HomeBlogsWarren B.'s blog5th Judge: The Sing-Off, episode 3-3 (Oct. 3): round 2, bracket 1 (1st hour)

The contest gets marginally less arbitrary this week, as the remaining twelve, originally from four brackets of four groups each, are, um, split in two brackets of six groups each.  I think.  Wouldn't be easier if we just had head-to-head death matches?

The opening chords of Keane's "Somewhere Only We Know" are so very, very thick, which is of course a result of great mixing of dozens of pre-recorded tracks, and throughout the song there some odd pairings of soloist from different groups, but damn, this is a really, really good showcase for contemporary a-cappella-- that is, what's possible when you use a full spectrum of voices without having to rely on effects.

I know that each episode has to appear to be in the moment when broadcast, but the set already seems a little too Christmas-y, no?

Kendall Young of Delilah looks smoldering as usual. Sorry, what were we talking about?

And, as always, we go from a massive wall of sound, to The Theme to Dullsville, to The House Jacks' brilliant and grungy minor-key music bed. Hell, make that the theme song.

BYU's Vocal Point is about to launch in Justin Bieber's "Never Say Never". I'm not familiar with the song, but I'm going to assume that it's going to be a) energetic and b) yet somehow boring, which is my general impression of Bieber's music. Sure enough, the verse is eh (though energetic), and the chorus is… wait for it… IV to I to V. What a shock. The interlude after the chorus is surprising rhythmically interesting.

Shawn Stockman says he's glad they didn't take themselves too seriously, but it's not like this is really good song with a goofy undertone (like "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" or "Safety Dance"); it's a bad song, so how are you supposed to take it seriously?

Delilah's impressive re-arrangement of Whataya Want From Me starts with a great tutorial in putting harmonies together, and then launches into a powerhouse chorus, and then bookends itself really nicely. Aside from the intentional unison and duet moments, there's very little that's distracting from a voicing perspective here, other than the odd duet on "nothing wrong with me" which should've been a trio (and other than this group's persistent overall hotness). Ben notes exactly what I was thinking halfway through the song: even after hearing Adam Lambert's recording on the radio countless times, I never really got any emotional resonance from it until this performance. When a great arrangement and revelaton of new lyrical meaning converge in a performance-- much like how Talk of the Town flipped the script on "House of the Rising Sun" last year-- it's a pretty magical moment

Amy Whitcomb may have let her emotions go a bit too far here (Sara Bareilles notes her emoting-related pitch issues), but man, overall this just plain rocked.

Urban Method take on The Black-Eyes Peas's "Just Can't Get Enough" takes a while to take off. During the first section, featuring the duet of Liz and Troy, the bass (Tony Huerta!) and VP really drive things, and the soprano rhythm parts sound distractingly dissonant in spots, even though they were probably intentionally arranged that way. (I'm not familiar with the original, so for all I know that's how it's "supposed" to sound.) Samantha (watching with me the first time) says that Liz does not have "it" (i.e. star power), particularly in contrast to Troy. I agree for the most part, but not because she has a bad voice or bad presence; she's got more of a musical-theater actor's idea of vampishness, as opposed to the animal ferocity we're getting from Troy, who most definitely has "it".

I'm all about sudden tempo and style changes in the middle of a song, and I'm all about Myke taking center stage like he's bursting out of a cage, but the tonal center disappears, and by virtue of the structure of the song it never comes back. I'm sure there's a "true to the original" reason that this is harmonically vague, but after two minutes of an actual key existing, it feels like a cop-out.

Oh, Afro-Blue. In week 1 they were so, so, so nasty. The idea that they and Delilah are in the same bracket is really annoying, because it should never even come close to being a contest between them yet-- they're the top two groups in my opinion and should've been seeded as such.

While their package and performance last week was filled with all sorts of altered chords, I didn't peg them for a jazz group, and then in this week's package we hear some jazz going on, which make me wonder: will we finally hear some true big-band style jazz adaptations of pop tunes on this show?

The answer… is yes, kind of.

The polyrhythmic introduction to "American Boy", while innovative and very ambitious, is rhythmically sloppy until everyone is finally in, and the first verse, while wonderful harmonically dense (and those bass licks!), can't quite decide what genre it's in, which gets very distracting. The fact that their VP is not up to the task at all doesn't help matters. My favorite part, and the only part that truly gels, is the half-time section from "walkin' that walk, talkin' that slick talk" section to the turntable effects, which is gorgeous. Then the men all come upstage and the middle three go off on a trio that collides with the women's harmonies. This feels more like counterpoint than close-harmony, and it's a potentially explosive arranging moment that's squandered, which almost makes me angry. Usually on the first viewing (using my stereo's speakers on moderate volume) I'll think a song sounds mediocre and then on second viewing (in headphones) it'll sound much better; in this case it's the opposite. Samantha, who's not a musician, thinks this sounds incredibly difficult; the problem here is that what they're doing is indeed incredibly difficult, and it doesn't gel like you'd think it would from a group that had more harmony per square inch any other group in the first round.

I totally understand why the judges gush all over this (although Shawn's Harlem Renaissance metaphor is a bit of a stretch): this performance had a lot of levels and was probably mind-blowing in person. Does degree of difficulty carry much weight with me, watching on TV? Only because I know that this could've been much better based on the slickness we saw last week ("Put Your Records On"). The judges do seem interested in keeping groups that seem to have growth potential, and we already know that Afro-Blue is brilliant, so I'd say this performance, while far from perfect, cements them a place in the next round, if only because I can't freakin' wait to hear them do this kind of thing again when they do nail it.

The Univ. of Rochester's Yellowjackets (whose outfits appear to have left out in the rain too long) have made a risky choice with Taio Cruz's "Dynamite". It certainly won't be a harmonic challenge-- pretty much the whole song is vi7, V, I, IV-- and there's the rub: a big group like this needs to justify its existence with a sound that matches its sheer numbers, so they've got do something interesting with a snorefest of a song like this.

The verse and channel ("it goes on and on and on") have some great layers to them, with a quirky solo, the counter-tenor line up top and some great group flanging, leading into a well-deserved full-and-loud group-on-text chorus. Then something fails to happen in the second half of the chorus ("we gonna rock this club"), when the drums kick back in but not very strongly and we're left with just a massive block "ah" for background, which is a terrible disappointment. The bridge is very interesting, although I'm having trouble finding the harmonic center at times; thank goodness the "hands in air" chord (V13add4?) is damn good. (Oh god, that "wa-ka-ka-ka!" pseudo-drum fill is just embarassing.)

The final sequence is a hard samba (is that what it is?) that's voiced thin considering their numbers, but this is what "not taking yourselves too seriously" means: these hams look they're having the time of their lives, and it almost distracted me from the emptiness underneath. Not entirely, but pretty close.

Kinfolk 9 gives it a go with "Price Tag" (one of my favorite songs of the year). They have definitely stepped it up since their last episode, and this is a really good arrangement in the verse, with multiple trios and duets dovetailing with each other over a steady bass and under a series of great leads and duets. (Although it's a great lyric, the "low blows and video ho's" moment was a little, um, uncomfortable.) The stop-time moments are really tight, too!

And just as I'm thinking it's going to build into some monstrous climax that totally blows away our preconceived notions of the group… the song ends after only one minute and 48 seconds! This structural editing of the songs is starting to get out of hand. And I'm just left disappointed at what could have been.

[End of first half. To be continued...]

About the author:
WARREN BLOOM is a vegetarian libertarian feminist capitalist musician educator. He was a founding member of mixed pop group Spur Of The Moment at Brandeis Univ., sang with Jazz Vocal 2 at the Univ. of Miami (Best College Jazz Choir runner-up, 1997 DownBeat awards), and musical-directed the summer pro group The Hyannis Sound. Upon returning home to New York, he joined the NYC jazz-pop quintet Doo*Wa*Zoo (Best Jazz Song nominee, 2000 CARAs). Since then he's been musical director and/or bass and/or VP for numerous a-cappella projects in NYC, including Dobsonfly (heard in the film The Rules of Attraction) and Invisible Men (Audience Favorite, 2005 New York Harmony Sweepstakes; 4 out of 5 on RARB). He served as a staff arranger for an early incarnation of the Ultimate A Cappella Arranging Service, and was MD, co-arranger and sound tech for Minimum Wage's Blue Code Ringo at the 2002 NYC Fringe Festival, and arranger for their 2007 off-Broadway production. He spent a year as a composer/lyricist in the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theater Workshop, but left to be director of instrumental music at Talent Unlimited High School in Manhattan. He currently teaches general music (K-5) at the Robert Fulton School (P.S. 8) in Brooklyn Heights, and has spent nine summers teaching musical theater (middle & high school) at the Usdan Center for the Arts in Huntington, L.I. "On the side" he's judged 17 ICCA and ICHSA shows since 2002 (including both 2006 finals), and is a freelance voiceover artist, live sound tech and music copyist. He holds music degrees from Brandeis Univ., the Univ. of Miami and CUNY Hunter College. He's from the beigest place in the world, and currently resides with his cutie and her cat in the Ditmas Park neighborhood of Brooklyn.

The Sing-Off, episode 3-1 (Sept. 19), 1st hour: round 1, bracket 1

The Sing-Off, episode 3-1 (Sept. 19), 2nd hour: round 1, bracket 2

The Sing-Off, episode 3-2 (Sept. 26), 1st hour: round 1, bracket 3:

5th Judge: The Sing-Off, Episode 3-2 (Sept. 26), 2nd Hour: Round 1, Bracket 4


song titles...

unfortunately (ha), the title of Delilah's song is spelled Whataya Want From Me.  Very sad, I know.

Jim Diego
New York City Metro Area CASA Ambassador
http://www.facebook.com/acanewyork // http://www.facebook.com/groups/acanewyork
The Red States 2007-present // http://www.redacappella.com

shame on me; shame on Adam Lambert (or P!nk)

I was on that song's Wikipedia page and didn't notice the different spelling.  Shame on me.

That said, this might explain why Lambert's version never resonated with me: the spelling is like a throwaway, with little to invest in.  You definitely hear Lambert singing "Whataya want from me!" (or "whaddaya" as I've always assumed it was spelled) like it doesn't matter in the grand scheme of his pop confection, while I recall (imagined or not) that Delilah sang "What do you want from me?" with actual meaning.

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