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

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