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The Shabbatones

University of Pennsylvania

Shabbaholics (2011)

3.7

January 9, 2012

Tuning / Blend 4.3
Energy / Intensity 4.0
Innovation / Creativity 3.0
Soloists 4.0
Sound / Production 3.7
Repeat Listenability 3.0
Tracks
1 Ashem 4.3
2 Somebody to Love 3.0
3 Masa Chayai 3.3
4 Shattered 3.3
5 Barechov 4.0
6 Galim Gvohim 3.7
7 Kah Ribon/Vehaer Eineinu 3.7
8 Naturally 3.7
9 Halaila Ya'avor 3.7
10 The World I Know 4.0
11 Sheleg 4.0
12 Ba'ah Elai 3.7
13 Where I Stood 3.7
14 Umacha (Bonus Track) 3.7

Recorded 2010 – 2011
Total time: 53:54, 14 songs


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Ashem 4
2 Somebody to Love 3
3 Masa Chayai 3
4 Shattered 3
5 Barechov 4
6 Galim Gvohim 4
7 Kah Ribon/Vehaer Eineinu 3
8 Naturally 3
9 Halaila Ya'avor 3
10 The World I Know 4
11 Sheleg 3
12 Ba'ah Elai 3
13 Where I Stood 3
14 Umacha (Bonus Track) 3

The U. Penn Shabbatones explode out of the gate with the hard rockin' Hebrew ballad Ashem, a kind of cross between the growing intensity of eminem's Lose Yourself and the super-tuned, syllabic singing of Glee. Because soloist Michael Gevaryahu unapologetically brings the lead all the grit it demands, Shabbaholics races off to a solid start. But immediately following is an awkward, grid-snapped version of Somebody to Love. And the album's core struggle is made apparent: Man vs. Machine.

Somebody to Love, is dead in tune and dead in time, but while Queen's original is teeming with vitality, every phrase stretched, every last drop of emotion coaxed, the Shabbatones deliver an unbelievably metronomic package of accurate but ultimately unmoving notes. That such accuracy should reveal the emergent property of inaccuracy is ironic, but there it is. Having said this, soloist Liza Elkin's voice is, against all odds, still instantly lovable, adorable and effortless. But the arrangement and production mercilessly constrain her ability to phrase to the point where her charms seem removed from the song itself.

Studio Crash is credited with production and Racheli Levinson and J.J. Katz are credited with editing. Somewhere between this team and the musical direction by Rachel Klein and Racheli Levinson lies the responsibility for creating a well-rehearsed release that successfully airbrushes nearly all the warbles away but still struggles to provide dynamic contrast and true phrasing, particularly in the back-ups.

Leads are the highlight of the Shabbatones arsenal and overall they pique the listeners' interest without requiring any vocal pyrotechnics. Gevaryahu delivers some graceful phrasing in The World I Know, Racheli Levinson grabs our ear with her richly textured, expressive singing on Galim Gvohim and others provide many moments that draw us in for a time, letting us glimpse a deeper musicality and artistry.

Not every listener responds the same way to the arc of the uncanny valley and, surely, had the album been rife with tuning and rhythmic errors, it would have been a disaster. But where soft and loud, pained and relaxed, intense and effortless all compress, so is our emotional response compressed. Still, one holds out hope that fans of the Shabbatones' live show may be uniquely able to overlay their uncompressed memories of these talented singers onto the accuracies of the recording and therein experience in the mind exactly the joyous and liberating music this group is fully capable of.


4
Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Ashem 5
2 Somebody to Love 3
3 Masa Chayai 4
4 Shattered 3
5 Barechov 5
6 Galim Gvohim 4
7 Kah Ribon/Vehaer Eineinu 4
8 Naturally 4
9 Halaila Ya'avor 5
10 The World I Know 4
11 Sheleg 5
12 Ba'ah Elai 4
13 Where I Stood 4
14 Umacha (Bonus Track) 4

The University of Pennsylvania's "Shabbatones" seem to be in great health if my diagnosis is correct. The thoroughly enjoyable recording Shabbaholics has been blessed with courteous bedside manner and received excellent treatment through the latest digital technology and recording processes known to man. The prognosis is no longer grim, in fact, a long and substantial life awaits for this co-ed, Ivy League group.

The recording has a palpable energy infusing each of the tracks. The life force courses through each note and phrase. From the percussionist to the soloist, each person knows his or her role in making this recording breathe, run and soar like a fine machine working together at peak fitness. The Shabbatones have great intonation and blend. The musicality of the group is top-notch and very enjoyable throughout the entire album. The recording balance is excellent as well, with each vocal line having its part in the sun, but also mixed well when needing to be a part of the block. The choral segments, like the beginning of Kah Ribon/Vehaer Eineinu, are simply mesmerizing. Even through a set of crappy speakings, the pulsations are electric. The track literally crackles in a good way.

There are a few moments of arrangement mishaps where odd syllables pop out of nowhere and become slightly annoying. Sometimes the language barrier makes a few of the tracks like Galim Gvohim and, unfortunately, Kah Ribon/Vehaer Eineinuseems unsufferably long. And occasionally, there isn't enough soft to balance out the heavy pumping louds.

And like many of the hybrid groups, the group sounds more interesting singing the non-English songs than they do the more popular "American" songs, to the point that the inclusion of pop hits within the track Halaila Ya'avor seriously detract from the overall enjoyment of the song. The opening and the rap flow so well together that adding Where Is the Love — no matter how much the chorus leads into it because of the chord progression — seems like a mistake, unless it was supremely subtle thematic phrasing. Since I have no idea with the original song is about, I may have missed a moment of genius.

Another trend bucking is the fact that the guys possess a lot more character in their solo voices than is typical with co-ed collegiate groups. The women all perform with breathtakingly beautiful and commanding tones, especially Marlee Stesin's turn on the Selena Gomez cover (I never thought I'd be writing that phrase.) of Naturally.

And everyone knows that I'm a sucker for the alumni song. So Umacha is both heartwarming and actually really good.

I suggest getting a copy of Shabbaholics if you get a chance, it won't cost you as much as an office visit to your PCP and is definitely better than a hospital visit.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 Ashem 4
2 Somebody to Love 3
3 Masa Chayai 3
4 Shattered 4
5 Barechov 3
6 Galim Gvohim 3
7 Kah Ribon/Vehaer Eineinu 4
8 Naturally 4
9 Halaila Ya'avor 3
10 The World I Know 4
11 Sheleg 4
12 Ba'ah Elai 4
13 Where I Stood 4
14 Umacha (Bonus Track) 4

With their latest release Shabbaholics, the UPenn Shabbatones have turned in a boisterous album that has more in common with their previous release (Friday Night Lights) than not. This album is like a little kid: often bursting at the seams with energy, but lacking grace, subtlety or, really, anything other than pure energy! Luckily for the group, energy remains one of the most important elements in studio if you want to stand out. At the same time, this group had already surmounted their energy deficit last time I heard from them. There are bigger challenges ahead.

My largest problem with Shabbaholics is that it's as subtle as an elephant on roller skates. This stems from two things: arranging and delivery. A major issue for the Shabbatones is that they like to use big open sounds in their arrangements throughout the spectrum, from basses on up to sopranos, which works much better live/off mic than on record.

When you have your basses singing on eighths on "dut" (Naturally), or sustaining long lines on "doh" for most of the song, you open the door for lots of variation in your blend starting at the very foundation of your sound. You can get away with this more when you've got live acoustics and visuals to distract but on record with everyone under the microscope, it sets you up to sound sloppy. The group should consider more closed sounds in the future like "dm" and "dn" to build on for the studio.

Once they have that under control, the Shabbatones need to learn to chill out a little bit when it could better serve the song. Kah Ribon/Vehaer Eineinu is a beautiful choral idea that suffers because it rides along at a solid forte for the entire tune. The middle/upper women in particular attack just about every phrase on this album as though imitating an overdriven guitar. This works great for the overdriven guitar lines (Ashem), but it's overkill for most of the album.

What else to say? The big moments are great and there are lots of them. Song choice is pretty solid, though I'd be cool if nobody ever recorded Somebody to Love again unless you have the reincarnation of Freddie Mercury in your group. Basically, everything the Shabbatones have proven they do well is good here ...

... but next time I want to hear them stretch themselves more. Work out those arrangements so that they better support dynamic and emotional contrast in the songs, work on getting those dynamics into the recorded vocals, keep singing the big rock stuff just like this, and there's an amazing album just around the corner!


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