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Unduzo

Schweigen Silber - Reden Gold (2017)

4.0

July 6, 2018

Tuning / Blend 4.7
Energy / Intensity 4.0
Innovation / Creativity 4.7
Soloists 4.3
Sound / Production 3.7
Repeat Listenability 4.0
Tracks
1 Liebes Lied 4.3
2 Eine neue Zeit 4.0
3 In der Ruhe liegt die Kraft 4.3
4 Kleine Melodie 4.3
5 Superman 3.7
6 Astronaut 4.3
7 Ich glaub' 4.3
8 Jammerland 4.0
9 Der Hausverwalter 3.7
10 Gigolo 4.0
11 Die Nacht 4.3

Recorded 2016 – 2017
Total time: 44:33, 11 songs


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Liebes Lied 4
2 Eine neue Zeit 3
3 In der Ruhe liegt die Kraft 4
4 Kleine Melodie 4
5 Superman 3
6 Astronaut 4
7 Ich glaub' 5
8 Jammerland 4
9 Der Hausverwalter 3
10 Gigolo 3
11 Die Nacht 4

Eleven tracks, eleven originals. Nice job, Unduzo! It's great to see an a cappella group do more than covers. The original songs in Schweigen Silber — Reden Gold are quite entertaining. Apparently composing is a very collaborative effort, as just the group as a whole is credited for the songwriting and not any particular group member. The songs are also all in German, in case the album and track titles didn't give that away.

"Silence silver, talking golden" is the literal translation of this album. It's a play on the German expression "Reden ist Silber, schweigen ist Gold" (talking is silver, silence is golden). In listening to the album, it's actually a little odd that this is the line they've chosen for the album title, given that the line comes from their song Jammerland ("Whiner-land"), where the expression is used to describe complainers who would be better off staying silent. Are they saying they themselves would have been better off remaining silent? If so, at least they are not taking themselves too seriously.

Getting back to the group, Unduzo use the Pentatonix formula of one female and four male singers. They have the requisite dedicated vocal percussionist, dedicated bass, two tenors/baritones who switch off singing melody and various harmonies, with the female alto/mezzo singing a higher harmony (and also sometimes melody). It works well, and all the singers are clearly musically gifted. The album production doesn't use a lot of special effects, so you can hear quite clearly what the group would sound like live. This is the group's third album listed on its website — the first was in 2009, so Unduzo has been around for many years now. Actually, come to think of it, since Pentatonix was formed in 2011, perhaps I should have said that Pentatonix was using Unduzo's formula!

While I normally appreciate minimalist production if a group's voices can handle it (which Unduzo's clearly can), the album unfortunately doesn't sound as full as it should. I watched a YouTube promo video advertising the album, and surprisingly, the clips of live shows shown on the video actually have a richer sound than much of this album. Also, too much of the album's sound is somewhat generic — in addition to the generic production, we find generic melodies and generic harmonies which only rarely become truly engaging.

One thing that does help the engagement factor is listening to Schweigen Silber — Reden Gold with the lyrics in front of me. Many of the songs do have compelling messages for German speakers — clever, humorous, touching, or some combination of the three. I mentioned Jammerland above, which also has a very catchy "Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier" chorus. Other examples abound. In der Ruhe liegt die Kraft ("In Calmness Lies the Strength") encourages listeners to relax and take what comes in order to reduce homemade stress that doesn't need to be. Astronaut portrays a similar "need to relax" sentiment, combining with a message reminiscent of Bette Midler's From a Distance, namely that when the Earth is viewed from a distance (here, from the perspective of an astronaut), then the things which divide us vanish. "You stand here below and feel so burdened. Up above all becomes easy to understand; one can see the world with different eyes" (all translations are my own). Turning to the humorous side, the song Superman describes some things that aren't quite so super in Superman's life, such as his work-life balance and the lack of a super staff. And Der Hausverwalter ("Superintendent") tells the great tale of a building super who rules his domain with an iron fist. "This is my passion. I fight for law and order, someday you'll thank me. But if I should find glass among the paper recycling, I swear I'll cut you!"

For those who don't speak German, the music itself isn't quite gripping enough for me to call this a "must purchase". But for those who do, I think you'll find it quite enjoyable and I give it my recommendation.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Liebes Lied 4
2 Eine neue Zeit 5
3 In der Ruhe liegt die Kraft 5
4 Kleine Melodie 4
5 Superman 4
6 Astronaut 5
7 Ich glaub' 4
8 Jammerland 4
9 Der Hausverwalter 4
10 Gigolo 4
11 Die Nacht 4

Releasing an all-original album in the a cappella scene is bold. This is nothing new to a lot of European a cappella groups but still it's an impressive feat for Unduzo who does not sing cover songs. Schweigen Silber — Reden Gold is a collection of eleven (German) songs with catchy melodies that I'm surprisingly able to sing along to after a few rounds of listening.

Not a lot of people realize that languages that have more consonants than vowels in each word have one thing in common when it comes to a cappella singing: the struggle to blend well. This is not the case for Unduzo. At passages where they sing the same lyric line (Astronaut), the blend is well-executed. It may be an advantage for having a wide range of sound options for this German group as they make use of different rhythmic patterns that complement the melody of each track.

There's a noticeable amount of repetition as the songs may have been penned as a product of looping sounds and vocal passages. This is an advantage for novelty a cappella songs (even pop songs) — they require some level of catchiness so that listeners can receive it well. This looping style is observed in almost all tracks, such as In der Ruhe liegt die Kraft, Superman, Liebes Lied, and Eine neue Zeit.

I already thought that Schweigen Silber — Reden Gold sounds great, but when I listened with the lyrics translated in English, I appreciated it more: Liebes Lied sounds even cuter, and In der Ruhe liegt die Kraft brings positive vibes. It's difficult to pick a favorite track from the album but if I have to pick just one, I'd choose Astronaut. Patrick Heil, Linda Jesse, and Cornelius Mack each individually sings his/her lines, telling their story so convincingly and delivering their trio line that has a deeper meaning than its sad melody:

Stell dir vor, du bist ein Astronaut,
der aus seinem Raumschiff auf die Erde schaut.

Imagine, you are an astronaut,
who is looking at the Earth from his spaceship.

There are several tracks that sound live (Ich glaub', Liebes Lied, and Eine neue Zeit). Mic pops give it away and maybe it's an intentional effect decided during post-production editing. Not that it matters significantly, but the varied quality of the sounds are so obvious that I can't help but notice.

After listening to Schweigen Silber — Reden Gold, I'm already considering myself a fan of Unduzo. The incredible amount of talent that this group displays on this release is enough to deserve a spot in my favorites playlist.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Liebes Lied 5
2 Eine neue Zeit 4
3 In der Ruhe liegt die Kraft 4
4 Kleine Melodie 5
5 Superman 4
6 Astronaut 4
7 Ich glaub' 4
8 Jammerland 4
9 Der Hausverwalter 4
10 Gigolo 5
11 Die Nacht 5

It's always a pleasant surprise when I get to review an a cappella album that contains some original compositions on it. It's an even better surprise when it's a full album of originals, and all the more gratifying when all of it is so strong. Unduzo's latest, Schweigen Silber — Reden Gold, holds a diverse set of sounds and a clear sense of identity, definitely making it worth a listen. That it is entirely strong original music only bolsters these strengths.

Unduzo combines a pop/rock-influenced core sound with a harmonic and sound production creativity often found in alternative rock. Songs will vary from a cool, smooth foundation with airy vocals as on Liebes Lied, to an all-out rock on Gigolo and the choruses of Kleine Melodie, to whimsical and cheery on Superman and Jammerland, to a slowed heartfelt ballad in songs such as Die Nacht.

This range of sound and style, while still maintaining consistency and coherency, gives the album a great arc that keeps it interesting all the way through, even though dynamic contrast isn't especially huge over the arc. At the album's high points, the energy infused in the music is enough that I was humming, bopping, or even singing along weeks after my first listen. And this is despite the fact that I can't speak German! The rhythm on Liebes Lied and Jammerland is incredibly contagious, and the choruses on most of the uptunes have power behind them for miles.

The main piece holding back this album is that the arrangements and vocables (vocal syllables) used don't always feel full, and as a listener I am frequently left with a feeling like I'm missing something in the sound. Choruses of songs seldom have this issue, but verses frequently do. In der Ruhe liegt die Kraft and Der Hausverwalter have this issue in their verses, while Astronaut has this issue throughout its duration.

This does not mean that all voices must be constantly singing all the time — on the contrary, feelings of emptiness and minimizing the sound are completely welcome. These moments, however, must feel deliberate and intentional. Feelings of fullness and deliberate emptiness are less about the sheer number of voices singing, and more about the relative number, vocables used, and movement of said voices. Gigolo and Die Nacht are fantastic examples of where there's plenty of empty space for the voices, but it hardly ever leaves my ears wanting more.

Despite that issue, I loved listening to this album for my review, and I loved listening to it weeks after most of my scores were cemented. There are a couple factors that may hold it back from even further excellence, but that doesn't stop me from appreciating Schweigen Silber — Reden Gold's many other strengths. Definitely take a listen if you're looking for some great original compositions, or if you're looking for a creative core sound that easily distinguishes itself from most other a cappella albums. Or, heck, if you simply want to hear a really good album, period.

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Schweigen Silber — Reden Gold also streams on Spotify

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