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Allegrettos

Boston University

Light, Graceful, & Moderately Fast in Tempo (2010)

3.0

November 26, 2011

Tuning / Blend 3.0
Energy / Intensity 3.0
Innovation / Creativity 2.7
Soloists 2.7
Sound / Production 3.3
Repeat Listenability 3.0
Tracks
1 The Impression That I Get 2.7
2 Take Me Away 3.0
3 Mercy 4.0
4 Ever the Same 2.7
5 Inside Out 3.0
6 Gravity 3.0
7 Used to Love U 3.0
8 Always Be My Baby 3.0
9 Just Dance/Poker Face 3.0

Recorded 2009 – 2010
Total time: 33:28, 9 songs


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 The Impression That I Get 2
2 Take Me Away 3
3 Mercy 5
4 Ever the Same 2
5 Inside Out 3
6 Gravity 3
7 Used to Love U 3
8 Always Be My Baby 3
9 Just Dance/Poker Face 3

Why does this album not begin with Mercy? When it pops up three songs in, it's like the whole disc goes airborne. Katie Piper delivers on the solo, the arrangement suits the Allegrettos' sound, and I can almost forget the leaden couple of over-noted numbers that came before.

Light, Graceful, & Moderately Fast in Tempo rarely delivers on all three of its promised definitions. Moderately fast, yes. Light and graceful? Only intermittently. And in their absence, the group is indeed weighted down, fighting against production that's bigger than they are and overwhelms the ensemble timbre.

Take Ever the Same. Jon Lobo sings the solo sweetly but the song never gels. There's a mismatch here between the singing and the production — this group doesn't have the heft to sound good under this much compressed, shiny studio sound. A lighter approach might have drawn less attention to the track's flaws, since a more "natural" sound is more in keeping with tuning foibles. Gravity makes better use of the sustained block chords, being more of a ballad. Sarah Durrin's light solo gets a bit hidden behind the block chords, which have solid bass anchors and fizz out as they go up.

Nothing shimmers like Mercy. The Mariah Carey number toward the end has some swing to it, Used to Love U has a fun little break in the middle, and the Just Dance/Poker Face combo has a certain danceability. It also clings to the Allegrettos' childlike sound. The women in particular often sound like kids, like they're projecting even younger than they already are. On Mercy, they sound like a 60s soul group, girlish but grown. On other numbers, they sound like summer camp at the Catskills. And when they're absent, like on the guy-driven The Impression That I Get, it just sounds ... meh.

The Allegrettos would have benefited from growing into their youthful sound. This album shows flashes of what they could evolve into, without ever quite gelling into place. Hopefully they'll keep building and moving toward the ideal light, graceful sound. Tempo optional.


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 The Impression That I Get 4
2 Take Me Away 3
3 Mercy 4
4 Ever the Same 3
5 Inside Out 3
6 Gravity 3
7 Used to Love U 3
8 Always Be My Baby 3
9 Just Dance/Poker Face 3

The Allegrettos is a coed group from Boston University and has made a few very smart choices with Light, Graceful, & Moderately Fast in Tempo. First and most importantly, the Allegrettos selected a very manageable album length (manageable both for themselves as singers and for the listener): nine tracks, clocking in at just over thirty minutes. Secondly, the group has a lot of energy here and carries that over into arrangements that move. Even slower ballads such as Ever the Same have arrangements that step forward and don't lag. These two factors go a long way toward making Light, Graceful, & Moderately Fast in Tempo a pleasant listen.

Unfortunately, the group falters vocally. I can't tell whether that's due to talent or due to poor song choice; I'll assume the latter and speak to that. Mercy is a repetitive song on its own, and translated to a cappella, it becomes more so. The Allegrettos have admirably tried to jazz it up with a mini-mashup of Amy Winehouse's Rehab; that section of the song works quite well, actually, but the rest of the song is less interesting. And speaking of mashups, the medley of Just Dance/Poker Face is the most boring kind of song combination: Song 1 slammed up against Song 2 with no real transition or connection. The two pieces are layered at the end of the track, but it sounds muddled.

In addition, many of these songs are poorly suited to their soloists: the lead on Gravity is too ethereal for the meaty and driving arrangement singing beneath her; the soloist on Inside Out sounds disengaged and disinterested; and the soloist on Always Be My Baby muffs the vocal runs at the end of the song. Important lesson, with this and with any song: if there's a part that the soloist or the group can't tackle, it's alright to leave it out!

There's still much to enjoy here, because the Allegrettos actually sound, for the most part, as though they're having fun and enjoying the songs that they sing. That may sound so basic, but many groups fail to convey that energy and excitement in recordings. I don't love the soloist in The Impression That I Get, but the song blasts out of the gates as the first track here, and it sets a great tone for the enthusiasm that permeates Light, Graceful, & Moderately Fast in Tempo. I just wish that this energy had been combined with a song list that better fit the singers in the group.


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 2
Innovation / Creativity 2
Soloists 2
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 The Impression That I Get 2
2 Take Me Away 3
3 Mercy 3
4 Ever the Same 3
5 Inside Out 3
6 Gravity 3
7 Used to Love U 3
8 Always Be My Baby 3
9 Just Dance/Poker Face 3

I'm just going to say it: I didn't much care for Light, Graceful, & Moderately Fast in Tempo. It's not bad, exactly; it's just missing something. A few somethings, actually.

The biggest thing that's missing is energy. From the backs to the leads, it seems like nobody really cares about what they are singing. Sure, everybody is in tune and in rhythm, but that's about as far as it goes. Mercy is the most conspicuous example: this song should be dripping with attitude, but instead it's bone-dry. Some small glimmers do find their way through — punctuated high notes here and there, a flirty laugh at the end — but it's not enough.

The other big thing is leads. Take Mercy again: soloist Katie Piper should be wailing, but instead she's holding back. On The Impression That I Get, soloist Buzz Barrette starts out fine but keeps getting ahead of the backing block. Combine that with his odd tone, and the effect becomes quite jarring. And Julia Horne isn't having any fun at all with the first half of Just Dance/Poker Face — apparently not even Gaga can get these kids fired up. (I don't mean to pick on these singers specifically, only to use them as illustrative examples.) Moreover, the mixing pushes these singers too far back for my taste. Sarah Durrin, with her sweet-voiced take on Gravity, is perhaps the best vocalist of the bunch, but I can barely hear her over everyone else.

Thankfully, this album isn't all bad news. There are some great arranging moments, like the partwise fadeout at the end of Inside Out. Kudos to musical director Jessica Chen for that one, along with most of the other arrangements here. The vp from Jon Lobo on Used to Love U and Arjun Joshi on Always Be My Baby is downright awesome. And, perhaps most importantly, the album is well edited; its nine tracks left me feeling neither bored nor short-changed.

If you're already a fan or know someone in the group, you'll likely be very happy with Light, Graceful, & Moderately Fast in Tempo. The Allegrettos should be proud of it too — but I don't think the group is quite ready for the rest of us just yet.

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