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The Shabbatones

University of Pennsylvania

One In a Minyan (2017)

3.0

June 28, 2018

Tuning / Blend 3.0
Energy / Intensity 2.3
Innovation / Creativity 2.3
Soloists 3.0
Sound / Production 2.7
Repeat Listenability 2.7
Tracks
1 Nichna 3.7
2 Like I'm Gonna Lose You 2.0
3 Shake It Out 2.7
4 Nigmar Behazara 3.3
5 Vehi Sheamdah 3.0
6 Ktsat Acheret 3.7
7 Live Like You Were Dying 2.3
8 Etzlech Baolam 2.7
9 Gibor Shel Tauyot 3.0
10 I Want You Back 2.7
11 Karusela 3.3
12 Meusheret 3.0

Recorded 2015 – 2017
Total time: 43:29, 12 songs


Tuning / Blend 2
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 2
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 2
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Nichna 3
2 Like I'm Gonna Lose You 2
3 Shake It Out 3
4 Nigmar Behazara 4
5 Vehi Sheamdah 3
6 Ktsat Acheret 4
7 Live Like You Were Dying 2
8 Etzlech Baolam 3
9 Gibor Shel Tauyot 3
10 I Want You Back 3
11 Karusela 4
12 Meusheret 3

Upon listening to One In a Minyan by the Shabbatones from the University of Pennsylvania, the thought that lingers is in your face. This album has a strange mix of playing it safe and a lack of subtlety that makes the tracks start to run together. It's a perfectly adequate auditory experience, but it doesn't transcend.

The arrangements and the solos fall under the safe category. There are glimmers here and there of something more, but there are tracks with a wide variety of emotions built in that for some reason just don't resonate. Live Like You Were Dying should give anyone chills, but it doesn't here. I Want You Back, while having fun with the tempo and swung rhythms, features a solo that doesn't stretch beyond a comfortable range. It's safe. Several of the Hebrew tracks find a little more life in the rock edge, such as Nigmar Behazara and Ktsat Acheret, and Karusela hits a passable EDM feel, but even as exceptions, they don't rise as high as they could. When hearing the singers, it's obvious there is some real talent. I'd love to hear the voices connect with the music more and take chances in both the arrangements and the vocals. Nonsense syllables like "zjuna na" and "jin jo" are not helping matters.

The backgrounds and the production fall under the in your face category, especially the bass line and vp. The rhythm section and supporting vocals need to connect to the music as emotionally as the solos. Too often they come across as simply singing notes and hitting rhythms with dynamic markings thrown in. This turns the tracks into the audio equivalent of a very loud shirt — it's harsh and glaring and instead of the colors complementing one another, they clash. While this album isn't quite that extreme as it's still incredibly listenable, it feels like I'm being sung at, rather than performed to.

I do enjoy One In a Minyan, even with the flaws, and feel there are tracks I will put in rotation and listen to again. But I very much hope future efforts show greater musicality and willingness to take risks. I'd love to feel real emotions the next time around because there is a great deal of untapped potential that the world needs to hear from this group.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 2
Innovation / Creativity 2
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 Nichna 4
2 Like I'm Gonna Lose You 2
3 Shake It Out 2
4 Nigmar Behazara 3
5 Vehi Sheamdah 3
6 Ktsat Acheret 4
7 Live Like You Were Dying 2
8 Etzlech Baolam 3
9 Gibor Shel Tauyot 3
10 I Want You Back 2
11 Karusela 3
12 Meusheret 3

The Shabbatones' newest album is a smattering of songs in Hebrew and English with solid studio work. While the sounds on One In a Minyan are not dissonant, they lack a great deal of energy and do not deliver much in the way of artistry. The album's chords are in tune but still manage to fall flat.

The album opens with strong studio work on Nichna, featuring guitar filters reminiscent of fellow University of Pennsylvania group Off the Beat's signature sound. It is a welcome opener, but unfortunately, the tracks that follow show a distinct drop off and the disappointment largely continues until the last couple of tracks, save for a catchy tune in Ktsat Acheret. The meat of the album is without the sort of life that makes a cappella so appealing as a genre.

The emotional tenor of songs like Shake It OutLike I'm Gonna Lose You, Live Like You Were Dying, and I Want You Back come with high stakes. Even if you know nothing about the songs themselves, this is implied from the song titles alone! If I could describe the quality of the Shabbatones' choices in their covers in a word, it would be obligatory. Phrases drone on without dynamic contrast, and if there is a volume shift, it is apparent that this work was done in the editing process rather than tracking. The music meanders and solo choices are not made with any connection to the lyrics. From a notes-and-rhythms standpoint, the music may be accurate; but music is far more than transcribing, imitating original artists' choices, and singing the ink on the page properly. The choices made in I Want You Back, specifically, are seemingly haphazard and without effective segue or phrasing, musical or lyrical. This feeling is not limited to the English-language songs; without a fluency in Hebrew, it is still readily apparent that the presentation of emotion is on a limited scale.

Many of the above comments are consistent with reviews of the group's previous albums. While there is nothing egregious or aurally displeasing about the sounds presented on this recent album, it is this reviewer's hope that the group can break the mold and make stronger musical, emotional, and artistic choices moving forward.


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 2
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 2
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Nichna 4
2 Like I'm Gonna Lose You 2
3 Shake It Out 3
4 Nigmar Behazara 3
5 Vehi Sheamdah 3
6 Ktsat Acheret 3
7 Live Like You Were Dying 3
8 Etzlech Baolam 2
9 Gibor Shel Tauyot 3
10 I Want You Back 3
11 Karusela 3
12 Meusheret 3

With safe-leaning solos, crowded arrangements, and right-in-your-face mixing, The Shabbatones' One In a Minyan still needs a bit of polish to go beyond average.

I enjoy the colorful sounds that Jewish music brings; these sounds are well-suited for a cappella versions. Chord progressions in such songs as Ktsat Acheret and Vehi Sheamdah lift up my spirit every time I listen to them. In these arrangements, each vocal section sings independent passages that work together to create a polyphonic euphoria. Yet the mixing decisions cloud the tracks with too many musical ideas that get highlighted unnecessarily.

Nichna is an example of a well-positioned track as an opener. However, the tracks that follow degrade in quality. Like I'm Gonna Lose You, for example, fails to present a soulful output. This could be the result of placing it next to a high-energy opener song — the shift in quality is immediately noticeable.

The group's tuning is generally okay but the singers fail to highlight the right musical ideas that need to shine in the arrangements. I guess the issue here is the complexity of the various sounds that are presented needlessly. Etzlech Baolam is an example of an overcrowded arrangement. Though the mashup route could be paved smoothly, it ends up going through a rough path — some background vocal passages could be softly hidden in the background without compromising the overall sound of the track. Also, the mixer's decision for the blatant front-row existence of the bass is observed throughout this release — it makes the bass more of a distraction than a chord anchor.

One In a Minyan is a compilation of interesting musical ideas that needed more thought before recording. And with all this said, I hope my words are still encouraging for the group as the members continue to make more music together.


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