Tuesday, February 6, 2018

A cappella Burgers

A cappella Burgers

One of my favorite cartoons on television is Bob’s Burgers. If you haven’t watched it, I suggest you do.


If you have never seen the show before, this is how I recommend viewing the episodes:

1)  Watch the pilot
2) Watch season 1 but skip “Crawl Space,” “Bed and Breakfast,” “Spaghetti Western and Meatballs,” “Weekend at Mort’s,” “Lobsterfest,” and “Torpedo.”
3) Go right to season 2 and enjoy.

I used this equation to effectively hook my wife (who is very picky about what she watches) onto Bob’s Burgers.

Why did I skip those particular episodes? It’s not because they are bad. There’s not a single episode of Bob’s Burgers I would say is “bad.” They are just not as strong as a lot of the other episodes, and to effectively convince someone to watch the entirety of a show, you need to give them a string of great episodes in a row.

I find that when I listen to a new a cappella CD, I’m hoping for a string of tracks that convince me the rest of the album is worth it. And often, I’m disappointed. This really comes down to the order of tracks. And just like the guide to Bob’s Burgers, I wish someone would give me a specific listening order so I instantly become intrigued by the remainder of the album.

I find with my short attention span I tend to make snap judgments about what I’m hearing. I can like or not like something very quickly. I know I’m wrong. But I also know I’m definitely not alone.

I learned over the course of my studies that a cappella experts place a cappella albums into two categories: Concept albums and Yearbook albums. The concept album leads the listeners through a journey with either a plot or a moral.  The yearbook album is a collection of songs you’ve been working over the past [insert amount of time here] with no discernible link between them.

Anytime I review/listen to a yearbook album, I always have the same complaint: The tracks are in a bad order. And just like my Bob’s Burgers preferred watching order, I’m always left disappointed that groups did not take into account the same formula: Hook the listener quickly, THEN break out the other stuff.

Concept albums should stay in the order they are written in. No one can really deny that. But yearbook albums need a re-organization.

I believe tracks 1 and 2 (and maybe even 3) should wow me immediately. Put your best stuff first, because listeners tend to go in track order when listening to a whole album. Once I’m impressed, then I’m more willing to listen to the risky stuff or willing to sit through the mediocre tracks.

This is just my opinion, but the second-to-last track needs to be where you bury your worst song. Either I’ll skip to the last track to hear what kind of explosive ending you’ve crafted, or I’ll leave the album running to the end and not even realize what track number I’m listening to.

I’m not an expert sound engineer. I’m not a producer of a cappella albums. I’m just a listener who hungrily grabs every album he can get his chubby little hands on. But speaking as an a cappella mega fan, if you want me to appreciate your yearbook album, I need to know you’re thinking about how to convince me as quickly as possible.

The next time you design your track list, pretend the listener is my wife. She's really picky about what television I watch, she makes snap judgments, and the only way to get her to stay is to give her your best stuff first.

Marc Silverberg

Follow the Quest for the A cappella Major:


Speaking of Bob’s Burgers…here are my 10 favorite episodes (in case you were wondering)

10) Hamburger Dinner Theatre

Linda, obsessed with dinner theatre, stages her own murder mystery in the restaurant. This was also the first episode to include music (which is now a staple in every episode) and establish that Gene is the “composer” of the family. The best feature is the naiveté of Linda, who believes her “twist” ending is brilliant, and the argument that ensues.

9) Glued: Where’s My Bob?

The 100th episode rightly keeps the family, and every character whose ever appeared on the show, firmly in the restaurant. Suffering from a prank gone wrong, Bob becomes glued to the bathroom toilet right before a big magazine interview. In true Bob’s Burgers fashion, the ending is both good and bad for the restaurant’s reputation.

8) Bob Actually

Easily the best Valentine’s Day episode, this collection of separate stories ends in the most satisfying way possible. Also, nothing makes me laugh harder than the hip-hop class Bob takes in order to impress Linda.

7) Purple Rain-union

This episode has some of the best musical material from the show, and also a strong story for Linda and her sister Gayle. Haunted by the events of her high school talent show, Linda’s band is asked to play at their high school reunion. Their first song, written by Gayle, has probably the best rhyming couplet of all time.

6) The Deepening

Bob’s Burgers likes to parody other movies and television shows, and they range from good (O.T. The Outside Toilet) to mediocre (Aliens/Freaky Friday). This Jaws parody however, is pitch perfect. Who’d ever think a mechanical shark would be a threat to people on land? Best line: “I’m literally grasping at straws.”

5) Dr. Yap

Ken Jeong plays the family dentist, Dr. Yap, who invites the family to spend the weekend at his cabin for a ski weekend. Oh, and Bob has to pretend to date Gayle, Linda’s sister. Oh, and the kids have an outstanding competition for a jawbreaker.

4) Broadcast Wagstaff School News

This episode features the best appearance by Jenny Slate, who plays Tina’s rival, Tammy. Tina investigates the mysterious “Mad Pooper,” whose been leaving poops all over school. This episode also helps establish a staple in the series: that every teacher in this school is a horrible person.

3) The Equestranauts

A fantastic parody of the “Bronies” culture, Tina gets swindled by an evil fan and Bob must participate in the convention to get her toy pony back. I love this episode for two reasons: The mispronunciation of the word “tattoo,” and the extremely quotable “Non canonical! Non canonical! Non canonical!”

2) Work Hard or Die Tryin’ Girl

Gene stages Die Hard the Musical. His ex-girlfriend, Courtney, stages Working Girl the Music at the same time. Then they combine musicals and create the original work: Work hard or Die Tryin’ Girl.” ‘Nuff said.

1) Topsy

This episode has SO many things going for it: A duet between Kevin Kline and Megan Mullaly, a villain for Louise to destroy, the first appearance of Billy Eichner, a definitive argument that Thomas Edison was a terrible person, Spi-ceps, and the absolute best song in the history of the series. If you never watch another episode, at least see this one.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Best A cappella Songs You've Never Heard

On this blog, I usually highlight a cappella albums that I believe deserve as much attention as the latest release by Pentatonix. You can view those posts here:

I’m going to change things up a little bit and talk about specific a cappella songs that I think also deserve special mention. Why am I changing from albums to songs? The reason is simple... I’ve discovered that it’s becoming more common for a cappella groups to release small EP’s or singles. By releasing individual songs more frequently, a cappella groups can stay relevant in this ever-growing musical marketplace. To help foster that trend, here are some a cappella songs you should be listening to. (In no particular order)

The criteria for selecting these songs are as follows:

A. It has to be a song I believe the majority of blog readers have not heard yet. This eliminates songs from more popular albums like the BOCA compilations and Sing-Off winners.
B. I have to be totally obsessed with it.

1) “Real Thing” by Hive

It’s probably a good sign you like this song when you downloaded it last Wednesday and it’s already on your “top 25 most played” playlist. The ladies of Hive are clearly sending a strong "Here we are!" message. In fact, the entire production of this single, from the arrangement to the mixing, was done by female a cappella artists.

The song is a little offbeat- It’s an arrangement, written by Lisa Forkish, of the “Tune Yards,” a band I had never even heard of until last week. The song begins in a typical R&B style, but the sudden shift in the middle is enough to excite music nerds like me. Don’t judge the book by its cover- listen all the way through.

2) “Agua De Beber” by Sambaranda

About a month ago, I asked the Facebook hive mind to suggest Latin a cappella albums that I could listen to, having little-to-no idea what groups specialized in Latin music. This is how I found Sambaranda, an a cappella group from Brazil. Their cover of Jobim’s “Agua De Beber” simply rocks. Half of the entire song is in 7/4, a meter that most of us never dare to tread.

What I love most about the arrangement is the beginning loop, repeated several times throughout the recording. I use that loop as inspiration for several a cappella arrangements I’ve recently written, and I’ve mentioned the song in last week’s post about informative arrangements.

3) “Love is Just That Way” by Accent

As a massive Take 6 fan, I’ve played their albums to death. Naturally, this has led to some jazz withdrawal- It’s extremely rare that anyone is writing complex harmonies that only Take 6 can deliver.

This is why I was so happy to find Accent’s new album In This Together. Their penchant for jazz writing breathes new life into my a cappella addiction. These harmonies are probably as close to “Take 6” as any group has gotten thus far. Every song on the album is amazing, but my personal favorite is “Love is just that way.” Only a group like Accent could rock that hard and still be considered jazz.

4) “Stay” by Vocalight

Vocalight is the new “it” group in town, and they deserve it. A mix of alumni from Eleventh Hour and Forte, they stunned the world by taking 3rd in the Varsity Vocals Aca-Open, and now they’re debuting complex arrangements in the vein of Pentatonix, but without the restraints of trying to please a general audience. My expectation of “Stay” was for them to over-emphasize the harmonic clashes in the chorus—probably the most well-liked part of that song—but once again the group shocks and amazes me by totally reinventing the song and inventing their own groove. It’s like they removed all the "Zedd" and added more "Alessia Cara."

5) “Wildest Dreams” by Drastic Measures from A cappella Academy

An older inclusion in the list, this insanely difficult version of the Taylor Swift tune makes me hate the fact that I’m too old to apply for the academy. If you were ever looking for a way to totally re-imagine a song, this would be a good example. Rarely have I heard a group sing an arrangement this complex. From now on, THIS is how I'm going to arrange Taylor Swift.

6) “Home” by Freshmen Fifteen

Another oldie but goodie. The absolute best arrangement of this song comes from the Freshmen Fifteen, who meld “Home” with several others spirituals. There’s a moment, right before the final chorus, that no matter how many times you hear it, you never fail to get goosebumps. The soloist emits more emotion in this recording than every solo on the last BOCA...COMBINED. It’s raw, imperfect, and absolutely outstanding.

7) “Talk2Me” by House Jacks feat. Postyr Project

“Talk2Me” is a strange mix of rock and electronica that works a little too well. The House Jacks' album Pollen is a concept album that has them traveling and recording with a cappella groups all over the world. The entire album deserves your attention, but “Talk2Me” is the one that grabs your attention the most. The song manages to build an enormous amount of tension in the sound and never really releases the pressure, but you don’t seem to mind.

8) “What Kind of Band” by Avante

Avante is not widely known in the a cappella circles yet, but probably more so in the vocal jazz community. This song was written for a specific kind of audience—the major a cappella nerd. I bet you’re shocked why I love this song…

Just try to catch all the a cappella easter eggs if you can…

9) "In The River" by ARORA

I’m cheating a little here, because this song is not commercially available yet. As an attendee of SoJam 2017, I was able to purchase a copy of their demo CD for their upcoming album release. "In The River" is shaping up to be the next “Bridge-” a seamless mix of electronica, rock, and calming ambiance- a grouping of styles that only ARORA could pull off. While you probably can’t listen to this one yet, you can ABSOLUTELY set your expectations high and your anticipation at maximum. ARORA will deliver.

10) "Little Drummer Boy" by Five O' Clock Shadow

This one is definitely the oldest song on the list, but I have gotten multiple uses out of it in educational settings. The vocal percussion solo is a testament to both the incredible talent of David Stackhouse and the musicality one can bring to a percussion solo that is more than “look at the cool sounds I can make.” Whenever I introduce a class to vocal percussion, this is always the first track I play, because it never fails to shock and amaze. Couple that with the insane talent of this iteration of Five O’Clock Shadow, and you get my favorite a cappella holiday track of all time.

Marc Silverberg

Follow the Quest:

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Informative Arrangements 2: Electric Boogaloo

So…apparently people enjoyed last week’s post. Well, I’m glad you liked it. In case you missed it, here’s a link:

Also, I’ve finally accepted that more than 3 people read this blog. So that was nice. (Hello 4 readers!)

Addison Horner, content creator for the AEA, went ahead and put the songs on Spotify. Here’s a link: 

I'd have done that...but I don't have a Spotify account. Plus, I'm lazy. Plus, meh.

It’s time for round 2!

Q: My group wants to do this pop song that EVERYONE and their mom is singing right now. I want to turn it into something totally new like it’s almost unrecognizable. What can I do?

A: Listen to:

“Can’t Buy Me Love” by The King’s Singers
“I Want You Back” by SONOS
“Billie Jean” by Fermata Town
“Killing Me Softly” by Singers Unlimited
“Swingle Ladies” by The Swingles
“I Knew You Were Trouble” by Blackout
“Hildepunk” by MIX

Q: I want to write something that sounds exactly like a jazz big band. Where can I find textbook examples of that?

A: Listen to:

“I’m With You” by The Real Group
“Straighten Up and Fly Right” by Acoustix
“Softly As in a Morning Sunrise” by Quintet
“Have You Met Miss Jones” by The Swingle Singers

Q: Where can I find really good examples of what a “mash-up” is supposed to sound like?

A: Listen to:

“Never Close Our Eyes/As Long As You Love Me/Sweet Nothing” by OneVoice
"Another Way To Die/Skyfall" by The Amalgamates
“How Far I’ll Go The Distance” by Scott and Ryceejo
"Gravity/Run To You" by Jonathan Reid
"Single/Acappella" by Eleventh Hour

Q: My arrangement is missing a really cool chord. Like “Whoa! What was that?!” kind of chord. Where I can I find one of those?

A: Listen to: (You'll know it when you hear it)

 “And So It Goes” by Groove For Thought
“Water Night” by Eric Whitacre
“224” by Cluster
“My Future Self” by Postyr Project
“God Bless The Child” by SoCal VoCals
“Hide and Seek” by Imogen Heap
“I Got Rhythm” by Glad
“Locked Out of Heaven” by Vocalosity

Q: We have a really good bass and he/she gets bored really easily. Where can I find examples of more interesting, and difficult bass lines for him/her to sing?

A: Listen to:

“Sing a Song” by On The Rocks
“Feel So Bad” by Voices In Your Head
“Dance With Me” (or really anything) by Rockapella
“Agua de Beber” by Sambaranda
“Wrecking Ball/We Can’t Stop” by Delilah

Q: I’m a live looper and I need some inspiration. What can I listen to so I can get an idea of how to arrange for a loop station?

A: Listen to:

“Cupcakes Can Kill You” by Mister Tim
“Whiskey” by Julia Easterlin
“I Shall Be Free” by Kid Beyond
“Ave Maria” by SONOS
“Unison” by Bjork
“Don’t Worry Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin (even though he doesn’t use a loop station, the arrangement is very repetitive)

Do you have an arrangement question? Send me a tweet @docacappella and I'll include it in Informative Arrangements 3!

Marc Silverberg

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