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Tufts sQ!

Tufts University

Bird (For Now) (2015)

4.0

May 10, 2016

Tuning / Blend 4.7
Energy / Intensity 4.3
Innovation / Creativity 3.7
Soloists 4.7
Sound / Production 4.0
Repeat Listenability 4.0
Tracks
1 Love You Long Time 3.7
2 Roxanne 4.3
3 Pusher Love Girl 3.7
4 You Go Down Smooth 4.0
5 Can't Hold Us 4.0
6 Only One / FourFiveSeconds 4.0
7 Hit 'Em Up Style (Oops!) / No Scrubs / Bootylicious 4.7
8 Bottom of the River 5.0
9 For Once in My Life 4.0
10 Carried Away 4.3
11 Superwoman 4.7
12 Wait It Out 3.7

Recorded 2013 – 2015
Total time: 48:00, 12 songs


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Love You Long Time 4
2 Roxanne 5
3 Pusher Love Girl 4
4 You Go Down Smooth 4
5 Can't Hold Us 4
6 Only One / FourFiveSeconds 5
7 Hit 'Em Up Style (Oops!) / No Scrubs / Bootylicious 5
8 Bottom of the River 5
9 For Once in My Life 4
10 Carried Away 4
11 Superwoman 4
12 Wait It Out 4

Creative artistry graces Bird (For Now), from the album name and concept art to the smooth and slinky jazz-infused pop arrangements. This is a very thoughtful release from a cappella mainstay Tufts sQ!.

We got a teaser of Bird (For Now) at RARB with the group's single releaseĀ Bottom of the River, and we suspected more good music awaited the full-length release. What did the wait bring? Most notably, sQ! has absolutely mastered transitions and song weaving, from stitching together a mash-up like Only One / FourFiveSeconds seamlessly, to moving between opposing styles like the group's cool interpretation of Roxanne, which goes between jazz club and hard rock. Those jarring, blocky, awkward transitions that screw up many a cappella arrangements when groups try to get fancy and funky are simply absent here. Under the care of sQ!, transitions are beautifully fluid and fascinating. Thank you and congrats sQ!, because I simply can't recall another album where this tricky but expected technique is handled with such achievement. I'm particularly smitten with the fusions in Hit 'Em Up Style, which is definitely ready for house parties on campus, no slick DJ needed. Primary album arranger Reza Mirsajadi, plus contributing arrangers Melissa Weikart and Ellis Srubas-Giammanco, have really thrown down the gauntlet in their genre.

Female soloists win the day on Bird (For Now), with special mention going to the honey and cream voice of Elise Lee in Only One. This girl's voice will warm you to your bones. The album's opener sets the tone for the strong female leads to come with a great turn on Love You Long Time from Janie Lupica. When she sings, "I'm so happy!", I'm certainly happy, too.

What I'm still not behind is the too-artificial drumming, an area I've (too-noisily) complained about before on a prior release from sQ!. It certainly does dampen the nice creativity when you hear drumming like this behind naturally awesome voices like these. I still say let it fly with more real spit and see what happens.

You'll like Bird (For Now). This is really jammable collegiate a cappella that'll put you in a good mood and keep you there.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Love You Long Time 4
2 Roxanne 5
3 Pusher Love Girl 4
4 You Go Down Smooth 4
5 Can't Hold Us 4
6 Only One / FourFiveSeconds 4
7 Hit 'Em Up Style (Oops!) / No Scrubs / Bootylicious 5
8 Bottom of the River 5
9 For Once in My Life 4
10 Carried Away 4
11 Superwoman 5
12 Wait It Out 4

Tufts sQ! has historically done an excellent job of selecting soloists, and I'm really glad to hear that the group kept that bar high on Bird (For Now). This coed group has found the best among its members to front each of the songs here, and that certainly helps listeners make emotional connections to the music. Ellis Srubas-Giammanco deserves a special shout-out for his lead on Bootylicious (and the arrangement of that mash-up): a male solo on that song is completely unexpected, and yet Srubas-Giammanco's voice makes perfect sense on that song by itself and in the context of the other two parts of the medley.

sQ! achieves that same kind of out-of-the-park home run with Roxanne, a stunning jazzy take on the Police song that drips with emotion. It's creative (kudos to Reza Mirsajadi for the arrangement), memorable, and a completely fresh take on a decades-old song. Mirsajadi takes the same approach to Bottom of the River, which isn't quite as successful as Roxanne, but I certainly appreciated a slightly different take on this over-done a cappella cover, and the group does a beautiful job with the song and the delivery. Superwoman features a gorgeous lead from Janie Lupica, who knows just when to push the solo and when to be tender and fragile; Misrajadi's arrangement builds at the perfect rate, and the group's delivery is exceptional.

There's not a bad song on Bird (For Now). The tracks here that are merely "great" instead of "awesome" are still really enjoyable to listen to, they just aren't as incredible as the album's best moments. Pusher Love Girl is pleasant and beautifully-executed, but it's not especially memorable or unusual. You Go Down Smooth, Can't Hold Us, and For Once in My Life are a hair too fast; while that's certainly better than being a hair too slow, these three especially feel a little bit rushed. Wait It Out is well-sung and sounds lovely, but it's not the strongest performance to end the album on.

sQ!'s last album was lacking in its song credits and liner notes; this time around, the group wrote better songwriting credits and posted them on the group's web site. With limited space on the slipcase, this approach is a good compromise.

Bird (For Now) is a strong offering from Tufts sQ!; the best songs here are definitely stand-outs in the mixed collegiate a cappella arena. I'm still waiting for sQ! to record an album that blows me away from top to bottom; the moments of greatness they've had on each of their last few albums have shown that they've got that creativity and talent within their ranks. Even without that through-and-through WOW factor, though, sQ! has still put out an album that's beautifully-sung and beautifully-performed. The best moments here are exceptional, and the "worst" are still a treat to hear, making Bird (For Now) a worthwhile listen for any fan of collegiate a cappella.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Love You Long Time 3
2 Roxanne 3
3 Pusher Love Girl 3
4 You Go Down Smooth 4
5 Can't Hold Us 4
6 Only One / FourFiveSeconds 3
7 Hit 'Em Up Style (Oops!) / No Scrubs / Bootylicious 4
8 Bottom of the River 5
9 For Once in My Life 4
10 Carried Away 5
11 Superwoman 5
12 Wait It Out 3

Think about your favorite movie. Notice how even the grittiest and most realistic scenes are still larger than life. The arguments are shorter and more heated, the lighting creates just the right shadows, and even the clutter is just so. The crazy thing is, if they were actually true to life, we wouldn't believe it at all and wouldn't care for the people involved. It's Hollywood Magic. This is what Bird (For Now) by Tufts sQ! does. It sucks you in by being just a bit too perfect.

What really makes this record ... well, sing, is the soloists. Every track features energetic leads that fit the songs beautifully. And they all have real chops, which isn't normally the case in a group this size. Tufts sQ! really knows how to pick songs that make the singers shine. Perfect casting.

As for the production, Bird (For Now) has a bright, overly polished sound that feels just unrealistic enough to be captivating. There isn't tons of distortion, just tuning and cut-offs that are inhumanly pristine. The only problem with the production is that the mix is extremely top-heavy. Tufts sQ! has killer basses that get washed out. The blend is superb, but without the weight in the lower frequencies, it definitely feels like something's missing — like a movie with no shadows.

The arrangements are a mixed bag. Pusher Love Girl stagnates a bit, as does the majority of Can't Hold Us. The energy is there, but it doesn't ebb and flow much. Wait It Out doesn't stand out, except that it's the last song on the album. On the other hand, the opening of Bottom of the River is the best moment on the whole album. Ethereal chords ending with a dramatic build flow seamlessly into the heavy, stomping tune we all know and love. Superwoman is a sleeper: you don't realize how good it is at first. The biggest surprise is Carried Away — this track is infectious and should have closed out the album.

There are a few other notables. For Once in My Life has a fun Sir Duke moment. There are two track mash-ups: Only One / FourFiveSeconds and Hit 'Em Up Style (Oops!) / No Scrubs / Bootylicious. Both are well done. Together, however, and back to back no less, they are way too much. It's a huge chunk of time in which I don't know where to hang my hat. You Go Down Smooth gets you in a chill place right off the bat. Roxanne emotes like crazy: it switches tempos and rocks harder than any other track during the frenzied moments.

There are certainly a few flaws with this one, but I'll go out on a limb and say that Bird (For Now) is a must-have for any a cappella collection.


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Bird (For Now) also streams on Spotify.

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