The new album is here and with it, the continued evolution of college a cappella. So with no further ado…
1 – Where’s The Love (Remix)/Brandeis VoiceMale
VoiceMale’s third contribution to BOCA - ridiculously polished, as always. Not for the purists! Some cheesy vowels, but the effects compensate. And really neat percussion effects (but a little too artificial for me). When did Hanson do this originally, 1997? Definitely out of the blue, but VoiceMale pulls it off.
2 – Never Gonna Give You Up/U. Oregon On The Rocks
On The Rocks RICKROLLED BOCA! Unfortunately, after the initial amusement wore off, I was a little bummed that they actually went and did the whole song – which isn’t to say that it wasn’t well done. Yet I wish the soloist had been a baritone, since that was Rick Astley’s appeal when he sang it. I hope On The Rocks does this at ICCA Semifinals in LA this weekend; if it has the right choreo, it’ll definitely get the crowd laughing. Kudos to the group for attempting to exploit internet humor’s huge following!
3 – The Walk/U. Oregon Divisi
Not one, but two of U. Oregon’s groups made it on BOCA this year! Imogen Heap was a great choice – her songs lend themselves very well to a cappella. The breakdown has an awesome buildup that flies back into the chorus seamlessly, and is a good lesson for a cappella singers in how background parts can become exciting in their own right without overpowering the soloist.
4 – Apologize/U. Georgia Noteworthy
Noteworthy’s Apologize from ICCA 2008 mesmerized the crowd, and the studio version is every bit as beautiful. The minimalism of the background parts is perfect; overzealous background in an a cappella ballad can distract the listener from the intended feel and message. If anything, I wish the song could be more engaging, but maybe that’s a performer’s perspective – the best college a cappella for me is the stuff you get to hear and see on a stage. Until ICCA/ BOCA starts making DVDs, this track is the next best thing to the live show, and it’s a wonderful contribution to the album.
5 – They/Harvard-Radcliffe Veritones
Ok, this is a great song. It’s mellow, with a strong groove – easy to hit repeat on. And DID YOU KNOW - “They” has been covered for over 250 years! …In 1742, J.S. Bach published Book II of his Well-Tempered Clavier, which included a certain Prelude in F Minor. In 1963, the Swingle Singers transposed and claimed it for a cappella, and in 2005 Jem sampled the Swingle Singers’ version for her debut album, Finally Woken. In 2009, by rearranging Jem’s (Swingle Singers (Bach’s (whew!))) hit single for a cappella, the Veritones have thrown a fresh spin on a centuries-old theme! If only Bach knew…
6 – Here(In Your Arms)/MIT Logarhythms
Hellogoodbye’s 2006 single was a great choice for a cappella – plenty of ear candy! Although each part is pretty simple out of context, altogether the song has a pretty layered sound. Great job Logarhythms, and I’m jealous of your in-house studio.
7 – Brown Eyed Girl/UCLA Scattertones
Another memory from ICCA 2008 – the song has a VERY long buildup, so from an overall view it’s very satisfying, but on a verse-by-verse basis it can seem a little stretched. Take the long view, it’s a beautiful interpretation of Van Morrison.
8 – I’ve Got To Use My Imagination/Rutgers Casual Harmony
Not too overdone with the studio sound, this one sounds pretty organic despite the impossibly solid high parts. Great groove! And nice choice – Gladys Knight ’74! Who woulda thunk it?
9 – Home/Duke Pitchforks
The bass and bari parts at first seemed awesomely rich, but as the song wound on, they bogged down the soloist in many of the later high-energy spots where higher harmonies were weak. Another thing – the background parts were WAY too mellow – there was none of Marc Broussard’s original soulful kick. But to pick one of his songs was a great idea – I’m surprised I haven’t seen more a cappella groups covering his music!
10 – Call Me When You’re Sober/USC Reverse Osmosis
I enjoy watching USC’s groups onstage because of how much they commit to songs. They do great songs, cheesy songs, fast songs, slow songs – but they always seem in the zone. That commitment is oozing out of this track. The backgrounds are pretty simple, but the energy and dynamics support the soloist very well. The soloist was great, as well as the VP – I didn’t get tired of hearing a million cymbals and rimshots, and that’s saying something.
11 – Ain’t Nothin’ Wrong With That/Wellesley Tupelos
Wow! Awesome opening, and the energy never fails throughout the song! If VoiceMale hadn’t been the intro track, I would have picked this one. The breakdown is funky and addicting, and then you’re pushed back into the chorus, torn in deciding which part of the song you liked more. Actually, the whole song has that whirlwind feel, because 30 seconds after that last chorus begins, it’s over! I can’t get enough of this one!
12 – The City Is At War/Cornell Chordials
Wait, did I hear a 4-letter word?? Even in BOCA 2008’s SexyBack, the Back Row substituted haters for f***ers… times are changing for this genre! More than that, I think this song encompasses some of BOCA’s most controversial stuff thus far. The song’s all about elitism, greed, moral vacuity, and drugs – which to me is a good thing. A cappella is starting to really cover the spectrum of mainstream music, and that’s necessary – the genre will never survive if forced to keep the kid gloves on. What’s more, it’s well done!
13 – Breathe Me/U. Maryland Pandemonium
While the Chordials push a cappella’s envelope, Pandemonium highlights what has always been so awesome about the style; the intimacy Sia created seems even more personal in a context of voices without instruments. For having a little more energy than the Scattertones’ Brown Eyed Girl, it attempts much of the same: a slow buildup, no crazy surprises – but unavoidable beauty throughout.
14 – Viva La Vida/U. Buffalo Buffalo Chips
I just finished arranging this one for the group I’m in, so I thought I’d be picking it apart, but I really liked it! I don’t agree with the vowels in the background parts, but the alternative would be to do basically one vowel for 4 minutes. That’s what I did, and the challenge then is to keep the ear entertained with other stuff, so either way presents challenges. The VP is a little stronger throughout the song than in Coldplay’s original, which was a great decision. I think this makes the 5th arrangement of this song I’ve heard this year, and I hope to see it in ACB’s Viva La Vida competition! This isn’t the first Coldplay song ever arranged for a cappella, and I bet it’s not the last.
15 – Chicago/NYU APC Rhythm
I can’t believe indie rocker Sufjan Stevens made it to BOCA, however vicariously! The song is repetitive, but NYU executes the verse/chorus contrast really well, and the soloist keeps the listener engaged. Good pick, Rhythm, and good pick, BOCA!
16 – What Goes Around/Wellesley Blue Notes
JT’s 2006 FutureSex/LoveSounds was a no-brainer for a cappella, and this cover is complete with the catchy intro, electronic effects throughout and appropriate VP. The Blue Notes even work through the last 1 1/2 minutes, which, just like the original, diverges markedly from the song’s prior feel! If I have any complaints, it’s just that the girl soloist is, well… not a guy. For the most part there was no lyrical conflict, but I’d still rather have a co-ed or guy group try it (check out U. Penn Off The Beat’s version!)
17 – Ignition(Remix)/Cornell Hangovers
Pros: popular songs (Ignition and Soulja Boy), good arrangement, nice ending twist. Cons: a song that’s old enough to bring back, mashed up with a song that people are still trying to get out of their heads from 24/7 radio/party play. And wasn’t there a Dave Chappelle episode… nevermind. Context aside, the song was great, and the soloist was awesome! Soulja Boy backgrounds were a little awkward – then again, what are you going to do with a song that has virtually no parts in it? The Hangovers’ ambition with this song often hits the mark, and overall it comes together well.
18 – The Sound Of Silence/Stanford Harmonics
This song is epic, and you can tell even if you’re not consumed with a cappella (as I’m sure all you readers are anyway, if you’re checking out an a cappella blog). The whole song is a flood of sound that pulls you along, against all your desires to keep replaying what you’ve just heard, because what’s next is even better. You have to hear it for yourself – Harmonics, this could stand alone as a single on ITunes.
19 – Super Mario/BYU Vocal Point
Again, Vocal Point takes something a little silly and perfects the heck out of it. I never thought Mario could be so beautiful! Also, to the group’s credit is that they applied their signature perfection to a song everybody knows. It would be so, SO easy to skimp on the arrangements, effects, dynamics etc. because an ultrafamiliar song like this means the crowd’s with you already. But as per their usual excellence, Vocal Point innovates this old theme with calypso, rap, and finally disco while helping us recall the beauty that was 8-bit gaming (well, I remember, anyway!).
All in all, another great offering from BOCA and a wonderful snapshot of college a cappella: some things change and some things don’t, but the genre is alive and well at colleges across the country! I can’t wait for 2010! -Joseph Livesey