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HIGH FIVE

Momentaufnahmen (2014)

4.0

September 23, 2014

Tuning / Blend 4.7
Energy / Intensity 4.0
Innovation / Creativity 4.3
Soloists 3.7
Sound / Production 4.0
Repeat Listenability 3.0
Tracks
1 Nicht ganz so schlimm 3.3
2 Klick Klick 3.7
3 Hot Shot 4.0
4 Seite an Seite 3.7
5 Fayona-Blu 4.0
6 Panic Room 4.3
7 Businessman 3.3
8 Hotel Mama 4.3
9 Wissen wo du bist 4.7
10 Mehr Apps 4.3
11 Im falschen Film 3.0
12 42 3.7
13 Momente 3.7

Recorded 2013 – 2014
Total time: 44:25, 13 songs


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 Nicht ganz so schlimm 3
2 Klick Klick 5
3 Hot Shot 4
4 Seite an Seite 4
5 Fayona-Blu 3
6 Panic Room 4
7 Businessman 4
8 Hotel Mama 4
9 Wissen wo du bist 4
10 Mehr Apps 4
11 Im falschen Film 4
12 42 3
13 Momente 3

If you speak fluent German and like a cappella, my hunch is you will enjoy Momentaufnahmen from High Five. 

I say it's a hunch because it's nearly impossible for me to fully appreciate the work of these talented singers as nearly the entire album features original songs entirely in a language that is foreign to me (save for a few words I picked up from my maternal grandparents). So I can't be sure you'll like it. But if nothing else, I get the sense that these guys have put together a fun collection of highly literate, lyrically intricate songs that would entertain someone who can appreciate them in the native tongue.

What's left for the non-German speakers is an album of pleasant, generally upbeat, peppy tunes which don't show a great deal of melodic, harmonic, or rhythmic complexity. They're rendered very, very well, mind you, but there's just a lot of sameness and borderline "cheesiness". If these guys have an edge, it's an extremely soft one (even an unexpected "F" bomb is dropped about as gently as it could be). At times, it feels a little bit like a doo-wop group trying to cover a Bobs tune — they could do it, sure, but as a novelty. It's interesting for a song or two, not a whole album. The perma-grin/perma-wink that one imagines is planted on the faces of these guys when they sing is inescapable, and that "feel" gets old quickly when the music itself isn't terribly complex or interesting. Even with a handy addendum furnished by the group to us reviewers giving an overview of each song's thematic material (but not line-by-line lyric translations), it's difficult to really hook into the jokes and/or irony built in to quite a few of these songs beyond recognizing that something cute seems to be going on. And musical cuteness can only hold my attention for so long.

That's also why the exceptions to the rule stand out so notably. Klick Klick — about our "clicking" obsession, be it taking photos and posting them or liking things on Facebook, etc. — is as much assembled in the studio as it is performed, but it's a nifty synergy of songwriting, lyric writing and style that serves the thematic content. With so much original material, there's certainly plenty of creative energy expended throughout, but this is one of those moments where the creativity rises to an inspired level. Businessman isn't quite on the same level but here again is a marriage of style and substance. Of painting with the music and having all of the various components — the melody, the arrangement, the performance, the post-production — all serve the overarching intent and message of the song (at least as I understood it). Hot Shot also deserves honorable mention. Perhaps it stands out only because it's the first of what becomes a series of clever/ironic/witty songs using humor and/or snark to comment on life experiences in today's world. But the energy of this one in particular and the more frequent use of slightly jazzier progressions gives it a little extra oomph.

So much of the rest, however, seems to lean almost entirely on the lyrics, with relatively forgettable melodies, plain harmonies, minimal rhythmic texturing, and seemingly interchangeable backgrounds. Absent being able to understand the myriad of words, this album is probably nicht for you.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Nicht ganz so schlimm 3
2 Klick Klick 4
3 Hot Shot 3
4 Seite an Seite 3
5 Fayona-Blu 4
6 Panic Room 5
7 Businessman 3
8 Hotel Mama 4
9 Wissen wo du bist 5
10 Mehr Apps 5
11 Im falschen Film 3
12 42 4
13 Momente 4

High Five is the sixth German a cappella group I've been asked to review in my tenure at RARB. How does this group stack up against the others? Better than many, but not quite up to the level of a group such as Maybebop (my gold standard of contemporary German a cappella). In fact, High Five does remind me in many respects of Maybebop —  probably not a coincidence, since Maybebop's Luke Teske helped produce their last three albums, including Momentaufnahmen ("Snapshots"). They similarly sing pop a cappella, in a variety of styles and often with a touch of humor and social commentary. The lyrics, by the way, are all in German with the exception of Businessman and 42 (both in English, 42 being a Coldplay song). And all but two of the songs are originals written by group members.

Backing up a step: according to its website, High Five is a five-man group whose members got together in 2006 while they were in school, in the town of Offenburg (shout out to Offenburg! I lived there for a few months back in 1989). They are now all at various places of higher education, the five being in four different cities across the country, so it's impressive that they've found a way to continue to produce albums together. They do have a bit of a "boy band" feel, which can be both good and bad. In some songs, such as Mehr Apps ("More Apps"), they bring a youthful exuberance which helps elevate the song; in other songs their voices (particularly the soloists') seem a bit thin and underdeveloped.

Although I generally like the album, I don't agree with all of the artistic choices. For example, Im falschen Film ("In The Wrong Movie") is a cleverly lyricized song with references to ET, Finding Nemo, Star Wars, and Apollo 13, among many others, that explains how the singer feels like he's somehow been put in the wrong film. It features audio clips from various movies (largely reenacted, I believe) interspersed throughout the song, ending with Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Hasta la vista, baby". However, they break up the flow, and cause me to dislike the song; if we gave repeat listenability ratings on a track-level, Im falschen Film would be a "2". Similarly, Hotel Mama abruptly changes styles several times throughout the piece: from normal, to loud, to quiet and introspective, to bouncy, etc. While I don't object to abrupt transitions out of principle, they don't make musical sense to me here — there isn't an overarching purpose driving the stylistic choice.

The two highlights of the album are truly fabulous, and I could listen to them over and over: Wissen wo du bist ("Knowing Where You Are") and Mehr Apps. Wissen wo du bist is a quietly introspective song about separation: "And when you stretch your wings, do it softly and quietly. Catch all of your dreams if you can, and take them with you. Just let me know where you are ... and include me in your dreams. I can be good alone, but I would just like to know where you are." Mehr Apps is kind of the oddball song on the album, being written and soloed by Jasper März who doesn't otherwise appear on the album and isn't a member of the group. But it's an energetic, rollicking song about the continual need for more apps, the first line of the chorus being: "I even need an app for my apps, that chooses them for me." Love that chorus! So catchy!

So, to sum up: there are some highs and some not-so-highs. But overall, I enjoyed the album and especially applaud High Five's creative effort in writing its own songs.

Profanity advisory: Businessman contains the "f-word" (in English).


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Nicht ganz so schlimm 4
2 Klick Klick 2
3 Hot Shot 5
4 Seite an Seite 4
5 Fayona-Blu 5
6 Panic Room 4
7 Businessman 3
8 Hotel Mama 5
9 Wissen wo du bist 5
10 Mehr Apps 4
11 Im falschen Film 2
12 42 4
13 Momente 4

High Five deserves a lot of credit for its creativity, as its albums are almost entirely comprised of original songs. Although it may be difficult for a non-native German speaker to fully grasp the meaning of the text without a translator, it doesn't take fluency to pick up on the smooth text setting and effective storytelling in Momentaufnahmen.

That being said, if you do choose to pick up this album and are not particularly familiar with the German language, I highly recommend putting the lyrics through a translator. Momentaufnahmen is perfectly enjoyable as background music, but High Five's original lyrics are brimming with humor and wit that should not be missed. For example, the first line of the refrain of Mehr Apps translates to: "I need an app for my apps that manages my apps." Even the more comedic songs are teeming with witty lines that can greatly enhance the listening experience.

A few songs on this album are so catchy and smart in their construction that they come with great replay value. Hot Shot employs excellent syllable choices, from the vocal backup singing in the verses and choruses to the simple distinction between "din" and "jin" in the instrumental section. This song and Fayona-Blu, which employs a bass line reminiscent of the '80s classic Walkin' On Sunshine, could almost be considered neo doo-wop with its brightness, chord choices, and energy. Between its tight chords and feel changes, Hotel Mama stands as the most effectively innovative song on the album. Wissen wo du bist is engaging from the top, and the emotional text comes through very clearly with the use of subtle syncopations throughout the song.

On the other hand, there are a few tracks that impede repeat listenability of the album. Coming off a strong, consonant introductory track, Klick Klick is harsh and far more metallic-sounding than any other track on the album. While I can appreciate the thematic idea of this song, it does not function well tonally or in the album as a whole. Im falschen Film has sections that are enjoyable to listen to, but the song itself is all over the place. The verse and chorus don't mesh well, and the lyrics make many fun references, but are extremely random. Also, the background movie noises pop out of the texture so much that every time I hear them, I'm convinced that one of my computer windows has an ad playing a video that I must destroy, and I feel embarrassed afterwards. And while it is a solid track, Panic Room sounds like a children's song and simply does not fit on this album.

High Five chose to include two songs in English, which has the potential for disaster. In terms of Coldplay's 42, this is not the case, as the text setting is excellent. The group is significantly less successful in Businessman, however, as the syllable stress shows the group's hand as non-native, which detracts from the potential humor in the song's lyrics.

Momentaufnahmen concludes in a very consonant way with Momente, though the song could have contained a few more musically-informed choices. This is one way to sum up the entire album: it is enjoyable, but that extra push towards greater musical interest rather than kitsch could make it truly excellent.

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