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Academical Village People

University of Virginia

Academical is Not a Word (2005)

4.0

September 27, 2005

Tuning / Blend 3.7
Energy / Intensity 4.7
Innovation / Creativity 4.0
Soloists 4.0
Sound / Production 4.0
Repeat Listenability 4.0
Tracks
1 Uptown Girl 4.3
2 Do You Love Me? 4.0
3 I Will Survive 4.0
4 Poses 3.7
5 That Thing You Do! 3.3
6 You and I Both 3.7
7 Stacey's Mom 3.3
8 Careless Whisper 3.0
9 The Reason 4.7
10 This Love 4.3
11 The Scientist 4.7
12 Aeroplane 4.3

Recorded 2004 – 2005
Total time: 43:41, 12 songs


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Uptown Girl 4
2 Do You Love Me? 4
3 I Will Survive 4
4 Poses 5
5 That Thing You Do! 3
6 You and I Both 4
7 Stacey's Mom 3
8 Careless Whisper 2
9 The Reason 5
10 This Love 4
11 The Scientist 5
12 Aeroplane 4

When I sang in a mixed group back in college, I remember watching in envy as the all-male groups on campus killed the crowd time after time. There is just something about watching a stage full of guys sing, dance, and clown that endears them to the audience in a huge way. UVA's Academical Village People strengthens my opinion with their latest album, Academical is Not a Word. This is an album that is alternately cheery, silly, and heartfelt — but nearly always fun. And in an a cappella world of increasingly sterile and electronic recordings, fun gets a lot of points from me.

Recent graduate James Gammon is nicknamed "Maestro" in the liner notes and rightfully so — he had a hand in arranging three-quarters of the tracklist and mixed the whole album. It is to his credit that Uptown Girl and This Love, which both received assistance from sound wizard Bill Hare, blend perfectly with Gammon's solo mixing work. While I could have done with a bit more sonic variation, Gammon proves himself a capable arranger and director.

The album opens with a blast of retro energy on its first three tracks. Fairly standard arrangements of classics like Uptown Girl and I Will Survive are luckily invigorated by strong soloists and a ton of energy from the block singers. While the songs largely work, they did feel a bit disjointed from the current pop that dominates the rest of the album. I'm unsure as to whether spreading the oldies through the playlist would have been a better choice, but the decade shift threw me off each time I listened to the disc.

Let's be clear — AVP is a very good group. The Reason is one of the few recorded humor tracks I've heard that works, by singing the hell out of Hoobastank's sappy torch song. (I suppose rewritten lyrics like "...a reason to not be your ex...and the reason is sex" don't hurt either) This Love has a nice groove that devolves into an effective breakdown section. And AVP shows real emotion in its gentle and textured treatments of Poses and The Scientist, ballads that could have been real snoozers in the hands of others.

There are a few missteps. For example, the infectious energy of Stacey's Mom falters from tuning issues near the end. And Careless Whisper is just a train wreck, with a melodramatic, lounge singer solo fronting the group as it lurches through the track. And most of the rest here is fine, good, even strong — but maybe not exceptional. Ultimately it is this hodgepodge of some great stuff, a little bad stuff, and a lot of very decent that makes Academical is Not a Word one of the best yearbook albums you'll hear, as opposed to one for the ages. But who needs to be ageless when you're having this much fun?


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Uptown Girl 4
2 Do You Love Me? 3
3 I Will Survive 3
4 Poses 3
5 That Thing You Do! 3
6 You and I Both 4
7 Stacey's Mom 3
8 Careless Whisper 3
9 The Reason 4
10 This Love 5
11 The Scientist 5
12 Aeroplane 4

I thought I might have been unreasonably unfair after my last AVP review, having been the only reviewer of the three to give Scantily Plaid a 4, and so with unrelenting scrutiny, I listened to Academical is Not a Word, trying to find the redeeming piece of brilliance that would merit a 5. While this is an album of quality, its repertoire, execution, and production just barely surpass the mark of average.

Formulaic to the point of repetition, the current release in fact is a near rehash of the previous one, with similar song choices of genre and style of arrangement. Again, my biggest quibbles with the audio itself derivate from the synth pop-like, mechanistic bass, percussion, and decorative tones from the background. Case in point: I Will Survive, whose twin Rock My World/Your Body from "Scantily" is better executed. The bass and drum kit are looped to the point of annoyance along with three syncopated "guitar strums" in each measure. I was pleased, however, to get another taste of Mikey Daguiso's impressive tenor here, which starts out strong and continues with a solid albeit average performance.

There's an overdoing of '50s-style tunes here, with three appearing in the first five tracks. Between Uptown Girl, Do You Love Me?, and That Thing You Do!, I found myself yearning for the more diverse repertoire of the last album. Even Stacey's Mom has a '60s surfer-style clapping added in. Relief comes in the sixth track, a pleasing rendition of You and I Both led by the Jason Mraz sound-alike Jason Sonnenschein.

The production values here, while above average, lean toward over-engineering, and I feel a dissonance between the human-sounding backgrounds and those that sound more like instruments. Another example is Careless Whisper, where the signature theme of the song is performed in a falsetto "ba-da-da" and the percussion and cymbals sound fairly realistic. This creates a hollow emptiness that sounds almost amateurish, which I'm fairly certain the AVP are anything but. The aforementioned song actually achieves a campy effect with the overdramatic solo and harmony.

An otherwise excellent track, The Reason loses points for altering the lyrics to the popular Hoobastank number by making The Reason sex, instead of "you". I had fun with This Love, where for once, the mixing and distortion was aptly applied to create the desired effect, making it my favorite track on the album despite its popularity as an a cappella cover. Closing out with the appropriately mellow The Scientist (with a lovely lead by Micah Hart) and trippy Aeroplane, Academical is Not a Word's best tracks come in the last four, all done by master arranger (and now producer) James Gammon, AVP alum.

To quote the Chili Peppers, "I like pleasure spiked with pain." That's kind of how I feel about this album — generally a good listen, but there are a few low moments that drag it down. I think if you loved "Scantily", you'll like this CD, but if you merely liked the last release (as I did), this one may not live up to your expectations.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Uptown Girl 5
2 Do You Love Me? 5
3 I Will Survive 5
4 Poses 3
5 That Thing You Do! 4
6 You and I Both 3
7 Stacey's Mom 4
8 Careless Whisper 4
9 The Reason 5
10 This Love 4
11 The Scientist 4
12 Aeroplane 5

To all the single ladies out there — be careful! Listening to the Academical Village People too long causes one to develop a fierce, irreversible crush.

To ladies and gents alike, you'll love this album. Many all-male groups strive to be equally talented and funny, but few are as convincing as the goofy, creative, and capable men of AVP. You know you're in for a good time when you read some of the AVP nicknames: Davis "Flirty Pants" Gouldin, James "Beast" East, and Biff "Cookie-Duster" Tradwell. Interestingly, Tradwell, and others not pictured, are among "Those who tricked the University into giving them a diploma".

Tomfoolery aside, Academical is Not a Word opens with a sure-fire plan: sing the classics so well that listeners enthusiastically join-in. Uptown Girl, with tight harmonies, razor-sharp blend, high energy and an overall sound that could be mistaken for The Beach Boys (except much cooler), sets up the mood for the rest of the album — fun! Uptown Girl proves two things — these guys can sing, and these guys never err on the safe side. If you aren't already dancing, you certainly will be during Do You Love Me?, a wild version of the beloved favorite which includes shout-outs to the Iron Chef and Sean Paul's Get Busy. AVP's stride continues with I Will Survive, a hot party-style song where soloist Mikey Daguiso sings higher than some women can, and with complete comfort and control to boot. "Impressive" is too common a word to describe the punch AVP throws to start Academical is Not a Word.

The middle of the album shifts into comedy numbers, echoing the silliness of the always amusing AVP liner notes. Stacey's Mom includes plenty of slapstick remarks from the peanut gallery during and between verses, and Careless Whisper is a striking, over-the-top rendition that again showcases just how high these boys can sing. The Reason is the stand-out, main act during AVP comedy hour. The background support on The Reason is gorgeous and passionate, soloist James East leaves one weak in the knees, and the production is incredible. If we deleted the soloist, and thus the lyrics, The Reason could stand alone as a powerhouse driving rock ballad. So it comes as a complete surprise that in this spoof, "The reason is sex". I'm telling you, AVP is fearless.

Academical is Not a Word closes with modern hits, a nice choice to end one hell of a ride. The Scientist pulses with emotion and connection, creating chills and moments of inspiration. Aeroplane is the best overall track on this album, with soloist East outdoing his previous stellar performance on The Reason. Make no mistake, I am in love. But, I am not blinded by love. Sleepy, formal and plain Poses is very out of place on this otherwise high-energy album. Poses also drastically changes the direction of the album, as it road-blocks the powerful momentum that kicked-off Academical is Not a Word. You and I Both suffers from neglected mixing, as individual voices distract and tuning wanders. You and I Both also has questionable arranging decisions, including overly-choppy syllables and rhythms, and a strange silence before the final chorus when there should be been a sound explosion. I'm also not keen on the over-production and distortion of This Love, which also feels out of place given the prior clean and clear sound AVP established.

But, this album is still a total blast. Funny, spunky, risky, and highly enjoyable, Academical is Not a Word is great for college parties, stress relief, and daily car dancing. I recommend it without hesitation.


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