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The Apex Project

ADAM (2017)

5.0

November 17, 2017

Tuning / Blend 5.0
Energy / Intensity 5.0
Innovation / Creativity 4.7
Soloists 4.7
Sound / Production 5.0
Repeat Listenability 4.7
Tracks
1 Black and White 4.7
2 Sugar 4.7
3 Color Rain 4.7
4 Chasing Rainbows 5.0

Recorded 2017
Total time: 12:18, 4 songs


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Black and White 5
2 Sugar 5
3 Color Rain 5
4 Chasing Rainbows 5

ADAM, the debut release by Singapore's own Apex Project, is a quirky, delicate delight: completely original and upliftingly joyful; lyrically sweet and poignant; musically precise and filled with the pristine hope and heartbreak of youth.

Uptempo Black and White captures the quintessential promise of youth — that feeling that anything is possible. Whether we reach for the improbable or not, our hearts should always be open to the infinite possibilities of this world. The beat and music are just as joyful as the lyrics. And everything I just wrote is also an accurate description of Chasing Rainbows. Shared experience, shared outlook. Perfect EP bookends.

Sugar is a heartbreaking, dare I say, beta-male love story, told with vulnerability and passion. It's the kind of raw longing you might find from a classic Indigo Girls track, but where the Indigo Girls would display something raw, here, as its title implies, the music is ever so sweet. Thankfully, because the lyrics eschew cliché messages — always finding truth through specificity — the song just soars. Ben Bram's arranging stays simple, letting the story of unassuming love, by Jean Seizure & Cheeyang Ng, simply tell itself.

The pop ballad Color Rain, with the most contemporary lead on the album, tells us that "scars aren't here to stay" and, like the rest of ADAM, that regardless of the obstacles, we must be the masters of our own destiny and not give up hope. It's sung beautifully from whisper to clarion call. And its haunting refrain is one of the most likely to stay with listeners.

On all the songs, ADAM's production (editing by Plaid Productions; mixing by Ed Boyer; mastering by Bill Hare) wisely steers towards a natural, largely unaffected sound, while still providing the rhythmic, pitch and balance perfection audiences have come to demand. It's no easy task for the production team to gracefully step out of the way, but that's what they've done. This allows the songwriting and storytelling to shine.

As a little aside, for older listeners (35+) Apex Project may seem just a bit reminiscent of early '90s Rockapella. Both groups had extraordinary lyricists, both regularly featured their tenor leads, and both groups embraced a deep positivity, even in their sadder songs. Apex Project's bass doesn't exude Barry Carl's trademark roar, but nonetheless remains deep and present, and the group's beats are a perfect combination of driving thumps and fun noises. One can imagine Rockapella's groundbreaking vocal percussionist, Jeff Thatcher, nodding in approval. Of course, Apex Project stops short of Rockapella's goofiness, but fans of RP may very well find much to enjoy on ADAM.

Deep originality remains contemporary a cappella's archnemesis, with so many groups relying solely on the transformative power of translating instrument-driven pop to the all-vocal idiom. Standing above the fray, Apex Project serves up completely original material. And even better, it's music with unending heart and hope. 


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Black and White 4
2 Sugar 5
3 Color Rain 4
4 Chasing Rainbows 5

Dm. Ba da dm. Ba da dm, dm, ba da dm. Dm-ba-dm dm. The opening notes of ADAM sound like prefatory lines to a play, delivered by a single actor who has calmly strolled on stage before the curtain is drawn. They contain just enough detail to prime you for what is to come, while deliberately holding back so as not to lose the element of surprise. By the time the rest of the cast joins bassist Kevin Wijono on Black and White, we already know what the Apex Project is about: playful, confident, smart, and so meticulously put together you can practically hear the typography on the script.

The Apex Project is a co-ed quintet based in Singapore that, according to the group's website, performs a "pop/jazz repertoire with a theatrical twist." When ADAM was released in 2017, the group had been performing together for a little over a year. It's not often you hear such a strong release from such a new group, and almost never that you get a debut EP comprised of four original compositions. With the help of some established arrangers (most notably Ben Bram, from behind-the-scenes of Pentatonix, The Sing-Off, Pitch Perfect, and Glee), and some established engineers (Plaid Productions, Ed Boyer, and Bill Hare), the Apex Project has produced in its first year what many groups would be proud to produce by the end of their first decade. My only misgiving is that this spectacle runs its course in just four radio-length songs.

The first scene, Black and White, is an upbeat doo-woppy number that is perfectly suited to small ensemble balance. There is a lead to carry the melody, two to three voices to harmonize, a bass and percussionist to keep up the groove, and still space for the occasional riff or tasteful interjection. Think '90s Rockapella with contemporary recording techniques.

ADAM takes a more serious turn with Sugar. Gone is the percussion and the spunky bass. The backgrounds play less off the lead and instead serve a more atmospheric role by interlacing harmonies with one another. It's one of those scenes in which our protagonist languishes around stage, chased by the spotlight, while the other characters subtly go about their business in the gloom. Despite some borderline corny lyrics, this track evokes the sweetest (pun intended), most real sentiment of the EP.

The melancholy of Sugar continues into the undertones of Color Rain. This third scene builds from sparse discord into a medley of polyrhythmic syllables and harmonies, culminating in a righteously powerful bridge. Normally these narrative, anthemic arrangements steal the show. In the midst of such an otherwise catchy collection, Color Rain unfortunately becomes the song I am most likely to skip.

Daaa-dat. Dat, dat, dat n'daaa-dat. ADAM finishes with the same tone in which it began. Chasing Rainbows has all the lighthearted youthfulness of Black and White along with all the anticipatory energy of Color Rain. Apex Project gives us a breakdown with the bridge and then surges right through the last chorus into the almighty backbeat clap. Now that's how you end a show.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Black and White 5
2 Sugar 4
3 Color Rain 5
4 Chasing Rainbows 5

A cappella burnout, or ear fatigue. It happens to the best of us, and I recently had a particularly bad case of it. "Why are you writing reviews for a website devoted to a cappella music?" you might ask. The Apex Project had both the answer and the cure.

ADAM is the new EP from this Singaporean quintet, and it is a delightfully vibrant and catchy bit of original pop with flecks of jazz. With two upbeat and two slower original tunes, ADAM is a terrific sounding palate-cleanser of clean, precise singing, tastefully produced, mixed, and mastered by names you've heard of (like Ed Boyer, Ben Bram, and Bill Hare), and others you might not know (Feng Lee). The aesthetic is simple and timeless music that shines because everyone is doing their jobs, from the arrangers (charts are modest, yet fluid) to the singers (invested and enthusiastic).

The EP is bookended by Black and White, a perky, bubbly bauble down to the faux guitar plucks, and Chasing Rainbows, the most "electronic" tune featuring crisp, sharp percussion and shiny cascades and rounds. The meat in this sandwich (or perhaps the cream in this chipwich) is the exposed Sugar, with an earnest, sweet solo flanked by sparse but beautiful backing voices that organically grow and fade; and Color Rain, led by a breathy, tender solo tastefully decorated with glittery background moments evoking, you guessed it, rain.

The Apex Project doesn't break new ground here, but the group has crafted and honed four songs that are hard not to love. ADAM is an uncomplicated, unblemished, cure for ears you didn't know were tired, a breath of fresh air for lungs you didn't know were stale, and an intermezzo for an appetite you didn't realize had soured. Here's your prescription: take these four songs and you won't need to call me in the morning. Side effects may include smiles, toe taps, and earworms.

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