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The Harvard Opportunes

Harvard University

Elements (2015)

4.0

December 12, 2016

Tuning / Blend 4.7
Energy / Intensity 4.3
Innovation / Creativity 3.7
Soloists 4.0
Sound / Production 4.3
Repeat Listenability 4.0
Tracks
1 Ain't No Other Man 4.3
2 I Want Crazy 3.7
3 You Give Me Something 3.3
4 Rather Be 4.3
5 Goodbye In Her Eyes 4.0
6 Counting Stars 3.7
7 Summertime 4.7
8 Heard It Through The Grapevine 3.0
9 I Choose You 4.3
10 I Can't Make You Love / All Of Me 4.0
11 Sweet Life 4.7
12 1+1 4.0
13 The Beatles Medley 3.3

Recorded 2014 – 2015
Total time: 54:02, 13 songs


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Ain't No Other Man 3
2 I Want Crazy 4
3 You Give Me Something 3
4 Rather Be 5
5 Goodbye In Her Eyes 4
6 Counting Stars 3
7 Summertime 4
8 Heard It Through The Grapevine 3
9 I Choose You 5
10 I Can't Make You Love / All Of Me 4
11 Sweet Life 5
12 1+1 5
13 The Beatles Medley 3

On one hand, Elements is slick and cool as popular and classic songs are reworked into impressive performances full of tantalizing chords and immaculate styles. On the other, The Harvard Opportunes fall victim to slightly subpar and average tracks that aren't bad, but in no way represent the potential of these talented musicians. Fortunately, the shining moments of Elements outweigh most of the negatives.

Elements can best be compared to a vinyl record with an "A-side" and a "B-side". Tracks one through six make up "A", whereas tracks seven through thirteen make up the "B". Typically, artists feature their best work on the "A-side". In some cases, which is true in the sense of Elements, the "B-side" can be just as strong as the "A" or even better.

It is on this "B-side" where I truly got to know The Opportunes as artists. With tracks seven through thirteen, the group takes more risks and offers more diversity culminating in an overall better listening experience. For starters, I expected Summertime to be the popular jazz standard rendition, which it is. But it also weaves in Justin Timberlake's hit pop song, adding in a layer of unpredictability. What works for this track is its dark undertone, creating a live, jazz lounge vibe throughout the performance.

The Opportunes take their biggest risks, and receive their biggest rewards, in I Choose You. The group plays with rhythm, chord structure, and even finds time to mix additional Sara Bareilles songs into the track, resulting in an experiment that's stunning. The song is furthered by the lead's ability to grow with the group throughout the song, giving the audience a real vocal transformation that's brilliant.

For groups looking to nail down transitions, take notes from The Opportunes' cover of I Can't Make You Love Me / All Of Me. Both songs of this masterful mashup feature a duet where the lead is constantly changing, in effortless fashion, all while maintaining a supreme level of both blend and balance.

Sweet Life is the 90s, neo-soul throwback that we didn't know we needed. The foundation is perfection, with a groovin', playful bassline that makes the song a breath of fresh air to listen to. 1+1 is a bit of a paradox as it feels both light yet full with the necessary parts. It's jazzy, smooth, and unique, allowing the listener to sway along with excitement.

All of these qualities are what I am missing from the "A-side". There's one exception with Rather Be, which is one of the most well-mixed, effortless-sounding tracks on the album, often fluctuating in and out of synthpop and indie. But the other tracks, for reasons relating to balance, pacing, or a lack of big moments, just aren't on the same level as the latter half of the album.

Elements is a captivating album once you arrive at the tracks that truly demonstrate The Opportunes' identity. More of an emphasis on this will help put the group over the top.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Ain't No Other Man 5
2 I Want Crazy 4
3 You Give Me Something 4
4 Rather Be 4
5 Goodbye In Her Eyes 4
6 Counting Stars 5
7 Summertime 5
8 Heard It Through The Grapevine 3
9 I Choose You 4
10 I Can't Make You Love / All Of Me 4
11 Sweet Life 4
12 1+1 4
13 The Beatles Medley 4

Reflecting two iterations of members, the Opportunes' latest release continues the group's strong legacy of recorded a cappella. The 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 editions of the group seamlessly blend into each other on Elements, creating something easy to listen to and enjoy.

Ain't No Other Man kicks off the album with potent strength and a brassy solo. A good descending bell tone arpeggio will get me every time, and here is no exception — I perked up at it as a hint that there were more goodies to come. When a group can execute aural treats like that, you know listening will be a pleasure. Other highlights include Counting Stars, which has a persistent thumping beat and a satisfying release in the bridge breakdown. Also satisfying is Summertime, which starts off with an intro of Justin Timberlake, quotes the musical Spring Awakening with a beautiful, rich Purple Summer reference, and transitions into a risky arrangement of the Gershwin original. Pilar Fitzgerald's arrangement shines with summertime warmth and makes something new out of one of the most covered songs in the world.

I love when I can come back to review a group whose albums I've reviewed previously, and I especially love when I get to say that a group took our feedback. In my review for their last release On The Edge, I mentioned that the album dissolved into a weird section of medleys and misfit tracks at the end. The Opportunes thankfully ditched the insane Let the Music Play medley tradition (great for parties, less great for recorded a cappella) and instead include a Beatles medley to close the album. Okay, fine, it's still a medley, but I'll take something with a cohesive purpose to close out an album rather than an awkwardly mashed-up medley anytime.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Ain't No Other Man 5
2 I Want Crazy 3
3 You Give Me Something 3
4 Rather Be 4
5 Goodbye In Her Eyes 4
6 Counting Stars 3
7 Summertime 5
8 Heard It Through The Grapevine 3
9 I Choose You 4
10 I Can't Make You Love / All Of Me 4
11 Sweet Life 5
12 1+1 3
13 The Beatles Medley 3

Having reviewed The Harvard Opportunes' previous album, On The Edge, and now the group's latest, Elements, my main reaction is this: how do we make sure that Pilar Fitzgerald sticks with a cappella in the post-collegiate realm? In addition to her contributions as a singer and vocal percussionist, Fitzgerald again provides some of my favorite arrangements, including album opener Ain't No Other Man and also Summertime, which mashes up the classic Gershwin number with Justin Timberlake's Summer Love. She has a great handle on the voices in her group and how to pace and evolve an arrangement through a song. I hope we don't lose the chance to hear more from her in the future.

Not to be outdone, many other Opportunes stepped up and knocked it out of the park as well. I was particularly impressed by some of the solo performances, especially Brian Connolly on Goodbye In Her Eyes, Erin Aoyama on I Choose You, and S. Reid on Sweet Life. As they did for On The Edge, the Opportunes field a strong collection of singers, and the group's blend and energy is strong across the album. The group also displays the depth of their skill set by having multiple arrangers and vocal percussionists across the album, and essentially no repeat soloists. With that type of approach — typical of a yearbook album — they highlight their ability to maintain such a strong roster year after year.

I was also pleased to see the group finally leave behind the traditional Opportunes' Let the Music Play track in favor of a more cohesive Beatles medley to close out the album. In general, Elements feels more coherent as an album than the group's previous submissions, and I think this is an excellent direction for the group to be heading in. I expect we'll be hearing from the Opportunes again soon, and I hope to see them continue to grow in future recordings. With the level of talent in this group, I don't imagine that will be a hard bar for them to meet.


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