The a cappella world has its share of groups that have enjoyed long-term success—thriving in the recording studio and in competition, crossing over to garner mainstream attention beyond the confines of the a cappella world.
When we think of groups like that—groups with a wide range of successes, groups that sound great, and groups that have been hitting landmark after landmark over a period of years, there are few that hold a candle to On the Rocks.
The group was founded at the University of Oregon in 1999 by Leonardo de Silva and Peter Hollens (yes, class="redactor-inline-converted">that Peter Hollens who has gone on to mad success as a solo YouTube sensation). In 2002 and 2003, the group would place at ICCA Finals, and 2004, 2006, and 2009 would see them land tracks on the Best of Collegiate A Cappella compilation.
In 2010, the game would change. First, On The Rocks uploaded a video of them “Rick-rolling” a New York City Subway that grew wildly popular. From there, they released a music video to their new recording of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.” Well arranged, well sung, well produced, and wildly entertaining from a visual perspective, the video was a smash success, instrumental in the a cappella boom that continues to this day, not to mention wildly influential in so many other all-male groups covering Lady Gaga and other female pop artists in the years to follow. The video also paved the way for On The Rocks to find their way onto The Sing-Off, reaching a truly national audience via multiple appearances on NBC.
But what has the group been up to since?
Though On The Rocks hasn’t been operating at quite as high a profile, they’ve exploded back onto the scene class="redactor-inline-converted">today with the release of a brand new single, a mashup of Justin Timberlake’s “That Girl” and “Pusher Love Girl.”
The tracks opens with a pristine take on “That Girl”—largely stripped down, driven by a powerful rhythm section led by vocal percussionist Donovan Cassell, featuring a super clean lead and backing vocals soaring over it. Two minutes in, the group seamlessly crosses over to “Pusher Love Girl,” pushing the tempo ever-so-slightly, employing a fuller sound and letting a falsetto lead really shine over the course of the song, leading up to a beautiful fallout moment for the leads to operate unaccompanied on the final lyrics. The solo work by Nick Grant and Ethan Alvarez across the track really shines.
It would be easy for a track like this too run too long, or to feel like it represented two disparate pieces wedged together, but between a slick arrangement, execution by the group, and production (recorded by Russell Kamp and Peter Hollens, mixed by Ed Boyer, and mastered by Bill Hare), this mashup is a huge success in terms of feeling cohesive, and consistently communicating the overarching sense of easy, sexy swagger, intrinsic to Timberlake’s original songs.