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Dartmouth Aires

Dartmouth College

Fresh Aire (2011)

3.7

June 29, 2012

Tuning / Blend 4.0
Energy / Intensity 4.3
Innovation / Creativity 3.0
Soloists 4.0
Sound / Production 4.3
Repeat Listenability 2.7
Tracks
1 Brand New Jones 4.7
2 Wild Wild Wish 4.3
3 Extreme Ways 3.7
4 All At Sea 4.0
5 Used To Love U 4.0
6 Magic Carpet Ride 3.7
7 All The Above 4.0
8 Many Shades Of Black 3.7
9 A Change Is Gonna Come 4.0
10 Heinz Baked Aires 2.3
11 Won't Get Fooled Again 3.7
12 Up The Ladder To The Roof 3.7

Recorded 2010 – 2011
Total time: 49:29, 12 songs


3
Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 1
Tracks
1 Brand New Jones 5
2 Wild Wild Wish 4
3 Extreme Ways 3
4 All At Sea 4
5 Used To Love U 3
6 Magic Carpet Ride 3
7 All The Above 3
8 Many Shades Of Black 3
9 A Change Is Gonna Come 3
10 Heinz Baked Aires 2
11 Won't Get Fooled Again 3
12 Up The Ladder To The Roof 3

Let it be known that I've been a huge fan of the Dartmouth Aires for a while now, as this review and this review attest to. So it was with jubilance that I was going to have the opportunity to review the group's latest recording. I'm glad that the world got to see what we in the a cappella community have known for quite some time now: "the guys who make up the Dartmouth Aires are a fun-loving bunch who happen to sing really well together." But sometimes that hyper-excitability can overshadow the marvelous singing that they accomplish. Such is the case on the group's latest release, Fresh Aire.

Yet, I really feel badly about saying a slightly negative comment about an endeavor that really boils down to being a full-fledged concept album. I want to exalt the members of the group for setting a challenge and giving it the real college try. From almost top to bottom, the Aires craft a "Terry Gross"-ian nightmare of epic proportions — that ultimate interview that flies wildly out of control from the first moment the "live on air" flashing red light comes on.

And that's the true problem: Fresh Aire is so disjointed that after the first listen, you really don't care to listen to the good tracks that are there, so the whole point of creating a concept album is totally nullified. Yeah, there are some great tracks that show the brilliant musicality of the group like Brand New Jones and All At Sea, and parts of Won't Get Fooled Again. Unfortunately, we will get fooled again because we've listened to the whole album in a bit of utter disbelief, but have not turned off our music player and actually replayed some of the tracks to answer: "Did they really just do that?" But hey, we do get to see the beginnings of what is to become the juggernaut that was Michael Odokara-Okigbo on Season Three of The Sing Off.

The scoring for this recording was one of extremely torn allegiances. I'm a sucker for a stellar soloist, but I also love a fantastic and intriguing background or auxiliary part. I could have easily given most of the songs a "4" because of the arrangements and the execution of the backgrounds. And some of the soloists are star-making turns. How do I pick which aspect to reward, because the two are rarely paired on the same song? But the combination of dated song selection, several lackluster arrangements, or sub-stellar soloist commitment make most of the songs a "3".

As the end of Heinz Baked Aires states: "More music, more music, more music." I couldn't agree more. That's exactly what the album needs: more music and less of the inane banter, the circa-2005 rolling through various radio stations interlude, and the overlong intros. Extreme Ways clocks in at 1:49 minutes before the first lyric is uttered. When most a cappella tracks are around the three-minute mark, two minutes for an intro takes up a lot of prime real estate, UNLESS the intro is the best part of the song — which is what happens in this case. And why oh why would you end an album that began recording in 2010 — here referenced in the dialogue as an encore — with Up the Ladder to the Roof?

If you were a superfan of The Sing Off, you'll want to get Fresh Aire because O-O is all over it. So at least you can enjoy his tracks, Used to Love U and All the Above without trying to listen to the album in its entirety.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Brand New Jones 4
2 Wild Wild Wish 4
3 Extreme Ways 4
4 All At Sea 4
5 Used To Love U 4
6 Magic Carpet Ride 4
7 All The Above 4
8 Many Shades Of Black 4
9 A Change Is Gonna Come 4
10 Heinz Baked Aires 4
11 Won't Get Fooled Again 4
12 Up The Ladder To The Roof 4

Fresh Aire is a bright, peppy collegiate album. The Dartmouth Aires, now enjoying some deserved visibility from their stint on NBC's The Sing Off, have put together a set of recordings that show off the group's talent, versatility, and personality. No wheels have been reinvented here; the album is classic a cappella fun with modern production values.

The album opens with a groovy cover of Robin Thicke's Brand New Jones, and the next eleven songs match its intensity, energy and fun. Fresh Aire really shows how the guys of The Darmouth Aires are a natural fit for television — everything on the album is consistent in its tone and execution. There are no audacious flops here (the wonderful reference to The Who Sell Out in Heinz Baked Aires is the closest moment), no misguided moments of ego. The whole album floats on by, with pleasing a cappella moments that evoke wonderful memories of singing with your friends.

I'm making the album seem like fluff, and that's not entirely true. The boys can rock (on a surprisingly good cover of Steppenwolfe's Magic Carpet Ride) and the boys can groove (on the aforementioned Brand New Jones and Used To Love U), but the album can't escape the feeling of being warmed-over early-2000s fare; the familiar sound is the group's safety net. The soloists are fantastic, dedicated and pitch-perfect, but I'm left craving a new interpretation. The arrangements are competent, filled with well-suited syllables and a great understanding of building dynamics, but they never venture into the strange or the sublime.

I can recommend Fresh Aire very easily: the production (with mixing by Ed Boyer and mastering by Dave Sperandio) is clean and modern, the album bounces with fun and energy, the soloists are top-notch (with some of the best solos in contemporary collegiate a cappella), the song choice avoids egregiously overdone material, and the whole product is as slick and sleek as a mainstream popular music recording. What Fresh Aire lacks is that mysterious quality (a rival network to NBC may even call it an X Factor) that transforms the good and the sweet into the great and the sublime.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Brand New Jones 5
2 Wild Wild Wish 5
3 Extreme Ways 4
4 All At Sea 4
5 Used To Love U 5
6 Magic Carpet Ride 4
7 All The Above 5
8 Many Shades Of Black 4
9 A Change Is Gonna Come 5
10 Heinz Baked Aires 1
11 Won't Get Fooled Again 4
12 Up The Ladder To The Roof 4

The Dartmouth Aires just wanna have fun, and fortunately they want us along for the ride. Fresh Aire is like an invitation to a raucous house party, with all the energy, sass, and humor that goes with it. And like a good party, Fresh Aire is wildly entertaining, a little weird and confusing, but ultimately worth it. The Dartmouth guys are clearly ready to put on a show, and boy do they ever, even if they occasionally go too far and veer into cheesy and incomprehensible.

There are a lot of good things happening on Fresh Aire, most notably the high energy level, deliciously funky groove, and complex arrangements. The studio work is top-notch, though with mixing by Ed Boyer and mastering by Dave Sperandio this shouldn't come as a surprise. The arrangements are solid and interesting throughout. It's particularly refreshing that the Aires don't rely on vp to energize the sound, instead focusing on skillful arrangements and singers who kick it into high gear on nearly every track.

Soloists are a bit more uneven, ranging from acceptable to knock-your-socks-off good. Brandon Lynch-Salamon's CARA-nominated lead on A Change Is Gonna Come is emotional and powerful, and I was surprised to see he was the same soloist who took the Stevie Wonder half of Wild Wild Wish. Both raps are crackling with attitude (Wild Wild Wish and All The Above), and Michael Odakara-Okigbo brings a pleasantly rough, soulful tone to John Legend's Used To Love U.

That being said, when the group goes overboard trying to be entertaining, things get a bit cringe-worthy. To start with, the liner notes seem to prioritize flair over content. The soloist and arranger credits for each song are all listed by nickname only, with the full names of the group members listed elsewhere. In preparing to write about the great arrangers and soloists, I was dismayed to have to dig through, essentially, a coded list of names. It's not cute if I can't find what I'm looking for, guys.

And secondly — why, why would you end such a stellar track as Extreme Ways with radio channel surfing? The unnecessary THX intro? The commercial jingles? It's juvenile, distracting, and frankly beneath the Aires. They spend the rest of album proving that a group doesn't need gimmicks to be fun, doesn't need to sacrifice charm to be a powerhouse. So it's disappointing that those elements made the cut, harshing the rest of the album's excellent groove.

With Fresh Aire, you take the bad with the good. There are some stellar singles on this album, and even the tracks that don't make it to outstanding are worth a listen. If you want to enjoy the best of Fresh Aire, however, you'll have to navigate the party fouls at your own risk.


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Ordering Information

Fresh Aire can be purchased from the group's web site and through digital distributors including CD Baby, iTunes, and Amazon.

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