HomeBlogsWarren B.'s blog5th Judge: The Sing-Off, Episode 3-7 (Oct. 31): Top 7

So, about this opening number: it's kind of out of control. I'm ashamed to say I still haven't seen The Nightmare Before Christmas, so the harmonic slipperiness of "This is Halloween" is new to me, and it's pretty good. (Having pre-recorded tracks probably held this together though.) "Werewolves of London" has a meandering lead (like in the Warren Zevon original) that trades off between four guys, and each snippet seems to gets more and more meandering, but given the context I can deal with it. "Ghostbusters" might the most musical of the three; at least is has some harmonic interest in the bridge. This is easily the most elaborate number ever attempted on this show-- in terms of costuming, staging, choreography, sets, lighting, dry ice-- and everyone on stage looks like they're working their tails off.

And close-ups of everybody sweating and panting in exhaustion leads into…

…the Theme to Dullsville. It's almost like a slap in the face.

Each "superstar medley" tonight gets three whole minutes! More time for emotional arcs and proper song structure, right! So, with three songs excerpts per medley, that's… a minute per song. Yikes, I guess this a step backward, then.

Competition begins, and Urban Method is set for a "superstar medley" of Rihanna songs. "What's My Name" is a rather risque song that gets further sexed-up by Mykal's undulating with Katie. It's a decent arrangement, although considering the undulating it still lacks the muy caliente vibe you'd expect from a song where Rihanna sings the words "what's my name?" The last chorus (which feels like the hundredth) is pretty solid-- high-voiced block chords on I/IV to V/I, then some interesting background pairs of 16ths moving stepwise up and down… and then a crazy unprepared modulation that, even on the fifth viewing, I can't visualize in my head until we're two bars in and I'm shocked we're already in a new key.

Really impressive idea, and kudos to them for being able to think ahead in the new key; sounds like they went from the IV of the original [major] key to the IV of the new key (a major third up). More kudos to Tony on bass (as usual) for smoothing that out. "Umbrella" grooves much harder: the key changes gives it some novelty, Liz is stronger here than in previous leads, Mykal throws in some rhymes, the VP locks in, and things are just more fun here in general. "Only Girl in the World" starts out with great voicings, but then on the chorus there are some surprisingly low voicings in the "house" stabs, weakening the sound all-around. The kick drum keeps things together, and it ends on a good vibe.

Shawn Stockman says it's great to see the ladies highlighted, and… wait a minute.. they made a big deal in their video package about featuring their women up front… and then they forgot to feature the smokin'-hot Kim. Um, she's one-third of their women. Three solos for three women would've been the logical thing to do, right? Weird.

Vocal Point and Elvis are a good pairing, considering their rock 'n roll tendencies. Man, they can do some amazing horn section stabs-- reminds me of the end of the Aires' "Club Can't Handle Me" last week-- and their blend is super tight. I didn't think much of "I Can't Help Falling In Love With You" until the modulation , which takes a couple of beats to fall into harmonic place, but when it does those voicings are gorgeous (and Tanner's UB40 groove doesn't hurt). The last chord of the "song" sounds like someone tried to find the add2 and then changed his mind. The transition into "Jailhouse Rock" also sounds incomplete somehow; the bass doesn't get low until the beginning of the lead, when he could've come in handy four measures earlier to establish the key and relieve some of the blend problems. [McKay?]'s lead is killer, covering for a rather predictable background arrangement (compared to the striking intro)… until the final sequence, which is a strong take on the traditional blues ending leading to a fabulously thick tonic-- without a keyboard I'm going to say it's a 7(13,+9)?-- that gets everyone on their feet.

In Afro-Blue's video package, Danielle leads the first six beats of Janet Jackson's "When I Think of You" and I thank God for this show, because you know they're going to do what they do with this song and nail it.

(How many hairdos can Mariah go through in two minutes? Just so y'all know, Mariah has been my new obsession from this group since her brief lead in "I Wanna Dance With Somebody", and seeing her with the permed '80s updo instead of her usual pixie side-sweep is just disheartening.)

"What Have You Done For Me Lately", actually, is a surprising choice as it's not a particularly harmonically interesting song in the verse or chorus. Yes, they find ways to make things interesting, but they usually have a better chord progression base to work from. And as a result, the aformentioned verse and chorus makes for perhaps their weakest moments of the season; I see ten people on stage but there's just a bass, VP, three-part lead and very sparse backgrounds. Sounds like they went the pop-transcription route this time, and they're so much better than this. The bridge is far better for them (and not coincidentally is the most interesting part of the song); it's more conducive to traveling triads, and oh my God they're doing those cascades again, and then they use the cascade as a modulation (at 0:50). How in the… how is that… I can't even wrap my head around this.

I love the harmonies in the rest of the bridge per se, but it's not the typical thickness we're used to hearing from them; the guys don't sound like they're pulling their weight. And then they go into a jazz trio downstage center that confused the heck out of me at first. I don't mind a good random jazz breakdown, but this seems particularly out of place, as I couldn't hear any thematic point to it… until the fourth viewing, when I finally realized that Reggie is laying down the bass line to "When I Think of You", making the transition so much cleaner, and I am humbled at their genius. When they enter the song proper, it's super smooth, but again I'm surprised at how relatively simple the harmonies are; these "oo" chords are major7's, which is something they rarely leave alone. Again, I'm finding myself-- *gasp!*-- a little bored here. Fortunately, Danielle knows how to work a stage (we saw a glimpse of that in the group number too), which is a nice distraction.

And then they jazz-swing out the end of "When I Think of You", and I'm awake! I'm awake!. So much fun to hear this happening. The transition into "Miss You Much" (following a good old-fashioned '80s dance-off) is perhaps more jazzy than the song deserves, which underscores their less-than-stellar song selection this week. (Was "Let's Wait Awhile" or "Together Again" not available for licensing?) Now Eliza comes up front for the first time ever; she has probably the "girliest" voice of the group, which I suppose is an advantage in a Janet Jackson medley. She's doing okay, and then in the chorus section the entire group works its usual twisty harmonic way… to a simple i to a simple bVII! A plain vanilla minor triad to a plain vanilla major triad! If this were North Shore, it'd work, but not with them; I can't believe this slipped through. I know asking for harmonic acrobatics at every possible moment is a lot to ask for, but their previous songs have really spoiled me for that. They do go to a V7(+9,+5) right after, but now the jazz chords are jarring, while under normal circumstance those kinds of chords would drive the song. A series of tonic mi6 (with a melody that sounds suspiciously like the verse of Prince's "I Would Die For You") on a repeating rhythm takes us to "the end?"

Altogether, while certainly not the weakest song of the night, and while obviously a tremendous undertaking, this may be their least interesting sounding performance since "Grapevine". When Sara B. says that this may have been "too ambitious" and that she "got a little lost," I agree and disagree; everything Afro-Blue does is ambitious and I don't mind that, and they brought their game, but in some spots they may have brought the wrong game. Then again, even in the wrong game they're still really impressive.

The Aires's Queen medley begins with "Killer Queen", whose Baroque feel is right up their alley. The arrangement isn't incredibly complex-- some nice arpeggiation-- but it's as always solidly blended. Before we get very far, they go straight into operatic sequence of "Bohemian Rhapsody", which seems a bit soon for such an apocalyptic song. Granted, they're saving "Somebody to Love" for the end, but it still seems like the kind of song you end on, right? Anyway, considering this is done in one take, and considering this is based on one of the most complex vocal recordings ever, this sounds really really good, particularly Nick and Jack's "Galileo". (Kudos to the house mixer!) One problem, though: why can't they get bigger drum sounds on the big moments? There's a hundred of them (give or take 84) on stage; can't they spare one more guy to add some low oomph to the percussion?

"Somebody to Love" is pretty glorious. They wisely stick to group harmonies, and there no holes, acoustically or harmonically, in this performance. Wow. By the way, If Mykal is born to rap, then Michael A. is born to sing. (They should gig together!) And they end on an add2, the shiniest and happiest of all the chords in the land.

Nick Lachey himself (or his writers) seems to throw down the gauntlet for Pentatonix's, saying they need to "stretch" themselves because of their small numbers. Sounds like a dare! The video package would lead us to believe that they spent the whole week arguing with each other over minutiae, but I don't buy that for a second. And if anyone can make Britney Spears palatable, I'm sure it's them with one proverbial hand tied behind their proverbial back. But then "Oops I Did It Again", swinging groove aside, is fairly straightfoward in arrangement. The backgrounds on "I got lost" are actually kind of empty and sound forced (parallel movement into and out of a V7), and this is the first time this season that I've been distracted by something sub-standard in a Pentatonix song. Even the Boyz II Men "dim dim dim daaaaa da" lick was too muddy, and they just sang it in front of a member of Boyz II Men. I'm starting to feel let down, and this is all while Kirstie is killing it on the lead, and while Kevin is performing some of the most impossibly consistent VP in the history of the show (is he even breathing?!). Then "Toxic" kicks in and all is forgiven.

Scott's focused lead, Avi's thick bass, and a just-atonal-enough chord structure that we've come to expect from them… these are the things that make me wish I was in this group. (Also, Kirstie's dancing will likely haunt my dreams for the next week.) Mitch takes the lead on "Hold It Against Me", and while it's not as musically interesting as the "Toxic" section, it's still solid (no musical distractions). The breakdown at the end was a great way to end it; while it's certainly okay for a group to end a medley with the last song itself, there's something to be said about acknowledging the medley aspect at the end.

Hannah (finally!) takes the lead on "Fallin'" at the beginning of Delilah's Alicia Keys medley, and kills it. Geena lays down a 12/8 groove with a rim shot, and kills it. Then everybody comes in on group harmony… and kill it.

This section is some of the slickest and most passionate female harmony ever on the show. Kendall (with eyes made up Cleopatra-style, for some reason) takes over the lead on "A Woman's Worth", and the difference in her lead delivery between last season and now is remarkable. Unfortunately, this section is full of arranging holes, and there are even moments when I wasn't sure if they were singing the right notes-- the switches between 9 chords and plain triads is jarring. Candace takes lead further in (yay, more new soloists!), and the background pick up a bit. Before I can really enjoy this part of the arrangement, we're suddenly pulled into "If I Ain't Got You", with Amy (a soloist we've seen a lot of this season) singing… too low in her range? There are some surprisingly jazzy changes, and this is a great combination of tight voicings and singing your hearts out (that's become a bit of cliché on this show, but I'll go with it), particularly with Amy given a second chance to leave everything on the stage. (A great arrangement, but considering how dominant Firedrill!'s arrangement is in the vocal band world, it's hard for me to not expect slightly more.)

Alright, so… Nick specifically introduces The Yellowjackets as a 15-man group, and there are only 14 in the opera box. Is one of them stuck at the drive-thru at In-N-Out?

The faltering Yellowjackets have a medley of songs by my childhood musical hero Billy Joel. He's still a musical hero, but his lyrics have lost their lustre for me. His storytelling songs (like "Italian Restaurant" or "The Entertainer") are still compelling, but seriously, recite the lyrics of "Honesty" or "A Matter of Trust" aloud and then tell me what they're actually about. Sorry, tangent.

Not to overtly compare an original to a vocal arrangement, but… yeah, I'll overtly compare here. "River of Dreams" (Joel's last pop hit?) should be a wash of sound accompanied by a thick stew of percussion, and this is isn't it; it's a pretty safe arrangement, and the groove is less African-inspired and more like Beastie Boys' "Girls" slowed down by half. The B sections ("Every evening…") shows some more sonic promise, with standby Aaron taking over on the high parts of the lead, and then as things are getting good… a modulation with a V7 chord (ugh) to a new key, telegraphing that we're going into a new song.

John's über-earnest delivery of "She's Always a Woman" reminds me that this song makes no sense ("she's ahead of her time"?), which makes the earnestness strange. (I totally want John's fauxhawk, though.) The V's are straight V triads, which Joel does use in the original (which is unusual as he almost always went with a V6 or V9sus [see "Stiletto"]) but should've been improved upon here, because a straight V is just so empty and doesn't ring with a group this big singing this darkly. And then Aaron is back, with Jamal on a great but too-short duet. A rushed transition into "Uptown Girl" reveals the new soloist to be… Aaron? Again? I like his voice and all (it was perfect for "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You"), but with 14 guys they can't mix it up a bit? This last section is really thick, but some harmonies are surprisingly plain (or plain wrong). The last chord (I/bVII) sounds like a great transition into another song that should've been there, but wasn't. I didn't dislike this, but in comparison to what we've see tonight, it doesn't hold up. Too much of it was very… collegiate.

Committed, the greatest group to ever compete on the The Sing-Off, returns to kick our butts. I have their album and I'm considering writing a full-on review of it (a couple of months late), but suffice it to say I'm impressed by the production and of course the singing, even if they make some odd repertoire choices. But whatever you think of "Forever", they hit this live chunk of it out of the park. Their background is so subtle but works perfectly, and the bass is cranking. Therry reminds us, with his lead on "With You", why he was the sweetheart of season 2. There's a cool turnaround, and then in the lead-in to the hook I'm shocked to hear Committed singing these plain triads (I, V, IV, V[add2?]). The next section is very un-Committed-like, with a house groove that doesn't play to any of the strengths we know they have. Then they do one of those impossibly fast cascades, and I'm thinking OMG, they're totally going to win this season. Oh, wait.

After the longest elimination reveal imaginable (during which a bewildered Eliza of Afro-Blue may or may not have dropped the S-bomb), The Yellowjackets are sent home, sadly. Now, they've done some quality work this season, so I'm assuming that the song they have up their sleeve, the song they've presumably been working on since day one, will be quality too. And… "Tubthumping" is making me cringe. The opening chorus pastiche is pretty good, but when they kick in with the faster rock groove, it's like a bad stereotype of male collegiate a-cappella-- "jow jow, ga-jigga jow jow" and the like. The chords are plain wrong in places (V instead of I?!?!), and the basses are AWOL (well, not absent, just not at their posts where they make the low end happen). The best part is the joke part, when Aaron and [?] name-check the judges, which is quite funny and overshadows the other parts ever-so-briefly. The unison chorus at the very end as they Go Into The Light might be the tightest musical moment of the song. *sigh* They didn't get kicked off because they were bad, but because they weren't as amazing as the other six groups, so going out like this and leaving this song as their last impression (to the TV-watching public, anyway) is a seriously squandered opportunity.

I'll give a shiny nickel to the first person to make a YTMND.com meme out of Nick Lachey saying "Tubthumping by Chumbawumba". Until then, I'll be playing Committed's "Pretty Wings" on a repeating loop for the next six days.


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.

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

5th Judge: The Sing-Off, episode 3-3 (Oct. 3): round 2, bracket 1 (1st hour)

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

5th Judge: The Sing-Off, episode 3-4 (Oct. 10): round 2, bracket 2 (1st hour)

5th Judge: The Sing-Off, Episode 3-4 (Oct. 10): round 2, bracket 2 (2nd hour)

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

5th Judge: The Sing-Off, Episode 3-5 (Oct. 17): Top 10 (2nd hour)

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

5th Judge: The Sing-Off, Episode 3-6 (Oct. 24): Top 8 (2nd Hour)


Great review, Warren...and I

Great review, Warren...and I agree with most of what you've said.  

The third guy in Pentatonix is Mitchell.

And interestingly enough you do like Michael (Aires) singing every lead, but not Aaron.  Why is that?

And I, too thought it was weird that Kim didn't get a solo. Maybe she's the only alto?

[=#8040BF]http://www.rarb.org/people/thomas-king.html http://www.deltacappella.com CASA Dir. of Ambassador Program SoJam Producer & Concert Mgr Sing Producer CAL jd All Things A Cappella FOTS #1 ICCA Producer Emeritus "the

Hey, TeKay!  Excellent point

Hey, TeKay!  Excellent point about me tacitly "preferring" Michael (Aires) vs. Aaron (Yellowjackets).  I don't mind if we see the same soloists from episode to episode; some groups simply may not have a lot of workable soloists, and a week is long enough for me as a viewer to not consider that a cop-out.  But having Aaron come up front twice in one medley makes it appear like they're taking the easy lead route, or at least that no one other than the usual suspects can step up.  Michael didn't make a significant solo appearance in the medley until the beginning of "Someone to Love".

I'm starting to change my mind: I love Committed, but Afro-Blue and Pentatonix are on their way to a tie for the greatest groups to ever compete on the Sing-Off.

You think I'd know everyone's name by heart by now, seeing as I watch every intro package at least twice and every song (and judge's feedback session) literally four or five times.  I need to make a chart or someting.

Tubthumping by Chumbawumba

I paused the recording and laughed for a good minute at what I think might be one of the most awkward collection of syllables ever uttered by Nick.

I created an account just to tell you that...

... it's SOMEBODY TO LOVE, not "Someone To Love". One of Queen's greatest songs, you can't screw that up!

"Some(body|one) to Love"

Wait, Queen wasn't on the Blues Brothers soundtrack?  (Also, my bad.)

Haha :P Also, I love your

Haha :P Also, I love your reviews. And Pentatonix.

I'd love to have you teach me

I'd love to have you teach me some more advanced music theory. Reading your reviews..I do it more to see what I was hearing written out in a form i can later translate to my music. 


But it always saddens me how little you actually put into the Pentatonix portion..I know it's mostly because they don't have a lot going on, between drums, bass, a lead, and two harmonies/otherinstrumentation, but I always hope for some slight bit of theory. 

like this question: does the bass technically count as part of the chord..or is it so far removed, that it doesn't imply any actual harmony?


Oh. and Tubthumping..lol. Sara...boy... the perfect NBC chime. and the collegiate a cappella stand by of covering distorted sounds with CH. 


Sure, the bass counts!  In fact, assuming he's doing it right, the bass is the foundation upon which the other parts imply harmony, and the bass can make everyone else sound good just by changing his note while everyone else stays in one place.  e.g. If everyone holds on a major chord (say, middle C, E and G), the bass can jazz things up by landing on different note from the root and changing both the type of chord and the function:

bass C = plain old major
bass Bb = lydian (#4, etc.) ("6-4-2" in classical, IIRC) (last chord of "Uptown Girl")
bass A = minor 7th
bass G = major in 2nd inversion ("6-4" in classical)
bass F = "Carole King" chord (V/I of sorts) (in the last chorus of "What's My Name")
bass E = major in 1st inversion ("6" in classical)
bass D = 9th with suspended 4th ("9sus" as I write it) (one of the keys to Afro-Blue's overall success)

I recall an interview with Sting ten or so years ago, where he said that after his first solo album playing (six-string) guitar, he was happy to return to the bass for the second album, because he felt like he's somehow more in control of the harmony that way.

In jazz, we take for granted that the bass is always "walking" along the outline of the chord-- that's actually the signature sound of jazz, even more than swing or thick harmonies, IMO.  Not that I don't also love swing and thick harmonies.

hmm. Interesting. I'm

hmm. Interesting. I'm constantly trying to figure out what all these sounds I hear are. Like, the jazz groups specifically, I hear them doing something, and it just rings special in my ears. Delilah's Grenade had some of it too. I think Ben described it as rubbing seconds, and you described his comment as 'didn't hear that'. 

"rubbing 2nds"

Ah, the random "rubbing 2nds" comment, regarding Delilah's "Grenade" in episode 1.  I'm not even sure where in the song 2nds would've worked; it wasn't a remotely dissonant song at all.

ha..yeah..I don't know what

ha..yeah..I don't know what he heard. I think he meant the part when they said 'burn..' But I don't know what it actually was. I'm excited to read your thoughts on Monday's episode! =]

Posting momentarily.

Posting momentarily.

it's amusing how much you

it's amusing how much you hate V7

C.J. Smith Hempfield HS R# founder/director 03-05 U. of Hartford Hawkapella 05-09 Currently doing many musical things that do not include a cappella groups :-( :-(

Fear of a Dominant Planet

If we mean a literal V7 (^5, ^7, ^2, ^4), I don't hate V7; I just hate when it's used in the wrong context.  North Shore's doo-wop: perfect.  Afro-Blue's modal jazz: no no no.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.