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The Exboyfriends

A Cappella's Dead (1999)

4.6

February 25, 2000

Tuning / Blend 4.6
Energy / Intensity 5.0
Innovation / Creativity 4.8
Soloists 4.4
Sound / Production 4.6
Repeat Listenability 4.4
Tracks
1 A Phloytles Thing 4.8
2 Ramble On 4.4
3 I Still Want To See You 4.0
4 I've Seen All Good People 4.2
5 Reminiscing 4.4
6 Big Bad Bill 3.8
7 Ice Cream 3.6
8 In The Air Tonight 4.4
9 Frankenstein 4.0
10 Swept Away 3.6

Recorded 1998 – 1999
Total time: 49:41, 10 songs


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 A Phloytles Thing 5
2 Ramble On 5
3 I Still Want To See You 4
4 I've Seen All Good People 4
5 Reminiscing 4
6 Big Bad Bill 3
7 Ice Cream 3
8 In The Air Tonight 4
9 Frankenstein 5
10 Swept Away 4

This is the classic rock album a cappella has been waiting for. Pink Floyd, the Beatles and Zeppelin covers light up the first two tracks, which are worth the CD by itself. The rest of the album is gravy — serviceable songs, solidly in genre and good for driving, puttering or whatever else you do to '70s rock.

The Ex-boyfriends are more a group of character voices than stellar soloists. They have a nice group sound, with a good range of timbres, and the solo voices suit the repertoire they have chosen. The album has a big sound, with a decent groove despite minimal rhythm sections. Bass and drums are more accents than anchors, and yet the songs have good energy and seem to be made for radio. From the sounds of it, they seem to be able to pull most of this stuff off outside the studio, as well — In the Air Tonight has wonderful backgrounds and body percussion, even if the solos are a little rough around the edges.

Novelty seems to be the name of the game — even the best tracks feel as though they were intended to spice up a mainstream radio station set. That's a good thing — most classic rock stations I've heard could really do with some seasoning. A couple of tracks, however seem to be exclusively novelty numbers, meant to be consumed live or for desired effect. Big Bad Bill is a prime example, what with its engaging sound effects, but it's not at the same level as some of the other tracks. Ice Cream is another concept song — the lugubrious arrangement seems more designed to get attention than to make a song worth listening too. At least they got the hidden track concept down — it's a fun, bouncy, live pop medley that is great in spots, lousy in others and a great cap to the album.

One of the best novelty numbers is the group's anthem to ex-hood, I Still Want to See You. It is quite funny, with some little background bits that will go over particularly well with the over-exposed a cappella set. Solo has that strained, shades-of-Neil-Young quality so prevalent on classic rock radio stations; the strummy guitar does nothing to dispel such efforts.

A Cappella's Dead is a strong album with the pizazz and even the polish to stand up to instrumental music. It drops in on the highlights of classic rock and has the energy to keep from sounding fusty and out of date. It'll stand up well in your collection.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 A Phloytles Thing 5
2 Ramble On 4
3 I Still Want To See You 4
4 I've Seen All Good People 3
5 Reminiscing 5
6 Big Bad Bill 4
7 Ice Cream 3
8 In The Air Tonight 5
9 Frankenstein 2
10 Swept Away 3

When The Exboyfriends got dumped, they must have made a really cool THUMP sound when they hit the floor. It's their style of doing things — with a big, thick sound. Part of that sound comes from the fact that they use virtually no vocal percussion (they rely on unobtrusive snaps, claps, and chest slaps instead) so there isn't anything to distract them from laying down beefy chords. But that's only part of it. Their solid sound primary comes from the fact that they've simply got strong voices.

Oh sure, occasionally the vocals are off. The solo on Ice Cream is too breathy and stylized. The song becomes odd and slightly inaccessible when it should have been simple and honest. The Exboyfriends occasionally try to put twangy "guitar" sounds into the arrangements. This tends to make their normally healthy arrangements suddenly sound weak. This is particularly true on I've Seen All Good People. The song is a waste when they go for the twangy tone, but it's wonderful when they stick to what they do best — huge, chunky harmonies (in this case featuring a wonderfully chanted quote from Give Peace a Chance).

The body-slapping percussion works nicely throughout. The only time it falls short is on the famous drum fill from In the Air Tonight. It lacks the punch of the original, but quite frankly, who gives a crap? Not me. In the Air Tonight is pretty much perfect. Dave Curry (who was one of the few things I actually liked on The Binghamton Crosbys last CD) delivers a ringing solo. The harmonies are stirring. The percussion is deft and moody. The pivotal drum fill isn't dramatic enough, but the ways the arrangement modulates is enough to make up for it — it's the most exciting modulation since The Amalgamates unveiled their arrangement of Man in the Mirror. The track would be BETTER than perfect if only it wasn't a live recording. All the screaming at the end tends to break the tone of the song.

The album's other highlight is the Pink Floyd/Phish/Beatles medley (A Phloytles Thing). The segues between songs are very strong, but the track leaves you wishing they'd sing full stand alone versions of the songs. The Phish section — a mish mash of some of several songs — particularly screams out for a full treatment (Bouncing Around the Room being the best candidate). For the Pink Floyd section, they wisely pull the lovely, almost instrumental, song Is There Anybody Out There?. The Exboyfriends include a collage of spot on impersonations of the sampled voices that Roger Waters is so fond of. ("Wrong! Do it Again!") It could have sounded extremely stupid, but they do it so confidently and with such polish that it just sounds extremely cool. It actually makes me want to hear them sing the whole damn score to the wall, segues and spoken word bits included (which is surprising when you keep in mind how simple the Exboyfriends' style is). The album features a hidden bonus track called Alternative Medley. Unfortunately, it doesn't work as well as The Phloytles Thing. It's a bad live recording — you can hear the audience better than the singers. The songs aren't put together as artfully as they are on the opening track. The whole thing seems to be done as a comedy bit — ha ha, we're singing alternative songs — so it's hard to enjoy them for their music. A Cappella's Dead isn't a classic album because with the exception of In the Air Tonight and A Phloytles Thing most of the song choices aren't very memorable. There' aren't many songs that will make you want to pop this in your stereo for a second listen. On the other hand, you might give it heavy rotation because on the whole the songs are extremely well performed. And that may very well mean that The Exboyfriends are on their way to coming becoming a classic group.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 A Phloytles Thing 4
2 Ramble On 4
3 I Still Want To See You 4
4 I've Seen All Good People 4
5 Reminiscing 4
6 Big Bad Bill 4
7 Ice Cream 4
8 In The Air Tonight 4
9 Frankenstein 4
10 Swept Away 4

The Exboyfriends' 1999 release, A Cappella's Dead is a tribute to the enduring nature of classic rock. Not only are the covers dead center examples of the genre, but the Exboyfriends have managed to retain a sense of imitation as genuine flattery. With material as clearly dated as this, that's no small feat. Strong soloists, boundless energy, creative arranging, and top notch musicality make A Cappella's Dead an impressive release.

Oh by the way, the album may say it has ten songs on it, but that's a big fat boldfaced lie. Given the Exboyfriends' proclivity for musical quotes, the listener gets anywhere from two or three songs in a track to piles and piles of quotes in a single track. Some of the quotes are credited, some not. But, aside from the instrumental cover of Frankenstein, this album is a sure crowd pleaser for the ADD contingency. The "hidden track" (notice the singular) has 7 songs (notice the plural) and one commercial reference scrunched together into some four minutes. And it's definitely possible that I may have missed a quote or two.

The Exboyfriends' style is reminiscent of the collegiate and semi-pro sound of the late '80s and early '90s. Groups like The House Jacks, Acme Vocals and Blind Man's Bluff all began with imitation of classic rock songs (and usually the addition of a little comedy) before developing their own more distinctive sounds. (And before you swear there's no classic rock imitation in The House Jacks' origins, check out their cassette demo, years earlier of Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting). The Exboyfriends, on the verge of the new millennium, have infused this sound with a musicality that few if any collegiate groups could muster. The result is lots of solid classic rock (and a few funny moments): an excellent album, which for almost completely stylistic reasons, I didn't much care for.

The Exboyfriends' A Cappella's Dead is not only an excellent album, but a perfect demonstration of my philosophy of reviewing albums. You will note my high scores and words of praise. Yet, I probably wouldn't choose to put this album on anytime soon. That's not from any lack of talent, musicality or studio finesse. A Cappella's Dead just didn't do much for me (with the exception of In the Air Tonight which I loved) for no reason at all.

BUT (and here's the point): I can tell the difference between my own personal subjective reactions and objective reality. This is objectively a very strong album; lots of people will probably like it. I just didn't. I make every effort to judge the artists against the goals they set for themselves by their own artistic choices, not by my preconceived notions of what constitutes a cool a cappella group. Admittedly, reasonable critics may differ in applying this standard, but that's worlds different from confusing what tickles one's fancy from what's quality a cappella. And though I wasn't too crazy about A Cappella's Dead, it certainly is quality a cappella.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 A Phloytles Thing 5
2 Ramble On 5
3 I Still Want To See You 4
4 I've Seen All Good People 5
5 Reminiscing 4
6 Big Bad Bill 3
7 Ice Cream 4
8 In The Air Tonight 5
9 Frankenstein 4
10 Swept Away 3

The Exboyfriends are a group from New York City whose first major notoriety was appearing as "The Howard Stern Christmas Carolers" (Yes, THAT Howard Stern) singing rowdy and raunchy Christmas carols. They are accomplished commercial/jingle writers, and have done numerous things for Nickelodeon. They have appeared on the Howard Stern show, VH1's "Rock of Ages" and NBC's "Today", and have taken Audience Favorite two years in a row at the NY regional Harmony Sweepstakes. And now, they have their first album, A Cappella's Dead.

A Cappella's dead? You wouldn't know it from this album.

If there was one word to sum up this group, it would be "creative". This creativity hits you full force in A Phloytles Thing, which melds songs by Pink Floyd, Phish, and the Beatles into what is hands down the oddest non-sequitur medley that I have ever experienced...and yet, somehow, everything worked. By all rights the only way this song should make sense is if there was bong water gurgling in the background...but it works, and it works well.

From there, they go into a fairly eclectic and all too electric mixture of covers, one after the other knock me on my booty. Zeppelin. Yes. Edgar Winter. THE LITTLE RIVER BAND!!! And you know what, they all rock. Solid, interesting arrangements, very well sung, and an incredibly full sound. The Ex-Boyfriends are very stong about creating an ambience in the music that you can absolutely get lost in when you listen to it. The strongest example of this is All Good People, which just rides wave upon wave of sound and builds to a very satisfying climax. They even cover Sarah McLachlan...and that works too. Their one original (and one accompanied piece) was very funny. Even the hidden track, which has to be the Alternative Medley that they talk about on the net, was a lot of fun to listen to, even though it was the weakest musically of the tracks (but then, that's why they have hidden tracks).

One thing they aren't is polished...several of the songs sound "dirty"...that is, I'm unable to tell if there are tuning problems or if the blend is just so off that it sounds like the tuning is off. Also, even though they use body percussion (I've seen them live, and their percussion is a guy slapping his stomach...the first example of "buddha percussion" that I've ever seen), and in a few cases it works, it wouldn't hurt their sound to "expand their kit" a bit and add some vocal work, or at least some slaps on different parts of the body.

But you know what...that didn't bother me as I listened to this album. Again, and again, and again. As a reviewer, I listen to a lot of different a cappella. Enough of it that I don't very often throw a set of discs into my player just to listen. When I have done so in the past two months, the ExB's were in the player. Every single time. This is a solid start to finish album that I don't have to hit skip on at any point, and that's a wonderful thing to find.

Thumbs way up on this one.

PS: Hidden Track gets a 4-Good


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 A Phloytles Thing 5
2 Ramble On 4
3 I Still Want To See You 4
4 I've Seen All Good People 5
5 Reminiscing 5
6 Big Bad Bill 5
7 Ice Cream 4
8 In The Air Tonight 4
9 Frankenstein 5
10 Swept Away 4

To take the CD title literally, one would think that this group has lost it's mind and tried to get this board to listen to an gulp INSTRUMENTAL CD. Far from it, with the exception of track #3, a clever little guitar backed track written by one of the ex-Boyfriends (one would assume after another breakup), this is an excellent collection of mostly cover tracks, each carefully arranged and produced here on A Cappella's Dead.

Most surprising thing I liked on this CD? The longer tracks, oddly enough. Yes, me, Mr. Brevity, enjoyed listening to the nine minute opening track, as well as the other tracks of over five minutes. Oh, yeah, there are some short ones in there. I got the sense that many of the tracks here are far more effective in a live performance, but for whatever reason, much of the same energy from those arrangements is captured into this recording. Perhaps because of the limited number of tracks.

I also especially appreciated the full use of the production possibilities on this track, especially in track #6, where the the gramophone effect added to the performance. Groups take note...the percussion here does not overshadow the tracks, but enhances them.

The only drawback to this recording is the ghost track at the end, and even then it was very good, but I wish it wasn't such a poor LIVE recording, where the recorder was right next to the microphone...there was a lot of energy and enthusiasm in their Weird Al-esque rock medley.

Thank you, Ex-B for contributing greatly to the a cappella continuum...your presence is greatly appreciated.

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