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Spur of the Moment

Brandeis University

Word (2002)

3.7

December 25, 2002

Tuning / Blend 3.3
Energy / Intensity 3.3
Innovation / Creativity 3.3
Soloists 3.3
Sound / Production 3.7
Repeat Listenability 3.3
Tracks
1 Shimmer 4.0
2 Mad Season 3.3
3 Everything You Want 4.0
4 Here With Me 4.0
5 Private Idaho 3.7
6 Pinch Me 3.7
7 Breathless 4.0
8 Another First Kiss 3.0
9 Everywhere 3.7
10 Follow Me (In The Mirror) 2.3
11 So Much Mine 3.7
12 AM Radio 3.3
13 Tread Light 4.0
14 As Cool As I Am 3.0
15 Hey Jealousy 4.0
16 If I Am 3.0
17 Full of Grace 3.3

Recorded 2000 – 2002
Total time: 59:56, 17 songs


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Shimmer 4
2 Mad Season 4
3 Everything You Want 4
4 Here With Me 4
5 Private Idaho 3
6 Pinch Me 4
7 Breathless 4
8 Another First Kiss 3
9 Everywhere 4
10 Follow Me (In The Mirror) 2
11 So Much Mine 4
12 AM Radio 3
13 Tread Light 4
14 As Cool As I Am 4
15 Hey Jealousy 4
16 If I Am 3
17 Full of Grace 4

Spur of the Moment gets better with every album, or so it seems from the three they've sent to RARB. Word is their best yet, with nice soloists, nice songs and nice tuning.

It's a nice record.

That's as far as they went with this album, however. It's wonderfully free of winces, but also seems a little understated. Most of the songs feel muted, missing the zip of a really great group. Word is almost there, but the next album might really be the one to watch for.

This album is wonderfully consistent. I can't say enough about what a treat it is to get an album with solid tuning. Spur is a strong group that colors within the lines for a whole album, that keeps its flaws managable and keeps its overall sound mostly intact. I find this quality all the more laudable because this album isn't perfect.

Everywhere was my favorite song, with a great solo by Shanna Zell. So Much Mine and Tread Light also came off well, thanks to good delivery and a nice intensity. You get the sense that the group liked singing these songs, so they are fun to hear, too. As Cool As I Am isn't quite as polished, but the women in the background have a nicely produced sound that deserves mention.

This is a nice album. Not a truly great one, but a truly nice one. And that's quite an accomplishment.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Shimmer 4
2 Mad Season 3
3 Everything You Want 4
4 Here With Me 4
5 Private Idaho 4
6 Pinch Me 4
7 Breathless 4
8 Another First Kiss 4
9 Everywhere 4
10 Follow Me (In The Mirror) 3
11 So Much Mine 4
12 AM Radio 4
13 Tread Light 5
14 As Cool As I Am 3
15 Hey Jealousy 4
16 If I Am 3
17 Full of Grace 4

Brandeis's Spur of the Moment has made huge strides since I first saw them about six years ago. I saw their live performances improve through the year they made it to the NCCA finals. Now I finally get to hear and review their most recent CD, Word, and it's a pleasure.

Spur's arrangements work wonderfully for them. They create distinctive and enveloping textures and ambiences. This isn't Off the Beat-style arranging with complex, word-heavy wall-of-sound structures. The style tends more towards the arrangements I've heard from Samrat Chakrabarti, with cool syllable choices, neat rhythmic riffs, and spots that open up just the way you want them to. It makes sense, as Samrat is an alum of the group, and also contributed a couple of arrangements to the disc. The tracks are quite evocative of the originals; I was unfamiliar with Private Idaho and Another First Kiss but was able to identify the original artists immediately.

The group really succeeds with laid-back tunes, which lend themselves well to their relaxed sound. Occasionally this sound is a bit too relaxed (Mad Season for example), but it sits in a sweet spot for gentler songs like Tread Light, So Much Mine, and Another First Kiss. They are also able to bring the energy up when the song requires it (AM Radio, Everywhere, Hey Jealousy), but they seem at their most musical when the songs are a bit gentler.

There are still issues for the group to improve upon. They occasionally mix important lines too far back. The Man in the Mirror lines underneath Follow Me are almost inaudible, leaving me to wonder why the two songs were put together in the first place. On the following track, So Much Mine, the duet takes too subordinate a role, leaving me feeling unfulfilled when I think of the full potential that accompanies the stellar arrangement and performance. Although I like the natural, live sound of the disc, I find the mixing to be too reverb-heavy at times.

The soloists need to step up their work to bring the group to the next level. They are all pretty good, and a few are great, but most are lacking that little bit extra. The lead on As Cool As I Am needs to loosen up a bit, embracing the folk style more. The top note ("ev") of Everywhere isn't nailed as it should be (most a cappella covers of this seem to suffer from this problem). In general, they need to believe their performances a bit more, rather than just attempting to mimic the original. It should be noted that there is only one repeat solo on the disc, yet none of the leads really suffer. They might not be head turners, but getting that many people to solo that well is quite a feat.

A couple more highlights: the sopranos are stellar. Their strength and smoothness in their upper range adds so much to the disc, especially on Shimmer and the verses of Here With Me. Tread Light is my favorite track on the disc, as it is the most suited to the group's relaxed strengths. I'd like to hear Spur focus their sound a bit more, add a bass who will be more solid and rounder on exposed and super low notes, and let their solos loose a bit more. But in all, I am quite pleased with Word, and am looking forward to their next release.


Tuning / Blend 2
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 Shimmer 4
2 Mad Season 3
3 Everything You Want 4
4 Here With Me 4
5 Private Idaho 4
6 Pinch Me 3
7 Breathless 4
8 Another First Kiss 2
9 Everywhere 3
10 Follow Me (In The Mirror) 2
11 So Much Mine 3
12 AM Radio 3
13 Tread Light 3
14 As Cool As I Am 2
15 Hey Jealousy 4
16 If I Am 3
17 Full of Grace 2

Spur of the Moment, a co-ed a cappella group at Brandeis, took an interesting approach to their latest CD, Word; the 17 tracks presented were recorded by three different groups, as the span of recording ranges over three academic years. I guess the most surprising aspect is that, despite my expectations, the quality of the tunes is evenly spread, and there are not certain years which are consistently better than the other ones.

The blend on the CD is pretty good. Unlike many groups who get trapped in a certain style, Spur shows a dynamic blend, without one particular part being always forward (e.g. the basses may be louder in one piece, less in another). Arranging for co-ed voices is tough, but the arrangements are both full and interesting, even though the songs are not easy. Everything You Want is typical of the rich inner voicing and moving parts of Spur's arrangements. Soloists vary, with no one being particularly good or particularly bad.

Production is very good. Tunes like Everything You Want, AM Radio, and Leave Me Breathless have tasteful effects. Percussion is consistently good, with excellent mixing into the parts. Solos tend to be just the right volume. The CD has a professional, crisp feel, and its obvious they did an excellent job in post-production.

Unfortunately, Word confirms the belief that the phrase "we'll fix it in recording" is a group's worst enemy. No matter how hard you try, if you start with mediocre sound, you simply can't perfect it in the studio. This group simply does not sing in tune. Almost every song is riddled with voices slightly higher or, more commonly, lower than the true tonic. To name songs would be pointless, because it is rare to find tonal unity anywhere on the entire album. And just like baking cookies with spoiled milk, no matter how much care and skill you put into the rest of the process, you simply won't end up with an edible product. The group should start with mouth shape, because many of the vowels are out of line, and the tone gets shallow. The groups should proud of learning individual parts in such challenging arrangements, but the members simply don't listen to each other enough. The net effect sours an otherwise decent album. So Spur, get back to basics — once your chords tune, you'll be able to make a great album.

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