HomeBlogsWarren B.'s blog5th Judge: The Sing-Off, Episode 3-6 (Oct. 24): Top 8 (2nd Hour)

Urban Method: seriously, y'all gotta chill out. Their opening video package makes them sound like they think they're being led to the slaughter or something. They're doubting their songs choices (and change it mid-week), they're worried about who should solo, they're stressing out over expectations that other people are supposedly putting on them… I'm getting stressed out just watching this. You're a really, really, really good vocal band, you're about to perform the same style of song that you've been performing for the last three appearances, and Mykal's flow still sounds insane. Why always the fighting?

Hmm. We already heard a B.O.B. song tonight, and "Airplanes" is definitely the less interesting song of the two tonight, so it suffers by comparison (in my mind, anyway). It's darker, certainly, but darker doesn't mean better, and Urban Method is at their best when they're high-energy. And while their performance tonight is definitely high energy on Mykal's part, once we're past the intro chorus, it's just not particularly interesting. I love "Nothing On You" because they are so many different musical layers to it, and this song is mainly one layer (again, after the intro). And the arrangement doesn't do anything to smooth out those edges-- the harmony leads are great, and the auxiliary effects like the crickets and the clock are great, but in the backgrounds there isn't enough to hang your harmonic hat on, especially on the last chorus (after Mykal's post-clock rap) where the voice-leading is awkward, and it sounds like two people are singing in 6ths(!), which is frustrating because Tony Huerta is downright acrobatic on the bass. Mykal said that he wanted more variety in the leads, which is a valid concern, but the leads (sung or rapped) should be the icing on the cake, not the cake. (I guess that would make Tony the plate.) Things finally come back together on the "pretend that" coda, which is quite haunting and will be the moment I remember most (good thing it was at the end!). This groups looks fantastic and are performing their butts off (Mykal's "ejection" from the group after the clock sound was brilliant), but instead of innovating like I expected, they mostly went pretty straight-ahead on the pop transcription route.

Pentatonix takes the re-write route, and hits it… not out of the park, but maybe a solid triple. Their take on Kanye West's "Love Lockdown" is the flip side of Urban Method's "Airplanes"; there's something about the five-person groups on this show (including North Shore) that make you appreciate the simple joys of great sounds put together well. And man, can they put sounds together well.



I appreciate that they've got two very different male soloists (Scott on baritone and Mitch on counter-tenor) and switch them off, as it distracts us (and I mean that in a good way) from the less full sounds they're able to create in relation to the larger groups they're competing against. And sometimes (read: all the time) a solid three-part harmony is more effective than several two-part harmonies weaving in and out of each other, particularly if you're trying to put across a strong emotional connection to the song. They all look like they're tortured in the second verse, which might be cheesy if they don't come through vocally, but they do. Both male solos are solid, and Avi's bass is like a caged animal about to bust out.

(Again, we have a song ownership mystery: who owns this rewrite?)

Holy moley, did Delilah bring back their A-game tonight with "How To Love". Not the power-ballading-- "Grenade" and "What Do You Want From Me"-- that we've heard in earlier episodes, although it does coincidentally involve "slowing down" (or half-timing) a song, but it's still really really good. Geena (so nervous in the video package), Hannah, and Ingrid step out as soloists for the first time this season (about time!) and kill it, their blend is solid considering the low-key nature of the arrangement, and Jo's contralto is unreal. Makes you wonder what they'd be capable of if they attempted something in Afro-Blue's harmonic world (like these ladies).



Sara B. expresses exactly why this worked this time: "You mean what you're saying up there, you're not trying too hard… it was coming from a really beautiful, authentic place, and that works the best for you-- don't forget that!" Technical critiques aside, Delilah was definitely not being themselves on "Heat Wave", as fun as it was; this is what what they do, and hopefully they'll learn from that and be able to carry this kind of passion into a song faster than 74 bpm.

The Yellowjackets, in yet another unlikely collegiate-hip-hop matchup, are going to attempt Lupe Fiasco's (and Modest Mouse's, sort of) "The Show Goes On". The first half of the intro is strong, with almost everybody (but a duet singing in a shaky unison) on a group syllable (oh? ah? aw?) with harmonies paralleling the descending bass we know we're going to hear momentarily. When everybody enters with the many layered parts, it's a bit anticlimactic considering that there are, like, a hundred guys on stage; I expect the backing parts to sound even louder (although they're arranged well otherwise), and the duet somehow suffers as a result too. Perhaps they should've had a tight quintet sing those opening chords, so they'd've had something to build onto, rather than something to subtract from. Four measures of subtracted-from textures go by, and then [?] starts on the rap… and it's insane, and may out-Lupe Lupe. (Yes, I've used "insane" twice now in this posting, but it's deserved here.) What a flow on this guy! His rap (starting at 0:29) alone, packed with 32nd notes (and deftly substituting "haters" for the N-word, even though it takes some of the meaning out of the line), is worth embedding the video:



I've been so distracted by [?]'s killer solo that I lost track of the backgrounds… and with good reason. It's a lot of "bahhhhh, bop bahhhhh, bop bahhhhhh" on triads, and it sounds like there's a lot of doubling of higher parts in the baritones, making this very glee-club and "collegiate". (Doubling worked for The Aires at the end of "Club Can't Handle Me", but they were doing an overtly choral thing, and doubled upward.) They've got a guy rapping in the low range, so this makes the doubling even heavier sounding in combination. What a shame. The second chorus works better with less overt busy-ness than in the first chorus; the breakdown ("quiet") chorus works much better than the first chorus, and is kind of reminiscent of the energy of "Wavin' Flag" (from the first episode). By 1:49, we've got a much cleaner arrangement in general; putting that tenor trio on the half-note "ah" up on top makes a world of difference. (My film scoring professor at Miami said if you have some ideas that should work together but aren't sounding right, "sometime you need to throw in some footballs.")

Based on tonight's bracket, I put Urban Method (reluctantly) and The Yellowjackets (semi-reluctantly) in a toss-up for last place, (Taken overall for the season, Delilah would've been in last place, but just by a hair; the five-group bracket format last week saved them.) The judges save Urban Method and send The Yellowjackets to face The Collective, so it'll be Big Group vs. Really Big Group in the first-ever battle round.

I have no prior experience with Nelly's "Just a Dream", so I'm going on group sound alone, although a minute-long excerpt is going to be tough to judge on; unless a group really shanks, I'm sure a lot of hair-splitting is going to be happening.

The Collective starts with a surprisingly shaky group harmony (on a V chord!); then their rhythmic background are pretty cool, adding a flanging line up top, and by the chorus everyone seems to be singing in their range. The coda (as it were) is quite powerful, with everyone again singing together comfortably and loudly. The final chord starts as a wide-voiced tonic minor-add2, which then… resolves? Why would you not end on a crunchy and always crowd-pleasing add2 if you've already hit it? Weird.

Putting these groups back-to-back is kinda cruel, because when the The Yellowjackets start on those ethereal choral harmonies, it almost seems unfair that a more creative and out-there arranging choice in the first ten seconds could determine the winner here, but of course it isn't unfair-- it's exactly what this show is about. The first verse background is reminiscent of The Collective's but much fuller and with a wider range, and now that comparison seems unfair, but of course it isn't unfair-- it's exactly what the show it about. Then there are new harmonic twists before we even hit the chorus, and The Yellowjackets, barring anyone collapsing on stage in the next 20 seconds, has won this.



And then they go ahead and game-show it up by ending somehow ending on a VI (at 2:45), and I wanted to make the ugly-face Shawn Stockman was talking about earlier, it's so unexpectedly good.

Shawn and Ben Folds, using the same apparent criteria, split the vote, with Ben preferring The Collective, which surprises me. (Then again, I have the benefit of watching this repeatedly on a DVR or online, so I don't blame a judge for basing a decision on an initial impression to a 60-second song.) Sara B. breaks the tie in The Yellowjackets' favor.

And then The Collective sound pretty good on their farewell song. "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" isn't the most perfect blend, but they're in tune, and they're matching the same sort of quiet intensity. We're left sadly wondering what could've been if they'd perhaps spent more time solidifying themselves as a group before competing. (I love that they're singing a song about entering heaven as they Go Into The Light.)

Speaking of death-related things: it's a Halloween theme next week? Seriously? They're really stretching for excuses to vary the song catalog. 'Til then, I'll be playing Afro-Blue's "Killing Me Softly" for my Glee-addled 5th-graders and telling them that this is how it's supposed to be done.

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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. Since returning home to New York, he's been musical director and/or bass and/or VP for numerous a-cappella projects in NYC, including pop/jazz quintet Doo*Wa*Zoo (Best Jazz Song nominee, 2000 CARAs), pop/rock sextet Dobsonfly (heard in the film The Rules of Attraction) and rock/R&B septet 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 Total Vocal, and was MD, co-arranger and sound tech for Minimum Wage's Blue Code Ringo at the 2002 NYC Fringe Festival, and co-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.

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5th Judge: The Sing-Off, Episode 3-5 (Oct. 17): Top 10 (1st hour)
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5th Judge: The Sing-Off, episode 3-6 (Oct. 24): Top 8 (1st hour)
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Comments

I was so excited for this review.

I feel like you lost interest in writing this part. :/ but Monday isn't realyl Halloween Themed, the intro is, but the rest is the whole 'Superstar-Medley' theme from last year. Remember the Beatles from Streetcorner and Lady Gaga from Backbeats? Yeah, that.

 

I tend to differ on opinions of Big groups vs. Small Groups. I feel the big groups are at a disadvantage. Too many people who may or may not have actual music mentalities. It ends up with more Unisons than harmonies, and you expect so much more from them, so they always disappoint. The smaller groups have more quality.  

As for Pentatonix..I'd never want them to be bigger. One extra person would spoil their sound. They have a bass, baritone, counter-tenor, alto, and VP. and they are ALL great. And what Kirstin lacks in range, she makes up for in attitude. 

 

Which, actually, it seems you're seeing that too. Haha. The massive groups just..don't do it for me. 

It's not all Halloween?

It's not all Halloween?  Thank goodness.  I don't think I could take a whole show of "Monster Mash" and "Spooky".

I don't think the small groups are at more of a disadvantage than the larger groups, or vice-versa.  Every size group has its advantages, drawbacks, voicing quirks, arranging strategies, etc.  I should prefer larger groups in theory, because they should be able to do more and do it bigger if they do it right, but yes, not every large group has 100% musicians on its roster who are thinking of their place in the chord and their balance in relation to everyone else, and then again not every small group arranges with maximum acoustical possibilities in mind.

I generally would say that six is better than five for a vocal band, but in Pentatonix's case, if you've got not only a great sound but also great chemistry like they do, don't fix what ain't broken.

Oh, gosh, that would have

Oh, gosh, that would have been horrible. How many halloween songs are there?

 

Also, PENTAtonix would have to change their name if they had another person. 

edit: just saying. lol, that was meant to be a joke. 

 

renaming Pentatonix

Hexatonix sounds like a perfectly acceptable name.  Or, even better, Sexatonix.

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