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A Completely Different Note

University of Connecticut

Introspective Groove (2001)

2.0

March 29, 2002

Tuning / Blend 2.0
Energy / Intensity 2.7
Innovation / Creativity 2.3
Soloists 2.3
Sound / Production 1.7
Repeat Listenability 1.3
Tracks
1 This is CDN 2.3
2 Red Rubber Ball 2.3
3 In Your Eyes 2.0
4 Since You've Been Gone 2.3
5 Vincent 2.3
6 Everything You Want 2.3
7 Wade in the Water 2.0
8 Is She Really Going Out With Him? 2.3
9 Alma Mater 2.7
10 Zombie Jamboree 2.3
11 One Song Glory 2.7
12 Coney Island Baby 2.7
13 The Longest Time 3.0
14 The Long Day Closes 2.7
15 Everything You Want (remix) 2.7

Recorded 2001
Total time: 43:17, 15 songs


Tuning / Blend 1
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 2
Soloists 2
Sound / Production 2
Repeat Listenability 1
Tracks
1 This is CDN 3
2 Red Rubber Ball 2
3 In Your Eyes 2
4 Since You've Been Gone 2
5 Vincent 2
6 Everything You Want 2
7 Wade in the Water 1
8 Is She Really Going Out With Him? 2
9 Alma Mater 2
10 Zombie Jamboree 2
11 One Song Glory 2
12 Coney Island Baby 2
13 The Longest Time 3
14 The Long Day Closes 3
15 Everything You Want (remix) 3

First, the bad news: unless you count as friend, family or librarian, do not buy this album. You have many other options; this recording does not make the cut.

Now the good news, for the group: all is not lost. Signs of hope abound. Learn, laugh and go forward with a light heart. Most college a cappella groups are about fun first, camaraderie second, and music in the space left over. You are not alone. Anyway, the beauty of amateur music is that when it succeeds, it is divine, and when it fails, it is still beautiful. I've been in enough bad groups myself to say this with some authority.

A few suggestions for the future. First: Find a new name. No a cappella group that sings Zombie Jamboree should call itself "A Completely Different Note". Ditto for For the Longest Time, unless you are singing it in Chinese. But please don't go hire a bunch of translators yet; the old-school selections were some of the best on the disk. The energy at the start of Zombie was great, and the doo-wop simplicity of Longest Time fell into place.

Second: there's no shame in being a baritone. You have a group full of them; think twice before you hand over that belted tenor solo. There's something to be said for picking songs you like, regardless of difficulty, but there's also a lot to be said for picking songs that your voices are comfortable with.

Third: I think you have a lot more musicality than you let on. Nurture it, and you may see a pickup in musicality which will translate into more fun, and more camaraderie for those of you on the rollercoaster along the way.

Fourth: Don't be too honest in the studio. The remix of Everything You Want is exponentially better than the undoctored version. You don't have to let on how you got to that sound.

I'll close with two examples that gave me faith in this group's future: The Long Day Closes, and the one-two punch of Everything You Want and One Song Glory. The first example is a sweet, pretty setting of a Sir Arthur Sullivan number that is handled with sensitivity. The latter example features good arrangements, produced in-house by Ehren Brown and Brent Gottheimer, who don't graduate until 2003 and 2004 respectively. If some of you can arrange like that, the translation into performance should only be a matter of time.


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 1
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 This is CDN 2
2 Red Rubber Ball 3
3 In Your Eyes 3
4 Since You've Been Gone 2
5 Vincent 2
6 Everything You Want 3
7 Wade in the Water 3
8 Is She Really Going Out With Him? 3
9 Alma Mater 4
10 Zombie Jamboree 3
11 One Song Glory 4
12 Coney Island Baby 3
13 The Longest Time 3
14 The Long Day Closes 3
15 Everything You Want (remix) 2

I hate to fault a group right away for something they really had no direct control over, but I have to say something about the way this album was mixed: the soloists are way, way too quiet, on nearly every track. This wouldn't bug me so much if it weren't the trademark mistake of the inexperienced producer. I remember mixing my first album. Immersed in the detail of the background, the arrangement, all those great effects, I kept thinking the soloist sounded too jarring, too loud. I told the producer, who sent me out to my car to listen to the radio ("any song, any station"). Sure enough, the soloists were loud and clear.

Vincent and Wade in the Water sounded like they were recorded live in a big empty hall. Which they probably were, granted, but they didn't have to sound so airy and diluted.

Besides the mixing, this album is solid. In fact, if not for the mixing, there are at least four or five songs that deserve 4s and even 5s. Their cover of The Brown Derbies' In Your Eyes is first-rate, and One Song Glory from Rent actually kept me listening to the end. Heck, I even have to award them for the best alma mater I've heard in ages (well sung, lads).

I've said it before. Take the same care in selecting an engineer as you do in selecting group members. And crank up those soloists.


Tuning / Blend 2
Energy / Intensity 2
Innovation / Creativity 2
Soloists 2
Sound / Production 2
Repeat Listenability 1
Tracks
1 This is CDN 2
2 Red Rubber Ball 2
3 In Your Eyes 1
4 Since You've Been Gone 3
5 Vincent 3
6 Everything You Want 2
7 Wade in the Water 2
8 Is She Really Going Out With Him? 2
9 Alma Mater 2
10 Zombie Jamboree 2
11 One Song Glory 2
12 Coney Island Baby 3
13 The Longest Time 3
14 The Long Day Closes 2
15 Everything You Want (remix) 3

My thought process upon receiving Introspective Groove from UConn's Completely Different Note: Nice cover — simple and slick. I wonder where this group's from, or who they are. Let's take a look at the back. Zombie Jamboree? For the Longest Time? Alma Mater right in the middle? Do groups still make CDs like this? Oh man, if this CD turns out to be awesome, I'll have a great opening to my review, discussing the skill with which this group has turned your average, done-into-the-ground material into something worth taking note of.

This was not the case. Unfortunately, it sounded exactly as I thought it might. The group is quite young (started in 1999), and still needs a lot of work on the most common issues plaguing any young group: tuning, energy, soloists, and innovation.

These guys just need to work hard on the basics. Their tone is unsupported across the board, and this is one of the main roots of their tuning, soloing, and energy problems. On the more homophonic arrangements (Vincent; Wade in the Water; Alma Mater; Coney Island Baby), their tuning and tone get better, presumably because these songs force the group to focus more on these issues than on complex, rhythmic material. As they become more comfortable with their fundamentals, they'll find themselves better able to tighten up the rest of their repertoire.

The weaknesses in the background might have been de-emphasized by a strong soloist. However, the soloists, in general, fail to make songs their own, lacking the strength and confidence to seriously engage the listener. Better sound production would also strengthen their recording, as is evidenced by the slightly-tweaked remix of Everything You Want, which is more engaging and impressive than any of the other contemporary tracks on the disc. Not that I think studio work is the answer to every problem in collegiate a cappella, but it helps when the live sound is lacking.

Advice here is difficult, as the group is more successful on the old-school a cappella tunes, but seem to be aiming for a more complex sound. Hopefully, the time they put in on the simpler songs will lay the groundwork for strong work on future material. I'm going to chalk up their weaknesses to being a young group, and will hope to see more polish and confidence on their next release. In the meantime, I'd take a pass on Introspective Groove, and leave it to the family and friends.

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