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Exit 245

James Madison University

The Way Out (2015)

3.7

October 30, 2015

Tuning / Blend 4.0
Energy / Intensity 4.0
Innovation / Creativity 3.3
Soloists 4.3
Sound / Production 5.0
Repeat Listenability 4.0
Tracks
1 I'm Ready 3.7
2 Amnesia 4.7
3 A Sky Full of Stars 4.3
4 Lay Me Down 4.0
5 C'mon Talk 4.7
6 Honeymoon Avenue 4.0
7 Would You Go With Me 3.3
8 Ghost 3.3
9 Raging Fire 3.3
10 19 You + Me 3.3
11 Sugar 3.7
12 Already Home 4.0
13 Hot in Herre 4.3

Recorded 2014 – 2015
Total time: 49:02, 13 songs


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 I'm Ready 4
2 Amnesia 5
3 A Sky Full of Stars 5
4 Lay Me Down 5
5 C'mon Talk 5
6 Honeymoon Avenue 3
7 Would You Go With Me 4
8 Ghost 3
9 Raging Fire 3
10 19 You + Me 3
11 Sugar 3
12 Already Home 3
13 Hot in Herre 5

The Way Out features a pretty even split between average and exceptional material. But as with the group's albums of yore, it's hard to pass up the sweet crooners from Exit 245 when they're exceptional, so I suggest you buy-in to the best offered.

There are three really powerful points on The Way Out. First, the percussion is often a step above, and when it's on — complex and fast and loud, front and center — it's outrageously on, making tunes like I'm Ready, C'mon Talk, and Hot in Herre legit and awesome. It's a shame when we hear more basic, repetitive percussion on this album, because we've heard what should have been the standard. Next, the room-filling production flips between creating a club scene and making tear-jerker ballads with ease. The "5" for A Sky Full of Stars goes straight to the sound engineer (James Gammon), who creates a full mural of music with these voices. Gammon scores another "5" for Amnesia, with incredible pacing and an enormous hit-to-the-gut build; the treatment those backs are given is genius. Exit 245 and Gammon have always had a great ballad-building connection — give him the raw emotion and he'll aptly handle the rest. The compelling arrangement opening for Amnesia is also worth highlighting, with a cleverly sung "I'm not fine" vocal motif. More production "5"s for funky and slick C'mon Talk, which is turning into a quintessential all-male cover, but let's go with it because it works. And of course, one more production "5" for Hot in Herre, which is about as much fun as the law allows. I can't imagine how many campus parities are blasting this tune, or how many happy Exit 245 alumni are shakin' it to this number. Last up on the power pyramid, wow, do not move on with your day until you hear Mark Thress bare his soul on Lay Me Down. This song is really a giant picture frame for his abilities and passion, and he impresses from start to finish.

It's frustrating to have awesome elements and still be saddled with mediocre fare. I gave five songs in a row "3"s for largely the same reasons: literal translations coupled with plainness/nothing-that-special-ness/not enough creativity. A score of "3" is not bad, but it's no Amnesia or Lay Me Down. Ghost in particular sticks out, offering little from the original except a sluggish tempo. On a more hopeful note, 19 You + Me offers the kind of timeless nostalgia that many listeners will connect to, so there are still pieces to collect and enjoy from the less sparkling numbers.

I've always liked Exit 245 and I'm sure I'll continue to. Get your hands on the best of The Way Out and enjoy.


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 I'm Ready 3
2 Amnesia 4
3 A Sky Full of Stars 3
4 Lay Me Down 3
5 C'mon Talk 4
6 Honeymoon Avenue 4
7 Would You Go With Me 2
8 Ghost 3
9 Raging Fire 3
10 19 You + Me 3
11 Sugar 3
12 Already Home 4
13 Hot in Herre 3

In graduate school, I taught an intro chem class for five years. One of the hardest things our students had to adjust to was that we graded on a curve, which meant that a majority of them would end the semester with a "C". There's a tendency to conflate average with not good as opposed to simply common, and with the increasing quality of most recorded a cappella these days, I hope that the distinction will remain clear in our reviews.

The Way Out, the latest album from JMU's Exit 245, certainly has few missteps. There are a lot of things going right and a handful of nicely built moments. Ultimately, though, there's not enough that stands out to me to set this above many current recordings. As a fellow reviewer recently wrote, a cappella these days is about "going beyond simply transcribing songs for voices." Exit 245 has done a great job providing all-vocal versions of a number of current hits, they just haven't gone much above that here.

There are a number of completely serviceable lifts of some chart-toppers that I'm confident most listeners would enjoy. A Sky Full of Stars, Sugar, Ghost, and Lay Me Down are all great examples here. The tracks that stand out, though, have a little something extra, whether it's as simple as more group energy on a dynamic song (C'mon Talk), or a more nuanced arrangement (Amnesia, Already Home). I also want to highlight some of the stronger solos from members Daniel Clark (Amnesia), Anicka Pathammavong (Honeymoon Avenue), Sam Valentine (Ghost), and Joey Mazzara/Dane Barber (Already Home). Credit should also go to James Gammon, who produced the album. The mixing is excellent and helps create more space and drive in many of the tracks.

If you're big on current hits and want to hear some nice a cappella renditions of them, I would definitely suggest picking up a copy of The Way Out; you won't be disappointed. Based on some of the group's previous albums, however, I think Exit 245 is capable of more than what you'll find here, and I encourage the members to stretch themselves a bit more in future recordings.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 I'm Ready 4
2 Amnesia 5
3 A Sky Full of Stars 5
4 Lay Me Down 4
5 C'mon Talk 5
6 Honeymoon Avenue 5
7 Would You Go With Me 4
8 Ghost 4
9 Raging Fire 4
10 19 You + Me 4
11 Sugar 5
12 Already Home 5
13 Hot in Herre 5

I've been a big fan of Exit 245 for a number of years. The group's last non-holiday album, Boyfriend Material, is actually one of my favorite albums over the last few years across all of collegiate a cappella. So, I had very high expectations coming into The Way Out, and Exit 245 delivered.

First the positives, and there are a lot of them. The soloists are spectacular from top to bottom. While it's hard to pick a couple that stand out, I truly feel the passion and energy from the soloists on Already Home, Sugar, and Lay Me Down, and it really makes those tracks shimmer. The vocal percussion complements the vocals and the style of the pieces extremely well, and is consistently well-placed. A big shout-out goes to James Gammon Productions for stellar engineering on all thirteen tracks and for bringing all these voices together so cleanly.

While there are a number of creative moments that are quite impressive, one particular moment really catches my attention on the second track. The arrangement for Amnesia is well done throughout, and I appreciate that each of the parts gets its own moment to come through and shine, particularly in the choruses. The introduction, though, is on a pedestal of its own — while the original track doesn't lend much of an introduction, Exit 245 creates a journey that I really don't want to end. It reminds me a bit of a waterfall effect, as each voice part passes off the lyrics "I'm not fine" to the others seamlessly and with ease throughout the entire introduction, culminating with all parts joining together for a beautiful chord at the end. For everyone to stay with their motifs throughout the movement and syncopation of not just their parts, but everyone else's parts as well shows the skill and talent of both the arranger of the track and the entire group. I'll keep listening to the introduction over and over again — it is that good. This all being said, I do wish that more liberty was taken with adding more creative moments to some of the other tracks. I really enjoy the more current tracks, such as Ghost and Sugar, but if Exit 245 wants to perform such repertoire, I don't want to listen to just another cover — I want to listen to a track that makes me specifically remember it is Exit 245's rendition of that hit.

Also, I'm left wanting a little more from I'm Ready. The first track on any album sets the tone for the whole album, and I want the first track to blow me away. While I do like I'm Ready, and there are some great moments in the supporting vocals (especially in the second chorus), the song is sometimes sung too "pretty" in those supporting parts. The repeated "I'm ready" in the chorus from the tenors is a little too repetitive and bright-sounding, and it distracts me a bit from the rest of the chorus and just makes the track fall a little flat. A piece like C'mon Talk or even Amnesia is a better choice for the energy that you want from a first track. However, the high energy in Hot In Herre is a perfect way to round out the album, and definitely leaves me wanting to hear it again.

Overall, The Way Out is a really fun album, filled with lots of great moments of musicality and high energy. I can't wait to see what these guys put out next — until then, I'll be listening to this album for quite a while.


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Ordering Information

The Way Out is available on iTunes and Spotify. Visit exit245.com for more information.

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