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Last Call

Cornell University

Brewed In The Attic (2007)

4.3

September 7, 2007

Tuning / Blend 4.7
Energy / Intensity 4.7
Innovation / Creativity 4.3
Soloists 4.0
Sound / Production 4.7
Repeat Listenability 4.0
Tracks
1 Unbelievable/Don't Lie 5.0
2 City of Blinding Lights 3.7
3 Blinded By The Light 4.7
4 In My Place 3.7
5 Bend and Break 4.7
6 Glory Bound 3.7
7 Get Ready 4.7
8 Careless Whispers 4.0
9 A Change is Gonna Come 3.7
10 Rocksteady 3.0
11 What You Know (About That) 4.7

Recorded 2006 – 2007
Total time: 43:28, 11 songs


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Unbelievable/Don't Lie 5
2 City of Blinding Lights 3
3 Blinded By The Light 4
4 In My Place 3
5 Bend and Break 4
6 Glory Bound 4
7 Get Ready 5
8 Careless Whispers 4
9 A Change is Gonna Come 3
10 Rocksteady 2
11 What You Know (About That) 5

Brewed In The Attic shines a bit brightly for an attic bulb. Wiped of dust and cobwebs, Last Call sparkles with the help of top a cappella hit men and enjoyable variations on familiar songs. Brewed In The Attic improves on the inconsistencies of Straight Up and showcases a much more palatable repertoire.

To produce this album, Last Call took full advantage of its a cappella community. The group may have skimped on the posh green room by tracking in an attic, but Last Call called on outside help for everything but the singing. The group spared no expense in mixing, hiring Bill Hare and Dave Sperandio. The liner notes cite three alumni arrangers including Tat Tong. And, in something new to me, the group enlisted Peter Hollens and James Cannon for tracking. Brewed In The Attic, then, might better be called "Tracked by Former Top Collegiate Singers-Turned-Producers in the Attic and Mixed Professionally in the Studio". Not quite the same panache, but you get the point that Last Call didn't exactly produce this album after an introspective retreat to a lonely, rustic cabin in upstate New York.

So how much of the album is Last Call?

Last Call has brought something new to every cover on this album, a wonderful goal for every a cappella album. The Unbelievable/Don't Lie mashup ties together cleverly with a groovin' backbeat and the lyrics "the things you say, you're unbelievable / no no no baby no no no don't lie". The song's energy is awesome, with real salesmanship from the Unbelievable soloist and convincing hip hop presence from the soloist on Don't Lie. The arrangement is completely enthralling, with catchy songwriting keeping things fresh throughout. Unbelievable is chock full of added harmony passages, with whistling in the bridge and artificial drum machine elements filling up the song.

A jazzy, hyperkinetic arrangement of Blinded By The Light is the first version of this song I've ever enjoyed. The song is almost in the jazz lounge style, with tough dissonances and key modulations everywhere. Interesting syllables ("dibbuh dibbuh doh", "dig it"), quick arpeggios, and maddening variety makes this performance far better than any ever transcribed from Springsteen's original.

Keane's Bend and Break mesmerized me, lulling me into an enjoyment from which I was unable to criticize. The glossy, airy soloist sails nicely above open vowel backgrounds and plenty of "wall of sound" noises like panned "k k k" rimshots, ride cymbals, and a sustained eighth notes.

Get Ready is a revved up, more aggressive and modern take on the Temptations motown classic. The bass and perc drive the song, refusing to allow the song to go slack. In a totally fun twist that brought a smile to my face every time, a spoken chorus is kinda slacker ("You're outta site … I guess …") and a bass "straight man" monotones "fiddly dee fiddly dum look out baby here I come". The soloist has just the right soul for the song.

What You Know (About That) is a beefed up, more guttural performance that's convincing and complete with those meandering, super high, hip hop keyboard lines. Last Call jams in the testosterone while keeping the song listenable.

Last Call has put a huge distance between Brewed In The Attic and Vestosterone. With the help of some of a cappella's brightest minds, the group has matured in tastes and skill to produce an album that beautifully follows the a cappella tenet "if you can't do something new, do something old differently." Brewed In The Attic is another incremental step toward greatness.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Unbelievable/Don't Lie 5
2 City of Blinding Lights 4
3 Blinded By The Light 5
4 In My Place 4
5 Bend and Break 5
6 Glory Bound 4
7 Get Ready 5
8 Careless Whispers 4
9 A Change is Gonna Come 5
10 Rocksteady 4
11 What You Know (About That) 5

Pop quiz, hot shots: What do you get when you put Pete Hollens, Bill Hare, James Cannon, Dave Sperandio, and Tat Tong on the same album? If the answer isn't completely obvious, it's Last Call's Brewed In The Attic, an unbelievably stellar album with mass appeal along the likes of the Tufts Beelzebubs and, well, any other group that had the production team equivalent to the NBA All-Star Game's starting lineup. It's that good.

And the thing is, I don't really like the choice of half the songs on this album, save for a few off-the-beaten-track gems. In My Place, for example, is a Coldplay song that seems too big for its britches. I'd have liked something subtly different from the wall of sound heard on nearly every song. The repertoire is blah, but my goodness, the arrangements, the percussion, the execution, and of course, the production … it all hits a home run. Stylistically influenced by a dozen different a cappella Hall of Famers, Brewed has a keen sensibility that doesn't over-rock or scream in your ear. It just rocks.

My favorites lean toward the classic rock or indie genre, with Blinded By The Light up front as the third track. This is Bruce Springsteen's version heard here, arranged to perfection with dissonant disco and jazz riffs tossed in by, oh yes, Tom Anderson of Fifth Element fame. (Seriously, I don't care that Last Call has assembled a dream team for their album. However they did it, it was worth it.) Martin Sexton's Glory Bound is sexy and soulful, though I wish at the second verse the background vocals would have expanded into wider vowels. Without this, the piece feels a little contained. The familiar Get Ready by the Temptations is aptly led by Jamie Quilon with outstanding horns and a driving bass and percussion that modernizes the song. Speaking of solos, Nishant Soni's take on Sam Cooke's A Change is Gonna Come gives me goosebumps, and the arrangement is pretty darn good, too. And rounding out the album is Rocksteady, a fun, upbeat ditty, the solo slightly overtaken by the backup. (Between this song and Transit's Home, I've become a huge Marc Broussard fan.)

Absolutely heads above the rest, though, is T.I.'s What You Know (About That). Perhaps taking a cue from the Clefhangers' Crazy Train and the Octaves' Thong Song, this is a killer a cappella piece that moves our genre in a whole new direction.

It's pretty ridiculous. The solos aren't that great, save for the few I mentioned, but you will not be disappointed. And oh yeah, did I mention "a large portion of these songs", to quote the liner notes, were recorded in the attic of group member Jake Markovits? Yeah, not a studio. Never having seen Last Call live, I can't tell if the album is a result of equal parts talent on the parts of the performers and the producers. Again, I don't really care. It's a crazy good listen, a slam dunk you won't want to miss.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Unbelievable/Don't Lie 5
2 City of Blinding Lights 4
3 Blinded By The Light 5
4 In My Place 4
5 Bend and Break 5
6 Glory Bound 3
7 Get Ready 4
8 Careless Whispers 4
9 A Change is Gonna Come 3
10 Rocksteady 3
11 What You Know (About That) 4

Cornell University's Last Call has put together some finished product for their fifth release, Brewed In The Attic. Last Call tears out of the box with, in this case, the 1-3-5 punch of Unbelievable/Don't Lie, Blinded By The Light, and Bend and Break, three absolute masterpieces that form the core of the album's outstanding first half. Tat Tong's arrangement of EMF's and the Black Eyed Peas's hits is absolutely impeccable (perhaps the best a cappella track I've heard since starting as a reviewer), as is Tom Anderson's work on Blinded By The Light, and the Callboys have done masterful jobs of bringing both arrangements to life. Representing the creative genius of current Callboys is Jon Wong, whose four arrangements (including the aforementioned Bend and Break) showcase his versatility and raw talent.

Though this latest album doesn't feature the silliness and comedy of previous Last Call albums, songs like Careless Whispers and What You Know (About That) hint that this group is out to have a good time while making its music. Even behind the mask of studio effects, the group's energy is palpable, especially in the ringing choruses of Get Ready.

Brewed In The Attic benefits from its contagious energy, strong tuning and blend, and polished sound (not hard when you have people like Bill Hare in your corner), but fails to produce soloists strong enough to match its backing vocals. Performances are generally good but not outstanding. Last Call has, however, mastered one type of solo: the semi-sung, semi-spoken lead, as featured on Unbelievable/Don't Lie and What You Know (About That). Where other groups often turn in over-enunciated, boring performances, both Brian Stilwell and Niiamah Ashong deliver near perfect lead vocals on their respective tracks.

The album's material may be strong, but track placement seems somewhat questionable. Brewed In The Attic opens strong, but the result is a front-loaded album whose second half comes as a bit of a letdown to the listener, making it seem worse than it actually is. The first three tracks all contain some mention of "blinding light", and the two tracks featuring vocal trumpet are placed back to back. The group's trademark energy fizzles a bit on the tepid Rocksteady, and What You Know (About That), despite being fun, quickly grows monotonous. In addition, its fade-out ending makes for a disappointing end to the album.

Though it pains me as a Colgate student to say it, Brewed In The Attic is an altogether impressive work. With the errors of past albums seemingly corrected, Last Call has put out a creative, well-executed, fun album — a welcome addition to my music collection.


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