The Sing-Off Season 4, Episode 1

TV

The wait is over, The Sing Off is back on NBC! A heads up--this review will be a little more stream-of-conscious than most of my live event reviews on account of wanting to get it posted tonight and it being a school night and all.

For the opening number we've got "Some Nights" originally by Fun. Well, the show's been off for two years--guess they had to make up for lost aca-time with one of the favorite songs for groups to cover over the last two years. It's hard to choreograph for a cast this large--admirable effort here. Typical Sing-Off fare with the groups rotating through the soloist. The performance medleys-on-up into "We Are Young" and "Carry On." Man, this is Fun. Pun intended, but really. I'm so happy right now that this show is back.

Nick Lachey is back in the hizouse, reminding us The Sing-Off is all vocals, no instruments. The theme for the night is signature songs that represent the group best. Ben Folds, Jewel, and Shawn Stockman occupy the judging table. Ben is glad to be back after being kept in storage for two years with the sets. Shawn calls the show a wonderful experience. Jewel says, "What's a cappella?" JK. She says Lachey's dimples are working hard and then self-references her snaggle tooth. Not gonna lie--a more charismatic start than I expected from the new judge. This has potential.

Vocal Rush is HERE! Let me rephrase that: the best high school a cappella group in the world is here. The reigning ICHSA champs lead off with Delta Rae's "Down To The River." Unified stomp perc to lead us in. Slick groove into the perc part as the tempo picks up. Holy bo-jangles, check that bass. Starmaking solo here. What's this? Stomp routine. Oh no they didn't. Good gosh this group is where fun meets talent to have a gaggle of beautiful love children.

Ben says the group was great, and singles out the perc for special mention. Shawn praises the group's maturity and use of dynamics, and dug on the step routine. You and me both, Stockman. Jewel chastises the other judges for talking for too long, then says it was a beautiful performance. She loved the swells of sound heading into the choruses, and says righteous anger is important for the youth for change to come about. Sh*t just got real.

Next up, here comes Home Free. Hardcore country up in here. A pair of brothers started the group in college, then recruited the rest of the guys to assemble their aca-road act. The guys introduce themselves to the world with "Cruise" by Florida Georgia Line. I like the choice to seat themselves on stools. Quasi-Street Corner Symphony vibe with the casual nature. Really lovely harmony from these dudes. And how 'bout that bass?! No wait, how 'bout that tenor?! Ladies and gents, The Sing-Off is back and I'm developing hetero-crushes galore.

Ben says the guys sounded like a record. Jewel liked the nice clear tones from the group, and particularly applauds the bass's range. Shawn calls country a white man's R&B. I can dig on that. He says the bass has a natural, freakish sound (in a good way) and says Rob should never lose his beard.

Here come The Princeton Footnotes, our first collegiate group of the night, straight out of the Ivys. They're singing Taylor Swift's "I Knew You Were Trouble When You Walked In." Interesting choice for dudes from this mold--subverting expectations perhaps. I'm on board. The guys sound very good, no doubt, but the two-man harmony on the chorus sounds a little off to me. Good to see some legit choreography. Very fun "We love you Ben" unison insertion. I like these guys, but this was the first act for which I felt like I could "see the strings" a little bit--not quite as polished or distinctive as the acts before them.

Shawn says he didn't think Taylor Swift would imagine the song sounding like that. He said the tenors and baritones had a lot of pressure on them and held out well. He liked the leads but wanted to hear them looser. Ben said there were more opportunities to insert his name. He said the opening chord was a great start, but he thought the harmonies came unglued. "Taylor Swift is a powerhouse of a writer," says Jewel. Talk about a sentence I never expected to write. She says she wanted the basses to make sure they were hitting their tonics more tightly.

Calle Sol is representing Puerto Rico. The group name means "sun street." The more you know. (Get it--the show's on NBC...OK, I'll stop.) They sing Rihanna's "Pon de Replay." Very professional presentation here--slick dance moves to accompany the smooth harmonies. And there's the Latin breakdown. What a NOTA-worthy choice. No? OK, I'll really stop now. Great perc. Wonderful energy from this group. I can't wait to hear them again to pay more attention to the technical aspects of their performance, because I was so swept up in the entertainment value on this go-round.

Ben says the group will need to find ways to find a fuller sound, though the bass and drum were holding it together. Jewel liked that the group had strong dancers and vocalists combined, and dug the rhythm. Shawn talks about the versatility of a cappella to reinvent song. He praises their ability to stay on pitch while dancing, though he did want to hear more from the mid-range vocals.

We're kicking it old school next with Street Corner Renaissance from Los Angeles. They explain that when they were coming up they didn't have instruments, so they sang together whilst working regular jobs. What's this? One Direction's "What Makes You Beautiful." Did not see that coming. Very, very fun reimagining of this song and I love the simple, perfectly executed harmonies here with the bass keeping the rhythm.

Shawn loves the old school three-part harmonies and the falsetto. Jewel says doo-wop is about feel--simple, hook-y melodies, which is why this song worked well in their format. Ben liked the choppy waters that these guys navigated with ease.

Time for the judges to pick the first group for the "ultimate sing-off." Tension is high. The Footnotes are going to war at the end of this show.

Ten is up next. The group hails from Dallas. They're a bunch of experienced backup singers banding together to drop it like it's hot on a national stage. They're singing "Tell Me Something Good," originally by Rufus and Chaka Khan. Love the 'tude from this whole group. Take note, kids--you never know when the camera (or an audience member in a live show) might be looking. Every player is conscious of that and both grooving and emoting their backsides off. This soloist is positively taking us to church! I think we may need a little more coagulation on the backing vocals, but if this group survives until deep into the competition, they may evolve into a real force.

Ben says the singers were amazing. He challenges the group to look more toward the song to drive the emotion of the piece. Shawn says they captured the soul of the song, but they need to work on cohesion and tighten their harmonies. Jewel says both judges are full of crap. OK, not really--but she does disagree. She thought the group harmonized very well and was feeling the story the soloist was putting out there.

Here comes Element, an all-female crew out of NYC, with Ellie Goulding's "Burn." Cool, eerie opening. Gosh darn it, can Jo Vinson (the bass) just be in every a cappella group? Her low-end adds such a profound, warm depth to every group she sings with (if you're familiar, check out Musae, Overboard, Delilah, or some old school Divisi). Great intensity of performance, and a really clever arrangement here--complex, spreading the spotlight, letting the harmonies shine. Excellent intensity on the finish, though I do wish they'd arrived at a little bit more of a moment to really stand out as they closed the song.

Jewel thought the arrangement was smart and lauded the swirling drum effect on the intro, but cautions them against rushing the tempo. Shawn wants to hear the group give itself more room to grow throughout a song. Ben says the performance was creative, but encourages them to explore them any different options to keep building upon their songs.

VoicePlay comes to us from Orlando after a tenure singing in a theme park. Five guys, one woman, one mission. Let's do this. They sing "Feel This Moment" originally by Pitbull ft. Christina Aguilera. Honey didn't quite blow me away on that intor but we'll see wehere this goes. Nice bass, but I can't help feeling the group sounds is a little hollow. Nice falsetto unison en route to the bridge. Fun breakdown. It's like this group is the bastard lovechild of Pentatonix and The Cat's Pajamas with a handful of truly electric moments, tempered by some pretty generic a cappella. I'm guessing they're safe for another episode at least--I'll be interested to hear more from them to figure out what's really going on here.

Shawn thought the track was inconsistent, but ultimately good. Jewel liked the choice of create something interesting over and over on a dance track. Nick prods Ben for a big word. Ben says, "endoplasmicparticulum." This is what happens when you challenge Ben to a duel. He says the harmonies were good, but they lost focus when they passed around the lead--a more consistent line through it would have pleased him.

Presenting, The Filharmonic a Filipino boyband based out of LA. "Treasure" by Bruno Mars. Killer charisma from this soloist. Sometimes ou can tell something about a group by the way they position themselves on stage. While spreading out might read better for live performance, the tight clustering of the guys here demonstrates how tight they all are as friends and fellow musicians. Very fun second solo on this one, stepping on up to serenade Jewel. Very slick harmonies from these guys.

Jewel was flattered by the guys' attention. Ben loved that they kicked off with killer energy, though they got ahead of the tempo. Shawn observes the smooth harmonies and that they maintained their groove. He said their charisma made them fun to watch, though they had a few flaws.

Fresh out of the University of Kentucky, here come The AcoUstiKats. Oh, how I love a capitalization pun. They're shown being bros, serenading women, and surviving in the shadow of Kentucky basketball. They sing "Blurred Lines" originally by Robin Thicke. The ending feels a little rushed to me, the falsetto not quite clicking. I'm digging on the new soloist heading into the chorus. Good charisma and comic sensibilities here, but not so different from The Footnotes, I can't excape the sense that this is a bit generic for a stage this high profile. The falsetto is more on point in the end game.

Ben says the guys were fun, but it was responsible fun, though they rushed when it got fun. But aw shucks, the fun was still infectious. Shawn was afraid it would be an AcoUstiKatastrophe, but it worked. He praises Ron for covering three different octaves. Jewel says the performance made her giggle, and dug their gyrations. She says Ron did a good job of balanacing his classical training with pop phrasing.

It's quasi-elimination time again. Who's squaring off with The Footnotes in the ultimate sing-off of death and doom? It's VoicePlay.

The song of choice is N Sync's "Bye Bye Bye." Uh-oh, we have slow motion dance fighting beteen the two groups. The Footnotes have the numbers advantage and sync up well but they're no match for the solo stars of VoicePlay. Though the boys do execute some fun choreography including somersaults and borderline twerking. VoicePlay plays with the tempo, mixing it up at will. I'm seeing more PTX from them in this round, and would have to say they won this riff... er, sing-off handily.

Nick says for one group, this is, "Bye, bye, bye." Jewel pouts, "This isn't funny." Ben says if either group did what they did in the sing-off round when they performed earlier in the show, they wouldn't be in elimination scenarios.

Sure enough, The Footnotes are headed home. The guys have plenty to be proud of, and I'm glad to have heard them. That said, I do feel it was the right choice for week one.

Thus far, I'd have to say Home Free and Vocal Rush are the front runners for this season, with Calle Sol and Ten as potential dark horses.

I had a ton of fun watching this episode. For real-time reactions, be sure to follow @acappellablog on Twitter (not live-blogging on Facebook, lest I clog Newsfeeds too aggressively). Be sure to check back Wednesday for ongoing coverage of The Sing-Off!