HomeRecording Review: NYU's APC Rhythm, “All Things Go”

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“All Things Go” is a neat, clean album, showcasing some great soloists and making bold choices in the arrangements.  It's not just a pop/rock album: the standout tracks are gospel and electronica, demonstrating a real breadth that most college groups don't approach.  And fortunately, the risks they take in the arrangements pay off: it's their tasteful use of vocal flange (a technique formerly abused by college groups) in surprising places, like the 90's pop "Hollywood" and the country/gospel "Home," and their creative endings, like a church bell ringing out the end of "Beautiful Day" and notes like glass ringing the end of "Love Song," that bring this album from "good" to "really very good indeed."

"Good Luck," by Basement Jaxx, is the traditional energetic, well-engineered album opener.  (But who is Basement Jaxx, you ask?  Well, c.f. the electronic/dance charts in Europe, I say.  These APC kids don't just sing plain old rock music.)  My favorite feature of this quirky song is the spoken part in the background -- hidden subtly in the verses, but chattering at full volume in the bridge.  And while I'm at it, let me lavish some praise: oh, the bridge!  I love, love, love it, and if I had a band with a bridge like that, I'd put it at the front of the record, too.  (There's the lead singing low, but doubled softly an octave up, and then the building backgrounds, and then the lead and backgrounds coming together without letting it sound busy -- it's superb.)  Of course, I can't let them rest on their laurels: they're so energetic that they're constantly pushing the tempo.  It would still have been plenty upbeat if the soloist had taken more time to savor the phrase "good luck." 

The second track is U2's "Beautiful Day," and it opens well: a pretty (almost arhythmic) intro and then a warm lead, pleasantly forward in the mix.  But while the backgrounds are getting me to nod my head (the syllables in the verse are nicely driving the song forward), the drums are distracting: the snare in the verses trails for too long (where shorter rim shots could have tightened up the sound).  On the other hand, the drum pattern in the refrain is plenty solid, and the choral "day" in the refrain is awfully pretty.  They make good use of bouncing echoes in the last verse.  The final chorus syllables remind me of U Penn Off the Beat's "jho no no" from Sugar, We're Going Down, but that's a nice (possibly unintentional) allusion: it's good to call up images of other extraordinarily well-produced songs.   

"Hollywood" starts out dubiously---I'm really skeptical of naked "doom doom" syllables---but the doubt only lasts 15 seconds and is immediately wiped away by the next 45 seconds of intro, which are excellent: a well-written wall of sound supporting the soloist, who's busy making it clear that we're about to hear the distinctive tone quality of the Cranberries.  The rest of the arrangement is equally creative ("Jow Ow Ow Ow"!) and well-executed.  You don't have to love the Cranberries to be impressed by this track.

Sara Bareilles's popular "Love Song" comes as a nice contrast to the previous tune, and they present it the right way: I like the simplicity.  The basses are anchoring us in this sort of joyful place where we believe that everything in the song will be fine because they've got this one covered. 

Going back in time, The Who's "Behind Blue Eyes" is a surprising pick, and I like to be surprised.  They use unusual syllables to render this one (who sings "bah dah som"?  These kids do).  And, hey, half way through the song, you figure out why they like to sing it: because they can rock the rock-out section.

Back to the '00s: Nelly Furtado's "Turn Off the Light" is a real success on this album.  First off: I like the drums a lot.   A whole lot.  (This precision is what Beautiful Day was missing!)  The lead is great, and her duet/echo is, too.  The sopranos have really pretty voices, well-showcased in this arrangement.  And their arrangement is so creative!  (Twice, everybody pauses, and then one dude brings us into the chorus with a "ghe gyo" that verges on Scooby Doo.)  So it turns out that I really enjoy listening to this track, maybe even more than the original, because it's just so interesting, and because they just sing the heck out of it.  It's a real stand-out on this album.

Aretha's classic "The Weight" is a gutsy pick, so good thing it's a great track.  These kids can do gospel. 

Sufjan Stevens's "Chicago" starts with a creepy intro (creepy in a Tim Burton way…) and then the song is nice, nice, nice.  (So nice, in fact, that it was honored on BOCA 2009.)  Head-nodding, cool, and worth putting on your next mix.  (A note on the songwriting: Stevens has really got the "show, don't tell" lesson down, and his hook---all things go, whence APC's album title---is catchy and cool.)

"Somebody to Love" is another gutsy choice: the song has pretty demanding vocals, not to mention a storied history of being covered.  It lends itself naturally to an a cappella setting, though (plus, such brilliant songwriting!), and they render it really nicely here as a duet.  (The female lead is especially good.)  Again, the group shines while showing their gospel colors, they might not be Queen, but they're still awfully good.  This song is goofy and fun to hear.

Marc Broussard's "Home" is another natural fit for APC, and they sold me on their version when they got to "ho-o-o-ome" in the chorus: it's solid, just like it's supposed to be.  And a little sexy, also on cue.  If you had somehow escaped the gospel influences earlier, here you go:  Broussard literally slices some "Wade in the Water" into his composition.  (The words may be "straight from the water," but it's the same spiritual).  By now, you should be really enjoying this record.

The next song, "Destiny," is a cool electronica song by Zero 7.  And you thought APC was full of gospel singers!  Here's an entirely different side of the group.  It's another pretty arrangement, making use of their wide range, and to my mind, this is hands down the best solo performance on the record (and this tune was made for her voice).  I love the way the drums give the song with a 2/2 feel: it's more than a little sexy.  (Had the basses not been quite so low in the mix, it would be even sexier… but I'm still happy with the overall sound.)  Unusually, spending more than five minutes on this song was just fine with me.  Take all the time you need.  Nobody's in a hurry to hear anything else. 

APC closes the record with the obligatory Imogen Heap cover: this time, it's "Breathe In" from the Frou Frou days.  It's the most carefully edited song on the record, and it sounds neat and clean and electronica-fun (featuring vocal trumpets!).  Still, these Frou Frou songs are perennially under-arranged: APC has shown more prowess earlier on this record, and they could have pushed this track further.  It's faithful to Frou Frou's original, and I enjoy their cover, but I'm surprised they ended with it: "Destiny" would have been a stronger closer.  (Heck, they could have opened with "Destiny" and really announced this record as unusual: you have to listen two thirds of the way in to hear them really sink their teeth into tunes that make them stand out from every other group covering Sara Bareilles.)

“All Things Go” is a good record.  They picked interesting songs and sang them well.  And although the album is up to modern production standards, they leave you with the impression that they could pull it off live, too -- so I think I'll have to go to New York and find out. And if it makes me want to see them perform, then what more could you ask from a record?

http://apcrhythm.net

About the author:
Marisa Debowsky learned to love singing contemporary a cappella in days of yore (namely sixth grade), and sang her way through college and grad school (in the UVM Cat's Meow).  While in the Northeast, she co-founded and co-produced the Vermont A Cappella Summit.  She continues to be active in the community, both as a singer and an event organizer (and arranger and sometimes booking agent).