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Fleet Street Singers

Stanford University

Cold Fury (2017)

3.3

December 23, 2017

Tuning / Blend 3.7
Energy / Intensity 3.7
Innovation / Creativity 4.3
Soloists 3.3
Sound / Production 3.3
Repeat Listenability 3.0
Tracks
1 Space Song 3.0
2 Princess Charming 3.0
3 (So You Want to Be a) Hipster 3.7
4 Kestrels 2.7
5 Sea You Again 3.3
6 Mirror, Mirror 3.0
7 When I Fall in Love 3.0
8 F.B.I. Love You 3.7
9 Kilt Song 3.7
10 Part and Parcel 3.3
11 The Voyager 3.0
12 Don't Text Her Back Yet 3.3
13 All-Nighter 4.0

Recorded 2014 – 2016
Total time: 42:13, 13 songs


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Space Song 3
2 Princess Charming 3
3 (So You Want to Be a) Hipster 3
4 Kestrels 3
5 Sea You Again 3
6 Mirror, Mirror 3
7 When I Fall in Love 3
8 F.B.I. Love You 3
9 Kilt Song 3
10 Part and Parcel 4
11 The Voyager 3
12 Don't Text Her Back Yet 3
13 All-Nighter 4

Still quite funny, still quite creative, but not as strongly musical, this iteration of the Fleet Street Singers is back with a release heavy on bird studies and sweet little ditties. It's all quirky fun, and we shouldn't nitpick, but we must because that's what we do.

The majority of the songs on Cold Fury are originals and have a toe-tapping barbershop framework. The characteristics you'd expect from barbershop are here but are not delivered as crisply and purposefully as one hopes to hear in this chord-ringing style; it's basically barbershop light. The vocals sound a bit uncertain on entrances in Space Song, and this general lack of commitment to full-on bravado singing flaps through songs on Cold Fury as often as bird references. Why is unwavering bravado a requirement? Well, can you pull-off believable college humor without it? We need really solid vocal chops to launch this colorful penguin next-level.

The arrangements are certainly talking points. You can probably get on board with a complete history of Disney music sung in 4+ minutes (Princess Charming) because this is right in the group's wheelhouse, but an intense mashup medley hybrid is more fun to perform repeatedly than listen to repeatedly. (So You Want to Be a) Hipster is more successful — it's relevant, warmly authentic, and yep, the gentlemen definitely did "strike when the irony is hot". Kestrels is the SNL-esque nature narrator skit you didn't know you were missing — almost startlingly odd to hear as an interlude, and yet most welcome. (I now quote it all the time.) Sea You Again pretends to be a pleasant love ballad until you realize the crooner is envious of birds.

We make it until track six to get a dose of dirty humor, which demonstrates pretty good self-regulation, no?

Looking at selections from the back half of Cold Fury, When I Fall in Love is pretty vanilla and manages to sound a bit unsettling, perhaps solely due to album programming, but more likely due to having a literal interpretation in the middle of a slapstick release. On the other hand, Part and Parcel isn't a humor piece either, and it's the strongest on the album. This song has a beautiful melody, the interlocking score is clever, and the percussion is pleasant — a strong musicality I'm missing from the rest of Cold Fury. All-Nighter, a song about procrastination that you can certainly listen to while procrastinating, pulls back the curtain on more of the group's better ensemble singing. So long as the Internet remains, All-Nighter will stay funny and relatable.

Lastly, the supplemental information RARB received says that each song here is an original. Unless the joke's on us or there's a copy-and-paste gaffe, one of these tracks is comprised of hit singalongs, and another is a straight-up classic, so ... what am I missing here? Is the joke on us?

The Fleet Street Singers are one of the delights of Stanford and far beyond. At the group's best, you'll hear everything that's great about collegiate a cappella with no shortness of fun and brotherhood. Still, the group will need a tighter and showier vocal foundation and more album-level editing to sell what's left to new listeners.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Space Song 3
2 Princess Charming 4
3 (So You Want to Be a) Hipster 4
4 Kestrels 3
5 Sea You Again 4
6 Mirror, Mirror 3
7 When I Fall in Love 4
8 F.B.I. Love You 5
9 Kilt Song 5
10 Part and Parcel 3
11 The Voyager 3
12 Don't Text Her Back Yet 3
13 All-Nighter 4

I'll come clean before I start. Before this album, I had never heard of the Fleet Street Singers. When I took a look at Cold Fury's track listing and couldn't recognize any of the songs, I knew something was up immediately. I cleared all the tabs on my screen and proceeded to Google. My research yielded promising results. All original? Written by members of the group? Comedy? Could it be? The bow-tied a cappella unicorn (penguin) I've been looking for, tucked away in the Bay Area?

What stands out in Cold Fury is consistent chemistry in the group throughout the entirety of the album. The Fleet Street Singers have a clear understanding of the sound they're going for. Generally speaking, I find these singers to have a confident, well-supported, and blended sound in terms of group singing, which is heard throughout Cold Fury. I believe When I Fall in Love best showcases their blend and tendencies for warm-ish sounding vocals.

Oddly, one of my few critiques about Cold Fury is the comedy itself. In my journey through the Internet to educate myself on the group and its history, I learned a bit about Fleet Street's tradition of weaving skits and bits of satirical humor into live performances, definitely something I mark as a key distinguisher from other groups. But the laughs I hear on the YouTube videos don't always translate to the recorded experience. On some songs, it takes one or two play-throughs for certain punchlines to sink in properly. Others just fall flat altogether. Unlike a live performance where one has the benefit of visual cues to communicate with the audience more directly, the recorded version has to convey all the information we need sonically. The delivery needs to be a bit more expressive, especially in the lead vocals. With some tracks, like F.B.I. Love You, this is executed excellently. The soloist's wacky, exaggerated tone is perfect and the clever writing creates a neat layer of self-awareness when Fleet Street embarks on "break-the-fourth wall" during 1:20 to 1:36. The Kilt Song executes this well, too — the comedic timing is really well-delivered without any cost to the overall musicality.

Still, a few other songs, such as Mirror, Mirror, seem to slip by without a need to return. The writing on that song in particular is pretty witty, but the less-focused delivery doesn't really grab a listener's attention and allows opportunities to zone out and zip past certain punchlines and zingers.

In all, I'm generally pleased with what I discovered on Cold Fury. While the drops in energy, comedy-wise, prevent it from becoming the "5" it aspires to be, Cold Fury piques my interest into what ideas the Fleet Street Singers might produce next.


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Space Song 3
2 Princess Charming 2
3 (So You Want to Be a) Hipster 4
4 Kestrels 2
5 Sea You Again 3
6 Mirror, Mirror 3
7 When I Fall in Love 2
8 F.B.I. Love You 3
9 Kilt Song 3
10 Part and Parcel 3
11 The Voyager 3
12 Don't Text Her Back Yet 4
13 All-Nighter 4

There are a few categories that Cold Fury can go into. The first is imitations of reality, which includes such songs as (So You Want to Be a) Hipster, Don't Text Her Back Yet, and All-Nighter. The parody of young adult modern life is just too hilarious. All-Nighter follows the craziness of writing a paper amidst the perils of sleep deprivation and somehow captures dreaming in an amazing way. I'm very curious about how Mark O'Meara managed to arrange this and am sincerely hoping that it wasn't by method acting. Matt Herrero's voice offers a perfect comical timbre, and it creates that fusion of silly while remaining controlled that I cannot get enough of. One track previous, Don't Text Her Back Yet, has that same level of silly reality, and credit must be given to Weston Gaylord for his writing on this. It's just too funny. These songs are one of the few times where art imitates life, and these guys have figured out how to make it funny.

Another next category for Cold Fury is leaving behind (relative) normalcy and arriving at something rather peculiar. Space Song is just a silly song discussing the ideas of space travel, and Kestrels is a sound bit taken almost directly from an Animal Planet special. If it weren't for kestrels being mentioned in the next track, I would have found this track to be a waste of track space. But since kestrels are mentioned in the next track, it becomes relevant, but also just peculiar, and it speaks to the persona the group chooses to present in this album. You have to pay attention across the entirety of this album. If you don't, this album becomes even more odd. These tracks are what can make the Fleet Street Singers well-known as comedians and showmen. However, they sometimes cross that line between funny and weird, and it doesn't pay off for me.

Finally, I want to take a moment to give a very stern warning about two tracks. The track listings I have for this album state that every track is an original. This leaves a very foul taste in my mouth, because both Princess Charming and When I Fall in Love are both definitely not originals. Princess Charming is a collection of songs from many Disney movies over the years, and When I Fall in Love was first recorded in the '50s and has been covered by many artists since then. I'm fairly indifferent regarding the presence of these numbers on this album because they're not nearly as whimsical as the rest of the album and almost fall outside of the group's wheelhouse. However, claiming these tracks are originals is a lie, so gentlemen, be very careful. Whatever songs you select for your future albums, be sure that credit is given to the proper composers. New arrangements of pre-existing songs are not originals.

Overall, this album is fun but nothing special. The Fleet Street Singers present themselves with an air of whimsy that is only partially anchored down by the confines of reality. If there was ever an epitome of truly "organized nerd singing", Cold Fury would be the closest to that definition. While the music isn't the next great adventure in music theory and the lyrics may not inspire you, it's not bad for a few chuckles. Give Cold Fury a listen, have a few laughs, and escape the confines of reality for a little while.


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