By Irene Droney
Everyone that knows me knows that the Nor’easters from Northeastern University hold a special place in my heart and everyone who knows or has seen the Nor’easters perform probably knows why. As the reigning ICCA champions, their talent and drive cannot be contested and, on a personal level, you’d be lucky to ever meet a kinder, more humble group of people especially in the face of all their accomplishments of the past year.
This past year was the big one for the Nor’easters. They began with a big win at SoJam and went on to make their first ever appearance at ICCA Finals where they took home the crown and awards for Beejul Khatri’s outstanding beat boxing at Finals, as well as Shams Ahmed’s groundbreaking arranging and Ty Myers’ emotive choreography in prior rounds. In my opinion, the Nor’easters have some of the best arrangements of any a cappella group performing today and they execute them with a unique combination professionalism and powerful, raw emotion that leaves everyone in the audience in awe.
Naturally, after seeing them perform time after time and always being so impressed, I was left wondering how well the music would translate when recorded. I was worried that some of the signature rawness would be lost in the studio and therefore I was very excited but somewhat nervous for my favorite group when I received my copy of their latest album, Equilibrium.
I’m going to start off by saying that listening to the album is a different experience than seeing this group live. There’s no way it can be the same. I came into this listening experience as someone who is much less familiar and generally far less enamored with recorded a cappella than I am with live performances. One could even say I was a live a cappella “purist.” I came out of this listening experience with a new respect for the art. The album is beautifully recorded by The Vocal Company and, honestly, gave me a whole new appreciation and view of the gorgeously complex, intricate arrangements. The recording lets them shine and makes them accessible in a way that’s not possible in a live performance and in a way that I didn’t expect after hearing a lot of heavily produced recordings that I was not fond of from other groups in the past.
The Nor’easters are famous for their storytelling in competition sets and the undeniably narrative 11-track album shows this off expertly. It begins with “Spectrum” by Florence and the Machine, the first and only single that they released from the album, a few weeks before the full album came out. It seems fitting that they would start off the new album with a song from the year before and from an outsider’s perspective, one of the songs that was the start of their powerhouse of a year and what began to shape them into the group that they are now. This track showcases everything that is great about the Nor’easters. The arrangement is beautiful and its many intricacies are heightened and more noticeable in this recording. It’s not over produced and the voices are clear and strong. The singing is beautiful and shows off the great individual voices and the wonderful way that this group works with one another to create a power and depth that is not present in most collegiate a cappella.
Equilibrium really hits its stride as we hit the tracks from their award winning ICCA set from 2013 with “Wrong Side of a Love Song” by Melanie Fiona soloed by the amazingly talented Sam Creighton and “Diamonds” by Rihanna soloed gorgeously by David Crozier, being as attention grabbing, beautiful, heart wrenching and emotional as they were on the finals stage last April. The only criticiques I have are, I think, potentially unavoidable hazards of recorded a cappella. One such issue is the lack of fluidity in tempo. I know that it’s not possible to have as flexible of a tempo while recording as it is on stage and I think that the lack of fluidness takes away from some of the songs, especially upon first listen. Because of this and some other factors, it could be said that the album sounds “too perfect” at times. Part of what makes the Nor’easters stand out is the rawness I was talking about before and part of that is the little imperfections that have been taken away by the meticulous recordings. Unfortunately, this is a casualty of most recorded a cappella but it’s certainly noticeable, especially to someone so used to live performances.
I could talk for hours about every song on this album but some other stand out moments for me were “Drumming Song” by Florence and Machine, “Princess of China” by Coldplay and of course, the closer, “Don’t You Worry Child” by Swedish House Mafia. The choice to bookend the album with the song that started their amazing year and the song that figuratively ended it as their ICCA closer was a beautiful symbolic choice for this group.
Equilibrium is the perfect culmination of the hugely successful year that this amazing group of people and singers had. It shows off all of things that make the Nor’easters who they are as a group: strength, innovation, teamwork, perseverance, emotion and beautiful music. The entire album is full of beautifully emotive, powerful solos and backed by an extremely cohesive group that clearly works very well together on stage and in the studio. This album does an amazing job of showing off everything that recorded a cappella can be and should strive to be. It’s intricate and musically interesting while remaining accessible and not over produced. A great album from one of the best groups in a cappella today that they should be extremely proud of.
Irene Droney’s passion for a cappella began in her younger years when she founded her high school’s first co-ed a cappella group. From then on she was hooked! As a student at Simmons College, she has become an active member of the Boston a cappella world as a singer, director and enthusiastic fan and critic. Irene is a double major in psychology and music at Simmons and she studies classical voice at The New England Conservatory. She also works as a waitress at a local bar and grille. In her free time that isn’t devoted to a cappella, Irene loves jogging, exploring Boston, Harry Potter trivia and cooking gluten free food. She could not be more excited to be a part of the ACB team!