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Mixed Company

Stanford University

UNDECLARED (2013)

4.3

December 20, 2013

Tuning / Blend 4.3
Energy / Intensity 4.3
Innovation / Creativity 3.7
Soloists 4.0
Sound / Production 4.7
Repeat Listenability 4.0
Tracks
1 Spectrum 4.3
2 Night of Your Life 4.7
3 Too Close 3.7
4 Mirrors 4.3
5 One and Only 4.0
6 If You're Out There 4.3

Recorded 2013
Total time: 26:18, 6 songs


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Spectrum 5
2 Night of Your Life 5
3 Too Close 4
4 Mirrors 5
5 One and Only 4
6 If You're Out There 5

Six tracks, crackling with frenetic energy. Six tracks, whirring, grinding, and buzzing with brilliant production choices. Six tracks, carefully arranged with attention to texture and function. UNDECLARED, the latest from Stanford's Mixed Company, is the perfect example of how less can be more in compiling an album, or in this case an EP. The group, releasing its first EP in its twenty-eight year history, has trimmed all the fat from a two-year process, wisely choosing to limit its offerings to a powerful punch of six songs instead of slapping together a full album with half the quality. By offering a lean but compelling twenty-seven minutes of music, Mixed Company diverges from many albums by commendably leaving the listener wanting more.

There's nothing groundbreaking about the song selection here, no obvious theme or story, but smart arrangements, energetic singing, and excellent mixing more than substitute for any possible deficiencies. Spectrum leads things off with a driving rhythm, and a broad dynamic contrast, all highlighted by the rich tapestry from Christopher Diaz's arrangement. Night of Your Life pulses with fuzzy bass, crisp drums, and light bleeps and blips hovering around the edges. Mirrors twists with swells and tremolo but introduces a brightness to the EP. The sparkle and groove on If You're Out There nearly makes me forget the dozens of other versions of this song bouncing around the passageways of my brain. It's invigorating where most versions sag or drag, thrilling where many versions are just ponderous.

If there are any shortcomings, and I use the word rather loosely, they are reflected in the "Innovation" and "Soloists" scores. The leads sound good, but I would be hard-pressed to call any great. The arrangements are great for the most part, but don't really break any new ground. I guess I'd say that while the whole EP is a very enjoyable listen, I don't think I'd look back on it and remember how Mixed Company transformed a song or how a soloist moved me.

Nitpicking aside, UNDECLARED is a catchy EP which sounds great, invigorates, and — unlike some super-seniors — doesn't overstay its welcome.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Spectrum 4
2 Night of Your Life 5
3 Too Close 4
4 Mirrors 4
5 One and Only 5
6 If You're Out There 5

I am not sure why more groups don't release EPs. Yes, you have a lot more ground to cover in a shorter period of time, but if done right, the results can be outstanding. UNDECLARED is the latest release from Stanford's co-ed ensemble Mixed Company (Mixed Co.), and once it draws you in, you're hooked. Within this EP, Mixed Co. delivers its take on six fairly current songs, most likely in a way you have never heard before.

UNDECLARED starts in a manner that leaves plenty of room to build as the subtle and fairly serene opening of Spectrum (Florence + The Machine) creeps in on you. What really makes this indie pop song enjoyable is the driving energy that is maintained throughout by both backing vocals and percussion.

Night of Your Life is without a doubt the biggest surprise on the album. The song transitions from the end of Spectrum, and in the first minute of this track the bass drops and the level of energy shoots through the roof. Although the bass is a bit synthesized it adds a ton of flavor to the song. Denielle Barcelona is more than convincing as the lead as well, as she matches both the degree of intensity and conviction that Jennifer Hudson brings to the original.

Too Close is an interesting choice looking at the other tracks. While it has the same necessary hard-hitting, rhythm-driving, rock/soul sound as some of the others, it does not land quite as well. The arrangement is contrasting throughout which maintains interest but it feels a little out of place among the rest of the songs. But overall it is still a good listen.

Mirrors is the bass-heavy, soulful, groove number of the EP. Once again, here is another effect-heavy track, but Mixed Co. makes it all sound natural without making you forget that voices are still in play. The light-sounding tenor lead mixed with the close harmonies of the backup vocals in each chorus really create the defining moments of this song.

One and Only is the type of track which is only done justice if the lead lays their heart on the line. Oh yeah ... Margie Saunders does that exceptionally well. She commands the solo and the backing group brings the sound full-circle. Mixed Co. is stellar in its backing sound for this track. The slow build that leads up to the multi-layered vocals in the bridge is something worth truly hearing.

The entire EP is finally made whole with the final track If You're Out There. The group is in top form with belltones, moments of silence, intricate vocal parts, and a giant chorus sound that is incredible! This is not just a song, but an anthem. I don't know many groups who can keep the energy building by making each chorus section sound unique. This was without a doubt the right way to close the EP.

I only have three words to end this review: BUY THIS NOW.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Spectrum 4
2 Night of Your Life 4
3 Too Close 3
4 Mirrors 4
5 One and Only 3
6 If You're Out There 3

Following the success of the 2011 release The RushUNDECLARED is yet another solid work from Stanford's Mixed Company. The group, Bill Hare (mixing/mastering), and Russell Kamp (tracking/editing) should all be incredibly proud of the work they've put into this release. As with previous recordings, the arrangements are brilliantly executed and fresh while remaining true to the original, and they've clearly been enhanced by Hare to give the listener everything that his studio has to offer. Multi-layered textures, nuanced vocal percussion, robust bass, and energetic soloists combine to make this an enjoyable listen.

One of the areas that immediately catches my attention is the vocal percussion. It is no longer just keeping time, but supporting and enhancing every aspect of the arrangement. It's intricate and nuanced to perfection. Hare has layered some great effects on the backs in tracks like Too Close and Mirrors, providing additional color without distracting from the natural vocal quality of the arrangements. Unfortunately, the tracklist largely panders to the more overplayed songs of the past several years.

Every arrangement on this album is brilliantly executed and fresh with all of the multi-layered textures present, but some of the arranging choices don't come across effectively. The bass line during the verses of Too Close doesn't fit the style of the song and actually detracts from some of the more interesting textures occuring above it. The interaction between the female voices and soloists during Too Close works in many places (like the bridge), but in others it just comes across as cheap (like the chorus).

If Mixed Company can find some more unique repertoire and present it in a unique fashion, this group is sure to knock its next release out of the park!


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Ordering Information

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