Your browser does not support our new site design, so some things might not display or function properly.
We suggest upgrading to Google Chrome, Firefox, or Internet Explorer 9+ for the optimal experience.

Clef Hangers

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Time Out (2007)

5.0

August 12, 2007

Tuning / Blend 5.0
Energy / Intensity 5.0
Innovation / Creativity 4.0
Soloists 5.0
Sound / Production 4.7
Repeat Listenability 4.3
Tracks
1 Time Is Running Out 4.7
2 My Love 5.0
3 Feeling Good 4.3
4 Livin' On A Prayer 4.3
5 She Has No Time 5.0
6 Over My Head 4.7
7 What Hurts The Most 5.0
8 Be Without You 5.0
9 If I Ever Lose My Faith In You 5.0
10 Don't Stop Believin' 4.3
11 Fix You 4.3
12 What You Know 4.7
13 Top Back 4.7

Recorded 2005 – 2007
Total time: 51:48, 13 songs


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Time Is Running Out 5
2 My Love 5
3 Feeling Good 5
4 Livin' On A Prayer 5
5 She Has No Time 5
6 Over My Head 5
7 What Hurts The Most 5
8 Be Without You 5
9 If I Ever Lose My Faith In You 5
10 Don't Stop Believin' 5
11 Fix You 5
12 What You Know 5
13 Top Back 5

Time Out is one of those albums that bowls you over on first listen. So polished! Such great singers! So shiny!

All of that's true — this is an excellent album. It also loses that first-impression shine on subsequent listens, when the chord changes start to sound digitally imposed and the actual songs start to rise or fall on their own merits. My Love, for example — absolutely brilliant arrangement. There are so many layers here and so many engaging details, like the little "wild eep" accents in the chorus. But is it a good song? Is it a song I want to listen to again and again? Not so much, it turns out, even though I really dig the performance.

Brandon Jackson Baird and Kenji Brantley did almost all of the arranging on Time Out. It's a great body of work, a great collection of songs and interpretations. I have much more mixed feelings about the production. With the disclaimer that I am not an audio engineer in any way, here's my take on why the group's block-chord-heavy style doesn't quite succeed: It doesn't sound like singing. I mean, you can tell they used voices and all, but I get no sense of a line, no sense of a phrase or a breath. Instead, I get a sense that the beginnings and endings of each chord were cropped out, leaving only the big ringing bloom in the middle, which then got digitally spliced back in according to a click track or time sheet. There's no give in these songs. As an arranging device, the block chords work fine, but as presented I think they're getting a raw deal. The worst example is Fix You, where the backgrounds seem to rush the soloist in all but the nifty "tears stream" section at the very, very end. But it's a common problem, and probably the biggest reason why this disc doesn't have lasting appeal that matches its overall quality.

There's a lot of soul in this disc, a lot of different musical directions all handled well. I loved the Journey song, where the uber-shiny digital thing fit perfectly, and the two audacious T.I. tracks that close out the disc. Most everything else is good too. Props to the Clef Hangers for holding it all together, and I look forward to hearing the next one.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Time Is Running Out 5
2 My Love 5
3 Feeling Good 4
4 Livin' On A Prayer 4
5 She Has No Time 5
6 Over My Head 5
7 What Hurts The Most 5
8 Be Without You 5
9 If I Ever Lose My Faith In You 5
10 Don't Stop Believin' 4
11 Fix You 4
12 What You Know 4
13 Top Back 4

Rarely have I come across a CD that simultaneously embodies so much of what I both like and dislike about the state of collegiate a cappella as Time Out from the UNC Clef Hangers. I also can't remember the last time I gave an album an overall "5" and a "3" for innovation/creativity so, clearly, I have some 'splainin' to do.

Some of what I like about collegiate a cappella these days:

  • The raw talent just seems to be getting better and better. Or maybe it was there all along and I just didn't appreciate it as much when I was younger. But either way, the Clefs have it in spades. In particular, the soloists, almost without exception, are wonderfully matched to their material. Anoop Desai is the standout, with Chris Melly a close second.
  • The diversity of material being interpreted a cappella continues to impress me, and the Clefs are no exception. Sure, they probably never met a classic power rock song or rock ballad they didn't want to try a cappella, but going from Bon Jovi and Journey to Keane and The Fray to Mary J. Blige and self-ordained "King of the South" rapper T.I. is a nice mixing of repertoire.
  • The production values on the collegiate level never cease to amaze me, and the Clefs, with the usual reliable work from Ian Schreier at Osceola Studios in Raleigh and the gang at Diovoce (including Joseph Bates at the editing console) have polished this CD to a bright shine, guaranteed to wow the casual listener and to impress even devoted a cappella fans.

Some of what I dislike about collegiate a cappella these days (I suspect you'll sense a theme):

  • The raw talent on the vocal front is not yet matched on the arranging front. Now of course, one can be born with a gifted voice and the ability to use it, while arranging, especially for a cappella — no matter what one's musical intuition — is a learned skill. What's more, as I've lamented before, the tendency to rely on technology to supply the arrangement (specifically on cover material) rather than using the technology to augment and enhance an arrangement that is solid on its own merits continues to bother me. Strip away the processing on a great many of the Clefs arrangements and I think you'll find a lot less than you think you would. Heavy backbeat plus bass, a wash of power chord "ooh"s and "ah"s and occasionally a counter-rhythm or a rhythm within the chord to add texture. There are exceptions, but rarely is it more than that, and so the whole as a sum of its parts (a "5") is vastly better than the parts themselves (a "3").
  • Just because you can do a song a cappella doesn't mean you should do a song a cappella. This, of course, is inherently unfair because it's not for me to say what an artist should or shouldn't do. But the two rap songs that end the album barely sound even human, let alone a cappella, and as a fan and a critic, they just don't hold any interest for me (one or two others come close to the same problem). Sure, your cousin might be impressed when told that the finished product was accomplished solely with voices, but to me, that's more of a "trick" than "art".
  • On the flip side of the above comments, please please please bring something new to your a cappella cover. For the most part, Time Out might just as soon be called "Transcription" and so many collegiate groups fall into this trap. Again, in this case, the end result is lovely — no doubt endlessly entertaining for a casual listener but ultimately uninspiring for an a cappella fan. With all that the Clefs clearly can do, I want fewer note-for-note versions like Livin' On A Prayer and Don't Stop Believin' (among others) and I want more of She Has No Time where the voices feel integral to the Clef's interpretation of the song.

Should you buy this CD? Yes. Will you like it? Probably. So much so that you might forget it's a cappella. Don't know if that's such a good thing.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Time Is Running Out 4
2 My Love 5
3 Feeling Good 4
4 Livin' On A Prayer 4
5 She Has No Time 5
6 Over My Head 4
7 What Hurts The Most 5
8 Be Without You 5
9 If I Ever Lose My Faith In You 5
10 Don't Stop Believin' 4
11 Fix You 4
12 What You Know 5
13 Top Back 5

The UNC Clef Hanger's latest album, Time Out is worth the purchase price. Like most collegiate albums, it contains an eclectic mix of covers ranging from Michael Buble's Feeling Good to Rascal Flatt's What Hurts The Most. It also contains some of the typical tracks that seem to be circulating in the a cappella world: Coldplay's Fix You and Muse's Time Is Running Out. While their song choices may not be unique, they are definitely familiar and crowd-pleasing.

What is unique about these guys is their rich arrangements, tight harmonies, good soloists, and two really good soloists — Anoop Desai and Chris Melly, who each turn in three solos on a thirteen-track album. Either one of these guys could easily represent the a cappella world well on the next American Idol, and Anoop may be joining Greg Binstock in the realm of my favorite a cappella tenors.

Time Out closes out with two rap tracks originally by T.I., an artist, that, I admit, I only know from a Chevy commercial. While I'm normally skeptical of a cappella boys rapping, I was very impressed with the skills (skillz?) of the two Andrews (Simpson and Barker).

I do wish the insert had a bigger picture of the group instead of eleven tiny shots crammed together on one side, which include some group photos, some individual photos, and an inexplicable photo of the ocean and a mostly empty pitcher with two full tumblers of what looks to be sangria. Well, that is what the "members" page of a website is for, I guess.

Anyway, the first sentence of my review is the most important one, so I'll repeat it here: The UNC Clef Hanger's latest album, Time Out is worth the purchase price.


How To Get Your Work Reviewed

To have your album (2 or more tracks) reviewed by RARB, please email us with your name, group name and album title. You will receive a response with information on how to register your album in our system.

To have your digital single reviewed by RARB, please fill out our online singles registration form.

×

Ordering Information

To purchase this album, visit the group's web site.

×