The Cornell Chordials The Shadow Aspect

CD Reviews

In 2013, The Cornell Chordial bowled over the ICCA Mid-Atlantic en route to a berth in the ICCA Finals where they not only represented the region proudly, but took home third place honors. The most memorable quality of their celebrated set?

The stomp.

Yes, The Chordials benefited from excellent tuning, power, control, and stage presence, but the gestalt of their performance was the stomp--a repeated, bold gesture, often done in perfect synchronization among the entire group. A gesture that commanded the audience’s attention. A gesture that manifested the raw passion that defined the group’s set.

The stomp itself was not audible on The Shadow Aspect, the latest album from The Chordials, but where the group best succeeded, the stomp was latent in the group’s sound, channeling the same intensity and menacing tone that defines the current Chordials.

The album opened brilliantly with Ellie Goulding’s “Lights”—a popular song choice in college circles these days, but also a perfect showcase for the group’s complexity of sound, a truly stellar solo and the excellent production work by Four Legs Records that allowed the voices room to breathe while also striking near-perfect balances and rounding out the edges to deliver a sensational final product.

The group similarly thrived on Kanye West’s “Lost in the World.” The Bon Iver sample offered a welcome shift to a simpler sound, executed with pitch perfect simplicity, before segueing into the rap segment of the song. That the rap came from a female lead highlighted two excellent creative decisions. First of all, the female vocal was divergent from what most listeners would expect or feel accustomed to for this song. More importantly, it’s vital that groups go with their talents. Don’t plug a dude into a rap solo just because his tone is closer to the original artist. Give the solo to the person best equipped to handle the part. The rap solo here absolutely delivered.

While the more rousing content of The Shadow Aspect had me riveted, I was less enamored with some of the more even keel material. Little of the life of “Plain Gold Ring” transcended the stage onto this recording for me and “Face of Light” read a bit meandering. Fortunately, there were than enough more interesting tracks to compensate; a delightfully complex take on Gotye’s “Save Me,” a rendition of “Bizness” by Tune-Yards that spotlighted some very cool instrumentation, and a phenomenal diva solo on Emeli Sande’s “My Kind of Love.”

The two song set of “Lies” by The Black Keys and “Too Close” anchored the middle of the album. It’s little wonder that these songs composed the latter two-thirds of The Chordials’ ICCA Finals set as they each built in wonderfully ugly ways to explode in the listener’s ear. Just top-notch arranging and execution on these numbers, made whole by excellent solo work.

While the ICCA songs were the meat and potatoes of this album, the sweetest surprise after the main course was the three-song sequence to close The Shadow Aspect. While there’s no shortage of groups to cover Mumford and Sons’ “The Cave,” The Chordials took full advantage of its mixed-gender composition on this one, sectioning out the sopranos to back the build on the final chorus to lend it a truly epic feel. “The Light” by Sara Bareilles offered a pristine contrast to that sound on the penultimate track. The group fell back on simplicity here, using a nice warm swell of sound and rolling percussion to offer a different brand of drama from the rest of the album.

And then there’s “Nothing But The Water” by Grace and the Nocturnals. The track started much where the Bareilles song ended, in a relatively simple place before the group slid into a groove after the first chorus, pushing the tempo and electronifying the sound. The solo and backing instrumentation alike just kept building there. This track was all about massive shifts in dynamics and tempo, done with precision and done with purpose to tell a sensational story.

A few dull spots aside, The Shadow Aspect delivers one of the most riveting listening experiences you’re likely to find in recorded collegiate a cappella this year. The Chordials have stomped their way into an exciting place, and I, for one, can’t wait to hear what’s next.