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Chattertocks

Brown University

Waking Hours (2014)

3.3

December 29, 2014

Tuning / Blend 4.0
Energy / Intensity 3.7
Innovation / Creativity 3.0
Soloists 3.7
Sound / Production 4.0
Repeat Listenability 3.3
Tracks
1 Beggin' 4.3
2 Wake Up Next To Me 4.0
3 Red 3.0
4 Elenore 4.3
5 Gonna Get Over You 3.7
6 Blown Away 3.7
7 Don't Wake Me Up 4.0
8 Say It Right 3.0
9 Every Time You Go 3.3
10 All Good Things 3.0
11 Drops of Jupiter 2.3

Recorded 2013 – 2014
Total time: 35:48, 11 songs


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Beggin' 5
2 Wake Up Next To Me 4
3 Red 3
4 Elenore 5
5 Gonna Get Over You 4
6 Blown Away 4
7 Don't Wake Me Up 4
8 Say It Right 3
9 Every Time You Go 3
10 All Good Things 3
11 Drops of Jupiter 2

I wish that the Chattertocks' latest album, Waking Hours, had been an EP instead of a full-length album. The all-female group's best songs are truly fantastic, but those get overshadowed by a ton of songs that are average or forgettable, plus a smattering of songs that are nearly unlistenable.

The album's strongest points are two songs from the 1960s. Album-opener Beggin' starts things off with a bang: a great solo courtesy of Ursula Raasted, who also wrote the dynamic and peppy arrangement. The album standout is a cover of the Turtles' Elenore, which showcases the sultry solo voice of Berit Goetz through an arrangement that pushes forward on the choruses and draws back during the verses. These two songs are delivered powerfully, have dynamic range courtesy of their arrangements, and keep things moving thanks to a swaying energy.

The medley Wake Up Next To Me is another strong performance. The song takes a little while to rev up thanks to a jarring drop in the lead just before the first chorus of Wake Me Up, but the mash-up portion blends the two songs seamlessly. (I'll admit that I now have trouble hearing one of these songs without thinking of the other; again Raasted's arranging really meshes the songs beautifully.)

The rest of the songs are less memorable. There are a few compelling moments here, such as the beginning of Don't Wake Me Up, where the group attacks each phrase with a stretchy delivery that commands attention. But there are more forgettable moments than great ones. Gonna Get Over You and All Good Things are both delivered well but don't add anything new and don't have enough of a build or arc to be striking. Blown Away and Red both feature powerful soloists, but the songs/arrangements themselves are unremarkable. Drops of Jupiter and Say It Right feature the album's weakest soloists; these leads just don't mesh well with the songs — and on Drops of Jupiter in particular, the lead's affected syllable delivery is distracting and a poor choice as an album closer.

And so, Waking Hours is a mixed bag. When the Chattertocks are on, they are nearly unstoppable: the album's best songs are dynamic, well performed, and earwormingly memorable. But much of Waking Hours is merely average, and full of rookie mistakes that a group as experienced as the Chattertocks should know how to overcome by now. So is this an average group with moments of greatness? Or a great group that, for whatever reason, delivered a patchy album? Only time will tell — but I'll hold out hope that the Chattertocks can capture lightning in the recording studio on more than three tracks next time.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Beggin' 4
2 Wake Up Next To Me 4
3 Red 3
4 Elenore 4
5 Gonna Get Over You 4
6 Blown Away 4
7 Don't Wake Me Up 4
8 Say It Right 3
9 Every Time You Go 3
10 All Good Things 3
11 Drops of Jupiter 3

There's nothing quite like a group of ladies who can sing; even better, a group of ladies who do it well. The Chattertocks of Brown University have shot to the forefront as one of my favorite female a cappella groups, at least from the perspective of recorded content. Their latest album Waking Hours capitalizes on a well-balanced group sound with standout soloists. It does border a bit on the predictable side, but warrants a listen nonetheless.

Although arrangements are not overly complex on Waking Hours, the Chattertocks present a well-polished sound on the featured material. The Chattertocks consistently deliver a great deal of backing support throughout the entire project. From the smooth opening and full sound throughout Beggin' to the more darker-toned, immaculate harmonies on Don't Wake Me Up, you'd be hard-pressed to find a tighter-sounding group of collegiate singers. In the future, I would enjoy hearing a few more layers to their arrangements, given the large number of singers involved with the project. 

In future reviews, I will mention a group's production efforts if the vocal percussion is either too over-the-top or way below par. Fortunately for the Chattertocks, their percussion is neither. The drumming is right in the pocket, where it all seems believable and adds to the song. Blown Away and Red are two tracks that capture the essence of a strong rhythm section between the drummer and bass (or alto 2 or lower-voiced female, whichever name the group uses). And yes, I am in favor of an octavized low-end on an all-female album if the group uses this power for good, as is done on Waking Hours.

So what are the truly standout moments on this album? I'm glad you asked. Simply put, Elenore and Gonna Get Over You. Both Berit Goetz and Ursula Raasted are the two soloists who are the most in their element. With a low, warm, almost jazzy voice, Goetz really shines in the somewhat cabaret feel of Elenore. With a similar alto-like quality, Raasted commands the more upbeat, harmony-filled Gonna Get Over You with a rich tone that manages to remain light throughout. Both songs will have you going back for second listenings.

Where Waking Hours falls short is mainly in the song selections. While no song is bad, most feel similar to what other all-female groups are putting out: Taylor Swift, memories of a past love, and the like. In the future, I would love to hear something that takes the Chattertocks out of their comfort zone.

When it comes down to it, you don't want to pass on this album. The Chattertocks boast a depth of great soloists, plenty of energy and a killer blend. It's easy to hear why the group has been around for more than sixty years, and I can only hope they continue to produce more praiseworthy music in the future.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Beggin' 4
2 Wake Up Next To Me 4
3 Red 3
4 Elenore 4
5 Gonna Get Over You 3
6 Blown Away 3
7 Don't Wake Me Up 4
8 Say It Right 3
9 Every Time You Go 4
10 All Good Things 3
11 Drops of Jupiter 2

Waking Hours is an average album. Not great, not bad, just average. It has all of the aspects I've grown to expect from an a cappella album: good soloists, solid enough arrangements, and high production quality. There are a good number of cross-gender solos, so the Chattertocks don't pigeonhole themselves into only doing songs written and performed by female artists à la the Barden Bellas. Unfortunately, there is not much to make this album stand out from the crowd; it is simply an average collegiate a cappella album.

While the arrangements are decent, the aspect that bothers me more than anything is the inclusion of so many — let's call them interesting  — syllables. In songs such as Gonna Get Over You and Say It Right, the syllables are distracting and take away from soloists who could have gotten more of a spotlight moment. The best songs that the Chattertocks put on this album are the ones that utilize simple and standard syllables. Sometimes, it is best not to go too crazy and stick with what you know will work.

However, this is not to say the album doesn't have some high points. Don't Wake Me Up, the highlight of the album, produces an emotional component unmatched on the rest of the album. I give much of the credit for this to a breathtaking solo by Carmen Sobczak, who also had my second favorite solo on All Good Things. You can really hear the vulnerability in her voice as she pleads. She keeps it simple, never doing too much, but always keeping the listener engaged. The arrangement also pulls from the same simplicity. The song starts with only harmonies on the melody, and even as the song builds to the climax, the group never adds something that doesn't need to be there, keeping the sound pure and earnest.

At the end of the day, this is not an album to be ashamed of. The group has put out an average a cappella album. Looking ahead, the best advice I can give to this group is to find ways to give these songs more emotional depth. The few times that I felt genuine emotion from the Chattertocks was when I enjoyed Waking Hours the most.


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