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YellowJackets

University of Rochester

Bad Bromance (2011)

3.3

December 19, 2011

Tuning / Blend 3.7
Energy / Intensity 3.3
Innovation / Creativity 3.3
Soloists 3.7
Sound / Production 4.0
Repeat Listenability 3.3
Tracks
1 Bad Romance 3.7
2 Use Somebody 3.3
3 All My Loving 3.3
4 Two Weeks 4.3
5 You Belong with Me 3.7
6 Now and Forever 3.7
7 Do You Remember 3.7
8 Lullabye 3.3
9 Movin' Out 3.0
10 Ordinary People 3.3
11 All These Things That I've Done 3.7

Recorded 2010
Total time: 41:26, 11 songs


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Bad Romance 4
2 Use Somebody 3
3 All My Loving 3
4 Two Weeks 4
5 You Belong with Me 4
6 Now and Forever 3
7 Do You Remember 3
8 Lullabye 4
9 Movin' Out 2
10 Ordinary People 3
11 All These Things That I've Done 4

I like the YellowJackets best when they're dancing. Bad Bromance gets its Bad Romance out the door first, setting the tone for a fun collegiate bounce-a-thon. It's a pretty good start, and the group stays good as long as the guys are dancing.

Retro is more of a mixed bag. All My Lovin' sounds stilted and misplaced, in the spirit of Phil Collins trying to cover the Supremes. Maybe this is the sort of thing they do on Glee — I don't watch much TV — but it wasn't working for me. I also thought they should have quit while they were ahead with Billy Joel — Lullabye is lovely, Movin' Out much more meh. But I guess Billy Joel is a thing sometimes. Now and Forever was different — but overwrought, I thought. The soloist has a cool and unusual voice, but I still won't be listening to this cut over and over.

All These Things That I've Done is a winner — very straight ahead, less annoying than the original, with a fair bit of verve. Two Weeks worked okay, anchored by some very nice spinny percussion. I also liked the '80s-style take on You Belong With Me, where the soloist has a nice mix of his own tone and auto-tuny styling. Do You Remember keeps the dancing going, portrayed here with a sort of Pet Shop Boys energy that mostly makes up for a bit too much jen-jen-jen-jenning.

Ordinary People is a departure from dancing again. Jamal Moore sounds very nice — I like that so many groups find men who can sing this song and allow them to sing it, whether or not they sound like John Legend. It's a song for the people and well deserving of its most-covered status.

Overall, this is a nice record to bop to. Good work to the YellowJackets for getting it out the door and getting on to the next one.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Bad Romance 4
2 Use Somebody 4
3 All My Loving 4
4 Two Weeks 5
5 You Belong with Me 4
6 Now and Forever 4
7 Do You Remember 4
8 Lullabye 3
9 Movin' Out 4
10 Ordinary People 4
11 All These Things That I've Done 4

The University of Rochester YellowJackets' Bad Bromance starts off slightly more electronic, more processed than most collegiate releases, but soon enough the Beatles' All My Lovin' — sans VP — swings as smoothly as any glee club. Only the slight tuning artificialities reveal the decade of the recording. It's the studio wizardry that finally dominates the album, but the YellowJackets do give us plenty of the gentler moments (Now and Forever, Lullabye and most of Ordinary People) and the mix makes for a pleasant listen.

Solid production and energetic delivery combine with an absence of terrible syllable choices to keep tracks in the good range, but there's a lot of unmemorable "good" going on here. Such is the danger of mid-range pop/rock covers: dramatic moments may not be included. That means the pressure falls to arrangers.

Two Weeks is the first really interesting moment on the album. Quirky, layered and driving, the Grizzly Bear cover offers the listener a soundscape in which heavier production seems an obvious artistic fit. Kieran Kriss sings lead and nicely arranges this listenable track with a flair that pays homage without pandering to the original.

This isn't to say that other moments aren't well sung. The "all this time" breakdown moment in Now and Forever is quite special, and the lead will surely appeal to fans of the gospel-ish Jacob Lusk, a top-ranked American Idol contestant in 2011. Jay Sean's Do You Remember sounds Bieber-ishly club-worthy, and aside from its goofy, repetitious "jens" deserves a shot at your aca-dance playlist.

Between the twin shields of energy and production, the vulnerability of weak phrasing remains exposed. Some song choices provide sufficient cover for this failing, but when the track list hits the sweet and tender moments, the YellowJackets deliver something less than full 3D. No egregious errors, thankfully, but the listener wants a "wow" and that moment doesn't come.

On the other hand, when the beat drives (Movin' Out, the end of Ordinary People, All These Things That I've Done, etc.) phrasing seems to fall in line and then it's energy FTW.

Amateur move: no liner note credit to any composers or lyricists. Not cool. Crediting your soloists, arrangers and original artists is not sufficient, people. Composers, composers, composers. Please add this fundamental information to your MP3 metadata and to your website. It takes 15 minutes.

Still energetic, still charming, and now with some sweet production, the YellowJackets have something enjoyable to offer their fans with Bad Bromance.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Bad Romance 3
2 Use Somebody 3
3 All My Loving 3
4 Two Weeks 4
5 You Belong with Me 3
6 Now and Forever 4
7 Do You Remember 4
8 Lullabye 3
9 Movin' Out 3
10 Ordinary People 3
11 All These Things That I've Done 3

There are many things that go into making a good a cappella album, and most of them usually start with singing the right notes. The YellowJackets, an all-male group from the University of Rochester, have gotten the notes down on Bad Bromance: soloists are on, backs are on, and the whole album just sounds in tune.

That's not easy for a lot of groups to achieve, for sure, and the YellowJackets could certainly be commended for this. But the real problem, as my fellow reviewers and I have pointed out on countless RARB reviews, is that that's not enough to make a compelling recording.

The problem I have with Bad Bromance is that it just doesn't sound as though the guys are having fun...at all. Some songs are worse than others. Ordinary People, for example, just drags. It's repetitive and lulls a listener into a hazy trance. The guys take on a jazzy interpretation of All My Loving that sounds nearly joyless. While the staccato precision gives an energy to the tune, it doesn't even sound as though the singers have even connected with the meaning of these words (C'mon! "Close your eyes and I'll kiss you; tomorrow I'll miss you" — that's sexy stuff!).

And then there are the pop songs. I want to love these — there's something just so cheeky and great about an all-male group covering Taylor Swift's You Belong With Me. The frustration, though, is that the recording just sounds sterile and lifeless. I'd much rather listen to the group's live version, which has so much emotion and spirit despite the recording and pitch imperfections (check out this YouTube video the group sets to one of its live performances). Same thing goes with Bad Romance; the notes are there, but it doesn't even sound as though anyone in the group is cracking a smile during the whole track — and again, this is a fun, sexy song! Use Somebody passes by without a sense of the urgency in the title. There's a warmth to the sound of All These Things That I've Done thanks to the added harmonies of Vocal Point, but the track itself leaves us with very little to hold on to.

There are a few tracks that are memorable. Two Weeks is catchy and fun. Nick Wiggins delivers a stunning solo on Now and Forever. The YellowJackets have a good foundation to build on here; the trick for them in the future is to capture their energy and fun in a studio recording.


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