HomeRecording Review: Rutgers ShockWave's "Breakthrough"

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ShockWave is an all-female group from Rutgers University.  With their latest album, Breakthrough, they are truly beginning to break through (pardon the pun…I had to) to the recorded a cappella world.  Breakthrough brings its listeners a hard rock edge while also showing their softer side.  The rock tracks aren’t all exactly home runs, but they are solid doubles.  The slow and mellow songs are by far the best on the album (sadly, there are only two).  I could listen to an entire double disc set of ShockWave singing songs like those all day long.

They open with an electrifying version of Hoobastank’s old school tune, “Crawling in the Dark”.  With an arrangement from James Cannon, I expected nothing less than excellence—and that’s exactly what I got.  Everything about it was absolutely epic.  The intro was probably my favorite part—tons of build, intricate rhythms, and perfect execution by the girls and Liquid 5th (the album’s producers).  This track got me really pumped for the rest of the album.

The next one is a mash-up of Jimmy Eat World’s “Bleed American” and Red Jumpsuit Apparatus’ “Face Down”.  The arrangement is very nice, showcasing Candice Helfand’s musicality—the transition between the two songs is seamless and when the two songs blend together it’s perfect.  My one problem with this song is the soloist on “Face Down”.  I know the original very well—Red Jumpsuit is one of my favorite bands.  The lyrics depict a physically abusive relationship, and coming from an all-female group, I expected more.  I wanted more umph, more grit from the soloist.  I thought that they would really go for it—balls-to-the-wall go for it…and they didn’t…  I was truly disappointed with it.

I honestly really don’t have much to say about the next track: “Mercy” by Duffy.  But I do have a question for the all-female aca-world.  Why does every female group do this song?  Why?  Please, I beg of you to fill me in.  I just don’t get it.  I personally feel that it’s a boring song with an unimpressive solo.  Every version I hear of it is just okay—an average take on an average song.  Shockwave’s arrangement was good and the soloist performed well…but this song just doesn’t do anything for me…

Track four, “I Can’t Make You Love Me”, is the golden egg of the album.  The arrangement and vocals are breathtakingly beautiful.  I die every time I listen to it.  I really do.  I die.  The softest quietest moments are the best.  And every once in awhile, there would be silence…lingering, perfect silence.  Absolute perfection.

“Lying is the Most Fun”… (opb. Panic!) is where it begins to go downhill.  There are a few Panic! songs that call for two soloists—and when it’s called for, it needs to happen.  But this is not one of those songs.  I think the choice of having two soloists on this track was certainly not a wise one.  The first girl to sing is awesome.  She’s convincing in the verses and kills it in the chorus, but the second doesn’t quite hit it like the first, and having the other to compare it to makes it that much more obvious.  I think the part that lets me down the most is when they sing the melody together—their voices just don’t completely blend.  When it’s something as obvious as that, especially on a recorded piece, I get confused.  How did that slip by the many ears that heard it before duplication?

The next few songs sort of just blend together.  There’s a mash-up of Lady Gaga and Madonna, “Heartbreaker”, and “Survivor”.  The Lady Gaga and Madonna track was nice—yet another good arrangement.  “Heartbreaker” was slightly chaotic in the verses but excellent in the choruses (it was like they took two deep breathes and cleared their minds before starting again).  “Survivor” was pretty cool.  A solid arrangement with some complicated part crossing that recorded really well, but it didn’t really stand out as anything special.

A Fine Frenzy’s “Almost Lover” is next up on the track list.  This is probably one of my favorite songs ever.  It easily touches any person who listens to it due to its relatable topic—someone in your life who you let go…a decision you regret with every part of your soul, but at the same time it was the best thing to do—to get away.  These girls killed it.  Moving solo, beautiful backing vocals, and perfect dynamics convinced me that it was real—that each member of ShockWave knew the story and had at some point experienced (it) themselves.  They were able to make me feel the pain and heartbreak.  They brought me back to my own personal experience of this story. And yet again…I died.

The closing track was “Going Under” (opb. Evanescence).  Awesome arrangement (another from Candice Helfand, who by the way has four of the ten arrangement credits) and a killer solo performance from Kristina Nieskens proves that these girls aren’t messing around.  It was a perfect closing track for ShockWave’s mostly rock album.  Towards the end of the song, there is a guitar solo of epic proportions.  The mixing on it is outstanding, but I was taken a little out of the element by the syllables used (mostly zho and noh).  While I’m sure these sound great live at concerts, they really stand out on recording.  I wish that it was recorded on simple vowels so that Liquid 5th could just work their magic and make it perfect.

Overall, ShockWave has certainly broken through (I’m sorry…I seem to have done it again) to the recording side.  This album was really close…soooo close to perfect.  There are just a few simple mistakes on Breakthrough that take away from the beauty of the rest of it.  I hope that these girls are able to take any criticism I have given in this page and a half and really take it to heart.  I promise you, their next CD will kill it and be CARA-nominated.  I officially call it*.  I just can't wait to hear it.

*Candice Leigh Helfand’s arrangement of “Bleed American/Face Down” was a runner-up in the 2010 Best Female Collegiate Arrangement category of the CARAs.

About the author:
Jill Clark has been involved in music since age 5, singing, playing guitar, drums and piano. She is a member of UNC-G Sapphires, who were the 1st place competition winners at SoJam 2008. Clark also won Best Vocal Percussion at SoJam '07 and '08 for VP within the group.