Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Best Albums You've Never Heard, Part 2

Hey you! Did you know there are some fantastic a cappella albums that have eluded your grasp, just because you didn’t come across them in your travels? Here is a list (in no particular order) of the a cappella albums that you should be listening to right now.

(For part 1 of this article, see: http://acappellaquest.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-best-albums-youve-never-heard-part-1.html)

1) GQ by GQ

Why should you listen to this album? Because these girls can SING. I don’t typically listen to Barbershop music in the car, but this album is way beyond mere barbershop. First of all, the barbershop tunes that ARE on this album are so perfect and so vocally amazing, that you can’t help but sit silently, listening to vocal perfection, while drool escapes your mouth. But for the non-barbershopper, there are jazz songs, a Fiona Apple cover, a Scottish folksong, and the crème de la crème, the absolute, most amazing cover of Plain Gold Ring you’ll ever hear in your life- an epic 5-minute multitracked collage of sound.

Tracks you must listen to: Plain Gold Ring, Hot Knife, Put Your Arms Around Me Honey

2) Tintinnabulation by the Virginia Belles

I came across this album while listening to tracks for Voices Only nominations. I’m thrilled that these girls have gotten their fill of credit, with tracks on Voices Only and BOCA. This album is full of finely crafted arrangements, including a beautiful rendition of “Your Song” and a burning rendition of “Rumour Has It.” Give this album your attention, or at least listen to them on the compilations.

Tracks you must listen to: Rumour Has It, Your Song, Fire, Do My Thing

3) Wonders of the World by Five O’Clock Shadow

This is probably a little behind the times, after all this album came out over a decade ago. But the tunes (almost all original) are some of the best a cappella tunes I’ve ever heard. For a whole year in college, this album was one of the only ones I listened to. One of my all time favorite a cappella songs was, and still is “What’s It All About.” Critics of the album claim the songs are too effect heavy, and maybe that’s true, but it doesn’t stop the songs from being incredibly catchy.

Tracks you must listen to: Inside Her Mouth, What’s It All About, Promise You This

4) Rhapsody in Bob by The Bobs

For someone who likes a cappella so much, you’d think my favorite musical piece of all time would be something vocal. But it isn’t. A lifelong Gershwin fan, nothing moves me more than Rhapsody In Blue, and the Bobs took the premise and ran with it. True, it isn’t entirely a cappella (the song has piano accompaniment), but they are the only a cappella group to attempt the entire song, all 17 minutes of it. Love or hate the Bobs, this is an epic feat worth discovering.

Tracks you must listen to: Rhapsody in Blue, I was a Teenage Brain Surgeon

5) Har Ar Passion by Riltons Vanner

This album is a perfect case of why you should never let a foreign language turn you off from listening to something new. I can’t understand a single word in any of these tracks, and I know them all by heart. The music is catchy pop with a little bit of jazz thrown in. It’s a shame the group no longer exists, but this album proves that the time they had was really worth it.

Tracks you must listen to: Har Ar Passion, Folket Fran Ea, Schack Matt

6) Smiley Laughy Happy Facey by Mister Tim

I both love and hate Tim. He produces a comedy a cappella album that basically solidifies him as the Weird Al of a cappella, when really, that’s what I wanted to be, because I love Weird Al, not because I have any looping talent. This album is hilarious. Simple as that.

Tracks you must listen to: We Arr Who We Arr, Hawaii, Baby, Don’t Stop Buh-LEED-in

7) German Verboten by Maybebob

And speaking of hilarious…Maybebop.

Tracks you must listen to: Krautpleasers, Smells Like Teen Spirit

8) Ricochet by Richmond Octaves

Runner-up for the CARA for Best Male Collegiate Album. My very first review was for this album, and I was blown away by the incredible interpretations of songs that I considered to be “overdone” in the a cappella world at the time. Their version of “Too Close” is the only version I’ve heard that actually does the song justice. While I criticized them for their choice of which track goes where on the album, watching them gain notoriety with appearances on several compilations solidifies what I originally thought: This album is phenomenal.

Tracks you must listen to: Never Close Our Eyes, Too Close, Basket Case

9) Rock Paper Shotgun by the Northwestern Undertones

So this is a case of don’t judge an album by its first two songs. I admit, when I heard it, it wasn’t particularly interesting to me, until I got to “Party.” Though I didn’t write the review for CASA,  a friend of mine did, and before he wrote that review, he and I had a long discussion on the merits of the album versus the flaws. He was right and I was wrong- the album, through and through, is well crafted and a lot of fun. After listening to the album umpteen times, my mind was turned.

Tracks you must listen to: Party, Gunpowder and Lead, I’ll be Waiting

10) The Hexachords EP by The UMASS Hexachords

These guys are ahead of the curve- a student run college group made up of only six singers, that took second place at the most recent ICCA semi-finals. Their EP is brilliantly arranged, and really showcases what a small group can do. Their album is available on Loudr.

Tracks you must listen to: Party Song Mashup, Stand By Me

11) Stratosphere by Fundamentally Sound

My friend Lee Stovall is an up-and-coming a cappella arranger with a tremendous amount of talent. . I dare anyone to find an a cappella track that is more powerful and more emotionally heavy than “Killing In The Name.”

Tracks you must listen to: Killing In The Name, I Believe in a Thing Called Love, The Luckiest


Q: Hey…how come you don’t include albums by popular groups like Pentatonix, Rockapella, Take 6, The Bubs, The Sil’hooettes, etc.

A: Because this post is called “albums you’ve never heard.” As an author, I’m assuming that a cappella fans will know the majority of popular groups by name, and will already own several, if not all, of their albums. Just because they aren’t on this list, doesn’t mean they are unworthy of your attention. By all means, hunt these groups down. They are well-known for a reason.

Q: Can I write you hate mail if I don’t see an album on your list?

A: I’d prefer if you didn’t, but I welcome any suggestions. (Free from profanity) I love listening to new things.

Marc Silverberg

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