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Divisi

Central Connecticut State University

Snapshot (2015)

4.0

June 23, 2016

Tuning / Blend 4.3
Energy / Intensity 5.0
Innovation / Creativity 4.0
Soloists 4.0
Sound / Production 4.7
Repeat Listenability 4.3
Tracks
1 Livin' la Vida Loca 4.3
2 Jealous 3.3
3 Lay Me Down 4.7

Recorded 2015 – 2016
Total time: 11:45, 3 songs


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Livin' la Vida Loca 5
2 Jealous 3
3 Lay Me Down 5

What struck me most about CCSU Divisi's 2015 album Park & Ride was how much fun the singers were obviously having. That infectious joy permeates the group's 3-song EP Snapshot as well; even in the slower spots, there's a sense of focus and energy that's definitely engaging.

The EP starts and ends really, really strongly. Opening track Livin' la Vida Loca just bounds out of the speakers. Not to imply that Ricky Martin's music is complex, but these guys definitely get the energy and sexiness of this song. (Side note: don't do the math on how old these guys were when this song first hit the charts!) There's emotion, drive, and fun here; soloist Antonio La Rosa perfectly nails the tone and sultriness that this song requires. Michael Leona's arrangement is great; there's an instrumental breakdown around 2:25 that's perfectly-executed and then a fast-paced "living la vida loca" line that drives right back into another chorus that these singers nail stunningly. I can't imagine how many times they rehearsed that section to get the timing so exact.

At the end of the EP comes Lay Me Down, a ballad that starts with a fragile solo by Brian Jacobs. Not to take away from Jacobs' delivery of the song, but the real praise belongs to arranger Andy Degan and the group's execution of dynamics here. There's a climax midway through the song that sounds like the group's loudest peak, but they manage to channel even more volume and emotion at the end of the song. It's not easy to sing so loudly without shouting, but Divisi pulls it off, beautifully covering the range of volume from 0.5 all the way up to 9.99.

The weak link here is Jealous, which starts a little shakily and never quite moves into anything compelling. The song is repetitive, and Divisi doesn't do much to break that monotony, which is a shame because we've heard elsewhere on this very EP that the group is capable of using dynamics to convey stories and emotions. And although soloist Leona sounds solid on most of the song, the falsetto segment is just not a good fit for his voice, which means that either the group should've found another soloist, or the song isn't a good fit for the current lineup of the group. From any average a cappella group, Jealous would be fine, but compared to the other tracks here, it sounds weak.

The vocal energy clearly comes from Divisi, but the production help is worth mentioning here: behind the editing/mixing boards are two names I haven't seen much here at RARB, Marianne Cheng (alum of the UNC Loreleis) and Colin Egan (alum of Emory's Dooley Noted and Hyannis Sound), under the name Five Spice Records. The pair obviously worked well with Divisi, and the two killer tracks here certainly make Snapshot worth hearing.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Livin' la Vida Loca 4
2 Jealous 4
3 Lay Me Down 5

After flashes of great potential in Park & Ride, CCSU Divisi presents a smaller sampling of higher-quality songs in Snapshot. The all-male group's latest release shows improvements across the board in energy, resulting in a higher repeat listenability factor. From the casual listener to the aficionado, there is something for everyone to appreciate in Snapshot.

The lights are up and the stage is set with Livin' la Vida Loca. Beginning with a recognizable up-tempo song from the late-nineties is a solid formula for putting a listener in a good mood. The song is presented in a generally straightforward manner with little tweaks and color added to spice up the song for a cappella as well as some sharp dynamic choices. In this opening track, however, I am immediately reminded of the ample reverb from Divisi's last album, which continues to serve as a slight distraction. Nothing that Divisi itself presents is particularly bad, though I long for a bit more innovation in terms of making the song one's own.

From there, the groove shifts into Jealous with some notably well-voiced background chords and a strong bass sound. The song itself is extremely catchy, has an attractive beat, and the falsetto is handled well, but the general execution of the solo is somewhat mechanical and one-dimensional. Again, the arrangement is handled well, but the original song is simple and Divisi's cover does little to stand out from its source material.

While the first two tracks are good, if unremarkable, the true gem of the EP is Lay Me Down. Sam Smith has been covered ad nauseum of late, especially with this song, but Divisi delivers a truly memorable rendition with a well-crafted arrangement and excellent vocals, both solo and background. A couple of reharmonized chords in the refrain add a chilling edge to the familiar tune, making great use of the flat-seventh scale degree in particular. But what transcends this track from intriguing to epic is the handling of the build at the end, using the lyrics and rhythm from the soloist's opening as dark background material and part of a crescendo to the climax. This careful crafting of tension and release combined with the masterful use of studio effects make this track a strong closer.

In about eleven minutes' time, Snapshot provides an energetic throwback, a groovy show of juicy R&B chords with a high-flying solo, and an unforgettable reinvention of an extremely popular tune. If you like one or more of those things, Snapshot is the EP for you, and perhaps on repeat.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Livin' la Vida Loca 4
2 Jealous 3
3 Lay Me Down 4

The men of Divisi are back with Snapshot, a three-song EP. Straight out of the gate, the album starts strong with Ricky Martin's Livin' la Vida Loca. It's a lot of fun, features some clever intricate sections, and Antonio La Rosa delivers a fantastic lead. My one critique would be that by the end, the arrangement starts to get a little stale, despite the amount of energy that the group brings. It might have benefitted slightly from playing a little more with the space, since most of the background parts stick to fairly narrow ranges.

Next up is Jealous, fronted by Michael Leona. It's pretty standard fare for a ballad, with lots of emotional pads and echoed fingersnaps. Divisi has put forward a slightly softer and jazzier version of the Nick Jonas hit. It's a fine choice musically, but thematically, it might only aggravate the fact that I already find the song a little off-putting. Obviously I understand that Divisi didn't write the lyrics, but song selection is (or I think should always be) a conscious choice. Softening the presentation of a song whose central message is "It's not your fault... [but] It's my right to be hellish", especially as an all-male group, might just warrant a little extra care.

Snapshot wraps up with a nice, clean version of Sam Smith's Lay Me Down. It's smooth, and the blend is as great here as it was in Jealous. Ultimately, we've heard a lot of renditions of this song, and I think Divisi's version is somewhere in the middle of the pack. Brian Jacobs provides a strong lead, and the backs are emotionally convincing, there just isn't much that sets this track in particular above many of the others.

EPs are a great, approachable format, and it's always nice to see something other than a typical yearbook album from collegiate groups. I recommend checking out Snapshot, especially if you need a good throwback dance track.

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