It’s mashup night this Halloween on The Sing-Off. The group number starts off with “This is Halloween” from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. Interesting choice, with enough animation on the voices that everyone can find of find its own natural place in it. The Pentatonix lead guy takes us in another direction with Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London.” Fun. I like that this lead-in is honoring both the holiday and the mashup theme, though I do not envy the groups that needed to learn fragments of these songs in addition to their own three song pieces for their individual mashups. Ray Parker’s “Ghostbusters” is next on the docket. Fun fusion of vocal bits with some pretty cool, basic choreography. This may not be the most musical opening number we’ve heard on the show, but I’ll be darned if it wasn’t the most fun.
Urban Method leads us off with a mashup of Rihanna songs. The group starts with “What’s My Name.” First solo is meek and starts a little flat. We’re back to the overtop theatrics with the rap guy and first solo adancing up on one another—I don’t like it. This soloist neither looks nor sounds comfortable in the least. The beatbox is solid, but nothing else about this is really wowing me. “Umbrella” is the second leg. The solo is better, though also a bit understated here. Nice crescendo from the group sliding into the chorus. I could very much live without the box step choreography. And what’s with this E-Z listening backup vocal take on the chorus? This should be a power point in the medley, and they’re positively blowing it. On to the third leg, “Only Girl in the World.” Best solo yet, and the group seems most comfortable on this part, though the group still just doesn’t seem to have its usual swagger. Nice moment as the earlier soloists mash in their parts toward the close—probably the best element of the performance. I appreciate the decision to put the girls up front and prove that they can go, but the way things turned out, this went much further toward confirming my doubts than getting me on board the Urban Method bandwagon.
Sara says parts of this song really worked—particularly the end. She questions the group’s confidence early on, and wants them to sing their butts off more from the get-go. Shawn praises the decision to put the women front and center to show what the ladies can do. He compliments the final soloist, but asks the second soloist for more bravado. Ben says the transitions were really cool, and showed their production sensibilities. He thought “What’s My Name” worked well, but things came unglued in “Umbrella.” He says they wrapped up well on “Only Girl in the World,” and that, all in all, the girls did just fine.
Vocal Point is here with an Elvis Presley mashup. They kick things off with “Don’t Be Cruel.” They go old school announcer style on the intro, which is a fun little touch. Very basic start to the music with the soloist lent plenty of room to operate. He’s good, but not quite as bold as I’d really hope for on an Elvis song. Abrupt transition to “Can’t Help Falling In Love With You” but it’s the right choice on soloist here, with the “The Way You Look Tonight” guy. Very slick. Interesting maintenance of the earlier tempo which makes the overall mashup sound more cohesive, but also robs the song of it a bit of its emotion. The tempo changes as the song moves along, which is interesting and well-executed. Nice moment as the guys spread out and the soloist rips loose on the final bit. Smoother transition to “Jailhouse Rock” and the “Zoot Suit Riot” front man. This is very similar to that first performance we saw from Vocal Point this season, fueled on tons of choreography and a soloist who is as entertaining of a showman as anyone who has ever been on this show. You can see the influence of this group’s International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella experience in how they constructed this medley. The ICCAs give you twelve minutes to work with, which usually means three songs, with which each group has a good amount of space to show its range and work in its best licks. Smart work.
Ben says Vocal Point is back, and praises the mixture of grooves in “Can’t Help Falling In Love.” He praises the soloists one by one. Sara says we’re seeing the group in its element, lauds the second solo, and expresses her appreciation for the experimentation with the tempo. Shawn says he laughed, he cried, and he was forever changed by the performance. He says he was engulfed and excited to see what was next each time around.
Here comes Afro-Blue, giving us their take on Janet Jackson. The medley opens on “What Have You Done for Me Lately”. Jazzier interpretation of this than I would prefer on the opening, but nice bit of attitude and fire from the group once they get armed up. It’s interesting to watch the men and women interact with one another because it’s just so far less contrived, and so much more likeable than what we get from a group like Urban Method. The choreography is a lot of fun. Fun bit of scat and a nice transition to “When I Think of You.” The soloist is really fun here. Quite a jazz breakdown here, and I sort of have the feeling that the group has moved past putting a general-audience-friendly spin on jazz to actively throwing the jazz in our face and daring us not to like it. It’s not really to my personal taste, but I can’t deny it’s good. Also undeniably good—that steady bass groove. “Miss You Much” closes. Nice sound all around, though, the smiley faces on what should probably be a more emotionally intense number is a little distracting. It’s one of those subtle things that is hard to remember when you’re singing, but facial expressions can communicate so much—and it’s all the more important to consider in the televised context where you never know how close those cameras might be zooming in. Overall, a solid outing.
Shawn praises the choreography and says the bass guy was the anchor to hold it all together. He says the transitions were interesting, but over-thought at points, to the extent that they made certain songs difficult to recognize for periods of the medley. Ben praises the leads one-by-one. He said he appreciated the room to breathe on the first song, and thought the piece as a whole was really good. Sara said the mashup may have been too ambitious, and she got a little lost in the middle. She lauds each soloist.
The Dartmouth Aires are here to cover Queen. “Killer Queen” is up first. Fun facials from the solo and some fun choreography behind him, but I’m not thrilled with any aspect of the sound. Functional, but not sterling. Quick movement to “Bohemian Rhapsody”. The Galileo call and answer is fun. This is entertaining but the problem with this song is that, for the section they’re sampling, it’s so devoid of instrumentation that it’s hard to really get an a cappella group sound going aside for some of the choral parts. The upside is that they do get to show off individual soloists, and each of guy holds up his end of the bargain. As they’re about to hit the guitar solo, they slip into “Somebody to Love.” The default frontman gets the final high note from “Bohemain Rhapsody” and carries it into “Somebody to Love.” It sounds like he slips a little off key, but for how high he’s going, I don’t think many people will hold it against him. Quick cut into the first verse almost seems like someone missed a cue, but the soloist is off and roaring from there. He gets to his power notes and gets to rocks out a bit which bodes quite well for the group. They’re by far their best on this final leg of the medley. Excellent, patient, mature decision for the full group to fall out and give us a moment of silence before the soloist riffs sublimely on the ending. This is a really interesting case of song selection--on the one hand, these are phenomenal songs to get a crowd behind you, but the problem is they’re each so big individually big that you just can’t help to capture a significant portion of any given one of the songs with under-one-minute samples. They came the closest to realizing the potential of the music on “Somebody To Love”—good performance until then, fantastic finish.
Sara says this may have been her favorite performance of the show. She loves Queen and she couldn’t take her eyes off the show. Shawn says it was amazing and all the leads nailed it. He likens the experience to watching a Broadway play. Ben says each one of the group members was an MVP. He calls the “Bohemian Rhapsody” part perfect. He called parts flat, though the guys were compelling enough on stage that they masked it well. He celebrates the final solo, particularly for making it his own.
Pentatonix is next with the collected works of Britney Spears. The group opens on “Oops… I Did It Again.” I’m really digging the perc/bass dude for not only his sound but his body language on this one. Tons of fun. This is the best we’ve heard the female soloist, not quite blowing me away, but making it work quite well in her own voice. Surprisingly full sound from the group, and I think having all four guys in the background is clicking for them and giving them the fire power they’re usually missing when one of them has the lead. “Toxic” is next with the usual solo guy. I like him a lot for this part. Some really cool breaking audio effects worked in. The high parts really connect on this one. From a visual perspective they’re working the stage far better than they have in weeks past, moving without gratuitous choreography. The group wraps on “Hold It Against Me.” Great call to let the guys have an equal shake on the solo mic for this medley, making the sound their own. The decision to start with the traditional female lead and get more experimental was very smart. Big bass breakdown and they reach the mashing point with some bold choral attacks on each of the preceding three songs. I’ve been a skeptatonic most weeks, as regular readers know but, OK, I’ll admit it—this is phenomenal.
Shawn calls the group techno-a cappella DJs. He thought the final mashup was seamless and sounded great. He really liked the way they moved between songs. Ben calls the arrangement smart. He liked the opening solo and the transitions. He says their hard work paid off. Sara says the group has set a high standard for itself, and they packed a punch tonight. She was stoked with the female soloist.
Next up is Delilah with samplings from Alicia Keys. They lead off with “Fallin’”. Nice solo opening, and killer perc behind her. I really like the way they sort of slide into the backing harmonies. Very subtle and artful. I’d like to hear the group get a little bigger off the perc lead-in to the chorus, but they still have two songs to go so I’ll give them some room. Nice explosion on the solo toward the end of the chorus. Slick transition to “A Woman’s Worth.” A couple pitch issues early on here, but the difference between the women of Delilah and the ones from Urban Method is (among other things) that they’re not afraid to go for jugular on their vocals, and fight through for the song they want. The solos are excellent here, too. Nice choral wrap on this. Another fine transition to “If I Ain’t Got You.” Nice soulful solo and some killer moments as the girls continue to find ways to make their instants unison sound pop. Sweet little finish with the soloist given her space, and the rest of the girls harmonizing nicely to back her. Smart artist and song selection, and they executed the heck out of it. Interestingly, I usually get really bored with Alicia Keys a cappella, but this is how it’s meant to be.
Sara says the girls sang their hearts out. She calls the artist selection perfect for this group. She says she was nervous because “Fallin’” can be overdone, but they handled it very nicely. She says “A Woman’s Worth” got a little squirrely, but they brought her back with “If I Ain’t Got You.” Shawn thought the way the soloist flipped the riff on the opening was ill. He calls the performance sassy, humble, sexy, strong, and engaging, before settling on the adjective of beautiful. He lauds each soloist. Ben give first solo an A+, then assigns the same grade to each of the other leads. He compliments the way in which the low end anchored the piece throughout, and that the set up gave the final soloist an opportunity to really shine. He liked the perc a lot, too.
Here come The Yellow Jackets with their take on Billy Joel. The guys kick things off with “River of Dreams.” I really dig the way they stagger themselves around the stage. Just visually interesting. Clean sound on the opening and the tenor gets the chance to thrive from the middle. The solo is good, but his sound is still has too much of a classical tambor for my taste. A bit of jolting transition to “Always a Woman”. Good, clean sound again. Nice emotion on the solo. The tenor guy is the glue on the medley as he picks up the solo halfway through on this song, just like he did on the last one. Nice bit of continuity as the other soloist from the opener joins him up front for a few measures. The tenor’s voice cracks for an ugly instant, but to his credit, he plows through. On to “Uptown Girl” which is certainly the right song to close with—fun, theatrical, and well representative of their underdog status in this competition. Excellent handling of the solo here and the group does some interesting reimagining for the first time in the emedley, playing with dynamics and some moments of choral sublimity. Huge, soaring moments for the solo on the close.
Ben says the start was really great, and brought in some of the African influence in a good way. He said he usually doesn’t like mouth-cymbals, but they worked here. He liked the transition to “Uptown Girl,” and praises them all for singing their hearts out. They only worry him because they still have a group identity rather than individual standouts. Shawn says the YJs showed another side of themselves, particularly on the soft handling of “Always a Woman.” He compliments the final solo. Sara says she hearts The Yellow Jackets. She thinks this was as well as they have blended, and she really liked each soloist. She would have lost the VP on the middle. She says the challenge for them is channel their energy more efficiently; she worries they overpowered the solo on the ending.
Committed is here with a Chris Brown medley. This reminds me of when guest groups perform during ICCA deliberations, which reminds me—hey scholastic groups, the ICCA and ICHSA deadline is tomorrow. Stop procrastinating! Back to the show, yes the guys are singing “With You”—I’ve been begging for someone to do this up a cappella for three years now and this is the first time I’ve heard it. Like everything the guys do, it’s slick and solid. So much attitude and fire from Committed. Though I loved them this week, this is where you can see how far short Pentatonix is of a group of quite comparable size—they rarely pull off anything approaching this sound. I would never guess Committed only has six guys if I closed my eyes and just listened.
Elimination time. The Dartmouth Aires, Pentatonix, and Vocal Point are all safe. So are Delilah and Afro-Blue. This is the correct bottom two, but now it’s decision time—the group the underwhelming group the judges loved until last week, or The YJS who are seriously outgunned, but still singing with enough heart to deserve their spot. Urban Method is safe. Ouch. The YJs were probably overdue to head out, and it wasn’t likely three all-male collegiate groups would reach the final six. Still, sad to see the guys go. Classy parting comments from the guys. Their swan song is… oh… my…. Goodness, it’s Chumbawumba’s “Tubthumping” with a classical spin on the intro. Pretty well representative of this group—silly, energized and fun; a sterling representation of what not only this group is about, but what collegiate a cappella in general has to offer in it’s glorious quirkiness. Fare thee well, gentlemen.
Be sure to check back here at The A Cappella Blog this week for further analysis of this week’s episode and, of course, the updated Power Rankings!