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The Statesmen

Pennsylvania State University

The EP (2014)

5.0

July 22, 2014

Tuning / Blend 5.0
Energy / Intensity 5.0
Innovation / Creativity 5.0
Soloists 4.7
Sound / Production 4.3
Repeat Listenability 4.3
Tracks
1 Carry On Wayward Son / Don't You Worry Child 4.0
2 Come Wake Me Up 4.7
3 Below My Feet 4.7

Recorded 2013
Total time: 12:19, 3 songs


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Carry On Wayward Son / Don't You Worry Child 3
2 Come Wake Me Up 4
3 Below My Feet 5

The Statesmen are shaking things up in the college a cappella scene. In a good way. After releasing their phenomenal debut album, The Album, just last year, it comes as no surprise that their three-song sequel is packed with inventive arrangements, passionate singing, and classy production. The EP is artfully strung together so it listens like a continuous conscious medley rather than three random pop songs. It's not every day a group can take three covers and really make them its own, and that's how you can tell the Statesmen are not your every day a cappella group.  

So often in college a cappella you hear arrangements rooted in repetition and replication. Whole albums comprised of the standard AABA form, each A (verse+chorus) sounding the same as the last, all taken note for note from the instrumental version by the original artist. Whole albums! Where's the fun in that?

The Statesmen are fun because they bring a wonderful sense of narrative to every song. Throughout The EP no two sections sound the same. Each arrangement builds up and drops down for a captivating ride through solemn and spirited and serious and silly and back again. They're not afraid to deviate from the original notes or countermelodies, and they're not afraid to leave space for full spectrum dynamic contrast. The EP takes the narrative a step further by linking tracks together with a delicate E-drone and culminating the third song with an epic reprise of the first. Brilliant!

Of course no collegiate collection is without its flaws. Carry On Wayward Son/Don't You Worry Child is arranged well, but is ultimately a flop. Carry On Wayward Son is cheesy, and giving it a fanfare just makes it even cheesier. Maybe it's comical in a performance, but on a recording it's just cheesy. The son/child mash-up idea is clever, but the two melodies sound awful when laid over one another. It's a shame that those are the choruses they bring back for the climax of The EP. The other disappointing moment on the album is the flurry of jarring "jin jin jin jo"s spoiling the bridge to an otherwise gorgeous Come Wake Me Up. Not perfect, but definitely not bad for a group's second release.

There is never a dull moment on The EP. Some moments maybe aren't that tasteful, but they're still brimming with energy and creativity and really, really good singing. Much of collegiate a cappella is caught up in the business of mimicking songs with predictable transcriptions and staccato syllables and post-production filters. The Statesmen cut the fluff for a more authentic, more artistic sound that will really show you what it means to sing.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Carry On Wayward Son / Don't You Worry Child 4
2 Come Wake Me Up 5
3 Below My Feet 5

There are purists out there who believe the only way to get the raw energy of a live performance on a studio album is to record it live. It is a great privilege to review The EP by the Statesmen because it aligns exactly with my philosophy on recording: if you want a live sound, you should record live in front of an audience to capture the raw energy and imperfections in all their glory. In contrast, a studio project should either sound like the most perfect live version of you as possible, or give the listener something new that they can't experience from the live show. The EP shines as a golden example of a studio album that sounds like a live album, but as perfect and polished as can be.

The EP has only three tracks, but they flow seamlessly from one to the next. The performances in this album are truly extraordinary. Each and every one is filled with passion and is vocally excellent. Carry On Wayward Son/Don't You Worry Child starts by slapping you in the face with rock energy. Come Wake Me Up is emotional and beautiful. Sound good so far? Well, Below My Feet is where it really gets special. Not only is this soloist just as incredible as the others, but this song is where the genius of the arranging becomes apparent. All four songs represented in the album become mashed together at the end, and it's breathtaking. From beginning to end, the arrangements are interesting, never stagnating. But the end is such a fantastic pay-off, you can't help but feel satisfied and want more, all at the same time.

If I have any criticism to offer, it is in the mix of the percussion. Specifically in Carry On Wayward Son, the vp doesn't have the weight it needs; the EQ should have been tweaked slightly, especially in the kicks, and have them turned up in the mix. I don't want an overly produced sound, but slight shifts would be enough to give it the heft it needs and still retain the live, human quality that makes it wonderful. It'd be effective throughout the rest of the album as well, but it is evident in those specific sections of the first track.

I want to applaud the Statesmen for the care they put into every aspect of this release. You can't put the heart, hard work, and vulnerability into a project like this without it coming through. Guess what, guys: it came through. Well done! I look forward most eagerly to future endeavors from the Statesmen.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Carry On Wayward Son / Don't You Worry Child 5
2 Come Wake Me Up 5
3 Below My Feet 4

Founded just three years ago, the Statesmen from Penn State University have already seen substantial success in the International Championship for Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA). With The EP, the group has produced a cohesive set that exemplifies the positive effects of the ICCAs on the a cappella community at large.

It is no coincidence that The EP is nearly twelve minutes long and consists of three songs, as the Statesmen performed this exact set at the ICCA Mid-Atlantic Semifinal round in 2013. These constructs are directly related to competition rules regarding a strict twelve-minute time limit. The continuity between tracks is one of The EP's greatest strengths. Track changes delineate the beginning and ending of individual songs, and the same chord is used in both transitions, significantly contributing to the entire album's cohesion and replay value with its basic sonic recognition. The journey is effective, beginning with a new take on a classic rock song, continuing with a heartfelt ballad, and finishing with an anthemic mashup.

One of The EP's best features is its arrangements, which are far from transcriptions of the original tunes and feature tasteful textural changes throughout the various sections of each song. The Statesmen's presentation of Carry On Wayward Son is unique, not only in its construction as a medley with Don't You Worry Child, but more immediately in its engaging, original introduction. The Statesmen's modernization of the Kansas classic includes asymmetrical phrases and a strong chordal foundation that sets the tone for the rest of the album.

The second song in any three-song set has the potential to make or break its momentum, and in this case, Come Wake Me Up certainly delivers. The Statesmen sport impressive soloists throughout The EP who deliver lyrics with great clarity, but soloist Liam Fennecken deserves special mention for his vocal dexterity and emotional connection to the text.

The few negative aspects of this album are perhaps a matter of taste and nitpicking and generally lie within the final track, Below My Feet. The beginning of the song proper is the only moment where I hear an imbalance between group and soloist levels, favoring the soloist to the point where it seems as though subtle dynamic changes and other musical aspects are impossible for him. This imbalance also makes a musical build through Below My Feet difficult, which is one of the trademarks of the original song. Perhaps the biggest shortcoming of The EP is its final modulation, which was so jarring on my first listen that I could not fully appreciate the well-conceived climactic ending to the album. While intelligent in its conception, the modulation's execution is more of a distraction than an augmentation, overwhelming a consonant moment in the track.

Between their snappy album artwork and imaginative covers, the Statesmen have translated their strength in compiling and executing a three-song set for live competition into a stellar EP with great replay value. Despite its brevity, The EP provides a strong model for album construction that can be easily consumed because of its concise nature and emphasis on the journey.

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Ordering Information

This album is available from the group's website or by emailing the group at statesmenpsu@gmail.com.

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