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Aural Pleasure

Emory University

Afterglow (2010)

3.7

May 2, 2011

Tuning / Blend 4.0
Energy / Intensity 3.7
Innovation / Creativity 2.7
Soloists 4.3
Sound / Production 3.7
Repeat Listenability 3.3
Tracks
1 Admiration 4.0
2 Spotlight 3.3
3 Ego 3.3
4 Long Distance 3.7
5 Kiss Kiss 3.7
6 Boondocks 3.3
7 Damaged 4.3
8 Her Diamonds 4.0
9 Hallelujah 3.7

Recorded 2009 – 2010
Total time: 36:06, 9 songs


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Admiration 3
2 Spotlight 4
3 Ego 4
4 Long Distance 3
5 Kiss Kiss 5
6 Boondocks 3
7 Damaged 5
8 Her Diamonds 4
9 Hallelujah 4

Aural Pleasure has figured out how to make a dance record with Afterglow, a succinct bundle of songs from late-night Top 40 radio. The beats pulse, the solos wail and the songs fade in and out of that melodic indistinctness that seems to sell so well. I'd never listen to these songs unless they were played at me when I wasn't paying attention. That said, this group sings them well.

Tye Taveras seems to be one of the most essential keys to that. She sings Kiss Kiss so well I actually enjoyed it, repeatedly, despite the song's a cappella overpresence and underlying banality. Guess it just needed a fabulous female frontman to come alive. Taveras also sings a big chunk of Damaged, always in tune and always making every note her own.

Other soloists also bring their own personalities forward with great results. Nour El-Kebbi takes charge on Ego, giving us a reason to care, and Trey Mullins sounds uncannily like he's channeling the House Jacks on Spotlight, which gets my attention every time. And in what may be the best example of making something your own, Leila Elamine pours her soul into Hallelujah. It's not my favorite performance of this song or on this disc, not by a longshot, but she sings it with a determination I can't help but admire. Plus I think Leonard Cohen fans will like it.

If you like a cappella and these songs, this is an album for you. Even if you don't, it's got a lot to recommend it. Maybe someone will throw it at you on your way home from a great party.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Admiration 5
2 Spotlight 4
3 Ego 3
4 Long Distance 4
5 Kiss Kiss 3
6 Boondocks 4
7 Damaged 4
8 Her Diamonds 5
9 Hallelujah 3

Afterglow by Aural Pleasure falls into the unfortunate category of "good, but not great". The singing is good, the group makes no major mistakes, but in the end the album leaves me unfulfilled.

Just to explore the "unfulfilled" theme a little more before I highlight some of the positives, there isn't really any one thing wrong with the album. My lack of fulfillment comes largely because there aren't many attention-grabbing moments. I don't really like some of the songs. Others just bore me. The arrangements are all good, but none make me think, "Wow, who came up with that?" If there is one bit of advice I can offer the group for their next project, it's to try to stretch themselves artistically a bit more.

There are a number of positives, though. The soloists all sound very good. The group sounds comfortable with the pop genre they have chosen. The background vocals alternate nicely between subdued to rockin' and back again as the album progresses. The blend between parts is very nice. The tuning is also outstanding: thankfully, none of these singers appear to need "autotune" at all. The vocal percussion is excellent as well. There are a number of different drum sounds used to accompany the vocals, yet they all match my own personal taste in that one can still tell the percussive sounds originated in a human mouth. The sound production is also first-rate: the album is very easy on the ears, with no jarring spots or places that otherwise make one wonder, "What were they thinking?"

In closing: as you might expect from my opening paragraph, I don't consider this to be a "must have" album by any stretch of the imagination. It's got many good qualities, and fans of the group will undoubtedly appreciate it. For the rest of you, though, I would guess that unless you particularly like the songs they chose to cover, you will have the same reaction I had.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 2
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Admiration 4
2 Spotlight 2
3 Ego 3
4 Long Distance 4
5 Kiss Kiss 3
6 Boondocks 3
7 Damaged 4
8 Her Diamonds 3
9 Hallelujah 4

Afterglow marks an improvement in the quality of Aural Pleasure's sound and energy. When I last heard them, they were covering stale Top 40 hits in lackluster fashion on Come Again?. This time, the enthusiasm is genuine, and the overall musicality of the group is much more solid as a result. I still struggle to find anything in the repertoire or the arrangements that make this album a standout, but it seems this group is heading in the right direction.

Afterglow is pretty heavy on the dance/hip hop genre, covering artists such as Beyoncé, Brandy, and Chris Brown feat. T-Pain. This stuff sounds fine, but don't expect anything particularly interesting. These tracks are mostly made up of sampled bass and percussion and a pretty simple arrangement. The soloists do the songs justice, but I don't see why anyone would get enjoyment out of listening to these versions over the originals (there are too many similarities and not enough innovation).

No, I think Aural Pleasure's best work here is on the more — how do I put this — substantial and meaningful source material. Incubus's Admiration is particularly strong. The Sojam-award-winning arrangement by Caitlin Yuhas is excellent (a rarity on this record) and the passionate block sounds full of energy and resonance. Similarly, the oft-covered Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen's version) does the original justice.

I take some issue with the production on this album. Aside from my usual frustrations with sampling and distortion and whatnot, I find that the block is often very distant in the mix, while the percussion is way too prominent. A surprising observation, given that most tracks were mixed by the likes of Dave Sperandio and Bill Hare, but I don't think my ears deceive me.

I think Aural Pleasure has a ways to go if they want to be among the truly innovative and ground-breaking collegiate ensembles out there. They've worked hard on their performance — and it shows. But the group continues to struggle with its song choices and decisions to emulate originals with too much precision. A little more time finding interesting material to work with will go a long way.


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