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The Amalgamates

Tufts University

Stopping For Breakfast (2004)

4.7

March 12, 2005

Tuning / Blend 5.0
Energy / Intensity 4.3
Innovation / Creativity 4.0
Soloists 4.3
Sound / Production 4.7
Repeat Listenability 4.7
Tracks
1 Everlong 4.3
2 Are You Happy Now 4.0
3 Drive 4.3
4 Circle 4.7
5 September 4.0
6 Karma Police 4.0
7 Rhiannon 4.3
8 Bigger Than My Body 3.7
9 Dreams 4.7
10 Black Hole Sun 4.3
11 One Day In Your Life 4.3
12 So Are You To Me 4.3

Recorded 2003 – 2004
Total time: 45:04, 12 songs


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Everlong 3
2 Are You Happy Now 4
3 Drive 3
4 Circle 4
5 September 3
6 Karma Police 3
7 Rhiannon 3
8 Bigger Than My Body 3
9 Dreams 5
10 Black Hole Sun 4
11 One Day In Your Life 4
12 So Are You To Me 4

Stopping For Breakfast is strangely unmoving. Great tuning, a handful of strong soloists, and a shiny pro-audio sound somehow don't combine into any kind of greater whole. Texture seems the likely culprit — most of the songs settle under a warm, dusky cloud of block chords that neither offends nor inspires.

Dreams is the exception that proves the rule. Its pounding beat and airy, sharp-toned solos cut through the background, creating a truly first-class track. Little else on the album packs the same punch, despite the wealth of polished uptempo numbers. A rare slow spot, So Are You To Me, is the next best thing, closing the album on a beautiful note. The soprano solo is beautifully produced, creating a gorgeous line over skillful block chords, hampered only by a heavy-handed doe-doe-doe instrumental break.

The Amalgamates are surprisingly bass-heavy for an a cappella group. The lines aren't that low, but they sound deep and the dark tones overwhelm the upper parts. It's really a pretty good sound, far better than shrieky or nasal or edged out. But it needs a few more prominent soprano themes to make it to the sublime. The group obviously has the talent, since all of the best soloists are women: Morgan Ford on Dreams, Maggie Beiser on Circle, Nathalie Wade on So Are You To Me and Liz Macari on Are You Happy Now. Sultry voices rule the day. The men sound more derivative, such as the underwhelming R.E.M.-like take on Karma Police or the oddly '80s Black Hole Sun. Soundgarden is completely defanged here; it sounds like a cover by Erasure with Sting singing backup. Points for intrigue, but maybe a little off at the end of the day.

In the end, that's how I feel about the entire album. There are a lot of things to like, but the overall package stops just short of greatness.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Everlong 5
2 Are You Happy Now 4
3 Drive 5
4 Circle 5
5 September 4
6 Karma Police 4
7 Rhiannon 5
8 Bigger Than My Body 4
9 Dreams 4
10 Black Hole Sun 4
11 One Day In Your Life 4
12 So Are You To Me 4

Guess who's back. Stopping For Breakfast is one of the best albums to cross my speakers in the past year and is a welcome return to form by the Tufts Amalgamates.

I mean this as high praise — no one can do a block chord quite like the Amalgamates. These singers create a thick, lush, warm sound that reaches out from the speakers and wraps itself around you. Whereas so many groups nowadays strive for an often overly harsh edge, the Amalgamates are the equivalent of cookies out of the oven, a warm blanket, or your favorite chair on a wintry day. The 'Mates have cultivated this sound over the years, and it continues to distinguish them from the rest of the pack.

Extra points for avoiding an issue that cropped up on past albums — the warmth and roundness of their sound can sometimes lead to a sleepy feel pervading most of the album. While Are You Happy Now and One Day In Your Life lack the bite of the originals, they still pop. This energy runs through even the slow tracks, which is one of the things that made Juice so effective an album. Best example of this phenomenon: I hate, hate, *hate* the song September and somehow the energy of the group and soloist get me grudgingly tapping my foot and maybe even bopping along a bit by the end of the track.

Everything feels a step up from the slight misfire of Bamboo — right down to the second attempt at a John Mayer tune, with far better results (in no small part due to Tom Baran's capable falsetto). The men's solos were more consistent here than on past albums, with the women Amalgamates providing their usual sweet tones as well. No real standouts here, which is a bit surprising, but the general competency among twelve different soloists deserves note.

Love the shimmery background vocals in Drive, the textured rhythms opening up Rhiannon, the ominous mood of Black Hole SunStopping For Breakfast boasts some seriously nice sound work. This subtle and effective production is all the more impressive with the knowledge that it was all self-produced, -recorded and -mixed by the group. A special hat off to Tom Baran '04, who I understand from forum postings drove much of this project, including building a mic from components?! At times, the sound can feel a bit muffled (e.g., the leads on Dreams) but by and large, this is far better work than many groups out there are putting out with 'professional' assistance and a hell of a larger production budget.

The Amalgamates on Bamboo could sing just as well as the Amalgamates on this album, but somehow there is a bit of joy running through Stopping For Breakfast that its predecessor lacked. That makes this an album worthy of the 'Mates history, and worthy of a listen.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Everlong 5
2 Are You Happy Now 4
3 Drive 5
4 Circle 5
5 September 5
6 Karma Police 5
7 Rhiannon 5
8 Bigger Than My Body 4
9 Dreams 5
10 Black Hole Sun 5
11 One Day In Your Life 5
12 So Are You To Me 5

There's really nothing like a great album to kick off your year in RARB reviewing. I'm pleased to say Stopping For Breakfast starts 2005 off on a great foot. This rocked-out but not overly engineered album from the Tufts Amalgamates is full of energy, bite, soul, and creativity that certainly makes it worthy of its 2005 BOCA selection (Everlong) and should be guaranteed a few CARA nods as well.

The 'Mates have a fantastic array of song selections here, from standard pop-rock radio fare to alternative and classic rock, and everything in between. Each track is solidly executed and produced up to par, and most tracks excel as the best cover versions I've heard. Even songs I hate from the original artists are impressive: Stevie Nicks usually irritates my socks off, but Anna Vodicka's turn on Rhiannon is sexy and expressive with a simple but effective arrangement by 2003 music director Tom Baran; the Cranberries' Dreams is masterfully arranged by 2002 music director Lisa Jacobs (you go, girl!) with a dead-on solo by Morgan Ford, who marvelously reproduces the Dolores O'Riordan yodeling at the end of the song with help from Baran. Then there's Soundgarden's Black Hole Sun — the opening notes alone so effectively evoke the original that I begin to envision the creepy video that still scars me from childhood.

I probably shouldn't mention at this point that September actually got my entire family car-dancing during a recent drive into New York City.

Suffice it to say that the Amalgamates don't disappoint, and they're successful even without Bill Hare's or Gabe Rutman's help (yes, it's possible!). Strong soloists, powerful arrangements, dynamism, spirit, and expert vocal percussion make Stopping For Breakfast one of the stand-out albums of my RARB reviewing experience and a tough act to follow for any group sending its CDs my way.


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Ordering Information

For current ordering information, please visit the group's website, or purchase the album at Mainely A Cappella.

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