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Twisted Measure

Elon University

Lawful Piracy (2005)

4.0

May 9, 2006

Tuning / Blend 4.7
Energy / Intensity 4.3
Innovation / Creativity 3.3
Soloists 4.0
Sound / Production 5.0
Repeat Listenability 3.7
Tracks
1 If I Am 4.7
2 Let Go 4.7
3 Kid Fears 4.7
4 Seasons 3.7
5 Breakaway 4.0
6 The Way it Changes 3.3
7 Carry On 3.7
8 Devils & Angels 3.7
9 Accidentally in Love 3.7
10 Bless the Broken Road 4.0
11 Desperately Wanting 3.3
12 What's Up? 4.0
13 Are You Happy Now 4.3

Recorded 2004 – 2005
Total time: 49:20, 13 songs


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 If I Am 4
2 Let Go 4
3 Kid Fears 4
4 Seasons 4
5 Breakaway 4
6 The Way it Changes 3
7 Carry On 4
8 Devils & Angels 3
9 Accidentally in Love 4
10 Bless the Broken Road 4
11 Desperately Wanting 3
12 What's Up? 4
13 Are You Happy Now 4

There was a time when RARB reviewers commented on each track individually. While the reasons for the abolishment of that procedure were no doubt well-founded, my feelings on Elon College Twisted Measure's latest CD Lawful Piracy seem best-suited to a temporary revisitation of that format.

You see, those Twisted Measures are very much in love with their aca-syllables — so much so, that in lieu of terribly sophisticated arrangements, the carefully-crafted syllabic aca-phrases, which open every song, became the defining aspect of each track for me. So without further ado:

  1. If I Am a.k.a. "Zhin-Zhadda-Zhin" — not entirely fair since the song starts with the vocal. This track is typical of the whole album: a full, nicely tuned, balanced and blended sound, with a very mid-tempo pop/rock feel (when it should have a little alternative edge), a straightforward and somewhat basic arrangement with a moving rhythm over ringing chords, made to sound perhaps like more than it is thanks to anchoring VP and solid bass.
  2. "Let It Go" a.k.a. the battle of "Oh-ee-doh" vs "num-num-ni-dum-num-num-num" — much of the same. By this track, I had coined the phrase that typifies Twisted Measure's feel as "Wash of Sound" (in contrast to the oft-referenced "Wall of Sound" made famous by Off the Beat). Rather than stopping you in your tracks, this sound is just kinda there, pleasant enough, without making much of an impression as it washes over you.
  3. Kid Fears a.k.a. "Digga-da-dum" — arrangements that don't really develop beyond opening verse chorus are becoming a bit tedious.
  4. Seasons a.k.a. "no no no" — the first attempt to truly rock out. Succeeds partially. Not a fan of the tuning at the beginning and needs more complexity by the end to build.
  5. Breakaway a.k.a. "da da da din dad a" — soloist is sweet. Too sweet in fact. Sounds a little show-tuney at beginning and missing the guts in Kelly's voice.
  6. The Way it Changes a.k.a. "da da doo doo doo" — somehow piano-based songs just don't usually translate as well. Too many "doos". Rap doesn't really work — sounds a little too self-important.
  7. Carry On a.k.a. "Di-no-no-nit-no-nit-no-no-no" — nice repertoire choice and well-rendered but arrangement gives everything it has by first chorus. Never really goes anywhere.
  8. Devils & Angels a.k.a. "Jhin-din-din-wah" — this one just drones on a bit. Background feels like it doesn't change much at all and soloist can't carry it enough to keep in interesting.
  9. Accidentally in Love a.k.a. "wee-no-nee-no-wanna" — in contrast to #8 above, here the soloist's great energy and vocal rasp keep the sameness of the arrangement from becoming uninteresting.
  10. Bless the Broken Road a.k.a. "Ben-den-den-no" — very, very pretty. Just wish there was a little ornamentation in the arrangement as it progresses. Stays so very vertical, moving only with the chord changes.
  11. Desperately Wanting a.k.a. "zhing-zha-zho" — these three syllables are used so repeatedly that they create another background that drones on and on.
  12. What's Up? — 4 Non Blondes a.k.a. "tin-ticka-tin-ticka-ticka-tin-ticka" — something of a Bolero approach. The same thing over and over again, building slowly, and it almost works. The go-for-broke solo is appealing even if a bit strained in the 2nd verse.
  13. Are You Happy Now — the battle of "dung-dung" vs "zho-yo-yo-yo" — probably my favorite track on the album, mainly for the ballsy solo. The arrangement at least feels a bit more textured than the others even if it isn't really. Verse treatment is far better than chorus.

    Bottom Line: if you like the track list and are more interested in overall sound, buy the album. If you prefer craft and sophistication, then you still might enjoy but only as a guilty pleasure.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 If I Am 5
2 Let Go 5
3 Kid Fears 5
4 Seasons 4
5 Breakaway 5
6 The Way it Changes 4
7 Carry On 4
8 Devils & Angels 4
9 Accidentally in Love 3
10 Bless the Broken Road 4
11 Desperately Wanting 4
12 What's Up? 4
13 Are You Happy Now 5

It's springtime in North Carolina. The purple buds are opening up on the trees, windows are rolled down, stereo's blasting, and I'm making my way to the a cappella mecca of ... the Piedmont Triad? You'd better believe it, folks. Diovoce, along with Liquid 5th, is raising the roof on collegiate albums and live performance, and Twisted Measure's latest studio release is no exception. Expertly crafted without a hint of that Off the Beat pretension of excellence I so despise, Lawful Piracy is a frenetic, creative work running the gamut from chick pop to indie light. More refined, more precise than Barefoot & Beautiful, this lively album from Twisted Measure and Diovoce legitimizes its song space on BOCA 2006.

To get the bad stuff out of the way, the male vocals don't fare nearly as well as the women do. Taylor Barr's lead on Seasons feels hollow and unsupported, slightly nasal and flat. The song itself doesn't rock as it should, either; the tempo feels a little off kilter as the song transitions from intro to the first verse. Like a bad pilot that NBC slides in between "Will and Grace" and "My Name is Earl", however, it's bookended nicely with the deep, brooding Kid Fears and the best Kelly Clarkson cover (by Jenny Freeman) I've heard this side of the American Idol herself. Similarly, Brian Hecker is a bit too concerned with enunciation to really back up the vocals of The Way it Changes until, that is, he delves into a 2pac rap that is aptly paired against the familiar refrain of the Bruce Hornsby song. And Cooper Campbell's baritone is harsh against the smart, punchy background of Carry On.

And onto the great: The female leads and the arrangements. Between Devils & Angels, Let Go (the newest songs to hit the overplayed a cappella charts), and even the bane of the early '90s What's Up?, the women clearly dominate the talent pool on solos. Nevertheless, Brian Hecker — whose nine and a half arrangements dominate the album — offers an admirable diversity of work. I'm particularly pleased with Bless the Broken Road, a respectable interpretation with Hecker himself on lead vocals.

The confined space of Barefoot & Beautiful has been replaced with a more comfortable range of expression that seems to have been set free by masterful production and a more polished execution. I challenge reviewer Elie Landau's mock comment from his last Twisted Measure review: "... another one of those North Carolina schools with a fearsome a cappella tradition". Just you wait. Give the men a few years to polish their vocal chops, and Elon's Twisted Measure will be a Carolina powerhouse not to be reckoned with.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 If I Am 5
2 Let Go 5
3 Kid Fears 5
4 Seasons 3
5 Breakaway 3
6 The Way it Changes 3
7 Carry On 3
8 Devils & Angels 4
9 Accidentally in Love 4
10 Bless the Broken Road 4
11 Desperately Wanting 3
12 What's Up? 4
13 Are You Happy Now 4

Elon University's Twisted Measure is back for its second foray into the recorded a cappella world, playfully mocking so many with their album title, Lawful Piracy. At first listen, the album seems like an improvement over Barefoot & Beautiful, but a closer listen reveals that Dave Sperandio's magic production touch only masks the issues that could plague the group for albums to come.

The first problem is the lack of innovative arrangements. There isn't much creativity going on here; almost all of the songs are pure transcriptions of the originals. Twisted Measure could also benefit by mixing it up a bit. They use the same syllables over and over again. They seem to be stuck on anything starting with the letter "j"; jin, jeh, joh ... take your pick. The arrangers like to find something comfortable, and then repeat it over and over again throughout the song.

The second issue comes in the form of the soloists. It's not that they are bad singers, it's that they are not being themselves. The soloists should spend less time trying to imitate the original artist and more time cultivating their own sound and giving the songs some originality (Carry On, Desperately Wanting, What's Up? are good examples of this). All these soloists would have done a better job if they would have sung the songs their own way.

Also, the soloists have a difficult time grabbing the emotions of the songs. They are simply singing and not emoting. The one exception is Jason Eden. His lead vocal on If I Am grabs you from the very beginning with its sense of urgency and never lets go. I also enjoyed Leslie Price's sweetness on Let Go. Yet perhaps the most effective solo was the harmony put down by Jason Smith on Kid Fears. The track moves along nicely until about two-thirds of the way in when Smith appears. He adds a haunting element hovering over soloist Kaity Shaw and really kicks the song into gear.

Regardless of these issues, I enjoy Lawful Piracy when I take my reviewer hat off and magically turn back into an a cappella fan. Twisted Measure has the voices, the energy and the sound to make good albums, and this one is no exception. Now if they can just do less copying and incorporate more originality, they can create excellent albums.


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