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Vox Pop

Mandate (2013)

3.7

January 24, 2014

Tuning / Blend 4.3
Energy / Intensity 4.3
Innovation / Creativity 3.3
Soloists 3.7
Sound / Production 4.3
Repeat Listenability 4.0
Tracks
1 Wonder 4.7
2 Game Over 4.3
3 Indestructible 4.3
4 '80s Mashup (Need You Tonight/Addicted To Love) 3.7
5 When I'm Alone 4.0
6 Something to Believe In 4.0
7 Jack & Diane 3.7
8 Fighter 3.3
9 Try It On My Own 3.7
10 The Show Must Go On 3.7

Recorded 2013
Total time: 38:15, 10 songs


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Wonder 5
2 Game Over 5
3 Indestructible 5
4 '80s Mashup (Need You Tonight/Addicted To Love) 4
5 When I'm Alone 4
6 Something to Believe In 4
7 Jack & Diane 4
8 Fighter 4
9 Try It On My Own 3
10 The Show Must Go On 4

A cappella music is difficult. Writing it, arranging it, performing it, recording it ... all difficult. I lead with this sentiment, which should be fairly obvious to anyone who has ever engaged in any a cappella-related task, because the thought came back to me over and over as I listened to Mandate by Washington D.C.-based vocal band Vox Pop.

Nearly every track on the album is good, more than a few are very good, a few are nearly excellent. A number of songs (Game Over, Indestructible, When I'm Alone) get close, oh so close, to being superlative. Yet ... each is ultimately flawed. The song has cool hooks and atmosphere (like inĀ Game Over and Indestructible), but it can also go on about 20-30 seconds too long (Rob Deitz already mentioned as much in his review of the single for Game Over). The song has a killer solo by Kirsten Babin and nicely layered textures (When I'm Alone), but then it's also a bit repetitive. And at times, arrangements get a little thin and/or stale. Like I said, a cappella is hard.

The overall package for Mandate is thorough, professional, and effective. The production (tracking by Mark Hines at The Vocal Company, mixing/mastering by Bill Hare, and Game Over mixed by James Cannon) is rich, full, and inviting. The liner notes credit song composers as well as original performers and even offer some insight into the group's goals and process. The selection of songs fits the popular mold with songs from each of the past three decades, yet none (other than perhaps Jack & Diane back in the day and Something to Believe In in 2013) has reached its saturation point in the a cappella community. Chris Abramson's snappy percussion, as touched up by Bill Hare, ranges from driving to grooving, providing constant momentum throughout the album.

There's a lot to like on much of this album, which falls into the rather large space between an overall 4 (Good) and 5 (Excellent). With Mandate, Vox Pop has a fun, energetic, great-sounding collection of songs that showcase many of the better things a cappella music has to offer. With some tweaking and fine-tuning, and maybe an original or two, the group is poised to produce something truly exceptional.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Wonder 4
2 Game Over 4
3 Indestructible 4
4 '80s Mashup (Need You Tonight/Addicted To Love) 3
5 When I'm Alone 4
6 Something to Believe In 4
7 Jack & Diane 3
8 Fighter 3
9 Try It On My Own 4
10 The Show Must Go On 3

Technically speaking, there is little wrong with Mandate, the debut album from DC vocal group Vox Pop. Production work is clean and clear, with some tracks heavy on the bells and whistles. Song choice is right on point with what you'd expect from a CAL group: not packed with chart toppers, but plenty for all ages. And the singing sounds as if the artists behind the art have been doing it for years. Where Mandate occasionally loses me can be summed up in three words: conviction, energy, and interest.

What is most enjoyable about this album is how a listener can play it, sit back, and let it ride. With that in mind, this sole fact can be a double-edged sword.

It works for Vox Pop in that tracks consistently sound good. All the mixing, editing, and added effects make the album sound unified. Both Wonder and Game Over, the opening tracks, are easy to enjoy. They are upbeat, percussion-heavy pop tracks, with Game Over being more on the hip-hop side. Other tracks do not stray too far from these stylings.

Indestructible has a groovy '80s/techno vibe to it. And although the switching off of soloists could be more fluid, Something to Believe In has a solid foundation that keeps the song interesting.

The real gem of the album, in my opinion, is the Whitney Houston classic Try It On My Own. It catches the listener by surprise with its soft tones, strong conviction, and bits of vocal play throughout. It is a definite change of pace from anything else on the album.

Where the album falls short at times begins with the level of energy displayed. The opening of Mandate grabs a hold of you fairly easily but holds stale as the album progresses. From the point of '80s Mashup onward, tracks generally line out at mid-energy range with little growth or decay. This is a problem in that tracks sometimes come and go with little relevance or lasting effects ... this is the other end of the double-edged sword.

Other issues lie in the album's conviction and interest levels. Conviction lies largely with the leads of tracks but is also influenced by backing vocalists. Fighter (opb by Christina Aguilera) lacks a certain intensity that is normally translated in many Christina Aguilera songs. The lead comes across as a bit contained. Jack & Diane captures the ear with its varied opening, but does not add much to the standard classic. While these issues do not necessarily bomb the album, they are faults to make note of for the future.

Mandate is a well-polished album out of the DC area, with plenty of music to enjoy as you go through your daily routine. While it does not quite further the envelope, it is worth a listen.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Wonder 5
2 Game Over 4
3 Indestructible 4
4 '80s Mashup (Need You Tonight/Addicted To Love) 4
5 When I'm Alone 4
6 Something to Believe In 4
7 Jack & Diane 4
8 Fighter 3
9 Try It On My Own 4
10 The Show Must Go On 4

One of the characteristics about Vox Pop that became clear to me after hearing Mandate is that these singers have great instruments. I was able to hear the solid blend and unity within the group as a collective body of singers, while still being able to detect and appreciate the varied colors and timbres they brought as individuals. Much of this can be attributed to solid production and mastering of the tracks, but also firmly to the technique of the singers. Chris Abramson's vocal percussion also deserves mention here, delivering the necessary punch and character these tracks need without being too heavy-handed.

The first song Wonder took me back with how it was surpassingly danceable, a quality that often becomes lost in translation in the translation-to-a-cappella process. Abramson's percussion earns the nod here for keeping the energy in constant supply and the beat strong. (The added effects help a bit too of course.)

Christina Aguilera's Fighter is a serviceable arrangement of the popular tune, but I thought it was missing a lot of, well ... (for lack of a better word) fight. The soloist has a great smooth, nimble voice, but I wanted him to emote more and convince me.

Whitney Houston's Try It On My Own can be a tough bill to fill for any vocalist, but I was pleasantly impressed with the Vox Pop rendition whose soloist doesn't force the issue and sings the song in her own voice.

While Vox Pop's Mandate doesn't necessarily shake things up in terms of innovation, its crisp execution gives it more repeat listenability than most others I've heard. If pure pop is what you like, pop is what you'll get here on Mandate. Try it out.

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Ordering Information

To order a CD, visit www.voxpopdc.com. This album is also available for download from Loudr and iTunes.

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