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Juxtaposition

Virginia Polytechnic Institute

Homespun (2002)

4.0

Reviews By Jonathan Sears, Elie Landau, and TeKay

June 26, 2003

Tuning / Blend 4.0
Energy / Intensity 3.7
Innovation / Creativity 4.0
Soloists 3.7
Sound / Production 4.7
Repeat Listenability 4.3
Tracks
1 Black or White 3.7
2 Hangin' Around 3.7
3 Leaving Town 4.3
4 Magic 4.0
5 Sold 4.3
6 Rodeo Clowns 4.3
7 Hey Jealousy 5.0
8 Independent Women 3.7
9 Artichoke 3.3
10 Hanging by a Moment 3.3
11 Died in Your Arms 4.3
12 Hit 'em Up Style 4.3
13 B.O.B. 4.7

Recorded 2000 – 2002
Total time: 44:42, 13 songs


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Black or White 3
2 Hangin' Around 4
3 Leaving Town 5
4 Magic 5
5 Sold 4
6 Rodeo Clowns 4
7 Hey Jealousy 5
8 Independent Women 3
9 Artichoke 3
10 Hanging by a Moment 3
11 Died in Your Arms 4
12 Hit 'em Up Style 4
13 B.O.B. 5

Homespun is a collection of songs performed, recorded, and produced by members of Virginia Tech's Juxtaposition. It is a daring task to go out on your own and do it all yourself, but Juxtaposition met that challenge head-on and has released a very deserving album for all true fans of a cappella.

You will immediately notice the album's cleanliness. This album spent a lot of time inside a computer, and it shows. Producing your sound to be this polished leads to many positive and negative attributes on the album. For Juxtapostion, they gain a lot of crispness and tonality that I fear might have been missing in an otherwise live studio recording. They are able to lock up moving parts with ease, and can produce some killer riffs that they might not be able to perform live. The downside is that they gave away the ability to mask their otherwise bland arrangements (there are a few exceptions), and they recorded in a way that drained the energy from a lot of the background vocalists. Too bad there isn't a plug-in for energy, eh? We'll call it Big Booyah!

I didn't like Black or White as the lead track to this album. The soloist didn't do much for me and this was one of the songs that I felt was a major culprit of lacking background energy. The album picked up with Hanging Around and then continued with stellar renditions of Leaving Town and Magic. On these two charts, Mark Harris and Matt McGuigan perform two of the strongest leads on the album. They both did an outstanding job capturing these two songs and making them their own.

Hey Jealousy, Juxtaposition's 2003 BOCA track and CARA-winner for Best Male Collegiate Song, is probably the most complete track on the album. A great arrangement, a solid lead, and super production really brings this one home. I think there are more enjoyable tracks to listen to, but this one is the most complete.

After Hey Jealousy, I'm not really sure what happened. Independent Women is a sloppy arrangement and out of the range of the soloists' voices. Just because you can sing a note, that doesn't mean you should. Regardless of the fact that Artichoke is an odd song selection, why write such an active arrangement for such a simple song? Out of the next two tracks, Hanging by a Moment doesn't offer a whit of substance to justify its inclusion on this album. Died in Your Arms has a super soloist, but the arrangement doesn't do anything with the song. They are both okay charts for the average collegiate a cappella group, but Juxtaposition is capable and deserving of much better than those two charts.

The album ends with strong performances of Hit 'em Up Style and Bombs over Baghdad (B.O.B.), but that preceding run of four tracks really left me confused. Why so many sleepers on such a good album? Why were they all back-to-back-to-back-to-back? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?

I enjoyed the production on this album. It shows that the group is technically competent and very diverse in their abilities. When you think of a few college guys sitting down and doing this themselves, it's very impressive. That said, I'd like to see them spend more time on the placement of parts in the stereo mix, and try to create a sound with more body. In a few instances, I felt that the soloist wasn't centered in the stereo mix, and other times, I felt that parts should've been placed on the same side of the mix or on separate sides depending on the song. Layering parts or even simply bringing out more of the bass/baritone end of the spectrum, instead of such a high tenor bright sound, could help to develop the body of the sound. Basically, it's going to take a couple of attempts to master the years of expertise that a studio engineer or producer could have brought to you.

After the first listen to this album, I thought it was superb, one of the best of the year. I could easily see how it was nominated for a 2003 CARA for Best Male Collegiate Album. After subsequent listens, it reminded me of why RARB is such a useful part of the a cappella community. Prior to writing our reviews, we listen to these albums for countless hours, day after day. If the CARA nomination process was done in the same way, I'm not so sure that Juxtaposition would've been nominated for Best Male Collegiate Album (though, not hearing all of the submissions, I have no basis for that opinion other than assumption). Homespun is a good album, but as a complete work, it is not the best out there.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Black or White 4
2 Hangin' Around 4
3 Leaving Town 5
4 Magic 4
5 Sold 5
6 Rodeo Clowns 4
7 Hey Jealousy 5
8 Independent Women 4
9 Artichoke 4
10 Hanging by a Moment 4
11 Died in Your Arms 4
12 Hit 'em Up Style 5
13 B.O.B. 4

For any groups out there that think "do-it-yourself-a-cappella" is dead and only a windfall of alumni donations and a trip to Gabe Mann's or Bill Hare's studio can yield a first rate album, pick up a copy of Juxtaposition's Homespun and your hope will be restored. These guys from VA Tech went the Bob Vila route and did it all themselves. The results are quite impressive.

You may already know of Juxtaposition if for no other reason than their 2003 CARA nomination for Best Male Collegiate Album and their 2003 CARA win for Best Male Collegiate Song for Hey Jealousy. Winning a CARA is always a notable accomplishment, but to win one for a song that's been done to death is an even greater feat. The award is well-deserved; it's a solid solo and an energetic performance by the group as a whole, featuring tight vocal percussion and showcasing a faithful arrangement that still manages to incorporate a few artistic liberties.

A few of the other tracks on the album are worthy of honorable mention in the same breath with the aforementioned CARA winner. These would include a delightful arrangement of Sold by John Michael Montgomery (a rare foray into country music by collegiate a cappella and just an all-around fun track) and a well-crafted take on Blu Cantrell's Hit 'em Up Style which is certainly not the most logical choice for all-male a cappella (or a cappella in general), but which these guys pull off quite nicely. Interestingly, both of these tracks are arranged by Brent Yoder and feature Danny Godwin on the solo. These two guys work well together.

Mind you, it should not be inferred that the rest of the album is horribly sub-par. Quite the contrary; the remaining tracks are all solid without a throwaway or an embarrassment in the bunch. But in some way, shape or form, each one has its shortcoming — be it an occasional rhythmic inconsistency, or a now-and-again lapse in tuning, or an odd choice in voicing or the like — that keep it from truly being excellent. A cover of Gabe Mann's Artichoke features a "zhang zhang" background that may be something of an homage to its author, but the arrangement itself is a bit too busy and never quite comes together cohesively. Cutting Crew's (I Just) Died in Your Arms Tonight opens well but fades quickly due to a solo that lacks the requisite belt on top. And Michael Jackson's Black or White, which fell somewhere between a 4 and a 5 for me, ultimately falls back to the lower mark because, despite some nifty v.p. and a solo that nails The Gloved One's yips and yelps, the arrangement never really develops beyond the opening riff.

A word about the production of this album: as noted above, these guys basically did it themselves, building a studio in a townhouse and mixing the album at a house belonging to several members of the group. The fact that the album sounds as good as it does is really a tribute to the talents of all those involved on the technical end. At the same time, this is an album which features a very processed sound, especially in the bass and vocal percussion, and one wonders if the presence of an outside producer, with an objective ear and an unbiased opinion, might have tempered that a bit. I have long since made my peace with studio trickery and vocal processing, but when it is so ever-present, it does tend to bother me a bit. What's more, fairly or unfairly, it always leads me to ponder the group's ability to reproduce its album sound in a live setting.

But the positive far outweighs the negative when it comes to this album, and it would likely be a most welcome addition to your collection. Having admittedly been guilty of thinking of Virginia collegiate a cappella mostly in terms of groups like The Gentlemen, The Sil'hooettes and The Hullabahoos, this album definitely made me take notice that UVA ain't the only game in town. Those Tech-sters have themselves a mighty fine all-male group in Juxtaposition, and I look forward to hearing what they have in store for us next.


4
Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Black or White 4
2 Hangin' Around 3
3 Leaving Town 3
4 Magic 3
5 Sold 4
6 Rodeo Clowns 5
7 Hey Jealousy 5
8 Independent Women 4
9 Artichoke 3
10 Hanging by a Moment 3
11 Died in Your Arms 5
12 Hit 'em Up Style 4
13 B.O.B. 5

Competent and complacent.
Two words which are neither overly complimentary nor outright damning of a new recording. And yet, they completely sum up my reluctant disappointment with this album.

Homespun is a very competent recording. Competent arrangements, facile singing in the background, capable soloists, mostly unobtrusive production values and studio effects, strong and rhythmic percussionists, and a small sense of adventure in some of the song selections.

But
(and yes there is always a but with me) —

There is something a little stagnant and ordinary about the endeavor. With only a few exceptions, they seem satisfied to produce an album that is only good, not outstanding. Now, don't get me wrong, it's hands-down better than most of the albums I've recently come across, but they've raised my expectations beyond what they deliver here.

The standout aspect of the album is the arranging skill of several of the guys in the group. The arranging is often amusing, with snippets of melodic lines "juxtaposed" against standard background syllables with high comedic effect (you'll just have to listen to Black or White and the brilliance that is Independent Women, Pt. I to understand what I'm talking about). Outkast's B. O. B., arranged by the entire group, shows the fun and importance that each person can have when everyone is invested in the song. It's unfortunate that it had to come in the form of that song, considering the political realities of the first half of 2003. Two years ago, who could have predicted that the song would have such prophetic insight?

And apparently, if you are going to be a fantastic soloist in Juxtaposition, your name has to be Dave. Dave Franusich and Dave Kang perform the most compelling tracks on the album in terms of simple good singing. Both have soaring tenor voices full of warmth and maturity. Their combo on Hey Jealousy leaves no doubt that it deserved the 2003 CARA for Best Male Collegiate Song. Those guys are smoove like budda. But they aren't the most captivating soloists on the album. That title goes to Danny Gowin for his turn on Hit 'em Up Style. I had the good fortune to see him perform it live twice, and even though it's strident at times (like Nathan Harper on Black or White), the comedic yet truthful rendition is perfectly replicated here. Harper redeems himself on the glorious (I Just) Died in Your Arms and the pairing with Kang on Rodeo Clowns.

So what's my beef with the album? Honestly, I just wanted to see the guys accomplish more, like the gritty energy from their last album. They take pride that they produced, mixed and mastered every aspect of the CD. The liner notes state: "The title of this recording, "Homespun", reflects the nature in which it was created…this CD is truly independent, completely self-produced, indubitably and undeniably, "Homespun"." I give them mad props for all of that, but I just wish those accomplishments didn't make the album feel so homemade.

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Ordering Information

To order, email juxtaposition@vt.edu, or you can order it online at Mainely A Cappella.

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