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Tat Tong

Evocations (2004)

2.7

July 28, 2004

Tuning / Blend 3.3
Energy / Intensity 3.0
Innovation / Creativity 3.7
Soloists 2.3
Sound / Production 3.0
Repeat Listenability 3.0
Tracks
1 intro-cation 2.7
2 one too many times 3.3
3 get ya (whatcha want) 3.0
4 crossroads (interlude) 2.0
5 leavin' behind 3.3
6 how many days 3.3
7 love is all we need 2.3

Recorded 2003 – 2004
Total time: 22:51, 7 songs


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 intro-cation 3
2 one too many times 4
3 get ya (whatcha want) 2
4 crossroads (interlude) 2
5 leavin' behind 3
6 how many days 4
7 love is all we need 2

After hour-long ego battles with bandmates in rehearsal or the occasionally disastrous night in the studio, I'm sure every a cappella singer has found himself drifting off to sleep one night wondering, "Auntie Em, what would it be like if I were a one-man vocal band?" It's a risky, ballsy undertaking, and for composing, arranging, performing and engineering an entire a cappella album, I admire Tat Tong's gumption.

Since Evocations is a one-man show, listeners have just two people to blame for not liking the album: themselves for their own musical preferences, and Tat Tong, for his hip-hop-, R&B-inspired aesthetic. I was drawn into this album in a way that no other album has sucked me in before. I questioned every judgement, knowing that it was mano a mano, me vs. all Tat Tong, all the time. Tat Tong's smiling face on his self-designed album cover inspired my first wonderings and by the time I'd reached track three, I was deeply involved in a psycho-musical evaluation of two questions:

  1. Who is Tat Tong? Tat Tong delivers many of his baritenor solo lines with a mushy enunciation and pronunciation that could be described as nerdy (tracks 1, 3, 7). His rapping is pretty unconvincing, and his R&B turns aren't quite there all the time. His solo voice gurgles from the back of his throat, often sounding constricted (5). His phrasing is consistently awkward and his rhythms are often sluggish, slightly behind the tempo (7). Many highly lame moments made me cringe in embarrassment. Examples: "Cuz I'm so bored, yo!"; the highly misogynistic hip-hop lyrics of get ya (whatcha want) punctuated by a hilarious girly falsetto "yeah!"; mediocre Babyface wannabe and guest backing vocalist "g-soul"; and a guest rap from the highly street-credible rapper "Bill Schurmann". Nothing is as awkward as watching someone try too hard to be cool.

  2. What was he thinking? Evocations is proof that other group members, though certainly a pain in the ass at times, clearly can be useful. Other group members have an annoying tendancy to point out things that sound silly. Other group members temper individuals, bringing a centrist balance to a group. Tat Tong, in his one-man band, subjects his listeners to some very strange moments. Examples: some Nelly Furtado/Arabian-inspired squealing break (3), a house song stupefyingly followed by a flowing 50 second baritone ballad, an over-verbed and delayed snare that's as loud as a gunshot in the night (5), weird chord progressions and atonal chords layered over a disco dance bass line (7). Tat Tong applies effects liberally and sometimes for no apparent reason. Rather than flavoring segments of songs, some effects dominate and distract, as in the distorted harmony of one too many times or the Cher-like effect on Mr. "g-soul" (6).

I was both embarrassed for and in awe of Tat Tong. Though some musical and effects usages were so silly as to make me laugh out loud on the first listen, later listens brought an introspective silence. Here is a guy who had the drive and desire to bring something new to this earth, without any real outside help. In all fairness, the basic musicianship is solid and most of the studio work is clean (if a little weird). Even the songwriting is decent, particularly one too many times and how many days. The overall effect, though, is that I'm unsure what Tat Tong was attempting with Evocations. Even so, he's earned a wary respect from me.


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 1
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 intro-cation 3
2 one too many times 3
3 get ya (whatcha want) 5
4 crossroads (interlude) 2
5 leavin' behind 4
6 how many days 3
7 love is all we need 2

Tat Tong has proven on his first solo EP, Evocations, to be a gifted but inexperienced engineer/producer, a creative but unpolished songwriter, and a generally bad singer. However, his initiative should be lauded, and there is potential for great things to come.

Unfortunately, the largest problem is Tong's solo voice. He just doesn't have the pipes to pull off a vocal career. His leads are generally uninspired, often unintelligible, and sometimes incorrect in pitch. The sound is consistently too "heady", with a flattened, dull timbre projected through the nose and sinuses. While well suited to many classical techniques, it just doesn't cut it for pop music. The tone doesn't pierce or buzz enough, and there's just not enough oomph. This is heightened by the occasional word that is not understandable, sometimes due to production but other times due to awkward pronunciation or diction. For example, leavin' behind features the lyric "impetuous" with the accent on the third syllable, and it took me several listens to figure out what he was saying. Finally, Tong doesn't have the high notes for several of the songs (not that they go particularly high), and the notes fall flat. Tong's leads leave much to be desired.

Tong is much more skilled in mixing and engineering, leading me to the conclusion that he would be much better suited on the other side of the studio walls, producing other people's acts. He falls into the trap many inexperienced producers do of overdoing things. As stated above, the leads sometimes are unintelligible because they are overproduced with adding chorus or reverb. The tail end of the verse in get ya is a prime offender, when with the addition of reverb I couldn't understand the line. But for a first timer and recording all effects himself, he should be commended. While heavy on the auto tune, he has set the bar for production very high. The percussion tracks could use a little work: they add panache to the songs, but don't really drive the beat at all. Bass lines also need some help. Tong can be excused for not being able to hit the notes, but they need a little more help in the mixing stages.

Songwriting is pretty decent. get ya, an upbeat rap, is contagious, and the melody line on leavin' behind will stay on repeat in your head for days. He has written songs that are simple enough for the listener to grasp right away, and catchy enough to hum after one hear. Lyrics are poignant and well thought out, and the music has a great flow to it. Again, he could write some better bass lines and his bridges are a little weak compared to the rest of the songs, but these are minor quibbles that can be worked out with experience.

Tong should be commended for his efforts, but should really consider producing others. His songwriting and engineering skills could take him far with some work and the right mentors. Overall, a well done effort.


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 2
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 intro-cation 2
2 one too many times 3
3 get ya (whatcha want) 2
4 crossroads (interlude) 2
5 leavin' behind 3
6 how many days 3
7 love is all we need 3

You've got to admire Mr. Tat Tong's determination, ambition, and impressive work ethic. Putting together a solo project of original music almost entirely on your own, even if it's a short album of only seven songs, is no small feat.

But it's not without problems. Mr. Tong is clearly not a vocal percussionist and the drum sampling just isn't very good. The individual sounds are barely adequate and the looping isn't quite enough to create a useful groove or pocket whether it's straight-ahead rock (one too many times) or hip-hop (get ya).

The fact that Mr. Tong is virtually the only vocalist on the disc lends an eeriness to the overall sound. In general, the performances are overly square and uninspired, which can be tolerable for collegiate back-up singing, but unforgivable in a lead. His voice is ok, but not really an ear-catcher; Mr. Tong's songwriting may come to life better when it's performed by other people.

Ah, songwriting. I'm a snob. I admit it. I have very specific tastes. And I love that this disc is all original stuff. But the melodies come across as both contrived and predictable without being memorable. After listening to the entire album, I can't recall a single hook from any of the songs. Lyrically, it's up and down. I kind of enjoyed the bitterness of one too many times, but almost blew chunks at the cliché, poser-parlance of get ya. I'd say the bulk of the rest falls somewhere towards the lower end of the spectrum — shallow and predictable enough to be boring and not universal enough to be wildly accessible to the masses. Depth and a personal touch are lacking.

Some may consider this album a vanity project. I view it as a deeply intensive and richly instructive educational venture. That's a very good thing for Mr. Tat Tong. But for consumers of a cappella? Not so much.

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