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The UNCG Spartones

University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Not the Same (2008)

3.7

October 15, 2008

Tuning / Blend 4.7
Energy / Intensity 3.3
Innovation / Creativity 3.0
Soloists 4.0
Sound / Production 4.7
Repeat Listenability 3.0
Tracks
1 Introduction 4.0
2 Not the Same 4.0
3 Fix You 4.3
4 You're the Inspiration 3.3
5 On Love, In Sadness 3.7
6 What Goes Around Comes Around 3.3
7 Cathedrals 4.3
8 In the House of Stone and Light 3.3
9 I Get Around 3.7
10 Warning 4.3
11 Missing the War 4.3
12 Forgot About Us 3.7

Recorded 2007 – 2008
Total time: 48:42, 12 songs


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 2
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 Introduction 4
2 Not the Same 3
3 Fix You 4
4 You're the Inspiration 3
5 On Love, In Sadness 4
6 What Goes Around Comes Around 3
7 Cathedrals 3
8 In the House of Stone and Light 3
9 I Get Around 3
10 Warning 4
11 Missing the War 3
12 Forgot About Us 2

The UNCG Spartones started as a supplement to the Men's Glee Club. 10 years later, it still shows.

Liquid 5th Productions has done a commendable job dressing up the performances and arrangements (all but four arrangements are by Chris Juengel). But beneath the sampling and processing and bells and whistles, the emperor is still dressed, though poorly.

With twenty male voices at their disposal, the Spartones have the enviable ability to create a big, rich, warm sound with a wide range covering multiple octaves. It is unquestionably their biggest asset. It certainly sounds like auto-tune has been applied throughout, but even without it, one gets the feeling that the one thing these guys have well in hand is the ability to sing in tune and blend as an ensemble.

The trouble begins, though, with what they are singing. Power chords on "ooh" and "ahh", or basic eighth note rhythms do not make a quality contemporary collegiate a cappella recording, even when anchored by heavily sampled vocal percussion. And that's most of what you get on Not the Same. Indeed, this album isn't the same as a lot of the collegiate a cappella being heard these days, but it is the same as the a cappella of the late '80s and early '90s.

There are a few exceptions: Juengel's solo and arrangement of Jason Mraz's On Love, In Sadness does well to capture the energy of the original and the quirky vocal stylings of Mraz. Incubus's Warning, arranged by Sean Lucier, is just about the only track that stands out for what might pass as "modern", if not terribly innovative arranging. A few of the soloists warrant mention as well: Tim Cook's work on Fix You — may I never have to listen to it again a cappella — was enough to elevate the song to a "4". And Lucier's solo on an otherwise insipid You're the Inspiration is noteworthy simply for its ability to hit the notes without sounding overstretched.

But just about everything else here is really milquetoast at best. The aforementioned You're the Inspiration placed back-to-back with Fix You is a deadly combo — especially clocking in at 4:22 and 5:14 respectively — that is best suited to an elevator. Cathedrals is ably sung but my what a boring song; the arrangement did little more than made me yawn. What Goes Around Comes Around and Forgot About Us are about little more than the VP and I Get Around, with its Casio-like VP and minimal arrangement beyond harmonized words, really should never have made the cut to be included on the CD in the first place.

Do understand that I sang in a glee club way back when and I probably would have even enjoyed singing much of this material in a group like the Spartones. But as far as exciting listening goes, Not the Same won't be getting any iPod space from me anytime soon.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Introduction 5
2 Not the Same 5
3 Fix You 5
4 You're the Inspiration 4
5 On Love, In Sadness 4
6 What Goes Around Comes Around 5
7 Cathedrals 5
8 In the House of Stone and Light 4
9 I Get Around 4
10 Warning 5
11 Missing the War 5
12 Forgot About Us 5

The UNCG Spartones have put out a most worthy album. Not the Same truly is not the same as what college groups are offering these days. Yes, we get another Fix You and some Justin Timberlake, but the difference is in their approach to recording.

The application of production can be likened to the application of cosmetics. Some women use so much make-up that they are unrecognizable without it. The Spartones are like a pretty girl who uses tinted ChapStick and a brush of mascara to sparkle. Liquid 5th's subtle work provides the ChapStick and mascara, but the Spartones's tight harmonies, rich arrangements, and talented soloists take center stage.

Chris Juengel is a driving force of the album, providing most of the arrangements and two great solos. Speaking of solos, this is the most impressed I have been with collegiate soloist quality in quite a while. The Spartones have assembled a formidable roster of performers with great vocal control and emotive abilities. I enjoyed every song.

Their Fix You is worthy of existence (unlike so many other versions I've heard), and while they do a great job on In the House of Stone and Light, I'm afraid the award for that cover still goes to the Brown Derbies's version on BOCA. But that is just splitting hairs.

Pick up a copy of Not the Same. You won't be disappointed.


3
Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Introduction 3
2 Not the Same 4
3 Fix You 4
4 You're the Inspiration 3
5 On Love, In Sadness 3
6 What Goes Around Comes Around 2
7 Cathedrals 5
8 In the House of Stone and Light 3
9 I Get Around 4
10 Warning 4
11 Missing the War 5
12 Forgot About Us 4

The UNCG Spartones present an interesting dichotomy in the recording sphere with their newest recording Not the Same. On one hand, they and the producers at Liquid 5th have become adept at crafting tracks that are highly produced while still seemingly naturalistic and reproducible live (granted, other than the opening of Warning and most of Fix You). On the other hand, this natural sound sometimes traps them into a rocking glee club mentality when it comes to execution. So even though Not the Same is probably a new venture for the group, it's unfortunately some of the same old, same old in terms of being innovative or really creative.

Still, I'm glad that they are still able to create music that I really like.

The entire album is just an easy listen from beginning to end with only a few minor bumps (What Goes Around Comes Around, In the House of Stone and Light) and a few stellar moments (Cathedrals). The Spartones have recorded an album that starts off like a bit of a babbling brook, bypasses the fork that would taken them whitewater rafting, instead taking a lazy river stroll, and ends up back at the clubhouse watching croquet. You sort of take it all in, for what it's worth and then forget about it. Especially after that fourth mojito/mint julep. That fourth drink has to be what inspired some of the lyrics for Forgot About Us, the Forgot About Dre parody.

I do not understand the need for wordless "introductions" on collegiate albums. In this instance we're treated to the overture to "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves". What? It may have made more sense if the listener was given some context for why it was important enough to record. The studio talk at the end doesn't help. The only redeeming feature is that they sound like they are having a lot of fun singing it.

Love the fact that the guys are repping North Carolina artists really well. The three tracks — Not the Same by Ben Folds, Cathedrals by Jump, Little Children and Missing the War — are the best on album. Soloist Jeremy Shields is simply money. His turn on Missing the War is elegantly restrained and yet so very passionate. I'm a sucker for ballads, as I've made abundantly clear, so it should come as no surprise that Cathedrals and Missing the War have earned high marks.

A big issue with this recording is that all of the musicality that this group possesses has been dampened. Intonation falters in the upper voices, and you can tell when the auto-tuning has to take care of that. There are no dynamics, just large blocks of aptly tuned background singers who occasionally overpower the soloists. And while this disc doesn't suffer, like many of its contemporaries, from mind-numbingly down-tempo performances, there isn't really a track that sparks any excitement or leaps out at you with a blazing vim or verve. And I can't blame that completely on the arrangements. Chris Juengel really knows his group and contributes eight of eleven compositions that seem tailored for that Spartonian sound. That could be the problem: they enjoy singing his music so much that everyone thinks his own line is the most important and should be heard at all times. Yeah, kinda like that.

A lot has transpired in the collegiate recording realm during the four years since The Spartones released their last album. Not the Same is a solid album, it just sounds like most of what's passing for average out there right now.

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