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Divisi

University of Oregon

RED HOT (2004)

3.7

December 17, 2004

Tuning / Blend 4.3
Energy / Intensity 3.7
Innovation / Creativity 3.0
Soloists 3.7
Sound / Production 4.7
Repeat Listenability 2.7
Tracks
1 Ants Marching 3.3
2 Catch Me If You Can 3.7
3 Woodstock 3.7
4 No Need to Argue 3.3
5 Not Enough (Suddenly) 3.7
6 Happy Together 3.0
7 Divisi Medley 3.0
8 Mummer's Dance 3.3
9 Insensitive 3.0
10 Always Be My Baby 4.7
11 Uninvited 4.0

Recorded 2004
Total time: 43:17, 11 songs


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Ants Marching 3
2 Catch Me If You Can 4
3 Woodstock 5
4 No Need to Argue 4
5 Not Enough (Suddenly) 4
6 Happy Together 3
7 Divisi Medley 3
8 Mummer's Dance 3
9 Insensitive 3
10 Always Be My Baby 5
11 Uninvited 5

Divisi's nice new album isn't so much RED HOT as it is "Super!". These bright-eyed singers deliver bouncy tunes with good tone and excellent diction, but not a lot of sultry swing.

Ants Marching gets us off to the wrong start. Its dulcet soloist sounds like she should be singing Orange-Colored Sky and is entirely miscast for Dave Matthews' ironic rat race anthem. Chipper, enunciated background diction exacerbates the mismatch. Later on, the choral training both helps and hurts, as welcome precision is sometimes paired with a startlingly perfect array of umlauted vowels.

The good news is, solos are generally a Divisi strength. There are some stellar ones — Evynne Smith on Joni Mitchell's Woodstock and Katie Hopkins on Mariah Carey's Always Be My Baby leap to mind. So expressive! So ... soulful. That kind of charisma is welcome on an album that sometimes overwhelms with its earnestness. Happy Together is too goofy for this kind of a deadpan recording, and several other songs are both too pitchy for choir and too square for rock-n-roll.

Percussion on this album is very strong and there's plenty of bass, both of which probably stem from Bill Hare's production wizardry. Uninvited particuarly shows off, as strong singing and a wide array of studio assistance combine on a truly first-rate track. It's the album highlight, and it holds its own against anything in this year's field. Lisa Forkish has a great take on the solo, redeeming herself after leading the Happy Together dead end. Meanwhile, the background has a texture and distortion that actually reminds me of The House Jacks' Kashmir. Go Bill, and go group. Not Enough deserves a round of applause too, as not only a nice song but also a Divisi original.

Overall, this is a good album with some great moments. There's a lot to like, even without a lot of ambient lust.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Ants Marching 4
2 Catch Me If You Can 4
3 Woodstock 3
4 No Need to Argue 3
5 Not Enough (Suddenly) 4
6 Happy Together 3
7 Divisi Medley 4
8 Mummer's Dance 4
9 Insensitive 3
10 Always Be My Baby 5
11 Uninvited 4

Divisi's RED HOT is a study in contrast. They can create beautiful ebb and flow in their phrases. Yet they can also fall short on their "instrumental solos"(Ants Marching, Happy Together). They can deliver both the introspective (Woodstock) and the exhibitionist (Let's Get It On (in the medley), Always Be My Baby) solos with grace. Yet they can also hang a little low on the vibratos, or create an overly classical tone color on the back-ups of a pop song. They can arrange with sensitivity and yet also create one of the most pointless (even if the "pieces are very well delivered") medleys I've heard in quite some time (Divisi Medley). The good is really good. The not-so-good however, is enough to drag the good down with it. So every track, despite its strengths, seems to just fall short of its potential.

An unexpected gem is the Divisi original, Not Enough (Suddenly) penned and delivered by Suzie Day. This is a fine song whose chorus is perfectly placed in the sweet spot of the soloist's range. So though the lyrics aren't groundbreaking, the emotion comes through nonetheless. Kudos to Divisi for bringing this original to life. Let the collegiate a cappella scene take up the challenge to do the same. (I mean, come on guys, covers are great, but, by definition, they've been done.)

The production is excellent throughout and often artfully disguises weaknesses as much as showcasing strengths. A common (and perhaps unfair) comment is that this all female group could have delivered a bit more low end for my tastes. But in all fairness, this is indeed a matter of taste and more "bass" would likely have required a degree of studio artificiality (octavizer, heavy EQ) which Divisi, Peter Hollens, or Bill Hare may have wisely opposed for artistic reasons.

One other issue bears mentioning: Divisi has an extremely talented soloist with a rich, powerful voice, a genuine delivery and a noticeable lisp. At first listen it was only the last of these qualities to which I could pay attention. Focus expanded on repeated listens. But the experience raises the question: is this prejudice? Am I unfairly judging this delivery? Is a lisp like poor pitch, deserving of criticism? Or is it more akin to a dancer with an unusual body type? That is, is the problem really in the eye or ear of the beholder, if anywhere? I'm not sure. I think the average listener would be as distracted as I was initially. But yet, I'm thankful this otherwise talented soloist found her outlet in Divisi. Perhaps it's worth a purchase for listeners to make their own decision?


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 2
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 Ants Marching 3
2 Catch Me If You Can 3
3 Woodstock 3
4 No Need to Argue 3
5 Not Enough (Suddenly) 3
6 Happy Together 3
7 Divisi Medley 2
8 Mummer's Dance 3
9 Insensitive 3
10 Always Be My Baby 4
11 Uninvited 3

University of Oregon's Divisi puts together a pleasantly average recording for its first studio album. Many college groups take an average score as an insult. It's not. The women of Divisi sing quite well together, and they've established a sound that works for them. I just don't like it much.

The overall sound on the album is warm and excessively choral with nicely rounded vowels and clean diction. But I like my popular music with more bite, more character, and more grit than Divisi offers. By golly, RED HOT is just too darn clean and proper.

What's impressive is that the songs blend together into an album quite well, a tribute both to the voices of Divisi as well as the skills of the venerable Mr. Bill Hare. And that brings up a sticking point for me. What interests me about the album is the production, not the singers, not the songs, not the arrangements, and, with only one exception, not the solos. Mr. Bill makes fine use of a variety of effects and studio techniques, creating a large, varied, and cohesive texture throughout that is subtle and engaging but not distracting.

There are no real standout arrangements. The only clunker is the haphazard, disconnected Divisi Medley. Soloists are solidly adequate with an especially impressive showing by Miss Katie Hopkins on Mariah Carey's Always Be My Baby. I really dislike Mariah Carey songs. But I confess that Miss Hopkins left me feeling warm on the inside with her soul, confidence, and vocal gymnastics. She is not just red hot, she's smoking hot — without question among the collegiate elite.

On its next album, hopefully Divisi can let down its collective hair, shed inhibitions and choral training, and get down and dirty. That would be something worth hearing.

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Ordering Information

To order, visit the group's web site or email them at Divisi@gladstone.uoregon.edu.

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