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Ithacappella

Ithaca College

Off The Hook! (2011)

4.3

June 5, 2012

Tuning / Blend 4.7
Energy / Intensity 5.0
Innovation / Creativity 4.3
Soloists 4.3
Sound / Production 5.0
Repeat Listenability 4.7
Tracks
1 Telephone 5.0
2 Dude (Looks Like a Lady) 3.7
3 Halo 4.3
4 The Other Side 4.7
5 Man For Life 4.7
6 The Sound of Silence 4.3
7 Slow Dancing in a Burning Room 3.0
8 Wildflower 4.0
9 Funny the Way It Is 3.0
10 This Time 4.3
11 Fireflies 4.3
12 The Cave 3.7
13 When Love Takes Over 4.7

Recorded 2011
Total time: 54:00, 13 songs


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Telephone 5
2 Dude (Looks Like a Lady) 4
3 Halo 5
4 The Other Side 5
5 Man For Life 5
6 The Sound of Silence 4
7 Slow Dancing in a Burning Room 4
8 Wildflower 4
9 Funny the Way It Is 3
10 This Time 5
11 Fireflies 5
12 The Cave 4
13 When Love Takes Over 5

Wow. Ithacapella just laid the smack down in the collegiate world. Not only is Off the Hook! Ithacappella's best album, but it's right on track for collegiate album of the year.

Blessed with arrangers like Robert Dietz, and leads like Nate Tao, Jimmy Knowles, Harry Nichols and others, this incarnation of Ithacapella won't soon be forgotten. Add production/mix work by Ed Boyer, Nick Girard, James Cannon, Bill Hare, and Tat Tong and it's an embarrassment of riches.

And before we even get to the music, can we just note how perfect and complete the liner notes are? Sure, they cover the usual suspects: original artist, arranger, soloists ... but then they knock it out of the park with the essential, but too often absent, complete names of all composers and their affiliated publishing companies. What do you know? Some artists really do understand that if they see farther than others it's because they stand on the shoulders on giants. If Ithacappella were here, you'd see me earnestly, non-ironically slow-clapping applause for them right now. And that's only because kisses are inappropriate.

Now to the music. This is best expressed in fragments. Pop at its best. The actualization of what other groups only grasp at: killer leads; impossibly high tessituras; infectious fun; singing with passion, with dynamics, with sensitivity and abandon. Arrangements that bring a wall of sound and then strip that away at just the right moments; rappers that aren't karaoke at all, but completely believable. Driving beats. Tasteful, creative enhancements from all the studio folk, but especially Tat Tong. Even the guitar solo just sounds right.

Of course, not every track delivers pure excellence. But the excellent tracks are well worth the purchase and the good tracks are on the very high side of good. One piece of advice, kill the goofy syllables. If you have to have them, don't present them, through enunciation and mix choices, as important and meaningful in their own right. Thankfully, most of the time, Ithacappella has no need of this advice.

Off the Hook! is calling. You're gonna wanna take this.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Telephone 5
2 Dude (Looks Like a Lady) 3
3 Halo 4
4 The Other Side 4
5 Man For Life 4
6 The Sound of Silence 5
7 Slow Dancing in a Burning Room 3
8 Wildflower 4
9 Funny the Way It Is 3
10 This Time 4
11 Fireflies 4
12 The Cave 3
13 When Love Takes Over 4

"Sorry I cannot hear you, I'm kinda busy." (Message: "Listening to Off The Hook! — you're not gonna reach my telephone.")

Ithacappella kicks off its recorded show in thunderous fashion with Telephone, a digital masterpiece and an introduction to a common theme on Off The Hook! — there are a lot of machines singing on this album. Between marveling (or scowling, depending on your musical preference) at the flashy engineering, I'm sure you'll question if the solo on Telephone is really sung by a male; that homeboy can really sing some Gaga! Too bad this achievement is followed by Dude (Looks Like a Lady), which is a poor one to cover because of the never-ending "Yeah!" shout-fest courtesy of Aerosmith. If you're a studio nut, other digitized songs that will tip your ear are funky-rowdy The Other Side and Man for Life, and of course, ever-popular and always digitized Fireflies. The group's fireworks-in-the-sky closer Love Takes Over is another engineering treat — I thoroughly enjoyed the subtle phone's-off-the-hook noise to bookend the album with Telephone. There are certainly thoughtful touches at work on Off The Hook!.

For my tastes, I enjoy when the men of Ithacappella showcase their keen musicality, which they do with sensitive intensity. The Sound of Silence is the pinnacle of Off The Hook!, which is no small achievement for such a legendary tune, and credit must go to RARB's own Rob Dietz for this wonder. On Ithacappella's interpretation, each vocal section is showcased equally, from the growling basses to the falsetto tenors. Each subset sounds perfect alone but joins together with the others for gorgeous balanced harmonies and chilling dissonance. I was particularly smitten with the singers' articulation and phrase control on The Sound of Silence, both of which go a long way toward adding a new vocal outfit for this old standard, one that is crisply pressed and ready to show off. In newer releases, Beyonce's Halo is a real power ballad under Ithacappella's gentlemen, complete with an extremely musical background and an intricate arrangement that continually unfolds layer by sweet layer. Also appreciated is the gentler but focused delivery on This Time, with a touching lead from Jason Peterson. I also enjoyed the pretty "g" syllables that add interest on The Cave, but this song isn't as tight as the others on the disc.

Off The Hook! is boisterous and booming during the party tracks (courtesy of many big hitters in a cappella production), and earnest and tender during the slower numbers. It's clear that the men of Ithacappella certainly have a handle on things.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Telephone 5
2 Dude (Looks Like a Lady) 4
3 Halo 4
4 The Other Side 5
5 Man For Life 5
6 The Sound of Silence 4
7 Slow Dancing in a Burning Room 2
8 Wildflower 4
9 Funny the Way It Is 3
10 This Time 4
11 Fireflies 4
12 The Cave 4
13 When Love Takes Over 5

Get ready to dance, 'cause Ithacappella has a new album! And you can't listen to it sitting down. Well I suppose you could, but why would you? This is 53 minutes of pure energy.

The group opens with Telephone, which perfectly sets the tone for the album. It's high energy, up-tempo, and the production is just awesome. The group's energy, arrangements, and vp drive this album even when the soloists can't keep up. For this reason, tracks 8-12 are solid, if a bit unexciting. But the final track When Love Takes Over brings the album to an extremely satisfying conclusion. In the middle of the song, they begin to regurgitate bits of every track on the album in reverse order until they get back where the album started and yell "not gonna reach my telephone" and go into the big final chorus. It ties the album together in a meaningful way and is brilliantly executed. You have to hear it.

But this album is missing a killer ballad. They seem to know that this is not their strength because there are only four of them on this thirteen-track album. Halo has some great elements, like the angelic quality of the opening, but I never feel anything emotionally from the soloist. And by the end, it doesn't even feel like a ballad; it's so high energy, and they are really jamming out. The Sound of Silence is too slow and too long. There are a couple of really effective builds at the end, but it takes too long to get there. The last two minutes are clearly superior to the first four, so why is the weaker part of the song so long? This Time comes close, but the backs are dominated by insensitive hard "d" attacks. It's a good ballad, but it does not satisfy my craving for intimacy.

But you aren't buying this album for intimacy. You are buying it for an hour-long dance party. And trust me, you don't want to miss it.


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Ordering Information

http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/off-the-hook/id487825538

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