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Various Artists

BOCA 2K (2000)

4.2

March 20, 2001

Tuning / Blend 4.4
Energy / Intensity 4.4
Innovation / Creativity 4.0
Soloists 4.4
Sound / Production 4.6
Repeat Listenability 3.8
Tracks
1 Stanford University Harmonics::Snow on the Sahara 4.4
2 UPenn Off the Beat::Anything But Down 4.6
3 James Madison University Overtones::Ghost 4.4
4 Middlebury College Dissipated Eight::Windmills 4.0
5 Stanford University Everyday People::Let's Stay Together 4.2
6 USC Sirens::Mummer's Dance 4.0
7 The Brown Derbies::I Wanna Be Like You 4.4
8 Dartmouth Dodecaphonics::Take to the Sky 4.2
9 UPenn Masala::Bharat Humko Jaan Se Pyara Hai 4.4
10 Tufts Beelzebubs::That's the Way (I Like It)/Get Down Tonight 3.6
11 Yale Alley Cats::Cloudburst 4.2
12 SoCal VoCals::Torn 4.4
13 Emory University No Strings Attached::Daniel 4.2
14 University of Rochester Vocal Point::Still in Love 4.4
15 Northwestern University Purple Haze::And She Was 3.8
16 Notre Dame University Undertones::Light in Your Eyes 4.2
17 Tufts University Shir Appeal::This Train - revised 4.4
18 Duke Out of the Blue::You Were Mine 4.0
19 Harvard Opportunes::When We Were Kings 4.4

Recorded 2000
Total time: 70:39, 19 songs


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Stanford University Harmonics::Snow on the Sahara 3
2 UPenn Off the Beat::Anything But Down 3
3 James Madison University Overtones::Ghost 3
4 Middlebury College Dissipated Eight::Windmills 3
5 Stanford University Everyday People::Let's Stay Together 4
6 USC Sirens::Mummer's Dance 3
7 The Brown Derbies::I Wanna Be Like You 4
8 Dartmouth Dodecaphonics::Take to the Sky 4
9 UPenn Masala::Bharat Humko Jaan Se Pyara Hai 4
10 Tufts Beelzebubs::That's the Way (I Like It)/Get Down Tonight 3
11 Yale Alley Cats::Cloudburst 4
12 SoCal VoCals::Torn 4
13 Emory University No Strings Attached::Daniel 4
14 University of Rochester Vocal Point::Still in Love 4
15 Northwestern University Purple Haze::And She Was 4
16 Notre Dame University Undertones::Light in Your Eyes 3
17 Tufts University Shir Appeal::This Train - revised 3
18 Duke Out of the Blue::You Were Mine 4
19 Harvard Opportunes::When We Were Kings 4

BOCA 2K straddles the high side of average and dead center good . I had to listen to the disk about ten times before deciding between my 3s and 4s. BOCA 2K is all about close calls. Thankfully, these calls are between average and good; there are no train wrecks here. But on the other hand, this is supposed to be a best-of. There isn't much breakaway talent here, just solid performances. Were this a single group's release, it might be more impressive; for a best-of, it's a tad lackluster.

Take Windmills, for example. Fine lead. Good production. Slightly out of tune back-ups. It's nice. But it's average. Does it belong on a best-of? Let's Stay Together has a strong lead and good production, but the song doesn't really go anywhere. Perhaps the strength of the lead puts the song just above average, but not by too much. The overdone but very fun I Wanna Be Like You has a great lead and extremely musical and tightly-directed backups, but the studio production leaves a little to be desired. Just about every track goes through this dance of two steps forward and one step back. You end up a step ahead, but it's frustrating.

There are two tracks which do have enough stylistic variance to set them apart from the main. The first, by Penn Masala, adds some eastern flavor to the mix . The Indian ornaments in the lead have a haunting quality that begins to take the listener somewhere. It's refreshing, but the trip is cut a little short by the arrangement, which sounds far more like the traditional collegiate genre than the lead.

The second is Cloudburst. This is impressive vocalese (very fast patter-style jazz singing, usually lyricizing an instrumental solo) in the great tradition of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. One need only listen for a moment before the daunting task of preparing such a solo becomes evident. Serious work went into this song, and it shows in the performance. Nimble lips indeed.

I had the great honor of singing with vocalese pioneer Jon Hendricks through a week-long master class and some unofficial hang-out time. (He is the sweetest legend you will ever meet.) The master class had a typical format: we'd sing a song and then turn to him for comments. Atypically, though, no matter how we sounded, he'd just nod his head and say, "Cool! Do another one." Was my jazz ensemble that perfect? Not on your life! But Jon honestly didn't care. He was just diggin' on the music, jazz cat that he was. The master's lesson? If you are so attuned to beauty that you can find it anywhere, then you've got a much better chance of cultivating it in your own music. Deep, huh?

I don't know that I'm quite there yet. And I'm not sure that RARB is the right forum for rose-colored glasses, anyway. But if that's how you listen, then maybe this disk is for you. BOCA 2K is a glass half full.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Stanford University Harmonics::Snow on the Sahara 5
2 UPenn Off the Beat::Anything But Down 5
3 James Madison University Overtones::Ghost 4
4 Middlebury College Dissipated Eight::Windmills 3
5 Stanford University Everyday People::Let's Stay Together 4
6 USC Sirens::Mummer's Dance 4
7 The Brown Derbies::I Wanna Be Like You 4
8 Dartmouth Dodecaphonics::Take to the Sky 4
9 UPenn Masala::Bharat Humko Jaan Se Pyara Hai 4
10 Tufts Beelzebubs::That's the Way (I Like It)/Get Down Tonight 3
11 Yale Alley Cats::Cloudburst 3
12 SoCal VoCals::Torn 5
13 Emory University No Strings Attached::Daniel 5
14 University of Rochester Vocal Point::Still in Love 4
15 Northwestern University Purple Haze::And She Was 3
16 Notre Dame University Undertones::Light in Your Eyes 5
17 Tufts University Shir Appeal::This Train - revised 4
18 Duke Out of the Blue::You Were Mine 4
19 Harvard Opportunes::When We Were Kings 4

"BOCA", in addition to seeming like the Spanish word for "mouth" in perpetual email shout, also stands for "Best of College A Cappella". Way back in the beginning, the albums were numbered, which seemed logical. You never run out of integers, right? Now they are titled by year of release, but the reasons behind the switch aren't clear. The years are still integers, but they are also bigger and thus take longer to say. I thought that the "MTV generation" was more into shorter things, like "MTV" instead of "Music Television" (or, more accurately, "Musn't Televise any Videos"). Perhaps it's like checkbooks; the first one you get starts with 1, which sounds good until you realize that many businesses won't take checks under 1000, fearing fraud. So you essentially lie and order new checks starting at 1001.

Regardless of the number (or the reasons behind it), the name is appropriate: this collection of the "best" really is good. Different styles are represented, but all, to my ear, by smooth studio work and singers who seem generally to know what they're doing. Which is amazing when you think about it: nineteen groups times however many average singers in a group (ten? twelve?) equals 200+ COLLEGE STUDENTS who KNOW WHAT THEY'RE DOING. At least when it comes to singing.

There are some real standouts. I like the forcefulness of SoCal VoCals' Torn, the unapologetic mellowness given to Let's Stay Together by EP, and the fancy background vocal footwork in Mummers' Dance. There must be something in the water out in California. There are also disappointments. Windmills fails to capture the continuous forward motion of the original, its background chords simply suspended over too many measures; Chicago's own Purple Haze doesn't do much with And She Was; and the Alley Cats are <insert favorite cat-centered pun here>.

Altogether, good stuff, and well worth a place in the ol' CD changer. I look forward to the next compilation. Go ahead, call it BOCA 2K + 1. It won't take much induction to figure out that it will be worth listening to.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Stanford University Harmonics::Snow on the Sahara 5
2 UPenn Off the Beat::Anything But Down 5
3 James Madison University Overtones::Ghost 5
4 Middlebury College Dissipated Eight::Windmills 5
5 Stanford University Everyday People::Let's Stay Together 4
6 USC Sirens::Mummer's Dance 5
7 The Brown Derbies::I Wanna Be Like You 5
8 Dartmouth Dodecaphonics::Take to the Sky 4
9 UPenn Masala::Bharat Humko Jaan Se Pyara Hai 4
10 Tufts Beelzebubs::That's the Way (I Like It)/Get Down Tonight 3
11 Yale Alley Cats::Cloudburst 4
12 SoCal VoCals::Torn 5
13 Emory University No Strings Attached::Daniel 4
14 University of Rochester Vocal Point::Still in Love 4
15 Northwestern University Purple Haze::And She Was 4
16 Notre Dame University Undertones::Light in Your Eyes 4
17 Tufts University Shir Appeal::This Train - revised 5
18 Duke Out of the Blue::You Were Mine 4
19 Harvard Opportunes::When We Were Kings 5

BOCA 2K is another in a long line of collegiate compilation albums that show the best of what a college group can achieve.

I have so much trouble trying to review compilation albums. If done right, which this one is, there should be no weak spots. Each selection should be at a higher level than if you had just bought a particular group's CD. Because of this, there is nothing really negative to say about the album: nothing to improve on, nothing to really learn from. The only thing that I would've done differently would've been with some of the song selections. This isn't because the ones included here are bad, but I just don't like some of the songs (originals included). Since it doesn't affect the overall quality of the disc, I will not include the names. It's just personal preference.

The best aspect of these albums is that they give college groups a wider audience. If it weren't for compilation albums, there are many groups that I would have never heard of. Since I can't see these groups in person, I would be very reluctant to buy their CD. BOCA albums give a short introduction to new, exciting groups. The nicest part about this year's album is that it doesn't just show the contemporary pop covers from collegiate groups. We also get a shot of some Hindi music (Bharat Humko Jaan Se Pyrara Hai), as well as the Ivy League sound that started it all (Cloudburst).

BOCA 2K is a great album that, honestly, is probably already in most people's collections. For those without it, get it soon and listen to the best of collegiate a cappella for the year 1999.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Stanford University Harmonics::Snow on the Sahara 4
2 UPenn Off the Beat::Anything But Down 5
3 James Madison University Overtones::Ghost 5
4 Middlebury College Dissipated Eight::Windmills 4
5 Stanford University Everyday People::Let's Stay Together 5
6 USC Sirens::Mummer's Dance 4
7 The Brown Derbies::I Wanna Be Like You 5
8 Dartmouth Dodecaphonics::Take to the Sky 4
9 UPenn Masala::Bharat Humko Jaan Se Pyara Hai 5
10 Tufts Beelzebubs::That's the Way (I Like It)/Get Down Tonight 5
11 Yale Alley Cats::Cloudburst 5
12 SoCal VoCals::Torn 4
13 Emory University No Strings Attached::Daniel 4
14 University of Rochester Vocal Point::Still in Love 5
15 Northwestern University Purple Haze::And She Was 4
16 Notre Dame University Undertones::Light in Your Eyes 5
17 Tufts University Shir Appeal::This Train - revised 5
18 Duke Out of the Blue::You Were Mine 4
19 Harvard Opportunes::When We Were Kings 5

As a reviewer, your task is to separate the good from the bad and the very good. Experience has taught you that each CD will have at least one song that does not measure up to the rest of the work. On BOCA 2K — Best of College a Cappella, that song is not there. Yes, there are cuts that are better than others, but you really have to split hairs to push the ratings lower than a 4.

There are some really great productions here. Start with Still in Love as performed by the University of Rochester Vocal Point. This is so luscious that I melted. The tuning. The production. The use of singing techniques. Oh, my God. I can't stand it. It's wonderful. Tonight, I was (humorously) accused of needing Viagra. With this song around, pass the package to someone else.

The most creative arrangement on the CD is This Train by Tufts' Shir Appeal. With the lead singer laying out a excellent melodic line, the background vocalists and percussionists are constantly moving in and out in every conceivable way. The arranger had a lot of guts to try this many techniques. Bottom line: it works.

The best dance song is That's the Way (I Like It) / Get Down Tonight by the Tufts University Beelzebubs. This song earns a 5 totally on the energy level. Ya gotta get up and dance. If this song doesn't do that for you, check your pulse. Feel the beat?

Want to hear something different? Listen to Bharat Humko Jaan Se Pyara Hai by Penn Masala from the University of Pennsylvania. They are an Hindi group from the U of Penn. Different. Really Nice.

Do you want to be transported to a different era? Move up to track 11. The Yale Alley Cats sing Cloudburst in a '40s style. High energy. Scat singing. Very nice. Coooool.

As I said at the beginning, finding a cut that is significantly below the others on this CD is hard, but there is one that surprised me. Take to the Sky by the Dartmouth Dodecaphonics comes up with a 3 rating because of tuning. Almost every section of the performance has singers slightly below the pitch. The song is good, but the flat singing kept invading my enjoyment of the song.

If you are a fan of a cappella and don't mind that a CD doesn't have a central theme, add this one to your collection. You'll enjoy it.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Stanford University Harmonics::Snow on the Sahara 5
2 UPenn Off the Beat::Anything But Down 5
3 James Madison University Overtones::Ghost 5
4 Middlebury College Dissipated Eight::Windmills 5
5 Stanford University Everyday People::Let's Stay Together 4
6 USC Sirens::Mummer's Dance 4
7 The Brown Derbies::I Wanna Be Like You 4
8 Dartmouth Dodecaphonics::Take to the Sky 5
9 UPenn Masala::Bharat Humko Jaan Se Pyara Hai 5
10 Tufts Beelzebubs::That's the Way (I Like It)/Get Down Tonight 4
11 Yale Alley Cats::Cloudburst 5
12 SoCal VoCals::Torn 4
13 Emory University No Strings Attached::Daniel 4
14 University of Rochester Vocal Point::Still in Love 5
15 Northwestern University Purple Haze::And She Was 4
16 Notre Dame University Undertones::Light in Your Eyes 4
17 Tufts University Shir Appeal::This Train - revised 5
18 Duke Out of the Blue::You Were Mine 4
19 Harvard Opportunes::When We Were Kings 4

In a word, this was refreshing. The BOCA series of albums was starting to trend heavily towards homogeneity, as every group in the country tried to match the winning formula of perennial BOCA includees like Off the Beat and the 'Bubs. Not so on BOCA 2K. This collection has it all: quality, variety, and coherence. Nothing jarring, nothing out of place, but plenty of new things to hear. The modern college group, it seems, is not afraid to take chances, be they as minor as ditching the VP in favor of a focus on blended harmony or as ambitious as the East-West fusion Hindi music being pioneered by Penn Masala.

The song selection is pretty daring as well. There are very few pop-hit-of-the-month tunes on BOCA 2K; in fact, many of these tunes were completely new to me. The tone varies from the playfulness of I Wanna Be Like You and That's The Way to the hypnotic self-awareness of Ghost, and generally seems to reflect the budding maturity of the college years. The only downside to the breadth of songs is that there are very few automatic hooks, making it harder to stay interested in the whole album on repeat listenings. Still, these groups (or perhaps the album compilers) deserve kudos for putting new tunes in play.

The production quality of these songs is very good. Gone, it seems, are the days of huddling around a single borrowed mic in the basement of the student union. These songs are full, balanced, and well-mixed, and the groups that have elected to take advantage of studio effects have done so judiciously and tastefully.

I have few complaints about this album. A few missed notes, a few chords that don't quite settle, a few soloists not suited to the song. That's about it. The back nine can start to feel long after a few trips through, and you may find yourself skipping around among your favorites rather than listening to the whole thing. But that's OK. Overall, this is a welcome change of direction for BOCA. If you dig the college sound, this is a must-have. If you've given up on collegiate a cappella because it's all starting to sound the same, then give this a listen anyway; they may just have a few surprises left in them.


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