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Maybebop

Extrem nah dran (2011)

4.7

December 26, 2011

Tuning / Blend 5.0
Energy / Intensity 5.0
Innovation / Creativity 4.3
Soloists 4.3
Sound / Production 4.7
Repeat Listenability 4.7
Tracks
1 Fpaniff 4.3
2 Das Leben wischt dir den Arsch nicht ab 4.7
3 Kuscheln, Sex und Händchenhalten 4.3
4 Witzig 4.3
5 Komm bald 4.7
6 Vogellied 4.0
7 Was uns verbindet 5.0
8 Es tanzt ein Bebop-Butzemann 5.0
9 Panzerfahrn 4.7
10 Air 4.7
11 Viel zu Viel 5.0
12 Es war ein König in Thule 4.7
13 Urlaub in Südafrika 4.0
14 Mülltrennung beim Frühstück 4.7

Recorded 2010 – 2011
Total time: 50:05, 14 songs


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Fpaniff 5
2 Das Leben wischt dir den Arsch nicht ab 5
3 Kuscheln, Sex und Händchenhalten 5
4 Witzig 5
5 Komm bald 5
6 Vogellied 5
7 Was uns verbindet 5
8 Es tanzt ein Bebop-Butzemann 5
9 Panzerfahrn 5
10 Air 5
11 Viel zu Viel 5
12 Es war ein König in Thule 5
13 Urlaub in Südafrika 5
14 Mülltrennung beim Frühstück 5

As a non-German speaking reviewer, I must rely on translations of Maybebop's material. Unfortunately, online services often fail to capture the humor and subtlety of groups like Maybebop. The RARB budget for live translators is smaller than one might imagine [Ed. note: Kein Deutsch für sie!], but as fortune would have it, a good friend, native German speaker, and a cappella expert just happened to be staying with me for this review. Maybebop's musicality is an easy "5" across the board. What follows is all about the flavor of their material.

The first song, Fpaniff is not a word in German or English, but rather the sound of the German word for "Spanish" as pronounced by a German who has a lisp. (Try to translate that, Google!) The song tells the story of a lisper who, on his way to seeking treatment for his condition, is discovered by the "music industry" and made into a Spanish singing star due to his mastery of the lisping sounds of Spanish, such as in "Bar(th)elona".

Das Leben wischt dir den Arsch nicht ab is about taking your life into your own hands rather than arguing with others. Maybebop treats the subject in a lighthearted manner and this feels like Maybebop's comfort zone.

In Kuscheln, Sex und Händchenhalten, famous philosophers and other characters share their thoughts about philosophy. Maybebop counters the geniuses (and other random sources) of history with the simple idea that relationships, cuddling and holding hands are what life is really about. Adorbs.

Witzig means funny. The song is about German reality TV shows in which viewers take pleasure at the misfortune of others instead of engaging in intellectual dialogue offered by other sources. By setting the lyrics to a polka there is an additional musical intimation that this character failing is a national German trait.

Komm bald is the next title, and rather than meaning "going bald" as I initially guessed, it means "come soon". (The lighthearted, romantic music makes more sense in that context, I can tell you.) Here, the singer stays home waiting for the right girl to knock on his door. The joke comes in the extended amount of time that he spends doing this.

While many songs on Extrem nah dran evoked a smile and light chuckle, Vogellied had my friend laughing out loud. The title means "birdsong" and the story follows a nightingale who goes to the zoo where she meets an ostrich who is willing to mate with her for money. The story gets stranger from there. But the phrasing, odd noises and unexpected plot twists will keep your German-speaking friends giggling throughout and still nonetheless, largely unable to get you in on the joke.

Was uns verbindet which musically sounds like a boyband power ballad from 1998 is, in actuality, the question, "What's connecting us?" Maybebop's answer? Not love. Just the mutual unwillingness to break-up.

Es tanzt ein Bebop-Butzemann is a traditional children's song, a nursery rhyme that Maybebop sets as an up-tempo swing. The lyrics are specifically about a traditional German, dwarf-like, magical creature that comes to your house, shakes and throws a sack over his shoulder. Germans don't ask why, any more than Americans seek to know why weasels go pop. They just do. It struck me that this track explored the pun of the similarity between the jazz style bebop and the dwarf creature "bi-ba-Butzemann". (If you don't hear it, just wait before pronouncing the "-utzemann" part.) My friend shrugged off the pun as unimportant.

Panzerfahrn is a hard rocking song about driving a tank. Our unlikely protagonist is interested in growing muscles and being "a badass", but in his peace-oriented, touchy-feely school, those urges aren't socially acceptable. He does any number of sweet and nice things like bringing meals to the elderly to fit in. But in his heart of hearts, he wants to drive a tank and be an asshole.

Viel zu Viel means "much too much". It describes the overwhelming love the singer has for his love and how this excess won't help him in the game of love.

Es war ein König in Thule is a very old folk song which has been modernized. The lyrics tell of a dying King who hurls his final mug (of beer?) into the sea. The listener knows that death is coming soon for the king. The story is dark and absolutely perfect for Maybebop's insanely low bass solo.

Urlaub in Südafrika is about those who seek an authentic experience as they travel, but who discover that the experience is phony, precisely manufactured to sate the appetites of those who leave home to seek out the foreign authentic.

The vocoder-laden Mülltrennung beim Frühstück is an electronica-dance track about separating trash from recycling during breakfast, and the various items, like a tea bag, that present insurmountable issues.

Hopefully the high scores in combination with these tidbits of translation will help expand Maybebop's audience to the English-speaking world. But if you still just can't see yourself listening to German a cappella, try Air; it's nothing but good old American scat.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Fpaniff 4
2 Das Leben wischt dir den Arsch nicht ab 5
3 Kuscheln, Sex und Händchenhalten 5
4 Witzig 5
5 Komm bald 5
6 Vogellied 4
7 Was uns verbindet 5
8 Es tanzt ein Bebop-Butzemann 5
9 Panzerfahrn 5
10 Air 5
11 Viel zu Viel 5
12 Es war ein König in Thule 5
13 Urlaub in Südafrika 4
14 Mülltrennung beim Frühstück 5

What can I say? Maybebop puts out very high quality and enjoyable a cappella. Extrem nah dran is no exception. In case you are unfamiliar with Maybebop, they are a German pop a cappella quartet who have been singing together as currently formulated since 2002. Despite being "only" a quartet, their sound is quite full, and their musicality, originality, and humor are unquestionably excellent.

The album opens with Fpaniff, a song about a guy with a speech impediment such that all of his "s", "sh", and "z" sounds come out sounding like "f"s. So "Spanish" sounds like Fpaniff, hence the title. The song is sung by the guy with the impediment, in a Spanish style, of course. After we hear about the individual's many problems, we are treated to a happy ending after the singer meets a record producer who "taught me some words, gave me a microphone, colored my hair... and the ladies who once made fun of me now melt before me." (All translations from the German are my own doing.) It's quite an odd-sounding song, due to the speech impediment, and took me several listens to warm to. Quite humorous, though.

The album proceeds with three out of the next four as more normal sounding pop songs: Das Leben wischt dir den Arsch nicht ab ("Life Won't Wipe Your Butt for You"), Kuscheln, Sex und Händchenhalten ("Cuddling, Sex, and Holding Hands"), Komm bald ("Come Soon"). All are very good, and as close to Maybebop's "standard sound" as one gets. In the middle of them, however, is Witzig ("Funny"), a parody of how people enjoy news stories about horrible events, sung in the style of an Oktoberfest polka.

After that group comes Vogelleid ("Birdsong"), an odd song which includes some annoying high pitched bird-like noises, and Was uns verbindet ("What Binds Us Together"), one of the strongest songs on the album both musically and lyrically. It's a break-up song, a bit more rock than pop, where the singer with great passion declares that the two of them have been bound together more from cowardice than love.

That takes you through the first half of the album. The second half is much the same, with "normal" songs interspersed with very humorous ones, sung in many different styles, from jazz to metal to African. I'm approaching my word limit, though, so you'll just have to imagine them yourselves. If nothing else, it's clear that Maybebop is not afraid to take risks. I love that about them.

If you have never experienced a Maybebop album, you owe it to yourself to pick this one up. If you have experienced Maybebop before, then you are undoubtedly a fan and you should also pick this one up. To get the jokes, though, if you don't speak German you might want to head over to their website where you can find the lyrics to all but three of the songs. (Look under "Medien" on the left side navigation menu.) Google Translate does a fairly good job from there. Another item you might want to use Google Translate on is the album's packaging — it's wrapped up like a tabloid magazine, and is hilarious. And so is the disclaimer given at the end of the liner notes, just in case anyone took them seriously — a mistake one should certainly not make.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Fpaniff 4
2 Das Leben wischt dir den Arsch nicht ab 4
3 Kuscheln, Sex und Händchenhalten 3
4 Witzig 3
5 Komm bald 4
6 Vogellied 3
7 Was uns verbindet 5
8 Es tanzt ein Bebop-Butzemann 5
9 Panzerfahrn 4
10 Air 4
11 Viel zu Viel 5
12 Es war ein König in Thule 4
13 Urlaub in Südafrika 3
14 Mülltrennung beim Frühstück 4

I first heard Maybebop back in 2005, when I was dazzled by their polished and lighthearted Immer für Dich da! Since then, I've considered Maybebop to be a premiere European a cappella group; a group focused on pop songwriting, catchy hooks and solid vocals. I'm pleased to say that Extrem nah dran doesn't disappoint on any of those fronts. And yet, the album doesn't do much to draw you in.

But let's start with the numerous positives. Maybebop has really got this whole singing thing figured out. The four vocalists showcase true versatility: they adapt their excellent voices to singing varied and eclectic styles (and attempting different character voices), all while keeping their distinctive tone. The guys blend like nobody's business, and the tuning is virtually flawless. They flit between strong solos over well-defined backgrounds and executing tricky close-harmony passages with skill. As I mentioned before, the songwriting is fantastic. The songs are catchy and memorable, while still maintaining a unique edge and an endearing vocal spirit. And while my cursory high school-learned German is nowhere near up to par, I was still able to appreciate the lighthearted approach Maybebop often takes: humor a cappella working in a broader pop idiom. The group also shows that basic, simple vocal percussion is all you need; Maybebop exhibit a rhythmic sense and internal pulse that shames most a cappella groups (The delirious Es tanzt ein Bebop-Butzemann brings to mind jazz greats The Real Group at its best, and Was uns verbindet rocks very nicely.)

So what prevents this well-made album from getting a "5"? A few factors. The lighthearted and humorous tone sometimes makes the album feel a little inconsequential — the cutesyness of tunes like Witzig can often become very tiring. I'm also not sold on the inclusion of J.S. Bach's Air on the G String, though it does stand up as an interesting jazz reinvention arranged by baritone Oliver Gies (who wrote and arranged a majority of the songs on the album). And while I praised the group for its versatility of vocal styles, the album's grab-bag nature is sometimes a little off-putting. I love the laid-back bossa nova of Viel zu Viel, but it seems at odds with the Electronic Dance Music finale Mülltrennung beim Frühstück (which is probably one of the best executed a cappella stabs at replicating the infectious nature of EDM) and the bizarre faux-spiritual Urlaub in Südafrika. And while it pains me to admit it, my lack of German comprehension left me scratching my head when attempting to decipher the old-timey charms of songs like Fpaniff (not to mention the extensive and stunningly elaborate magazine parody that accompanies the release — all in German).

Maybebop remains a fantastic group, but Extrem nah dran could stand trimming some of the fat and settling on a more coherent group identity. Are they smooth-singing pop vocalists? Are they a throwback humor group? Or are they hard-swinging vocal jazzers? Of course, all great a cappella groups display diversity, but the grab bag aspect of Extrem nah dran really does hold it back from reaching a higher level. Maybebop have achieved a great deal of success in Germany, and I think a more focused and accessible effort could help them win a larger fan base overseas, in North America.


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