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 I don't know Ben Folds.  The guy won't even return my phone calls!  Hey!  I'm a stalker?

No.  What I mean is, I don't know Ben Folds.  I don't pretend to possess any kind of comprehensive knowledge about pop music and all the infinite personalities that emerge from the mostly-monochromatic musical landscape.  Ben Folds, so I have read in all the recent articles about his University A Cappella album, had his first big hit in 1997.  I was on a religious mission in Taiwan from 1996-1998 and extremely out of the pop culture picture (to this day I have not heard the real version of 'Wonderwall' - but I did hear Charlie play it on Lost!).  It was years later that I started hearing about him, and I've never searched out his music to partake of his Foldiness!

I have been singing 'Fred Jones pt. 2' with my group the Plumbers of Rome (at someone else's suggestion) for a few years.  I saw part of a Ben Folds live concert dvd at a friend's house a few years ago.  I hear people talk about him.  That's the extent of my Ben Folds knowledge!  (exclamation points added in honor of the title UNIVERSITY A CAPPELLA!)

Seriously, for years I wondered where the surname 'Foldsfive' came from (Irish?  German?).  You know, because I thought his name was 'Ben Foldsfive.'  

Like I said, I don't know him.

Why does this matter?

I finally got to the hear THE A CAPPELLA EVENT ALBUM OF THE DECADE (copyright 2009 New York Times, Boston Globe, etc).  I listened to it for free!  Online!  Legally!  Here: http://music.aol.com/new-releases-full-cds/#/2

Know my perspective: I don't know the songs, I don't know Ben Folds as an artist.  I don't particularly care for college a cappella in general.  I find the collegiate standard background syllables silly (at best) or lame (at worst).  I'm irritated by the egos that go along with college a cappella.  I'm frequently just BORED by the uninspired attempts at music.  I don't listen to recorded college a cappella, almost as a rule.  I can tolerate live performance, when the energy often makes for inspired presentations and can be quite enjoyable.  Most college a cappella recordings are redundant, un-inspired novelty versions of songs that will sound far, far better if I just go listen to the original recording.

So here's my reaction to "University A Cappella!" by Ben Folds, et. al:

Meh.

I was pretty bored, mostly.  I'm hearing most of these songs for the first time; don't have anything invested in them, so I was judging the songs as my first exposure to them.  Most of the performances were blah, most of the singing was just okay, the tuning and arrangement skill seemed front-loaded, getting progressively more blah as the album went along.  Many of the soloists were good, a lot of the singing was good, but _just_ good.  The basses had that choral-trying-to-sing-pop sound.  Vocal percussion was decent but mon-aural.  Jen jen joe joe no no nm nm zhen zhaou WHO CARES.

Seems like this Ben Folds character is quite a songwriter.  I love the variety of songs he writes, the whimsy and irreverance he plays with in lyrical forms and topical exploration.  The source material seems competent.  But I can't be sure because I'm not familiar with the originals.

I _DID_ really enjoy Mr. Folds' two versions of his own songs.  _Those_ were pretty cool.  He's not tied into the college a cappella convention, so he did some very interesting, unique things.  I loved the _energy_ of his tracks.  The playfulness.  The direct, un-weighted way he got to the core of the songs.  Dynamics!

These two tracks are good music, above and beyond the novelty of being a cappella.  They're interesting.  He uses vocal sounds the way he uses (I assume) instrumental sounds.  Energy, drive, precision.

He's not afraid to use choral sounds.  Most a cappella groups don't want to be seen as choirs, so they do the jen joe bum business.  

I would listen to those two tracks again.

The rest of the album, not so much.

Comments

I agree

I agree, Tim. This CD is really hard to listen to. The only exception for me is Sacramento State Jazz. That track was tight. Cool arrangement too. I also liked Effington, one of the two Ben Folds tracks. That one was fun and again had a cool arrangement.

If he was going for a raw, imperfect sound then he definitely achieved it. People definitely aren't getting to hear the best of college a cappella which I heard at the ICCA National's show.

No such thing as bad press? I don't know about that. People tend to think in general terms. I'm afraid "the masses" may get a false impression of college a cappella and a cappella in general. I wish he had done this CD with either better college groups or with pro groups. That would have been a lot better IMHO.

 

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