This winter, The Boston University Treblemakers released The Teal Album, a five-track EP. I’m pleased to report that this is one of the most pleasantly surprising recordings I’ve come across in quite some time.
In the modern recording landscape, a cappella groups often face a fork in the road. You cover contemporary radio hits that everyone will recognize, and run the risk that you’re covering the same songs that a dozen other groups are. You cover obscure songs and run the risk of alienating a general audience. The Treblemakers were shrewd to split the difference on this dilemma (and avoid the copout of covering all old music) by picking music by well-known artists, but selecting less obvious material—not the biggest radio hits, but more so album cuts that have not been over-exposed in the a cappella realm up to this point. There’s only one exception to this rule on The Teal Album, but the group managed to subvert expectations on that outing, as well. We’ll get to that in a bit.
The album was recorded and produced by Jonathan “Hawk” Henshaw at Bristol Recording & Voice Studios, and very nicely put together.
The Teal Album opens with Justin Timberlake’s “Let the Groove Get In”—a fun party track with a nice full sound, within which everyone from the sopranos to the basses get little spotlights along the way. It’s a fine choice to start the album on an up-tempo note, and this track offers a good contrast to “Things We Lost in the Fire,” originally by Bastille, which starts soft and slow before the tempo picks up on the chorus. I felt the Treblemakers could have infused a bit more gravitas to really punch up this second song, but it’s fine for what it is.
Things pick up again on Ariana Grande’s “Honeymoon Avenue,” a song that wisely stamps The Treblemaker name in the early going, and features a very good sultry solo on the part of Adrienne Rube. Really nice harmonies on this one, too, and the percussion shines.
The Treblemakers maintain their momentum on Matt Corby’s “Resolution.” The most impressive quality of this song is just how fluid the dynamics are, varying beautifully throughout the song without ever jolting the listener. I really appreciate the way in which Jordy Shulman’s solo builds in intensity, as well, as this song carries on.
And then there’s “Seven Dreams Too Close”—a comprehensive mashup of “Seven Nation Army,” “Sweet Dreams,” and “Too Close.” Coming into this track, my main knock on the EP was that I felt it never really popped--settling, instead, for good, musically sound recordings without ever demonstrating the group’s ambition to accomplish something truly great. For me, “Seven Dreams Too Close” is that turning point—a barnburner, yes, but also a remarkably efficient bit of a cappella, masterfully arranged by Mark Holaday that magically weaves three disparate songs together so seamlessly that it’s nearly impossible to pull them apart, and does so in just a shave over three minutes. Some of the best mashups leave me wondering which song I’m really listening to in a given moment, or tapping my foot to a song without even realizing it’s not the same song I was invested in in ten seconds earlier. “Seven Dreams Too Close” accomplishes all of that and more.
One of the highest compliments I can give an EP is that it leaves me wanting to hear a full album from the group in question. The Treblemakers far surpassed that bar. I, for one, can’t wait to hear what they come up with next.