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Out of the Dawg House

Butler University

Unsupervised (2012)

2.3

December 11, 2012

Tuning / Blend 3.0
Energy / Intensity 2.3
Innovation / Creativity 2.0
Soloists 3.3
Sound / Production 3.0
Repeat Listenability 2.0
Tracks
1 Carry On Wayward Son 2.0
2 Give a Little More 3.0
3 Effington 3.0
4 Crazy Love 3.0
5 I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles) 2.0
6 Party in the U.S.A. 3.0
7 The Longest Time 2.3
8 Somebody That I Used to Know 2.7
9 Dreaming With a Broken Heart 3.0
10 Can't Take My Eyes Off You 2.7
11 Lullaby 2.3
12 Insomniac 2.7
13 [Untitled] 2.3

Recorded 2011 – 2012
Total time: 40:20, 13 songs


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 2
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 Carry On Wayward Son 2
2 Give a Little More 4
3 Effington 3
4 Crazy Love 3
5 I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles) 3
6 Party in the U.S.A. 4
7 The Longest Time 2
8 Somebody That I Used to Know 3
9 Dreaming With a Broken Heart 2
10 Can't Take My Eyes Off You 3
11 Lullaby 3
12 Insomniac 3
13 [Untitled] 3

Unsupervised is, without a doubt, a yearbook album. It's a recording that the Dawgs' family and friends will buy, and may even enjoy, but it is found wanting when compared to other a cappella recordings being released in today's environment. Although there are definitely things that I enjoy, there is nothing I would consider outstanding or ahead of the curve.

The song selection is, in particular, behind the curve in many ways. Songs such as The Longest Time and Insomniac bring nothing new in comparison to the numerous other times these arrangements have been previously performed. And while Crazy Love sounds pretty enough and fairly in tune, it is the kind of arrangement you would hear on an album ten+ years ago.

Not to say that the album doesn't have entertaining moments. The highlight is an effective, fun cover of Give a Little More by Maroon 5, and the Dawgs' rendition of Coldplay's take of Party In The USA is performed well, and did in fact improve on its source material, but I don't know whether to credit OOTDH or Coldplay for these improvements.

In fact, I have very little idea who to credit for what on this album, as the liner notes are grossly incomplete, and completely omit the source materials of several of the songs. They take the time to credit Coldplay for their version of a song, yet give no credit to Pentatonix for their version of Gotye's Somebody That I Used to Know, which is clearly the source material for what OOTDH sings on this album. Additionally, Effington is a near direct lift from Ben Folds' a cappella version of the song. Yet no arranger is directly attributed to an arrangement on the album, and only five arrangers are listed, one of whom is the UNC Achordants. This lack of information is inexcusable, especially if you're doing covers of existing a cappella arrangements.

The group does have promise, but there are equal amounts of hits and misses on this barely average album, and the fact that the group couldn't be bothered to properly credit its sources makes me hope that next time, the Dawgs put the work in to do it right.


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 2
Innovation / Creativity 2
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 Carry On Wayward Son 2
2 Give a Little More 2
3 Effington 3
4 Crazy Love 3
5 I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles) 1
6 Party in the U.S.A. 3
7 The Longest Time 3
8 Somebody That I Used to Know 3
9 Dreaming With a Broken Heart 4
10 Can't Take My Eyes Off You 2
11 Lullaby 2
12 Insomniac 2
13 [Untitled] 2

Butler University's Out of the Dawg House is a work in progress — but I'm pleased to be able to emphasize the word "progress" as it relates to their latest album, Unsupervised.

They may be a bit late to the party, but the Dawgs have discovered two essential elements that woefully eluded them on their last effort, Open Bar; namely: 1) consistent tuning and 2) effective vocal percussion. With respect to tuning, it's tough to know if the issues which plagued them previously were fixed in the performance or in the studio, but it almost doesn't matter for the purposes of this review. The end result is a much cleaner, crisper, pleasant sound that at least doesn't detract or distract from the song the Dawgs are attempting to put forward. The vp is almost certainly a function of a more proficient engineer and producer and that too is a welcome addition, lending helpful "oomph" to the many tracks that need it.

Why then have the Dawgs' scores not increased more dramatically?

Most notably, there is still a serious arranging problem here. In some instances, the issue is of the slavishly literal variety — the first three tracks being excellent examples. Carry On Wayward Son grabs me for the first minute because the group sounds so much better than it had before but beyond this, the arrangement goes absolutely nowhere. Give a Little More adds some off-beat accents in the first chorus to the unison figure and vp that dominates the verse, but then simply repeats the entire exercise again with little to no development. Effington gets a little extra credit for originality in repertoire choice (more on that later), but in transcribing and overemphasizing the polka-esque rhythm, the arranger and music director seem to have ignored nearly all of the quirkiness, dynamics, and emotion in the Ben Folds original.

In other instances, it's a repertoire/arranging issue — Crazy Love and The Longest Time?!? Really?!? And doing just the bland, "same ole, same ole" versions we've all heard dozens of time before and better? I'm sorry. It's quaint, but flat-out boring, even if nicely rendered.

And in some cases, it's just an odd choice here or there that thwarts them: the lack of vp in I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles), the seemingly 1980s Casio-inspired samba beat in the verse of Can't Take My Eyes Off You, and the almost complete lack of dynamics in Lullaby (which very well might lead to the following track, Insomniac). Also, the Glee Club endings of I'm Gonna Be and Can't Take My Eyes Off You are just painful, even for this ex-Glee Clubber.

With the newfound studio help the Dawgs are employing, there is also an energy problem that becomes more noticeable. Before, the tuning was off but at least it felt like the guys were trying hard. Now, more often than not, you get the sense that the guys are obsessing over singing the arrangement and losing sight (voice?) of singing the song. It's there in Effington as noted above, but it's also in the call and response of I'm Gonna Be (which is the weakest part of that song), the endless chordal drone of Party in the USA (a cute idea, only partially realized), and in the multiple repeats of The Longest Time.

Progress is always welcome. But a little progress can also be a dangerous thing as it heightens expectations and raises the bar for what the group needs to do next. I do hope the Dawgs can continue their upward trajectory, but now that they've worked on how they sound, they need to spend some more time focusing on what they choose to sing and how they perform.


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 2
Innovation / Creativity 2
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 Carry On Wayward Son 2
2 Give a Little More 3
3 Effington 3
4 Crazy Love 3
5 I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles) 2
6 Party in the U.S.A. 2
7 The Longest Time 2
8 Somebody That I Used to Know 2
9 Dreaming With a Broken Heart 3
10 Can't Take My Eyes Off You 3
11 Lullaby 2
12 Insomniac 3
13 [Untitled] 2

One of the most common pitfalls of collegiate a capplla is that while the group's sound will be flawless and pristine, soloists will sound shaky and unsure in the spotlight. Out of the Dawg House provides some variety on this point: the soloists are pretty good, while the group sound is weaker overall.

First, I'd like to congratulate Out of the Dawg House on the marked improvement from its last effort, Open Bar. Whereas Open Bar strained to achieve any degree of professionalism, Unsupervised has a more unified sound, and the whole album is a much more pleasant and engrossing listen.

So, what's wrong with Out of the Dawg House's group sound, and by extension, Unsupervised? It's not a matter of the sound being uniformly awful, it's just that the group struggles with consistency, as well as commitment. Homophonic material and more choral passages seem to blend well, but when Out of the Dawg House breaks up into multiple polyphonic parts, the group has a tendency to fall apart. Cutoffs are often sloppy and inconsistent, and countermelodies are usually sung in a half-hearted fashion, as if the singer was defeated by the goofiness of the syllables.

But let me praise the soloists! The only thing that keeps me from screaming that there is another recorded version of Billy Joel's The Longest Time is the sweet tenor of Patrick Clement. Likewise Myles Pender's performance on Can't Take My Eyes Off You freshened the song for me. Tanner Walter sells the sex of Maroon 5's Give a Little More, while Josh Turner is completely committed to Crazy Love, elevating the middling arrangement.

Out of the Dawg House is a group unconcerned with covering well-worn staples. Besides the aforementioned Billy Joel and Frankie Valli, classic a cappella songs make appearances on Unsupervised: Carry On Wayward Son, I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles), and up-and-comer Somebody That I Used to Know. With these overdone songs populating the album, it's not surprising that Out of the Dawg House wanted to take a bit of a risk with the languid, dream-like cover of Party in the USA. The cover is an interesting (and winkingly ironic) take on the bubblegum pop of Ms. Cyrus, juxtaposing the minimalist whirrings of Coldplay against the brightly-lit banality of the lyrics. Unfortunately for fans of the weird and the wacky, the interpretation and execution of the bizarre piece falls flat. But I'll take any excuse to write a phrase like "brightly-lit banality"!

Out of the Dawg House has shown that it has got some seriously talented singers in the group, and all that it needs now is a more concerted effort with the group sound and album planning, and this group could come up with something really interesting.

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Unsupervised is available as a digital download on iTunes, or use CD Baby for a physical copy.

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