HomeRecording Review: “Electrify” by Kettering-Fairmont High School's Eleventh Hour

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Upon listening to Electrify, it is easy to understand why Kettering-Fairmont High School’s Eleventh Hour was chosen to be the first high school group on NBC’s "The Sing-Off". The album is jam-packed with talent. Between solid arrangements and solos that left me thinking, “these kids can’t be 17”, most of this album should make collegiate and even some post-collegiate groups scared of the talent creeping up behind them. But yes, I said most of this album.

Production and technical concerns aside, these kids are amazing. I would be remiss to not mention the wonderful singing that is happening all over this album. In fact, my jaw was practically on the floor as soloist Kendall Young delivered songs like Sara Bareilles’ “Morningside” and her mature, rich voice began The Carpenters’ classic “We’ve Only Just Begun”. The same goes for the unbelievably talented Colton Jones, who I still refuse to believe is in high school. One could only imagine my reaction while I listened to Kendall and Colton’s duet on Maroon 5’s “If I Never See Your Face Again”.  Even the short bass solo in “Thank You” left a lasting impression on me as I listened to the album over and over again.

While I have no overall critiques of the group’s performance (they are absolutely stunning), I did find the album rather inconsistent and often questioned the decisions being made in regards to production, song selection, and even the liner notes. It’s hard to tell how involved group members were in the final product, but someone should have known to at least include the original artists and songwriter of each track on the liner notes. Instead, the listener is only left with arranger and soloist, excluding the title track in which only Duwende is credited for their original song.

Furthermore, I wasn’t always sure I was listening to the same album. The 16 tracks could practically be split into 2 separate albums based solely along production lines. It seems as if those in charge gave the two mixers, Freddie Feldman of Vocomotion Studios and Eleventh Hour alum and JAG Studios owner John Gentry, completely different album visions to work with. One has really precise tuning and editing with very few effects besides octavized bass, while the other’s tuning is not as tight and was edited with lots of processing. Then again, the listener isn’t really hit over the head with production until track 11, an ethereal and haunting take on The Beatles “Because” that leads into the groovy title track, “Electrify”.

Overall the album is filled with song choices that seem surprising for a high school group. It is a mixture of what are now a cappella standards ( KT Tunstall’s “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree”), funky tracks  (Maroon 5’s “If I Never See Your Face Again” and Boys II Men’s “Thank You”), and some not-so-oldies (a mash up of  Crowded House and Sixpence None the Richer songs “Don’t Dream It’s Over” and “Kiss Me)”. Then there’s the odd track like Michael Buble’s “Haven’t Met You Yet” where the busy backgrounds cover the female solo and a simple and sleek arrangement of Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me” which ends the a cappella part of the album. Yes, the album ends with a non-a cappella track called “Carry Me”, which-- like the rest of the album-- is not credited but can only be assumed to be an original. While I enjoyed this beautiful female duet with guitar accompaniment, its inclusion on the album only left me wondering, “why?” 

However, the most unfortunate song choice was a sparse and treble-y arrangement of The Go-Go’s song “Our Lips are Sealed”. I had no real complaints with the track until every other mildly memorable Go-Go’s tune mysteriously made an appearance. Not only does this track seem bloated and full of stuff for the sake of having more stuff, the entire album does. At 16 tracks, there are definitely a few that seem to only function as filler. Sitting through 16 tracks of any album would also be much more enjoyable if they were all delivered with the same energy and commitment as songs like “Electrify” and “Thank You”. Even the mellowed arrangement of “You Belong With Me” just seemed to have more invested, quite possibly because of the singers’ familiarity with the tune, though I would never choose it for a closer. In fact, I was quite surprised by the track order. Rather than front-loading the album, there was just a lot of “meh” while all of the best tracks were left for the end.

It’s no wonder these kids got on national television. While the album is not perfect by any means, it truly is a great example of up and coming talent and why Eleventh Hour remains at the top of the high school game. I won’t be surprised if many of these tracks make it to compilations or win awards this year, but I can only ask for a more thought-out album the next time around. And I truly hope there is a next time around.

For more information on Eleventh Hour, visit www.eleventhhouracappella.org and be sure to catch them on NBC’s “The Sing-Off” starting December 6th.

About the author:
After studying music and recreation management at Florida State University, Lauren 'Lo' Barreiro moved to the Boston area and enjoying the a cappella lifestyle of the Northeast. While at FSU, Lo sang with the award-winning all-female group, AcaBelles, for four years and was the group's music director during the 2009-10 school year. Currently, Lo is a team member of The Vocal Company, an accomplished arranger, a regular contributor to CASA.org, and is an instructor at SoJam 2010.