HomeRecording Review: UPenn Dischord's "Shake It Up"

I am a music connoisseur. I enjoy music for music itself, not necessarily the lyrical content of a song. As this is my first review of an album for this website, I feel that I should explain my musical background, history, and criterion for when it comes to musical critiques of recorded a cappella music.

I grew up with a classically trained ear and got involved in a cappella music during college. Therefore, when I listen to recorded a cappella music, I am much more interested in the melodies, harmonies, blending, and dynamics interacting as a collective rather than disparate parts that are analyzed much more heavily in the competitive a cappella scene. A song must 'move' me by connecting with me in some way for me to endorse it, let alone purchase it. Whether it is in the way that the melody enraptures my imagination, or the ambient harmonies elicit goosebumps from their haunting audioscapes that they create, a song must have something to offer me as a listener, for me to have the desire to put a song on repeat rather than push the 'next' button on my iPod.

So, without further ado, let's dive in to the 12-track album by UPenn's co-ed acappella group, Dischord, titled 'Shake It Up'.  Each song will be rated with the following criteria on a scale of 1 to 5 (5 = best) for each category, with 5 being the best.

1. Playback-worthiness
2. Arranging
3. Soloist

In addition, if I can find a version of the song online done by the original artist, I'll give it a listen as well and determine if the group made it their own or better.

Track 1: "Fidelity", Regina Spektor
1. 5 - I love this song. The vibe on this song is awesome and an excellent choice as the first track to the album. Definitely worth many repeat playbacks.
2. 5 - From the lush harmonies in the introduction to the precise syllables in the background vocals, the arranging on this is top notch. I never got bored focusing on the background vocals as the arrangers kept things interesting with syllables that really accented parts of the songs and a wide range of dynamics.
3. 5 - The soloist's voice drew me in instantly and held my ears captive for the entirety of the song. An exceptionally sweet sounding voice combined with the skills to push it and pull it back at appropriate times, made her rendition of this song, to put it in one word, spectacular.

Dischord definitely made this song their own and made it sound better as an a cappella song. Kudos!

Track 2: "Crushcrushcrush", Paramore
1. 4 - This song was fun to listen to at first, as I had never heard 'Paramore' done before a cappella. But after a few times of listening to it, it didn't connect with me as much as some of the other tracks on the cd.
2. 4 - Loud, upbeat rock songs are difficult to translate over to a cappella. Guitar riffs, distortion effects, and etc. done a cappella do not nearly sound as exciting as the real thing. However with that being said, some of the syllables that were used for guitar picking/strumming were awesome.
3. 5 - The soloist definitely rocked out on this song as it calls for it. The passion and moxie that were delineated in the delivery of the vocals were what carried this song.

Dischord's version of the Paramore original is good, but it does not transcend the original in creating a desire to just rock out with your pitch pipe out.

Track 3: "What Sarah Said", Death Cab for Cutie
1. 4 - I'm not usually a fan of songs that are rather monotone and medium tempo. I think putting this track as the 3rd track was a great move on the group's part.
2. 5 - The arrangement for this song is what did it for me as there was a lot of interesting things going on that kept me engaged the whole way through. At 3:07, the arrangement kicks goes into high gear and really brings the song to a great close.
3. 5 - The soloist was such a vocal doppelganger for the original artist, that it caught me off guard. He delivered beautifully on the soaring higher register that this song calls for.

Track 4: "Lithium", Evanescence
1. 4 - This song is one of my favorite Evanescence songs, and unfortunately, this version falls short of matching the hauntingly beautiful intensity of the original.
2. 3 - I felt that the group stayed at one dynamic the whole time for a song that has such a wide dynamic range of emotions and power.
3. 4 - I understand that not everyone can sing like Amy from Evanescence, but I also felt that the soloist did not really go for the kill in the more intense moments of the song. Her voice is perfect for the parts where the song's melody calls for the lighter soaring vocals in the higher registers, but the parts that ask for the powerful, wailing vocals ultimately never materialized.

Track 5: "Slow Down", The Academy Is
1. 3 - I began to feel bored after the first minute of this song. The original song doesn't really lend itself to being translated to the a cappella world and is pretty bland to begin with.
2. 3 - This song suffered the same problem as 'Lithium' with one dynamic. From a singer's perspective though, it probably would be fun to sing as it is very up tempo and includes some interesting interplay between parts.
3. 4 - The soloist's voice is definitely made for a song such as this. He would definitely sound great with bands like blink, the ataris, and etc. He sings the song well but didn't really get a chance to go for it as the original song itself doesn't really go anywhere.

Track 6: "The Way I Am", Ingrid Michaelson
1. 5 - The album is back on track! I've found another gem that I'll be putting on repeat in the near future. The vibe that was on 'Fidelity' has returned and I want to sing along with the cd.
2. 5 - Incorporating the tongue clicks and the hand claps added a nice touch to the overall sound. The 'remix' was funny and great and definitely made this version a Dischord original. I have to ask though, was it only the ladies of Dischord singing on this one until the 'remix' section? If so, it's a new concept to me.
3. 5 - The choice of soloist for this song is perfect. Her soothing and smooth vocals lends itself to a warm, calming experience that the song was made for.

This version trumps the original. 'Nuff said.

Track 7: "Mad World", Gary Jules
1. 4 - The original song is a very somber and quietly haunting song. I did not get the same reaction in listening to this version.
2. 4 - The arrangement was too loud to make this song really effective. Sometimes, less is more. I assume this song was the men only song for Dischord?
3. 5 - The soloist's rendition sounds gorgeous and could have truly shined if the background vocals had been less overpowering.

Track 8: "Shame For You", Lilly Allen
1. 4 - A very funky song which possibly made this song a challenge to translate to the a cappella realm.
2. 3 - This arrangement was very repetitive and also not really exciting dynamically.
3. 4 - The soloists really shines during the verses as I can really hear the emotions come through in her delivery. She carries herself with the same vibe that songs like these require. But during the chorus sections of the songs, she got lost amongst the backing vocals.

Track 9: "In My Life", The Rasmus
1. 5 - Finally! An up beat tempo song that made me want to really just rock out and jump around. I had my doubts about this song as the original genre of this song makes it hard to sound good in a cappella, but I was blown away.
2. 5 - Each part comes out pretty clearly and sounds like a lot of fun to sing as well. Well done! A huge dynamic range is displayed in this song when the song cuts off and starts again and then just when you thought it couldn't get any more exciting, at about 3:13, the song really kicks into the 7th gear and hits the redline. I really felt the adrenaline rush during the finish of the song.
3. 5 - The soloist sounds like the original artist and an iconic one later on in the song. His delivery truly connected with me as a listener and I felt inspired. Really. And the last part of the song, essentially the climax of the song, he sounded a lot like Michael Jackson, no joke. Totally smooth criminal.

Track 10: "Suddenly I See", K.T. Tunstall
1. 5 - Another gem that made me want to sing along. This song puts me in a very chipper mood.
2. 5 - The arrangement, especially at the beginning, is beautiful. The chord strikes that the group make at the beginning sound like chimes. The moving rhythms and harmonies mesh really well in this one.
3. 5 - I think the only way to improve on this near perfect solo is to have arranged this song in a key that was maybe a half step higher. The soloist owned the solo but I think the last part of the song where she is singing the 'yeah yeah yeahs' were a little low in her register. Fantastic job!

Track 11: "Monster", Meg and Dia
1. 4 - I was not really familiar with the original version of the song and at this point, I'm not sure I love it, but it's definitely in the 'like' stage. Dischord's version was great but my lack of familiarity made it a bit of a challenge to be connected to it.
2. 5 - Great dynamics and powerful when the song calls for it.
3. 5 - I think the soloist on this track would have sounded amazing on 'Lithium'.

Track 12: "Motorcycle Drive By", Third Eye Blind
1. 5 - This was the first time I had heard this song, and unlike the previous track, it was love at first hearing.
2. 5 - Very pure harmonies and lovely interactions between the parts here. There was one part of the song that made me think of 'Every Breath You Take'. It would've been really neat to work that in there somehow. I'm partial to mash ups.
3. 5 - The soloist's timbre is very warm when it needs to be and he also was able to escalate it to '3rd Eye Blind'/'Dashboard Confessional' angst levels. Gave me goosebumps. Way to rock out!

Overall score: 8 stars out of 10

This is a solid effort by Dischord. The soloists and arrangements are top-notch and there are several gems on here that I will be listening to over and over again.

Sing2love2sing,
Joe Kang

http://www.upenndischord.com/

About the author:
Joe Kang is a multi-faceted musician with over 20 years of experience in violin, guitar, bass guitar, songwriting, and vocal performance.  He learned to play the violin at the age of 8 and still continues to play today utilizing it in melodic improvisations on his original songs and for freelancing purposes for other artists. He picked up another string instrument a few years down the road. He loves playing his Taylor CE guitar whenever he can. Furthermore, he has a true passion for singing and songwriting. He began doing both as hobbies during his college years at Duke. His original song, Eternal Sunshine (inspired by the movie) was chosen to be the first track on Quickstar Productions's Chill Out, East Coast Edition, Vol. 5. When he's not performing as a solo artist, he performs regularly with Euphonism, a local, award-winning co-ed DC acapella group, and serves as an adjunct faculty (violinist) for a local band, Black Max.