it continues to innovate and make music their own, with a bit less reliance on straight covers of contemporary Top 40 hits. This EP suggests the group has all the potential in the world to thrive for years to come.