Episode nine! We’re getting close to the end of this series and I love how the advantages of a longer season are starting to show. First off, some people are really finding themselves. (I’m talking about Urban Method’s Katie of course. I mean, wow. That’s transformation on a personal level. After watching this episode I even dreamt about her and me being romantically involved with each other. Wait, I wasn’t gonna share that! Help! Cheese. Buildings. What was I talking about?)
Right. What I really love is how the groups are learning from each other and stealing each others’ tricks. While Vocal Point is usually super-smooth, they involved a very cool skipping beat in ‘Every little step’, which before was exclusive to Pentatonix’ clubbing style. Seeing Mitch (from Pentatonix) obviously loving it in the background made the entire thing even more awesome.
But Pentatonix wasn’t just watching passively how other groups were stealing their moves. They came back strong with a signature Committed-style choral breakdown followed by a little à-la-Nota samba beat in their rendition of ‘OMG’. In ‘Let’s get it on’ Avi even brought some Afro-Blue style bass licks. Just fun stuff all around, noticing these little things really gives the show more depth.
Yes, I have failed! This is the first blog I didn’t manage to churn out before the airing of the next episode, and I feel bad about it. But man, have I been sick last week. Or rather, exhausted to a point where I found myself in bed for almost a week, for several days not being able to talk at all. Let me tell you, that is one weird experience. And frustrating, above all.
And while we’re on the topic of not discussing this particular episode, let’s throw in some gossip. As you might know, I’ve been a huge fan of Pentatonix ever since they opened their mouths on the show. As such I’ve been following them on twitter and am noticing something weird: the three founders of the group are doing quite a few performances at the moment just with the three of them. As I recently learned, bassist Avi and beatboxer Kevin were added to the group just because five members was the minimum required. They were doing their first performances as a five person group on The Sing-Off, which seems completely crazy to me, considering how tight that was.
Anyhow, just the other three are doing a lot of appearances on radio shows, at schools, and even posting thank you-messages just by the three of them, stating that their buddies are out of town. Which may be true, but may or may not be the reason why they are not participating. Does this mean they were eliminated during the taping last summer, and decided to continue in their original formation? (And for the sake of the show can’t tell anybody yet?) Or am I being delusional here? What do you think?
All I’m trying to say is: these guys better not be kicked off ’cause they’re too amazing to not be in the big finale, and they better not leave Avi and Kevin behind because the five of them are too amazing to break up. That being said, here’s what I thought of the actual episode.
This is the first time I’m writing about one of the enormous opening-tunes. There’s a reason for that. I don’t know if anything has changed in the mixing and choreographing of these numbers but they seem a little more bland than previous years. But wait, I am not here to moan, I’m here to give you highlights. And this week’s opening number was an obvious highlight.
We’re doing superstar-medleys this week and I thought it was a nice touch that the opening number was a medley as well. The styling department went all out with silly costumes and fake moustaches. I love the song-choices. (I’m not gonna spoil it for you, just watch the video.) Also, a vocal back and forth between Michael and Scott is a little bit of a dream come true.
Another reason I’ve chosen to change up the usual top three-structure is because it’s impossible to pick the three best of such an insanely great bunch of performances. This week I even loved the performance of the group that was eliminated, the Yellow Jackets. So instead of giving you the three best performances, I’ll post two videos and then write some more about the other songs you can’t miss.
To make things interesting I’m going to disagree with the judges completely and feature Urban Method’s Rihanna medley. Of course, Rihanna is known for being loud and intense, and the gals didn’t exactly replicate that. But that’s the thing, I love how soothing and laid back this medley is! Apart from the second part of umbrella, where things do go south a little bit, I thoroughly enjoyed this performance.
The next video is a Queen medley by the Dartmouth Aires. I’m a huge Queen fan and they and the Aires seem like a match made in heaven. (This could be heaven…) Personally I’m completely sick of Bohemian Rhapsody though, because it has been covered so often, so that was a little bit of a disappointment. But it seems te be a crowd-pleaser and after a couple watches I must admit they didn’t do a bad job.
Anyways, the real reason I’m posting this is their absolutely spectacular interpretation of Somebody to Love at the end. My appreciation for Michael’s skills is rising every week. The group took some big risks, completely relying on Michael’s vocal skillset, and it more than payed off. This is one world-class performance.
What other videos you should be watching right now:
This is the first time I left out Pentatonix. They were good, as ever, but it seems like their skill lies in epicly building up a single song over 2 minutes. The switching between the different songs kinda broke up their flow. Vocal Point showed once again a great amount of skill and confidence. Great work. I loved the textbook example modulation in Can’t help falling in love with you. And the moves… very jealous of the moves! Also, Delilah scored another point for showing they can be a complete and grown up vocal group. Personally, I’d still visit their show for their skinny dresses rather then because I like their style of music, but I’m pretty sure there are a lot of young women around who can relate to their repertoire.
Apparently, I’m not the only one who is having trouble keeping his blogs on schedule. Ben Folds has now missed both weeks six and seven on his personal blogging-page! Also, Sara Bareilles maybe wrote one blog during the entire season. But she did look amazing in that pink dress this episode, so that kinda makes up for it. Luckily, Shawn Stockman wrote another one of his personal blogs. I’m really starting to appreciate these. Read it here.
After last week’s episode, we had half of the contest behind us. In this season, the groups get ten episodes to compete. (There is an eleventh live show dedicated to showing some of the best talent of all seasons.) After five of those ten episodes, eight of the initial sixteen groups remained. And still, I feel like we are only starting out this week.
This is the first week when all groups where introduced at the beginning of the episode. There’s eight groups left, and there are eight boxes in the studio. From now on, no more box-switching. Every time a group leaves, there will be an extra empty box in the studio. There are now few enough groups left to really get to know all of them, and feel the loss when one of them gets eliminated.
Also, for the first time in Sing-Off history there was a sing off in the Sing-Off. (Yeah, this might get confusing.) Basically the two bottom groups get the chance to impress the judges one last time, at the end of the episode. They each sing their own rendition of the same song, while the other group watches and listens from the back of the stage. This is pretty intense, but it works and does provide a great way to compare two groups. After performing back to back, the judges send one group home and the other group gets to stay for another week.
I’ve been checking myself for being biased towards these guys, but found myself not guilty. Once again, Pentatonix put on an incredible performance. Truth is, I didn’t even like the first minute or so. Then I realized it was because I was truly intimidated by them. Besides being amazing vocalists (in all honesty, we see so many of those) these guys know how to use their brains and put their talents to use. For every song they choose a style and they dedicate themselves to it 100%. All of them. And that’s what makes this group work. I can’t see how they’re not gonna win this show.
Concerning this performance, everyone just went nuts about it. As Sara Bareilles said, they went to the sweet spot and everybody in the audience just went with them. Screw technical perfection, this will be my goal from now on when I’m performing myself.
This week was Hip-Hop week, which was fun ’cause we got to see some groups outside of their standard repertoire. Once again the Dartmouth Aires performed surprisingly well. In some way they seem to consistently avoid the weaknesses that larger college groups tend to have. (Being chaotic, not having a recognizable face in front of them, not being able to convey a message.)
We saw a new face, Henri, coming down with come smooth rap lyrics. He doesn’t have the energy of Urban Method’s rapper Mike by any stretch of the imagination, but his chemistry with Jesus Christ Super Rockstar Michael was great and brought the overall energy level up to par. I also have to applaud them on how they can cram a full song-experience with highs, lows, breakdowns etc. within one minute fifty. These guys know what they’re doing. Good stuff.
Where ma girlz at?
This last video is going to be technically interesting. The all-female group Delilah has had a rough couple of weeks where they ended in the bottom two twice. Mainly because they tried on some musical styles which they just couldn’t handle with female voices only. This week they took a Lil Wayne song (what?) and arranged it beautifully over their powerful voices.
This is a great example of how your brain is your most precious skill in making music. Sure, they have great voices, but they can still suck as a group if they forget to use them properly. Luckily, this week they didn’t forget.
Dude, what else is up?
For those who like hip-hop at its most hip-hoppish, you should really take a look at Urban Method’s rendition of Airplanes. I liked it and they’re a skilled group, but what they lack in comparison to a group like Pentatonix is the ability to exert a certain energy with the entire group. Mike is super intense, then come the lead girls and the others aren’t really that memorable energy-wise. Still a recommended watch though.
Another great example of brains over belts was the battle at the end of the show, where The Collective and the Yellow Jackets sang different renditions of the same song. Watch it here. The Collective is the only group I have been really critical about. At this time I must admit they really tried and took the judges commentary to heart. But at the end of the day (or rather, at the end of episode 6) they still didn’t perform with a group-mentality, and as such I think this was a good moment for them to leave.
At this time, only a quite personal blog by Shawn Stockman. Recommended.
Robert-Jon Eckhart is Vocal Blog’s Sing-off correspondent and blogs at http://a-cappella.robert-jon.nl. He is one of these guys who ought to wear the new aca-nerd shirt collection to be seen at www.facebook.com/acappellazone. Thanks so much for your Sing-Off rants – from the European perspective. By the way, if you want to have the US perspective, go to www.5thjudge.com by Warren Bloom. And if you are from Germany (a tiny country in the middle of Europe under the totalitarian copyright rule of www.gema.de), don’t waste time getting upset over not being able to see all these shiny Sing-Off videos. My advice: Travel to one of the www.casa.org festivals in Raleigh, L.A., Boston or New York and see the best of US collegiate a cappella live. I’ve been to SoJam A Cappella Festival 2011 lately: It’s really, really, really worth the trip! ^FSt
So there I am at the corner of Down Place and Bridge Avenue next to Hammersmith on my bike and the lyrics and melody of “I’m at a Down Place on a Bridge Avenue” pop in my head like magic. So I record them on my faithful dictaphone which never leaves me. And then I keep humming it all along the way. And then on my way back, I pass in front of Dalling Road. Dalling, Darling and there it comes, what will become the bridge of the song: “Darling oh, don’t you want to meet me oh, oh yeah, oh-oh”. At this point I don’t know what I’m going to do with that. All I know is that I love that groove and keep humming it.
And then I start wondering if there’s a possibility of doing a song entirely based on London street names. And I start looking frantically at my map and start coming up with sentences and melodies. I soon realize I will have to use poetic license for the song to make sense but that’s fine. So days later, the song is finished. And I already think that I want to film it in every street that I mention. So I start looking at Google Maps street view to actually check that the street signs exists. Because in London, it’s not like in Paris, my hometown, you don’t have a street sign at every corner of the street and I want to be absolutely sure that when I go film it I don’t turn up to realize the sign is nowhere to be found. So it takes me hours but I finally have checked all the locations without having to go there in person which I will find out when shooting would have taken me 6 days otherwise!
And then I ask friends if they would be available to shoot. I had planned 4 days of shooting all together but some places are very far apart so sometimes it takes up to an hour and a half to get from one point to another even if I try to regroup the maximum of locations in the same area before we go to the next. Every time we shoot, it doesn’t take long. Maybe 5 to 10 mn on each location. Except for Darling road, Down place, Bridge Avenue et Blue Ball Yard which are repeated several times in the song. I wanted to make sure I had several shots of these so we spent an hour on each of these locations. 3 friends of mine have shot the video. And I will never thank them enough for their time.
And then it was time to edit it. Again I didn’t realize what an immense task it would be. Took me days to synchronize everything, pick up the right footage, teach myself because it was my first real go at editing with Final Cut… But then there it was and the reaction ever since has been so great that I don’t regret any of it. Now I still dream that it could become an anthem for the Olympics next summer, well one can dream… :)
June Caravel is a French singer-songwriter and scriptwriter who has been living in London since 2009. She is also the lead singer of the band My Car Is Black, an all female rock combo. Although I haven’t met her in person yet, she seems to be a wonderful person and I hope to meet her at London A Cappella Festival (Jan 12th-15th, 2011). If you send pictures of the places and signs of the “London Song” video to June, she promised to send you free download links for one of her songs. I love London and I love the whole idea of the video – thanks for sharing!