HomeRecording Review: The Richmond Octaves, "Ricochet"

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When I received Ricochet, the new album by the Richmond Octaves, I didn’t exactly know what to expect. I had listened to the Octaves before, on Voices Only 2006 and BOCA 2007, but I hadn’t heard much from them after that.

The album, as the all-male group describes in their liner notes, is a collaboration of new ideas and new ways of thinking. It was clear they were influenced by workshops at SoJam, assistance from Tom Anderson, who arranged five of the songs on the album, and various a cappella recording companies such as Diovoce, VocalSource, Emerald City Productions, Ed Boyer A cappella, T2 Productions, and The Panic Room. Group member Chase Brightwell wrote a succinct explanation of how the group approached this new album, evolving their ideas from pieces of their twenty-two year history. Before I had even listened to the album, my expectations changed from indifferent to excited. I wanted something new, something bold, something exciting.

I was not disappointed.

Several tracks on Ricochet can only be described as “a cappella lessons” on how to execute something right. The first track, “Never Close Our Eyes,” and the fourth track “Too close,” are masterful examples of how to use the studio as an instrument, not just a means of recording your arrangement. Not only were the arrangements inventive, but it was clear, at least to me, that the Octaves learned how to get the most out of the studio. I hold the opinion that if you are going to spend time and money into an album, it should be the absolute best product you can make, regardless of your a cappella philosophy.

A similar amount of praise goes to track six, “Basket Case,” track seven, “Hold On Loosely,” and track eight, “Oh Oh Oh My My My.” Having listened to many a cappella albums, I believe one of the most important factors any a cappella track should have is “re-playability,” or what I call the “desire for the listener to hear that track over and over again.” These three tracks, six for its gorgeous arrangement of a Sara Bareilles song, seven for the energetic and stylistically accurate solo Sean Brewer, and eight for the inventive mix and colors of sounds, make me want to hit repeat on my iPhone again and again.

The album is not perfect, however. While it should be noted that not a single track ever fails to grab your attention, some arrangements stick out more than others and some tracks did not embrace the Richmond Octaves philosophy of going “even farther.” Tracks two, “Little Lion Man,” three, “Colder Weather,” and twelve, “The Show Goes On,” while wonderful arrangements and mixes, felt like the Octaves were playing it safe. Track two opens with a strange mix of scat syllables, which I applaud, but I don’t know if the right syllables were chosen. Track twelve was good, but as the closing track of an already impressive album, it fell a little flat.

My biggest critique was the placement of each song. I felt that the entire album was slightly uneven. When I listened to the album as a whole, my natural instinct was to love one track, and then wonder why the next track was placed in that particular spot. I wonder if maybe a re-working of the track order might have elicited a more balanced response.

Criticisms aside, the Octaves should be immensely proud of their accomplishment. I’d wager that almost any one of these tracks could and probably will appear on the next round of compilation albums. The Octaves set forth to re-invent their image, to ricochet off the alternatives destiny offered them, and they succeeded.

http://richmondoctaves.com/

http://www.casa.org/groups/richmondoctaves

About the writer:
Marc Silverberg is a doctoral fellow at Five Towns College. He is the author of “Quest for the A cappella Major,” a blog that discusses the continuing education of contemporary a cappella music and group improvisation. He has presented workshops on vocal improvisation at several CASA.org sponsored festivals, as well as the American Choral Directors Association’s 2013 national convention. His CAL Group, Satellite Lane, was recently crowned the 2013 New York Harmony Sweepstakes “Audience Favorite,” as well as the recipient of “Best Arrangement.” In addition to being an a cappella clinician, conductor, and performer, he also writes original musicals and plays. His original work, He’s Not Himself, premiered Off-Broadway in 2012 as part of the New York Music Theatre Festival. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware and Westminster Choir College.