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All-Night Yahtzee

Florida State University

Minor Adjustments (2007)

3.3

April 14, 2008

Tuning / Blend 4.3
Energy / Intensity 3.0
Innovation / Creativity 3.0
Soloists 3.0
Sound / Production 3.7
Repeat Listenability 3.0
Tracks
1 Cigarettes & Chocolate Milk 4.0
2 Not Ready To Make Nice 3.7
3 Sugar, We're Goin' Down 3.0
4 If You're Gone 3.0
5 Kiss From A Rose 3.7
6 Over My Head 2.7
7 Such Great Heights 3.3
8 Ironic 3.0
9 Daughters 2.7
10 Chariot 3.7
11 Criminal 3.0
12 Villains 3.7

Recorded 2006 – 2007
Total time: 47:52, 12 songs


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Cigarettes & Chocolate Milk 3
2 Not Ready To Make Nice 3
3 Sugar, We're Goin' Down 3
4 If You're Gone 3
5 Kiss From A Rose 4
6 Over My Head 3
7 Such Great Heights 4
8 Ironic 3
9 Daughters 3
10 Chariot 3
11 Criminal 3
12 Villains 3

All-Night Yahtzee sounds young. Minor Adjustments sounds thin and clunky, like the product of a group that needs more time rehearsing and more time in the studio.

This is mostly an album of good songs that the soloists can't carry. Soloists tend toward either oversinging or stiff delivery. Cigarettes & Chocolate Milk is a beautiful little song that's best sung by a tongue-in-cheek, serial sinner. Here it's delivered too quickly, with awkward background arranging, spastic vocal percussion, and a soloist who is big-voiced and a little wooden. The soloist on Not Ready To Make Nice sounds as if she won the solo because she was willing to twang out the words "round and round and round". Her voice is strident, a little unpleasantly so. The female lead on Sugar, We're Goin' Down isn't aggressive or "emo" enough to fill up this power-hungry melody. Her thin voice can't reign in the background, and they fall rhythmically out of sync. The soloist on Alanis Morissette's Ironic bleats her way through the song, over-enunciating and distilling the chorus's vowels to a silly purity ("it's a free raaahhhd though you've already paid", "free ah-dvahce that ya jus' didn't take"). The Daughters soloist is bland and, like the palest of Fiona Apples on Criminal, he doesn't lean into the choruses.

Such Great Heights features the best solo work and the album's best thinking. The song is languidly downtempo for exactly half of the song's 4 minutes and features a lovingly parasitic blend of low-voiced soloists. A warm and fragile alto voice spools out the first verse, placing it delicately in the arms of a surprisingly nuanced bass voice. They unite for the balance of the verse, coating it in all the warmth of an alto/bass duet. The chorus is slower still, and "everything looks perfect from far away" is awash in "ahh"s. With all this extra time, each singer unravels the song's lyrics with a lusciousness that gave me chills. You've never heard this song like this; it's transformative. As the song accelerates, the soloists continue their close harmony work. This uptempo portion of the song, hokey key change included, is a bouncy letdown compared to the song's earlier excellence.

The album's worst idea is Villains, which doesn't belong. A cappella groups, already notorious for producing disjointed compilations rather than albums with coherent themes, must always ask themselves, "Which of these things is not like the other?" and then axe those songs. Disney and Postal Service? Cruella DeVille and Fall Out Boy? The Little Mermaid and Fiona Apple?

Finally, the studio approach on Minor Adjustments leaves the album feeling flat. The percussion has no bite; it's equalized weakly. The bass line needs more impact as well. The album lacks a low bottom end, which leaves it with what's left — the middle and top of the sonic pyramid. It sounds a little blanched.

A better blend of emotional and sonic energy will bring All-Night Yahtzee closer to today's a cappella standards.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Cigarettes & Chocolate Milk 5
2 Not Ready To Make Nice 4
3 Sugar, We're Goin' Down 3
4 If You're Gone 2
5 Kiss From A Rose 4
6 Over My Head 2
7 Such Great Heights 3
8 Ironic 3
9 Daughters 2
10 Chariot 4
11 Criminal 3
12 Villains 4

Despite the southeast's recent leaps forward, Florida still has a reputation as an a cappella backwater. Fortunately, Florida State's All-Night Yahtzee is working hard to combat that perception, and their most recent release, Minor Adjustments, shows a group coming into its own.

The album opener, Cigarettes & Chocolate Milk, is a tremendous track. It has all the elements of an a cappella classic: a catchy original, a great arrangement, rich production, a sense of energy and an excellent soloist. I found myself caught up in the beautiful texture, lush blend and expressive dynamics.

The remainder of the album is mostly consistent, especially in regards to rich, slick production. Many of the arrangements are top notch. Blend and pitch remain full, though the trebles sound tinny at times. The area where All-Night Yahtzee could use the most work is soloists, with quality varying throughout. Some solos are great, such as the nuanced take of Sugar, We're Goin' Down and the great duet work on Such Great Heights. Others sound whiny (Daughters, Over My Head) or petulant (Not Ready To Make Nice). Even Christopher Diaz, who does an amazing job on Cigarettes & Chocolate Milk, gives an unsupported and poorly executed performance on Chariot.

Another weakness of the album is the uniformity of its tracks. With the exception of the opener and closer, the playlist is bland and repetitive, featuring uninspired songs with the same mid-tempo groove. While All-Night Yahtzee certainly finds this groove well, I kept wanting the group to break out with something different, whether it be faster and edgier or slower and more revealing. Alas, my wishes were not fulfilled.

As I mentioned earlier, Minor Adjustments finally gets interesting on the last track, a four-song medley of Disney villains. While I appreciate the creativity, like many a cappella medleys Villains did not work. Truly excellent performances on Poor, Unfortunate Souls and Be Prepared sit side-by-side with mediocre filler, an all-too-common feature of the epic closing medley.

Minor Adjustments shows of a group with plenty of talent that needs more musical diversity and more grit. If the track list looks like something you would enjoy listening to, you will probably love this album. If, like me, you think the track list looks like a snoozer, you might want to wait for the next one.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Cigarettes & Chocolate Milk 4
2 Not Ready To Make Nice 4
3 Sugar, We're Goin' Down 3
4 If You're Gone 4
5 Kiss From A Rose 3
6 Over My Head 3
7 Such Great Heights 3
8 Ironic 3
9 Daughters 3
10 Chariot 4
11 Criminal 3
12 Villains 4

The track listing of FSU All-Night Yahtzee's Minor Adjustments may not impress you, but if you listen closely, you'll find yourself mesmerized. I'm completely taken with the rich and natural-but-not-raw quality of the group's sound. Realism isn't compromised, and the result is unquestionable faith in All-Night Yahtzee's talent. This sound quality elevates even Top 40 staples like If You're Gone, and saves Sugar, We're Goin' Down, an otherwise weak performance which drags erratically and enters into the chorus with the wrong chords. It's almost no problem; the group's sound is just too beautiful. The magic is broken momentarily during Kiss From A Rose, where overtuning overshadows the original's effortless appeal, but it's recaptured again in the swelling "whoa-ah-ooh"s of Over My Head's verses.

Sadly, this potentially wonderful album remains messy. While Minor Adjustments is a good album that nearly reaches greatness, it's disrupted by too many slip-ups: the occasional half-hearted solo performance, an inconsistent tempo, or a lackluster arrangement or two. The blend of both the Iron and Wine and Postal Service versions of Such Great Heights may in theory be a welcome change from the status quo, but the tempo and key changes feel awkward and forced. The powerful arrangement and singing on Not Ready To Make Nice is nearly lost in the midst of balance issues and a promising soloist (mixed much too quietly) who nonetheless falls short as she delivers the song's emotional climax. Some of these mistakes are large, some are small, but all poke significant holes in the ship. Minor Adjustments doesn't sink, but it's definitely a little tilted.

Still, there's much to admire. Christopher Diaz, who guided the project and was responsible for two-thirds of its arrangements, is a remarkable presence. His arrangements are layered and lovely, and he contributes compelling, resonant solos on the quirky opener Cigarettes & Chocolate Milk and a cappella favorite Chariot. Other "Yahtzees" succeed as well: I like Rachel Chalhoub's arrangement of Over My Head, and the Poor Unfortunate Souls portion of Villains will convince you that soloist Alli Brooks should set her sights on the role of Ursula in the new Broadway production of The Little Mermaid.

Minor Adjustments deserves a place on any a cappella fan's shelf. At the very least, it's a refreshing reminder of the potential for clean sound that places the focus back on the human voice. Next time around, All-Night Yahtzee can turn it up a notch by concentrating on the little details.

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