Your browser does not support our new site design, so some things might not display or function properly.
We suggest upgrading to Google Chrome, Firefox, or Internet Explorer 9+ for the optimal experience.

The Vocaholics

New York University

Vocaholics Anonymous (2013)

3.0

July 11, 2014

Tuning / Blend 3.0
Energy / Intensity 3.3
Innovation / Creativity 3.3
Soloists 3.3
Sound / Production 2.7
Repeat Listenability 2.7
Tracks
1 I'll Be Waiting 3.0
2 North American Scum 2.7
3 Dog Days Are Over/Heavy In Your Arms 3.0
4 The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out To Get Us! 4.0
5 Burning Down the House 3.0
6 For Emma 3.0
7 Zoot Suit Riot 3.3
8 Sir Duke 3.7
9 Helplessness Blues 3.3

Recorded 2012 – 2013
Total time: 31:43, 9 songs


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 I'll Be Waiting 3
2 North American Scum 4
3 Dog Days Are Over/Heavy In Your Arms 3
4 The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out To Get Us! 4
5 Burning Down the House 4
6 For Emma 3
7 Zoot Suit Riot 4
8 Sir Duke 3
9 Helplessness Blues 3

The NYU Vocaholics have presented an unusual selection of songs on their sophomore release, Vocaholics Anonymous. These are songs by artists not typically covered in modern a cappella (Talking Heads, Cherry Poppin' Daddies), indie artists covered infrequently (Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, Sufjan Stevens), or overdone artists covered here in an unusual way (all-male versions of Adele and a Florence + the Machine mash-up). These are not the most spectacular arrangements or performances, but Vocaholics Anonymous will still hold interest for listeners because it's a collection of songs that aren't overdone.

There's a lot of energy in I'll Be Waiting that definitely overcomes some sloppiness in the backs. There's a good build and intensity on North American Scum. Zoot Suit Riot is a ton of fun, and the goofy syllables actually add to the song's retro feel instead of detracting from it, but tracking this song right after For Emma is a bit jarring. The guys do a tremendous job with Burning Down the House, capturing both the off-kilter percussion and David Byrne's frantic chanting. Even more importantly, the guys have picked songs here that mesh with their soloists — beyond John Bujalski's lead on Burning Down the House, the Vocaholics have picked songs and soloists that work hand-in-hand, from Jack Beckhard's dreamy lead on The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out To Get Us! to Tommy Bernardi's falsetto on For Emma.

I'd love to hear more recording polish from the Vocaholics in the future. There are no credits on the album for the recording studio they used or for anyone who engineered, produced, mixed, or mastered this album. I'd love to hear what the Vocaholics sound like working with a team that's familiar with the tricks for modern a cappella. There's a lot of Vocaholics Anonymous that sounds like it was recorded years ago; much of this album sounds as though it was recorded all at once, instead of part by part or singer by singer.  A little cleaner, slicker recording would go a long way to making this album stand up next to other modern recordings.

Still, even though this album rates a "3" from me, there are some nuggets that are worth listening to. The Vocaholics have a compelling take on song selection, choosing songs that mesh well with the singers/soloists in the group and delivering them with energy, and that goes a long way towards making Vocaholics Anonymous fun to listen to despite its flaws.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 I'll Be Waiting 3
2 North American Scum 3
3 Dog Days Are Over/Heavy In Your Arms 3
4 The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out To Get Us! 4
5 Burning Down the House 3
6 For Emma 3
7 Zoot Suit Riot 3
8 Sir Duke 4
9 Helplessness Blues 4

There lies a big challenge with any group's attempt to top itself with its sophomore album, when the group is still discovering itself and its sound. This rings true with Vocaholics Anonymous by the NYU Vocaholics. While there are moments of intrigue and a polished sound, much of this album is forgettable and leaves little lasting impression.

I applaud the Vocaholics for taking a risk and selecting songs that many groups are not covering. At the same time, this risk does not completely work in their favor. Burning Down the House is a selection that should have been reconsidered. If you were to randomly play this song for a group of people, I'm sure many would recognize the tune; however, it does not translate well to a cappella in my opinion. The backing parts are too stagnant, the humor in the performance is hard to receive, and it's nearly impossible for a lead to sell this song well as an a cappella cover. This song just does not work for me.

Other times, tracks are too simplistic, such as North American Scum and I'll Be Waiting. While the latter has energy and a clean sound, both eventually lose the listener's interest. The Vocaholics seem to have talent, but I would like to hear more done with a few of their arrangements.

There are some elements that the Vocaholics get right, however. When they perform songs that have a softer tone and a mellow feel, their talent really shines. Predatory Wasp and Helplessness Blues are the group's best tracks on the album. Predatory Wasp is emotionally appealing without being aggressive, and the arranging really showcases the group's dynamics and ability to tackle various song styles. Helplessness Blues kicks things off with strong intensity and delivers smooth harmonies in the leads throughout.

Tracks such as Zoot Suit Riot and Sir Duke are noteworthy tracks that produce a solid level of energy and show off the group's fun side during the moments of call-and-response or breakdowns. I wish more of this occurred during the 33 minutes of the recording.

All in all, the Vocaholics have a standard album that's not terrible but could use a little refinement. I think that the inclusion of a few more popular selections would help the listener get better acquainted with the group's sound and personality, seeing that this is only the group's second album. This, along with a bit more fine-tuning in the arrangements, could be of benefit to their future albums.


Tuning / Blend 2
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 2
Repeat Listenability 1
Tracks
1 I'll Be Waiting 3
2 North American Scum 1
3 Dog Days Are Over/Heavy In Your Arms 3
4 The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out To Get Us! 4
5 Burning Down the House 2
6 For Emma 3
7 Zoot Suit Riot 3
8 Sir Duke 4
9 Helplessness Blues 3

After listening to Vocaholics Anonymous, the second album from the NYU Vocaholics, it is clear that the group is moving in the right direction, with more complex arrangements and a cleaner sound than their debut album.

Before even going into the individual tracks, it is important to note the variety of genres covered by the guys. From indie folk to swing to new wave to soul, the Vocaholics have a broad repertoire in just nine songs. But more importantly, the group is able to cover all of these genres with equal quality.

While the group has enhanced its sound since its last album, one thing remains constant: the production quality keeps the tracks sounding like a live performance. Not much has been done with effects beyond syncing, auto-tuning, and percussive tweaking. For me, a produced album is meant to provide a listening experience that differs from that of a live performance, but those who disagree with this sentiment may enjoy this album.

The variety of syllables in the arrangements is quite distracting. It feels like the group planned out the arrangements musically but then just picked random syllables, detracting from the quality of the musicality of the arrangements significantly. However, on a couple of songs, the group's sporadic syllable usage is quite effective. In Zoot Suit Riot and Sir Duke, the syllables compliment the swing and funk feels of those songs, while the scat section incorportated in each track works well in the arrangement.

Throughout the album, the soloists have a ton of energy, oftentimes at the expense of quality. The best example is on Burning Down the House, where the soloist seems to be figuratively bouncing off the walls, but in so doing, has a poor vocal showing.

Because of the flaws with sound quality, syllables, and soloists, I don't see myself listening to the album beyond this review. But Vocaholics Anonymous is still a strong improvement from the Vocaholics' previous recordings and sets them on a good trajectory for the future.

Advertisement

How To Get Your Work Reviewed

To have your album (2 or more tracks) reviewed by RARB, please email us with your name, group name and album title. You will receive a response with information on how to register your album in our system.

To have your digital single reviewed by RARB, please fill out our online singles registration form.

×

Ordering Information

This album is available for sale on iTunes and for streaming on Spotify.

×