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Maybebop

Sistemfeler (2017)

5.0

December 19, 2017

Tuning / Blend 5.0
Energy / Intensity 4.7
Innovation / Creativity 5.0
Soloists 4.7
Sound / Production 5.0
Repeat Listenability 4.3
Tracks
1 Mach dich frei 4.7
2 Weil Du heut Geburtstag hast 4.3
3 Auf der Suche 4.7
4 Verdammt zu lieben 4.0
5 Früher gabs die Tagesschau 5.0
6 Ode an die Heimat 5.0
7 Versteh das 5.0
8 Dat du min Leevsten büst 5.0
9 Bolero 5.0
10 Immer wenn ich beatbox 5.0
11 Marschbefehl 4.7
12 Lied vom Nicht-Verstehen 4.7
13 Chinesische Medizin 4.3
14 Platzhalter 5.0
15 Ab und zu ein paar Geigen 5.0

Recorded 2016 – 2017
Total time: 56:00, 15 songs


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Mach dich frei 5
2 Weil Du heut Geburtstag hast 5
3 Auf der Suche 5
4 Verdammt zu lieben 5
5 Früher gabs die Tagesschau 5
6 Ode an die Heimat 5
7 Versteh das 5
8 Dat du min Leevsten büst 5
9 Bolero 5
10 Immer wenn ich beatbox 5
11 Marschbefehl 5
12 Lied vom Nicht-Verstehen 5
13 Chinesische Medizin 5
14 Platzhalter 5
15 Ab und zu ein paar Geigen 5

The amount of original material Maybebop has generated is astonishing. That so much of it is both funny and genuinely touching is equally amazing. And that, after all these years, the group is still at the top of its game is nothing short of miraculous. Maybebop is a cappella royalty, and Sistemfeler delivers fifteen new jewels for the group's a cappella crown.

This German ensemble sings with an easy musicality, its blend nearly conversational, with a happenstance of perfect intonation and clever arranging. These singers walk just the right line between studio enhancement and pure vocals and they make it all look easy. But the genius of Sistemfeler is undeniably lyrical. Twists and turns. Explorations of nightmare, joy, and mundane life raised to noble and ridiculous song. And always with the touchstone of truth.

Now, given that all these lyrics are all in German, this might present a substantial barrier to RARB's typical English monoglots. But some things are worth the effort.

There are songs about the difficulties of lovable roommates that just don't clean up, about finding meaning in life, about the good old days of rock solid information before fake news, about the joy of a perfect internet connection, about the high society experience of seeing Bolero performed, about beatboxing — even about bullies restraining themselves to honor their favorite victim's birthday:

Weil Du heut Geburtstag hast (Because it's your birthday).

We do not mix any speed tablets in your coffee today
Do not smear glue on the rim of the toilet
Do not heat your door handle with an iron
And do not force you to eat a spider
Today we won't stick a "kick me!" sign on your back
And we will not oppress you a bit
(And why's that?)
Because it's your birthday today!

Perhaps listeners will hear a bit of Moxy Früvous, a bit of The Bobs, and a bit of Die Prinzen, but in truth Maybebop is in a category all its own. If you can join these singers in their world, you're in for a wild ride.

If not, you're missing out on some of a cappella's most fascinating and virtuosic funnymen.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Mach dich frei 4
2 Weil Du heut Geburtstag hast 3
3 Auf der Suche 5
4 Verdammt zu lieben 3
5 Früher gabs die Tagesschau 5
6 Ode an die Heimat 5
7 Versteh das 5
8 Dat du min Leevsten büst 5
9 Bolero 5
10 Immer wenn ich beatbox 5
11 Marschbefehl 5
12 Lied vom Nicht-Verstehen 5
13 Chinesische Medizin 4
14 Platzhalter 5
15 Ab und zu ein paar Geigen 5

Let's see, how to begin this review?

"Few things excite me more in the a cappella world than..."
"Yes! Another killer Maybebop album..."
"Wow, I'm speechless after that last song!"
"Pure a cappella goodness..."

Not sure which hook would be best, so how about all four?

If you are reading this review and don't yet know of Maybebop, something is wrong and you need to remedy that. The word "eclectic" comes to mind, as do the words amazing, inspiring, hilarious, thought-provoking, beautiful, and yes, even genius. All of those words describe Sistemfeler.

Maybebop's sound seems to keep getting better and better. This is one of the best produced albums I've ever heard. Even the songs I didn't especially care for are impossible to dislike because they just sound so good. Group members Lukas Teske and Oliver Gies get production credits, as do Ed Boyer, Thomas Schroeder, Bill Hare for mixing, and Andreas Balaskas for mastering. Fantastic job all around. Oliver Gies is also the creative genius responsible for nearly all the music and lyrics, with Teske and a few others also contributing.

The music is indeed an eclectic mix (as usual), with pop songs mixed in with Indian music, folk songs, a TV news theme, Ravel's classic Bolero, a song about beatboxing with coughs for accompaniment, a march, a Chinese-style song, a rap, and even a song with instrumental accompaniment by the NDR Radio Philharmonic Orchestra. The music is very good, at times phenomenal, and by itself merits a "5" out of "5" rating for the album.

But if you don't understand the words or don't look them up, you are missing half the story. Fortunately, Maybebop publishes all the lyrics on its website (in German). You can run them through Google translate to at least get an idea. Click the Musik tab, then click on the song name to see the lyrics. Moreover, all the lyrics there include bonus commentary by Gies about the songs (also in German). Definitely worth reading and running through Google translate as needed.

Without knowing the words, you'll miss things ... for example that the Indian song (Versteh das) pokes fun at a husband who comes from work and does nothing to help the wife who has been taking care of the house and children. "Now I'll grab a cold beer. How are you? I don't care." But at the end, in seriousness he asks forgiveness for this behavior, admitting his error. Or that the TV news theme (Früher gab's die Tagesschau) reminisces about the time when they could count on the Tagesschau news program to be "steadfast like a monument dividing evening from afternoon," competent, impartial, and serious. Or that the traditional folk song Ode an die Heimat has had its words changed to express longing for home ... where the Wi-Fi always connects automatically. Or that the march (Marschbefehl) is a song written tongue-in-cheek about how great marches are. Or that the rap (Platzhalter, which means "Placeholder") screams out: "We are [insert band name here]!" for its chorus.

But in the midst of all this parody are a few serious moments that steal the show. Dat du min Leevsten büst is sung in "Plattdeutsch" (a dialect related to Dutch) rather than "Hoch Deutch" (the standard for spoken and written German). This is a folk song about a boy inviting his lover to visit in the middle of the night, when his father and mother will think it's just the wind. Gies writes in his bonus commentary that "The closer night falls, the more the arrangement picks up speed, until it ends up in a radiant quasi-instrumental part, which is one of the highlights of every concert evening for us." That instrumental section was indeed one of the highlights of the album for me as well, just spectacular.

But the highest point of the album, the one that left me speechless, is the concluding track, Ab und zu ein paar Geigen, which translates to "Now and then a few violins". It is a sweet, contemplative song about how the singer, a solitary man who doesn't take chances, needs some violins in his life to give him guidance and help him recognize beauty. It was recorded with an orchestra, and Gies's commentary explains why:

"After our first concert series with the NDR Radio Philharmonic Orchestra some said that they enjoyed the evenings, but that they preferred us a cappella ... For the second concert series in 2015, I wanted to write a new piece in which the orchestra was an essential part of the song conception, so the song could never even be performed a cappella. Based on this idea, the story of the inconspicuous 'everyman' emerged, who dreams of his life being accompanied by a film soundtrack to point out the beautiful moments so they do not escape him."

I love the music, and I love the story of this everyman so much that I simply cannot close this review without sharing a translation:

I live in a modest apartment, have a solid job in an office.
I always act reasonably, I am very thorough, and turn from risk.

I do not really have friends but everyone's friendly with me.
Even if I do not mean much to the world, I like being here.

The years pass away, the days come and the days go by.
I'm fine and I don't have much to endure.

But what's missing is now and then a few violins,
To carry and attend me as I go through life.
Yes, what's missing is now and then a few violins,
To show me the beauty in life so I don't overlook it.

I dream sometimes, that before my end I might give life an all-changing kick,
But how should I recognize the right moment for such a change?

Also, there's a woman I've loved for years, but I dare not reveal myself to her.
If something had steered me at the right moment, I would have done so long ago.

I listen inside myself, but I don't hear sounds calling to me.
No melody or leitmotif.

So what's missing is now and then a few violins,
To carry and attend me as I go through life.
Yes, what's missing is now and then a few violins,
To show me the beauty in life so I don't overlook it.

(loud, grandiose) If a proud horn would sound then I would know:
Now is my time to perform miracles!
I would be ready and would finally take each opportunity.

(subdued) Until then I'll just wait for the entrance of the violins,
To carry and attend me as I go through life.
Yes, what's missing is now and then a few violins,
To show me the beauty in life so I don't overlook it.

Thank you Maybebop, you are my violins today.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Mach dich frei 5
2 Weil Du heut Geburtstag hast 5
3 Auf der Suche 4
4 Verdammt zu lieben 4
5 Früher gabs die Tagesschau 5
6 Ode an die Heimat 5
7 Versteh das 5
8 Dat du min Leevsten büst 5
9 Bolero 5
10 Immer wenn ich beatbox 5
11 Marschbefehl 4
12 Lied vom Nicht-Verstehen 4
13 Chinesische Medizin 4
14 Platzhalter 5
15 Ab und zu ein paar Geigen 5

Reflections on the addictive nature of cell phones and how they affect interpersonal relationships. Surprisingly melodic taunts to the office's least-respected employee. Contemplation of society's increasing tendency to look for news sources that reinforce our pre-existing views. A lilting ode to the crushing disappointment of unreliable internet connections. An introspective look inside the head of a blustery ignoramus attending a classical music concert and feeling awfully good about himself.

These are just a few of the subjects Maybebop explores on Sistemfeler, the latest album from the utterly unique German quartet. In the past, I have spent a great many words extolling the group's talents for writing catchy hooks and testing the waters of various musical styles; I have even facetiously expressed outrage at the singer's innumerable talents. Sistemfeler reminds me that there is yet one trait I have not fully examined in a RARB review. After this review, I think there may be nothing left for me to say about Maybebop; I will turn over my earbuds to someone else, and impart a valuable gift upon a fellow reviewer, but first...

Nobody in the a cappella realm writes lyrics like Maybebop. In fact, the only artist anywhere I can think of who writes in a similar style is probably Weird Al, who is a musical and lyrical genius. Like Weird Al, Maybebop is constantly looking to express funny, incisive, or just plain interesting ideas. Like Weird Al, the group does so with impeccable music, precise and carefully constructed. Yet, I'm not sure even Weird Al explores human behavior like Maybebop. Sistemfeler is topically cutting edge, exploring societal trends with the skeptical eye of a sociologist — and the scathing satirical wit of Mark Twain or Chris Rock. The group dissects trends big and small, sometimes all in one, always packaged in a creative and catchy way. Versteh das, for example, is a faux meditation by a boorish husband expressing feigned gratitude and sympathy for his wife,who does everything for him, presented with Far Eastern analogies (Vishnu, Brahma) and with an Eastern melody.

As usual, the music here is well-crafted and extremely well-produced, though both arrangements and production are simpler and more stripped-down than recent albums. As usual, the group explores new musical styles, from the Far East (Versteh das and Chinesische Medizin), to the cough (yes, cough) looping intro in a pop/hip-hop tune (Immer wenn ich beatbox), and the group is mostly successful.

Unlike the last few albums, I'm not so sure Sistemfeler will be broadly accessible to listeners who don't understand German. The album doesn't yield nearly as many earworms and epic choruses (chori?) as peak Maybebop, but it is still very easy on the ears. I realize it might seem unfair, but I wish Maybebop would make English translations available directly on its website. Because one thing is for sure — understanding these songs makes the music immeasurably more entertaining. If you want to understand why this album is so good, just head to the group's website, copy the lyrics into a decent web translation page, and delight in what it reveals. I know it's a lot to ask, but you already took the time to read this review. You won't regret the extra time investment.

Maybebop is a global a cappella treasure, as talented, original, and funny as it is consistent. If you have not yet explored the group's wacky, diverse, and catchy catalog, you might be better served starting with more musically addictive albums such as Das darf man nicht and Weniger sind mehr, but Sistemfeler is still a tight, crafty, hilarious album. In other words, it is classic Maybebop — and that's still about as good as it gets.


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