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CU Buffoons

University of Colorado

So They Say (2005)

2.7

March 29, 2006

Tuning / Blend 2.0
Energy / Intensity 2.7
Innovation / Creativity 2.0
Soloists 3.3
Sound / Production 2.3
Repeat Listenability 2.0
Tracks
1 Signed Sealed Delivered 3.0
2 Boys of Summer 2.7
3 The Remedy 2.0
4 Soul to Squeeze 2.7
5 Africa 2.3
6 Angels 3.3
7 Superstition 3.3
8 Insomniac 3.3
9 Your Body Is a Wonderland 2.0
10 Lose Control 2.0
11 Stand by Me 3.0
12 For The Longest Time 2.7
13 Wonderful Tonight 2.3
14 Tribute 2.7

Recorded 2004 – 2005
Total time: 45:39, 14 songs


Tuning / Blend 2
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 2
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 Signed Sealed Delivered 3
2 Boys of Summer 3
3 The Remedy 2
4 Soul to Squeeze 3
5 Africa 3
6 Angels 3
7 Superstition 4
8 Insomniac 3
9 Your Body Is a Wonderland 2
10 Lose Control 2
11 Stand by Me 3
12 For The Longest Time 3
13 Wonderful Tonight 2
14 Tribute 3

The Buffoons have a rough and ready sound on So They Say. Raw talent and enthusiasm do most of the work, while musicality and technical precision seem harder to come by. The result is a pleasant, fuzzy, and upbeat album with mediocre tuning. Just so you know what you're in for.

Superstition is the best cut on the disc. The Buffoons refuse to rush, creating a fabulous anchoring groove that gives the soloist plenty of room. A cappella has a long history of butchering this song with speed, so this version was particularly welcome. In other highlights, Boys of Summer soloist Ben Meis has a great sky tenor sound, as does Joel Hartl of Stand by Me. They sound pretty good here, and with some high-end engineering, I think they could keep up with the best. In general, the soloists have a good feel for their songs, along with the range to keep up. The backgrounds aren't nearly as well sung — fewer nuances, fewer dynamics and less focus all around.

The arrangements are generally pretty standard, both in-house and imported. Gabe Rutman's old arrangement of Soul to Squeeze continues to sound great, more than a decade later. Deke Sharon's version of Signed, Sealed, Delivered has his signature ensemble sound, which continue its admirable support of groups without the patience for zillion-track modern layering. I still don't like the Brown Derbies' Africa because I went to college in North Carolina. The internal arrangements have a similarly '90s style, typical for a mid-tier group still finding its footing.

So They Say says the Buffoons are diligent enough to not suck and relaxed enough to not sweat the details. That sounds like fun to me.


Tuning / Blend 2
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 2
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 Signed Sealed Delivered 3
2 Boys of Summer 3
3 The Remedy 2
4 Soul to Squeeze 3
5 Africa 2
6 Angels 4
7 Superstition 3
8 Insomniac 3
9 Your Body Is a Wonderland 2
10 Lose Control 2
11 Stand by Me 3
12 For The Longest Time 3
13 Wonderful Tonight 3
14 Tribute 2

It seems that every major university with an active a cappella scene has a group that sings mostly crowd pleasers, or as my aca-friends and I describe them, a cappella whores ("everybody's done 'em!"). The Buffoons must be this group at the University of Colorado. Since I live in Boulder and I've seen the Buffoons perform at our local a cappella hangout, hometown pride left me hoping to praise So They Say. As I read down the track listing, though, I saw the odds tilt against a good review.

When a group records songs everyone has heard a cappella before, the recording is held up against the average standard of all the versions the listener can recall. Since a main goal of a cappella singing is to surprise the ear, a recording not substantially different in voicing, chord arrangement, syllablization, genre, effects, or level of musicianship is like comparing one plain old everyday apple to another. If your apple isn't much redder, plumper, juicier, or sweeter, you'd better hope for someone who has never heard a cappella.

On repertoire and general musicianship alone, I can't commend So They Say. The album is mostly a re-hash of songs most a cappella singers have sung many times — and a mediocre re-hashing at that.

I even wanted to like the album after I began listening to it. The soloists, singing with urgency and style, had me rooting for them on many songs (Boys of Summer, Angels, Superstition, Stand by Me). Several of the arrangements are atypical of "whore groups", and I enjoyed touches like the stilted intro of The Remedy and the involved backgrounds in the choruses of Soul to Squeeze. But reading the liner notes, I saw that these arrangements weren't products of the Buffoons.

The Buffoons credit half the arrangements on So They Say to outsiders like Deke Sharon, Off the Beat, the Brown Derbies, the Virginia Gentlemen, Billy Joel, and others who don't sing on the album. This smacks to me of a group that doesn't rotate its repertoire, singing the same legacy arrangements that have passed through generations of Buffoon alum.

To summarize, So They Say is plain old apple after plain old apple, year after year, and not even your own apples.

Worse than their album's song selection is the Buffoons' rhythm. This group is uncoordinated. Even songs that have some groove, like Stevie Wonder's Superstition, flail spit that's infuriatingly behind the beat. If you're going to vamp the entire verse, the least you can do is make sure the snare nails the damn twos and fours. The iconic "doo doo"s of Africa are out of whack by the third repetition, the soloist of Lose Control lags in the choruses, and overall the group attacks sloppily and cuts off with imprecision. It's like watching a junior high dance party. You could help the youngsters snap out the beats, but showing them how far they're off rhythm would just embarrass them.

So They Say is a collection of songs you've probably already heard sung better many times. Frustrating tempo problems, spotty pitch, and roughshod blend mar these songs badly, leaving them pale in comparison to your memories of these classic tunes.


Tuning / Blend 2
Energy / Intensity 2
Innovation / Creativity 1
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 2
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 Signed Sealed Delivered 3
2 Boys of Summer 2
3 The Remedy 2
4 Soul to Squeeze 2
5 Africa 2
6 Angels 3
7 Superstition 3
8 Insomniac 4
9 Your Body Is a Wonderland 2
10 Lose Control 2
11 Stand by Me 3
12 For The Longest Time 2
13 Wonderful Tonight 2
14 Tribute 3

When I first took the Buffoons' latest album out of the shipping package, I was intrigued. Here was some very professional-looking cover art — a rare feat for a college a cappella group. Excitedly, I threw it in the CD player.

The first thing I heard confused me a bit; a live track isn't a good way to open an album, especially in such an unforgiving hall. There's just no energy and immediacy. I thought this album was gonna be a long haul. It's a good arrangement, though, so I checked the liner notes. Oh, okay, it's arranged by Deke Sharon! Deke: 1, Buffoons: 0. I glanced at the notes and didn't see anything that said that was a live track. So either they forgot to mention that, or that was a studio track. Yikes, either way. Deke: 1, Buffoons: -1.

Okay, onto the second track. Eek, that first chord's not even close to tuned. Wait, this track sounds live too. Maybe this whole album is live...that would explain it. Buffoons back to 0 with the benefit of the doubt. Wait, there's perc on this track, and it's definitely not live. Now I have no idea what's going on. The backgrounds are a mess, but the solo and the perc aren't too bad. I'm downright confused.

Whoa, there's some EQ effects on The Remedy. It's still sloppy, though, everywhere. Same goes for Soul to Squeeze...except the solo's better.

Okay, here comes Africa. You can't really get this wrong...whoa. It's hyperactive — like 20% faster than the original. And I'd swear it's live, too, except there's a little panning going on. The solo's fun, though (when I can hear it) — all overdramatic and opera-y. I hope that's on purpose...

Okay, fast-forwarding now: a nice, uneventful arrangement of Robbie Williams; a version of Superstition that completely leaves out the best bassline ever written (where'd it go?); the Virginia Gentlemen's arrangement of Insomniac, which isn't actually half bad. And the recording turned out decently, too. Yay.

I need to pause for a moment on Your Body Is a Wonderland with a word of caution to all you arrangers out there...if you want to change the chord progression of a song, make sure a) that it's for a reason, b) that it doesn't totally change the cadence of the song, and c) that the new progression isn't repeated hundreds of time throughout the song. Some other parts of the arrangement are pretty cool (I like the "won-der-land" backgrounds a lot), but the new progression ruins the whole thing for me.

And now for the "clichéction" — four songs so overdone I couldn't believe I saw them back-to-back in the track list. Maybe they'd work as a medley, but no. We get all four songs, all the way through. And the arrangements are cliché, too — bahs everywhere when the backups aren't singing the lyrics with the solo.

The closing song is actually really sweet. A nice, classical arrangement by the Buffoons, too. I'm not sure who wrote the song (the liner forgot to mention it) or even what it's doing on the album, since it doesn't fit at all with the rest, but I don't mind. It's a nice closer.

And now the album's done. I wish there was something else good to say about this album, but I just can't think of anything. It was downhill from the start...the cover art was about the only professional piece of work. Buy the album if you have a vested interest in, as the Buffoons state in their liner notes, seeing them go on their "annual Spring Break trip." It's not totally unlistenable. If you don't care if they go or not, you'll probably want to stay away.

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