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spiralmouth

spiralmouth (1999)

5.0

September 29, 1999

Tuning / Blend 5.0
Energy / Intensity 5.0
Innovation / Creativity 4.8
Soloists 4.4
Sound / Production 5.0
Repeat Listenability 4.6
Tracks
1 Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' 4.8
2 Even Though 4.8
3 Love is a Good Thing 4.8
4 Nothing Is Written 4.8
5 Hush 4.6
6 Come Together 5.0
7 Sated 4.6
8 Spoonman 4.4
9 Live Alive 5.0
10 Flood 4.4
11 Closer 5.0
12 Spend Another Minute 4.8

Recorded 1998 – 1999
Total time: 54:42, 12 songs


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' 4
2 Even Though 5
3 Love is a Good Thing 5
4 Nothing Is Written 5
5 Hush 4
6 Come Together 5
7 Sated 5
8 Spoonman 4
9 Live Alive 5
10 Flood 4
11 Closer 5
12 Spend Another Minute 5

I'll go out on a limb here and say that spiralmouth's highly anticipated first album was more than worth the wait. ;-) Weighted a bit toward original songs, the CD also sports covers ranging from Michael Jackson to Nine Inch Nails, with Sheryl Crow, the Beatles, and Soundgarden in-between. Lest this fact lead you to believe that the album must be a mish-mash of divergent and unrelated styles and songs, allow me to put your fears to rest. As the collective voice of spiralmouth says in the liner notes, "every time we arrived at a new sound as a group we felt the need to start from scratch with our recording," and as a result the album is a seamless whole. Not that every song sounds the same, but that the recording sounds like an album (which in my mental dictionary means a collection of songs that are meant to be together, part of a cohesive whole), not a greatest-hits compilation (which even some of the better a cappella albums have a hint of).

So what is this "spiralmouth sound" of which I speak? The cheap answer is for me to tell you to go ahead and buy the CD yourself. <grin> But because they pay me the big bucks, I'll try to be more descriptive. So imagine if Michael Jackson and Trent Reznor had a love child...ok, maybe not. But imagine an album overflowing with attitude, bass and percussion that can't be stopped (or faulted!), and that the aforementioned love child spent a really long time in a recording studio, making sure he knew how every single knob, button, pedal, and whatever other pieces of recording equipment were there worked, and exactly how much of each device to use, and when. Imagine a recording that's both sophisticated and raw, and big, full, chords contrasted with random, extraneous noises. Imagine a stable of talented vocalists, each with his or her own sound and style, but with the goal of advancing the group's sound as a whole. Like I said — just go out and buy the album.

To over-generalize about spiralmouth's original tracks, they're largely on the continuum of alt-rock with a generous dose of funkiness thrown in. My personal favorite original track is Even Though — with the combination of the "yeah yeah yeah" hook and the "hold on" chorus, it's a sure winner. Live Alive was another track that quickly grew on me — it manages to be quirky, funky, and rocking all at once. The rest of the originals aren't far behind, though — all of them can stand on their own. The covers range from remarkably true to the original (like Closer, with the added twist of a female solo), to a very different approach (if you thought hearing Come Together on a TV commercial was something new, you haven't heard this!).

There may be some a cappella purists who don't appreciate a liberal use of electronic effects, and admittedly there's a lot of that going on on this CD. If you really dislike alternative radio (at least because it's too far out, not because it's too mainstream), and prefer to listen to your local adult contemporary station, spiralmouth's style may not be your cup of tea. To every other listener of contemporary a cappella, however, if you don't have this CD in your collection, you're late. Get it.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' 5
2 Even Though 5
3 Love is a Good Thing 5
4 Nothing Is Written 5
5 Hush 5
6 Come Together 5
7 Sated 5
8 Spoonman 5
9 Live Alive 5
10 Flood 5
11 Closer 5
12 Spend Another Minute 5

spiralmouth. Buy it. Now. It's f — — n' awesome. Details to follow.

There's been talk about the vocal band. You may have heard about it. It's the a cappella sound so full that the wide eyed "how-did-they-do-that" face competes only with the "wow" and the "that-was-beautiful" faces. People in a/c have long thought of The House Jacks or Rockapella as having such a sound. But in truth, while the Jacks and RP make great music, no one could reasonably confuse them with "real" bands (excuse the prejudicial term). spiralmouth, however, is another beast entirely. This is the real deal.

The soloists are passionate, agile, and believable from first to last. (Every time I think I've isolated a favorite, one more listen convinces me otherwise.)

They take the listener across the spectrum from the haunting introspection of Hush to the sexually charged entreaty of Sated to the hard funk preaching of Live Alive. The arrangements are creative, appropriate, and incredibly full. The octavised, EQed bass, in timbre, range and performance will push your speaker's limits. The vocal percussion, intricately layered and painstakingly enhanced by modern technology, is unbelievably accurate and startlingly musical.

The melodies are original. The lyrics are poetry. The production is the finest I have ever heard on any a cappella recording, enhancing the songs with unwavering attention to even miniscule sonic details, and (amazingly) not once overstepping that supportive role by obscuring the message of the songs themselves.

So was there anything I'm not gushing over? Nope. But if I had to give a back-handed insulting piece of advice to spiralmouth, it's... can the covers. Why? Are they bad? Not in the least. They're amazing. Original. Striking. But the originals are even better. And if you spiralmouth folks would dump the covers that'd leave more space for lines like these:

Who ya gonna run to
now that day's gone and closed her eyes
nowhere to turn to, surrounded by nothing
we fight the current still

There's a lifeblood of beauty and originality coursing through this CD, so go out and be infused with it. Own it. Buy copies for your friends. Buy an extra in case this one breaks. Be inspired by spiralmouth's delightful disregard for the limitations once projected upon a cappella. This one's gonna stay at the top of the stack for a long time to come.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' 5
2 Even Though 5
3 Love is a Good Thing 5
4 Nothing Is Written 5
5 Hush 5
6 Come Together 5
7 Sated 5
8 Spoonman 5
9 Live Alive 5
10 Flood 5
11 Closer 5
12 Spend Another Minute 5

(note: my review purposefully lacks capital letters in honor of the subject matter of the review, who, as a group, rarely if ever use capital letters.)

there are moments in my job for rarb where I find it hard to keep a level head and impartial mind when reviewing. this is one of those moments. so let me take a moment and get it out of the way before I continue...

oh....my....gaaaaawd.....

ok, that's better. =)

the first word that comes to my mind about this album....smmmooooooth. not enough "o"s in smoooooooooth. everything flows wonderfully...even in the harder edged moments, everything musically makes sense, and has incredible, obvious direction. this is a testament both to the song writers and to the production staff, as many, many albums out there lack this level of cohesion.

the album has the overall feel of a very strong, musically tight alternapop band (such as third eye blind or the goo goo dolls), even though the range of styles are very diverse. where else will you hear a michael jackson song and a nine inch nails song on the same album and have them both sound as if they belong together? the rhythm section is exemplary, and is always there without unnecessarily overwhelming a song.

among the highlights: when i saw come together on the tracklist, i initially rolled my eyes, as it feels like every pro group, from the bobs to the real group, has done this on an album...but spiral mouth goes in a different direction that makes it aurally exciting to someone who is downright sick of the song. high props to the arranger. and closer just blew my mind. period. it took severe focus for me to listen to the rest of the album after that. it was out and out amazing.

the originals were also fantastic, and they really show the promise of this group. among my faves: hush, with it's incredible, full, lush ending (at least as lush as alternapop gets), sated with a take no prisoners alanis-esque lead and a really funny departure from the theme somewhere in the middle. and flood builds really well into a gale force ending that physically grips you.

one minor nit pick; on live alive, i felt that the mix was very unbalanced, and it seemed to subtract from the overall feel of the song. the song was otherwise very well put together, but my perception of the imbalance marred the experience. that may very well be what they intended, but it left me cold. the fact that this is my only nitpick of the album only underscores how much that stood out to me.

bottom line. this is one of the a cappella events of 1999. make sure you get a part of it. if perky, peppy doo-wopapella is your thing, and you're not into the modern edge of popular music nowadays, you may change your mind after hearing this. for everyone into the alternapop/edgy sound, this will find it's way...regularly...into your five disc. plunk the money and rock out.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' 5
2 Even Though 5
3 Love is a Good Thing 5
4 Nothing Is Written 4
5 Hush 5
6 Come Together 5
7 Sated 4
8 Spoonman 4
9 Live Alive 5
10 Flood 4
11 Closer 5
12 Spend Another Minute 5

Driving, grating, hard-edged a cappella in a truly original form is what you'll find on spiralmouth's debut CD. Making use of different effects on the human voice is a technique that this LA group has nailed, not disregarding the effect that a great recording studio has... With the most dissonant of harmonies on some tracks, filled out by full and accurate percussion, every track needs to be heard two or three times before you actually catch everything that is going on!

With the shortest track coming in at a whopping 3:48 and the longest just over six minutes, you may find yourself anxious to skip to the next track. It's not that these songs aren't terrific, but hearing a chorus stretched out or having an extra "vamping" section sometimes gets to be too much. Of the twelve songs, seven are originals, and the word original is to be used in two ways: songs that were written by members of the group and songs that are indeed "original" compared to the rest of a cappella music. Of the covers, Closer is unbelievable, and surprisingly female vocals take the lead. Who would think that Nine Inch Nails could be redone so well?

The soloists are all obviously well trained voices, but some of the men sound the same from track to track. Then again, they each add so much character to the song that you can dismiss the similarities between tracks.

What you won't find on spiralmouth's album are pretty a cappella ballads that make you emotional; instead you have an hour's worth of alternative, adrenaline pumping music.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' 5
2 Even Though 4
3 Love is a Good Thing 4
4 Nothing Is Written 5
5 Hush 4
6 Come Together 5
7 Sated 4
8 Spoonman 4
9 Live Alive 5
10 Flood 4
11 Closer 5
12 Spend Another Minute 4

spiralmouth's eponymous album is a huge helping of what can make contemporary American a cappella so delicious: rockin' tracks, killer percussion, soulful soloists... all ladled over a stock of tight harmony and spiced with sound studio work. The whole album zings with an infectious energy. It's as obvious from this album as from any other I've heard that a cappella continues to grow, in savvy, sweet-sounding and sometimes dark directions.

The tracks are fairly big on studio sound. Percussion in particular is often (successfully) layered by several voices or with several parts per drummer, and sometimes (to my ears) enhanced. (Is there some sampling going on? If not, some of the most bizarrely consistent percussion rocks through this album.) Some songs are a little warped, fuzzied, flanged to keep close to the edge of modern rock sound. For the most part, this works. In contrast, some more purely naked harmony would have been all the more outstanding; perhaps the group's next effort will be spiralmouth: Unplugged?

Striking too is the consistency of interpretation from song to song: the group angles itself in a deliberately forceful direction, and carries it off with aplomb. Contributing to this is the high number of impressive originals; with this as well spiralmouth shows that a cappella can be more than derivative, more than college buddies covering their favorites from the '80s. All in all, an exciting album, if a bit too consistent from song to song for me to make it all the way through in one sitting. I'd love to see these guys in concert, but the album kicks serious a** on its own.

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Ordering Information

Available from Mainely A Cappella (800-827-2936, fax: 207-244-7603)

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