Picture this: a young athlete, brimming with talent and potential, bursts into the national spotlight for his skill in some sport. He (or she!) is exciting and new, and teams are eager to sign him to their roster. But, despite all of the talent, all of the hype, and all of the possibility, his performance is disappointingly ordinary – good, but not great. It isn't hard to imagine, and it's not uncommon. On their debut album, Get Ready, The Exchange runs into similar problems – lots of raw talent that remains untapped, and, in the end, is good but not great – an underwhelming testimony to the group's potential.
Each of the five members is extremely talented – it's clear that they all have great voices, good musical intuitions, and plenty of a cappella experience. The album begins with a solid opener, Jessie J's “Domino” with samples from “Glad You Came,” by The Wanted. Soloist Aaron Sperber demonstrates a shining tenor range and performs a solid rendition of the song. His voice quality and tone is almost too good – a problem that occurs on his other solo track, Maroon 5's “Payphone,” in which he sounds too sterile for the style of the song. Following the energetic opener, “Lonely Boy,” opb The Black Keys, falls flat – perhaps not the best choice for the group, nor the best arrangement. Perhaps the biggest appeal of The Black Keys is their raw energy and attitude, both of which this performance lacks.
“Lonely Boy” highlights a recurring problem throughout the album – the arrangements are solid, but oftentimes follow the original too closely, instead of being adapted for the group's style, size, and strengths. There are moments of arranging brilliance, especially with “I Feel Good” (on which soloist Alfredo Austin is particularly superb). Tracks like “Home,” opb by Philip Phillips, and “Take Me Away,” opb John Legend, come close, but end up falling just short of greatness. Nearly all of the arrangements are solid, but in the over-processed “Where Have You Been,” arrangers Christopher Diaz and Austin make puzzling choices – especially in deciding to sample “Thriller” in the middle of the song. Though it works harmonically, these talented arrangers (who shine at other points in the album) seem to arbitrarily throw the song in. Mashups are fun, but the ones that really stand out are those that are linked thematically, not just musically. Thus, “Thriller” makes little sense paired with Rihanna's song, and the result is enigmatic – and not in a good way.
The second half of the album shines more than the first, with an especially fun and rousing performance of “Sexy, Free, and Single,” opb Super Junior, a boyband from Korea. The arrangement is a blast, all of the members shine at various points in the song as soloists, and the genre works perfectly for the group. The penultimate song, “See You Soon,” is an original – written, arranged, and sung by Christopher Diaz. The song is musically solid and interesting, with an especially creative nod to Jingle Bells in the middle. We end with the strongest track yet – “Can't Hold Us,” by Macklemore – and is probably the most fun, authentic, and organic song on the album. The vocal percussion is exciting, Austin and Jamal Moore deliver the rap and vocals (respectively) with excellent energy, and everyone sounds like they're enjoying themselves.
All in all, Get Ready is a good album that gets a lot right, but falls just shy of greatness on several occasions. The group plays it safe, taking few risks, and it results in a safe and solid album. In the future, I'd love to see The Exchange try for more creativity and diversity that can show off the group's talent and musicality – one that really elevates the music beyond just notes on the page and a good soloist. They've just stepped onto the field for the first time, brimming with natural ability, expertise, and potential. Now it's up to them to refuse to settle “ordinary,” but to instead strive for greatness, and – once they do – they'll be unstoppable.
Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Listen: “I Feel Good,” “Sexy, Free, and Single,” “Can't Hold Us”
Skip: “Lonely Boy,” “Where Have You Been”
About the writer:
Gabrielle Cornish is a senior at the University of Rochester, where she is double majoring in Music and Russian Studies with a specific research interest in Russian musicology. Though primarily trained in classical percussion, she also plays guitar, piano, and sings. Additionally, she is the musical director for Rochester's Trebellious Co-ed A Cappella, for which she has arranged several songs.